All In The Q&A

Photo - cameras at a press conferenceWe are a few minutes into Sidney Lumet’s criminally under-rated masterwork Q&A when a telephone rings in a guy’s apartment. He rolls over in bed and picks it up. He is assistant district attorney Francis Reilly, still just a kid, and his boss, a ball-busting sleaze named Kevin Quinn, has called him up because a legendary police officer named Brennan has shot and killed a low-life outside a dingy bar.

It’s the kid’s first case, and that’s why he’s been chosen. Quinn assumes that he’s a career boy, a box checker who’ll follow the rules and not rock the boat.

Quinn, for reasons of his own, wants this matter dealt with quickly and without fuss. He gives the kid the low-down on what he knows of the case, and then sends him on his way.

Just as the kid gets to the door, Quinn calls him back for a second.

He tells the kid to make damned sure he gets it all down on paper.

“For all intents and purposes,” he says, “the Q&A defines what really happened. If it’s not in the Q&A it didn’t happen.”

It’s a moment which sets up a wonderful movie, and one I came back to last night when I was pondering the day’s events.

There is something almost mystical about getting stuff “on the record.” As Scottish football fans we are well used to seeing how the media version of events has the ability to become the accepted history, no matter how incompetent the writer or distorted the facts.

When Rangers existed, when they were still a superpower here, it was almost comical reading the media’s craven reporting of everything that snaked its way out of the Ibrox press room. Rangers thought of themselves as the biggest thing in town, and the media bought into that and acted accordingly. Back then, the club at Ibrox was Box Office stuff. Now they’re Cardboard Box Office, and the assorted oddities who’ve come and gone or inhabit the boardroom now no longer have the same pull.

Nowadays, the spotlight shines elsewhere.

Over the last couple of weeks, since the Legia game in Warsaw, something unusual has been going on in the Scottish media. Certain writers have taken it upon themselves to launch into unprompted defences of Peter Lawwell and the Celtic strategy, in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the way in which they once defended the man who lorded it from Ibrox, David Murray.

I find this unusual because on the back of an horrendous result, the appointment of an unknown manager and the spending of zero money despite a transfer cash surplus in the tens of millions they should have been writing searching articles asking hard questions.

I am moved to wonder what motivated them to write fawning pieces of sycophancy instead.

Tell you what, I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Later on today, it’s said that Lawwell himself will sit down with the media and let them question him, so he can get his side of the story out.

Lawwell is a smart man, and he gets his due credit for being willing to do this, but it’s not because I expect anything particularly illuminating to come out of it. No, it’s a piece of PR spinning, and I can guess pretty much everything he’ll say, from “we are working hard to bring in players but there are no guarantees” to “we are constrained from operating in Scotland.”

It will be the same old excuses, the same old mantra, the same old tired nonsense, with the occasional vague promise of “jam tomorrow” thrown in.

No, where he gets credit is in being able to read the tea leaves. He knows that getting the board’s side of this on the record is important, especially with Europa League ticket packages to sell. He knows that if he’s going to pull something out of this firestorm of criticism that he has to get in front of it, in the way Malky MacKay knew he couldn’t ride out his own self-made disaster by hiding away from the world.

In short, he had no choice but to step forward and take some flak. He doubtless believes that a “warts and all” session in front of the hacks will work as a piece of damage limitation, and under normal circumstances he might even be right.

These aren’t normal circumstances. Because some us won’t be listening to the answers he gives half as carefully as we’ll be listening to the questions he’s asked.

I’m concerned about that, because I’m way too familiar with how the media operates to expect that this will be a forensic examination. I fear that it won’t be anything of the sort. It will be softball stuff, easy to deflect. When they do ask difficult questions there will be little cross examination, little scrutiny, as to whether the answers he gives stack up.

Our hacks have never been terribly efficient. They’ve never been all that good at sifting through what they are told, and separating out the spin from the substance.

