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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

image for Peston: I just guessed about Northern Rock
Truth of financial journalism revealed: A guess

BBC business editor Robert Peston today admitted he had no idea about Northern Rock and guessed.

Speaking to the Commons Treasury select committee, he told MPs: "I got lucky. I needed a story quick so I made the whole Northern Rock going to the Bank of England thing up.

"I just guessed."

Sitting beside fellow financial journalists, including Sky News and The Telegraph Jeff 'Angry' Randall, he explained his report was believed by Northern Rock customers to the point retail and wholesale investors dragged cash out of the Novocastrian 125% mortgage lender and it had no choice but to go to the Bank of England.

"Flukely bastard," said Alex Brummer from the Daily Mail.

"Are you saying without your report none of this mess would have started?" quizzed committee chairman John McFall.

"Yep. It was the first domino and well worth it. I told my editors at the BBC I was immersing myself in banking - really I was inter-railing across Europe.

"Look, I knew Northern Rock was over-reliant on the wholesale market for cash to lend, so when they pressurised me for a story I made it up.

"There was no secret Treasury source. I winged it," Mr Peston said overextending his syllables for as long as possible.

Mr Randall shouted: "So what? We all do it.

"Overvalued house prices? I made it up. They were probably fine. But people believed it and the crash happened so I was right."

Lionel Barber from the Financial Times added: "There was a story yesterday about a Kazakh mine, I just made it up. I just bunged in 'a source said' and made up some foreign-sounding names.

"I had to fill the paper."

Simon Beardy MP asked: "So how much so-called financial journalism is made up?"

Simon Jenkins, bloke from the Guardian, said: "12 per cent."

The other journalists nodded.

"And don't these firms complain?" asked Mr McFall, adding: "I went to Japan, don't you know?"

Peston replied: "Half the names of companies are made up. Do you really think there is a bloke called Bernard Madoff? One person writes it and the others just copy and paste.

"The rest of the time, boards have no idea what their executives are doing, so they just believe us."

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