The £175m Apology: Why Was The Times Duped?

As you may know, I’m a big fan of The Times. They do excellent features about all sorts of things I’m interested in, not least sport. But they’re not perfect, as they admitted this week with their 600 word apology for the story about the supposed Qatar ‘Dream Football League’, where the top clubs in Europe would decamp to the desert every other summer for a kickaround in the sand, pocketing £175m each for the pleasure.Times apology 18Mar2013

That story turned out to be a load of tosh, to put it politely. And everyone laughed so hard that they thought it best to explain themselves. Up stepped Football Editor Tony Evans with a serious look on his slightly jowly middle-aged face, to explain WHAT WENT WRONG. How did Times journo Oliver Kay get taken in, and how did no one else spot that the story had all the substance of a Joey Barton thesis?

Except Tony didn’t really explain it very well.

It turned out that Ollie Kay had got friendly with a contact who was apparently connected to the PSG Qatari owners. The contact provided various bits of info, some of which turned out to be true, and Kay grew more trusting. As Evans points out, it’s very easy to say why didn’t Kay do even the most basic check to see if the source was who or what he said, but apparently to ask that question ‘is to misunderstand the world of football’. Is it, Tony? Is it really? Maybe I misunderstand the world of journalism, but isn’t the basic premise to find stuff out and check things? I’m not sure why this principle has to be thrown aside in the case of football.

‘It’s not unusual for football journalists to have a contact whose past looks murky under close scrutiny’, says Tony. No doubt, but that is a different matter entirely. Murky past does not equate to made up story. ‘Every story needs checking,’ says Tony. Yes, we know. Tell Ollie.

Tony then spends 150 words or so telling us that on the face of it, given that Qatar is very rich and prone to grand gestures, the story was plausible. Okayyy. So Ollie then got on the blower to various top European clubs to ask if they knew about the ‘DFL’ and were in on the deal. There were two kinds of answers: ‘We’ve never heard of it’, or ‘We’ve heard of it, but we don’t think it will happen and we don’t think we’d be involved anyway’. Even though this was off the record and no one was going to be named, not a single club said they would be involved. But that didn’t put Ollie off! The Times ran the story on the basis that because it was possible and no one actually laughed when asked questions about it, that was good enough evidence.

As Tony himself says, ‘here is where The Times made a massive mistake’. He doesn’t actually say who, apart from Ollie, made the massive mistake; we are left to imagine.

I suppose we should say ‘fair play’ for bothering to write a full apology, rather than a single paragraph tucked away in the corner, but reading it leaves me very unsatisfied with the whole explanation. All this ‘we missed it because football is full of chancers’ stuff. And no explanation of why they think someone fed them the story in the first place. Surely they must have a theory about that? Did the mysterious contact spend months feeding Oliver Kay genuine information solely to then feed him this duff story for a laugh once his guard was down? It’s not even April the first yet. What exactly is the point?

So thanks Tony, but your 600 words is mostly stating the obvious (‘We were duped’; ‘We should have checked’), when I want answers as to why this happened, not just a rather vague go at how.

 Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5


14 thoughts on “The £175m Apology: Why Was The Times Duped?

  1. The times is the not alone in getting duped and used. There are tons of people around here who believe the fairytales planted by “Red & White” that Ghenghis Khan is jonesing to rain money all over AFC.

    Oh and have the “secretive Arab consortium” that supposedly were “ready” to made a vaporware bid for Arsenal been discussed yet, while we are talking about duping – and dopes?

    • Well maybe one day we’ll find out if Red & White have been promising to spend money that they won’t.
      As for the supposed Arab bid, I’m not sure many people got duped. (Assuming of course it is a load of rubbish, which no one has proven either way.)

      • You omitted to mention “no one has proven either way” that the the fairy and father christmas do, or do not, exist. Elvis could be alive for all we know too…

        Why dont we go on pointing out how newspapers get “duped”, when this very blog is full of fairytales.

  2. Tony Attwood picked up on this last week

    A great quote from Oliver Kay: “I’ve been amused by the speculation about the source of this story, I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise.

    “I’ve no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from.”

  3. The Times unfortunately is no different to a tabloid rag. They’ve printed a stack of lies – especially about Arsenal over the years. This is the paper that colluded with sister rag TheSun that Wenger had a ‘sinister’ past when he first joined the club and confronted him outside the stadium. For that alone, I wouldn’t use them for toilet paper!

  4. You’re a fan of the Times???

    Oh dear, I hope you are being sarcastic because that vile Murdoch mouthpeice is a right c***s convention.

  5. Every time I hear a red top journalist (yes that’s what they call themselves) talk about the story they begin; “I think we need to remember that Oliver Kay is a first class journalist who would not have printed this story unless there was something in it”. That’s all they need, ‘something in it’. What that something is we are never told. Could it be that that something is their overwhelming desire to print rumor as fact. God forbid.

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