There are some questions which are crying out to be asked here: whether Neil Lennon’s leaving was related to the club’s downsizing strategy? What he thinks of Johan Mjallby’s comments in one newspaper yesterday that this is exactly why the backroom team chose to go? Does he accept that the strategy of selling players after only a few years at the club defeats any manager with a notion of growing, and building, a team? Does he realise that this will leave us in the same position every summer, scrambling to replace those who’ve gone? Does he value the continuity and the growth of the football team as having a higher priority than the balance sheet? Does he believe that good players will ever want to stay at a club which appears to lack the ambition to build a strong squad? Does he accept that our wage cap keeps us shopping in the bargain basement, and is the reason we have a 40 strong squad which is nowhere near to being good enough?

There are many more questions that can be asked here, areas which don’t even touch on the business or football, like whether the club has any interest in reaching a new understanding with The Green Brigade; whether we are progressing the causes espoused by the fans, such as our demand for answers on the SFA’s granting a European license to Rangers before their liquidation and our pursuit of justice on EBT’s. None of those questions will be asked either.

The truth is, and he knows this because we all know it, the Scottish sporting press is safe ground for someone in his position. They are too dependent on hand-outs from the clubs to rock the boat, and Celtic is the biggest boat there is, with more scraps to throw at them than any other side. Lawwell himself is a Great White Shark, a cagey proposition to try and catch in a net, and if you manage to do it what then?

I suspect that this is the reason we’ve seen certain editorials in the press defending a strategy which any journalist in his right mind would be taking to bits in a forensic way.

Graham Speirs, who’s lead off hitter inspired a whole article on this site, didn’t even come close to making a convincing argument on behalf of the way we’re run, referring to “six years of success” which yielded a paltry three domestic trophies, half the available league titles and five colossal failures in Europe offset by one good year. It read like a Celtic press release rather than good journalism.

I think in some ways it probably was. Speirs was one of a number of journalists Peter Lawwell deliberately started courting back in 2008, inviting a selection of hand-picked hacks to come up to Celtic Park for a bite to eat and a wee off the record chat. It was at this meeting where Lawwell told Speirs that the club was facing “five difficult years.” Is it a coincidence that Speirs chose to praise the decisions that had been within that timeframe? Maybe it is, and maybe it’s not.

We know this meeting took place, and we know that conversation was had, because Speirs broke ranks and wrote about it. Oh he didn’t go into detail, and so he wasn’t ejected from the Circle of Trust, but in a column later on that year he wrote about the lunch in a piece that was laying out what the future at Celtic Park would look likely look like. The absence of Rangers aside, it’s pretty close to where we are today.

Who else was there? Speirs didn’t say, and on the surface of it there’s nothing unusual about that kind of gathering. It happens all the time in politics and in showbiz and it is a matter of routine in those professions, and I am sure sport is the same.

Being courted like that must be nice for the media. It makes them feel special, but it also compromises their objectivity.

Hugh McDonald’s article of the other day was even worse, if that’s possible, leading off with a headline that was inviting ridicule before I even read a word of the article itself. “Money Can’t Buy Them Players …” was the title of this arrant nonsense, making Celtic the only football club in the world for whom a cash surplus has become a negative.

In another article which read like something that could have been written in The Celtic View, another hack talked about how Celtic could afford a £10 million striker, but that we could not afford the £20 million he would cost in wages over four years … an unintentionally hilarious piece of sums-on-the-back-of-a-hankie which he appears not to have realised amounted to a salary of £100,000 a week, a sum nobody has even remotely suggested is realistic or desirable, and which no player in the £10 million bracket would ever come close to getting paid.

This article was nothing more than an excuse for why Celtic no longer even pursues blue chip players. (And I mean that in the comparative sense, not in the literal “let’s sign Messi” one).

The question I’m posing is; why are some in the media willing to make this excuse for us? Which leads to the next question; how can we trust these people to ask the right questions, that will get us the answers we deserve and clarify the thinking of those who run Celtic?

