Do Football Autobiographies Present a Conflict of Interest for Journalists?
Anyone who takes even a passing interest in the English football media will be aware that Harry Redknapp's autobiography was released recently.
It was serialised in the Daily Mail, with extracts proving rather entertaining, not least because a good few of the stories contained in these early teasers turned out to have a fairly casual relationship with the truth, as these debunkings on Eurosport and Football365 displayed.
One presumes the reason for these extracts appearing in the Mail rather than the Sun, the paper for which Redknapp has written a column for some years, is because of the identity of Redknapp's ghost writer: Martin Samuel, chief sports correspondent for the paper.
The first thing one wonders about the inaccuracies in Redknapp's stories is why Samuel, an experienced, well-respected and multi-award-winning journalist, didn't check them.
It didn't take those who have pointed out the inaccuracies very long to check, so why not Samuel? Was it because it wasn't his place—that this was Redknapp's book and his stories? Was it because these sort of tall tales are part of Redknapp's appeal? Or was it because if he went through all of the book and omitted everything that wasn't 100 per cent true, he wouldn't have much content left?
Those are relatively minor points, but what is perhaps more relevant is what Samuel has written since. In the Mail last Saturday, he praised England and Roy Hodgson's 4-1 win over Montenegro, but also made the following remark:
With any luck, this is the end of Hodgson: the cautious years. Here was a result that showed what could be achieved with an England team sent out on the front foot, as observers such as Harry Redknapp have long advocated.
And in his regular Monday column, Samuel continued the theme:
Of course, Harry Redknapp was critical of England’s style — and Friday’s win was also seen as vindication for Hodgson against the man who would be king. What would Redknapp be thinking, asked one of his critics — didn’t you know, everybody has critics, even imagined media darlings — as that goal from Andros Townsend went in?
Probably, he was thinking that England were at last playing as he hoped, with an attacking verve that had previously been missing against the best teams in Group H.
He may also have been thinking that few had entertained thoughts of Townsend as a Premier League player — let alone an international — before he took him to Queens Park Rangers on loan in January last season. It was most certainly a good night for Hodgson; but it was hardly a bad one for Redknapp. Even Hodgson admitted Townsend hit his radar first in the hooped shirt of QPR.
Why the mention of Redknapp? Twice, in two pieces about a game he had nothing to do with? Samuel was one of the loudest advocates of Redknapp getting the England job before Hodgson was appointed, a case he laid out in some detail in this column from December 2011.
Of course, he was hardly the only one that has held such an opinion, but he was the only one this week trying to award some of the credit for England's win to a man who might've been their manager, and he was the only man who had been paid to write Redknapp's book that was serialised in his own paper over the previous five days.
This is not to necessarily pick on Samuel: Fleet Street journalists helping football figures to write their autobiographies is nothing new. The Daily Mirror's Oliver Holt did so for John Terry, the Times' Rory Smith for Rafa Benitez's Champions League diary, the Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter for Steven Gerrard etc and so on.
The unavoidable question is one of conflict of interest.
Should prominent newspaper columnists be allowed to have such close, in many cases financial ties with prominent football figures? Does it not prevent them from viewing their subjects in an objective way? Should they be given the choice—either take the money and never write about the subject of the book again—or turn it down to avoid all accusations of conflicts of interest?
The former would admittedly present certain practical problems (in which case, some might argue, the decision is pretty easy), but while it's always dangerous to comment on hypotheticals, one wonders what the reaction from the press would be if, for example, a prominent FA figure had financial ties with someone they praised so readily and frequently.
Samuel has long been a fan of Redknapp, so it's difficult to suggest he doesn't genuinely believe he would have been a better England manager. It's just writing as such after an England win, in the same week as his book comes out, that raises questions.
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