The obvious answer is that we can’t. Truth to power does not come easily to our hacks, and Lawwell has the kind of influence not even Murray himself could have wielded. Hugh Keevins has already been ejected from Celtic Park in the last couple of years, and whilst I supported it and think it was long overdue, and in fact think other journalists with clear anti-Celtic biases should have joined him on the outside looking in, there was a very clear message being sent out with the ban.

Toe the line or face the consequences. And this is a guy who’s authority reaches beyond Celtic Park. He’s on the SFA’s main board and is one of the leading players on the governing body of the SPFL. This is a guy who can close more doors than just the one to the Parkhead boardroom in their faces.

No-one in the press will go out of his way to push too hard, and as nice as it sounds to imagine a Celtic CEO having them this nervous it’s dangerous because it keeps the truth from us as much as Murray’s own influence with the press kept the truth from Rangers fans.

No, today’s question and answer session will be mildly amusing but not overly interesting. Nothing new will be said. No new course will be charted. Those expecting fireworks, revelations, tough questions or detailed answers will be disappointed.

In Lumet’s brilliant film, the young Assistant DA, Francis Reilly, played by the always excellent Timothy Hutton, finds out what really lies behind Quinn’s desire to have the Q&A reflect only one side of the story. His crusade for the truth has devastating consequences, and uncovers a dark underbelly of buried secrets, compromises of the blackest kind and a corruption that runs deep.

When Peter Lawwell is finished talking today many people are going to be eminently satisfied with just what’s “on the record.”

It’s worth remembering though that the Q&A doesn’t represent exact truth, only a sanitized version of it, the one that’s deemed acceptable for us to have. I’ve seen too many of these elsewhere to take it at face value.

Getting to the real nuts and bolts of this is going to be a much tougher task.

Once again, I think getting the real answers (or at least asking the real questions) is going to come down to the fans.

This is a job I don’t trust the hacks to do at all.

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Comments on All In The Q&A

  • Alan

    I’m tired of the excuse that targets would not come because it means playing in Scotland. Does anyone really believe it is any worse than most other countries in Europe outside of the big 5.
    Teams from smaller countries than Scotland, with smaller budgets than Celtic are out performing Celtic on the park where it matters.
    There is something fundamentally flawed with the system of recruiting and coaching of players at Celtic and this need addressed.
    Like you, I don’t believe we will get anything but sound bites aimed at selling Europa league tickets today.

  • http://CQN Tonyd

    Just two things from your blog your as predictable as the SMSM, I knew what was coming after the first paragraph, a Peter Lawwell hate fest, and a wee rally round the flag boys for the GB, change the record, or clean the fluff from the needle.
    Your blogs are becoming rants against everything Celtic, being controversial is worth reading, but taking bits and pieces from CQN posters is placenta for the SMSM and to be very honest poor journalism, if that is what you are trying to be? To plagiarise also falls into the same category.

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    Tonyd:

    Over on CQN you say what you like. Throw insults like confetti my old son.

    If you ever accuse me of plaigirism again you’ll havee a nice wee lawyers letter falling through the door.

    We clear on that? Criticism is fine, although you clearly don’t think so, but that’s the most serious accussation you can level at a writer and I am not going to stand for it for even two seconds.

  • http://CQN Tonyd

    Your a writer that dishes it out but can’t take it back, all you have written in your post has been written on every Celtic web site in Christendom, don’t you get it? It’s all been said it’s a no story, it’s just another slag on Peter Lawwell name, but ohhhhhhhhhh don’t slag meeeeeeee, your dummies under your pram.

  • Scots

    Another fine article James. I fail to see however the anti celtic bias pointed out by TD, but then over on CQN he does appear to be someone who doesn’t always think before he speaks(putting it politely). Oh and unlike TD I don’t think I’ve seen u be controversial just for the sake of it, as you always strongly back up your argument. Don’t always agree with what you say but then how boring would that be:).

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    You weren’t criticising. You were slandering. Since you posted it I’ve found out who you are, mailed you on Facebook and know where you drink.

    If you continue to slander me you WILL be hearing from my lawyer. Be warned.

  • Scots

    Nice.

  • http://Facebook Peter Conlon

    I really enjoy your truthful assumptions of Celtic and owners and directors and find your writing superb. On the other side I think. More can be made of the teams Failure waste of funds on poor signings and Lennoxtown and our coaching policy and our teams Tactical sense . Rocket Ronnie looks out of his depth with team selections that would baffle most loyal fans. Keep up your fight for a better Celtic than we now have cheers cfc

  • charlie

    Jamesi usually agree with most of what you write but i think comparing Peters relationship with the press with the cheat Murray is a bloody disgrace you should hang your head in shame mate

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    Noted fella. And I disagree. If you watched his utterly appalling interview with CelticTV you’d probably be as horrified as me.

  • charlie

    James do you think the laptop loyal will give Peter an easy ride cmon mate

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    I think some of them will write negative stories, but they are the ones who will spin anything anti-Celtic they can.

    Others will consider their access, and their personal relationships with him, and write what they are told. This is not unusual, as I said in the article. It happens in politics, it happens in sport, it happens in business and in showbiz. The objective is to control the flow of information to the people who matter most. Us. Yes, I think some of them will give him an easy ride and worse, some of them will actually spin what he tells them to.

  • charlie

    maybe you are right in some cases but i think you are being to heavy on Peter by the way if you want a laugh look up c nicholas i was sitting there thinking on you tube the man is a fu..ing numpty

  • Tim Buffy

    Slander refers to something. When it’s written the word is libel. Sorry to pedantic but accuracy is next to Godliness.

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    Tim Buffy:

    Lol thanks for that mate, you are off course right. My lawyer will know the difference 😉

  • Tim Buffy

    Should have read “Slander refers to something spoken.” Inaccurate typing. Hoist by my own petard!

  • Steve

    Hi another point of view is healthy but I believe that if PL at least starts to answer questions albeit ones he has probably given it does give everybody more information. My big concern is and I read most of the blogs is when somebody’s opinion transforms into fact, eg the GB do you James believe truthfully that there wasn’t dialogue between this group and the Club, if you do it’s quite naive for a guy of your intellect but there has to be compromise on both sides, my opinion which doesn’t make it fact is that the failure to achieve Safe Standing put a spanner in the works for the compromise to be reached, but if we all sing from the same hymn sheet there would be no debate. Keep the Faith

  • l

    as much as i like the sidney Lumet film references, this article is not built upon facts merely opinions. The club does not have ‘a transfer cash surplus in the tens of millions’, at last accounts we had a bank balance of less than £5million!!!! you ask the MSM press to write scathing articles about celtic yet your own article is based upon here-say and opinion, not fact! never mind you think g speirs is in Lawells back pocket! paranoid drivel!

  • Gherrybhoy57

    Hi James.
    Media manipulation in Scottish football is nothing new. It’s most effective exponent was a certain Jock Stein. We didn’t mind it at all then.
    I disagree with some of what Peter Lawwell does and says, and much of what he doesn’t say, but I can’t shout “foul” when he uses our lamb munching churnalists to get his agenda to the fore. They deserve all that they get for their cowardice.

  • Tony B

    The majority of posters on CQN are attention seeking self important holier than thou terminally angst ridden needy types full of their own bombast and bullshit who whilst they are not massaging their fellow clique members egos are desperately trying to bolster their own.

    The term prawn sandwich brigade could have been written for them.
    It’s no wonder that many people no longer post on the blog which became detached from reality a long time ago.

    Keep up the good work James. If the Clique Quick News mob are unhappy with you, you are undoubtedly doing something right.

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