Just 48 hours before Lord Hutton delivers his verdict on the controversy surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the BBC has begun an advertising experiment that involves buying up all internet search terms relating to the inquiry.
Despite being one of the main players in the drama, anyone searching for "Hutton inquiry" or "Hutton report" on the UK's most popular search engine Google is automatically directed to a paid-for link to BBC Online's own news coverage of the inquiry.
Well, that sounds pretty creepy. But wait — “automatically directed to”? What does that mean? When I do a Google search, I get a list of links, and I can click on the one I want, I’m not automatically directed anywhere. And since when does Google sell link rankings? Ah, further in the story, we find out what’s actually going on:
Through Google's Ad Words service advertisers can bid to buy up search terms that relate to their business. The more they bid, the higher up their link is shown on the right-hand side of the page next to Google's normal results sorted by relevancy.
Oh, that’s all? The BBC bought an ad on Google? What’s the big deal? Lots of people do that. That bears no resemblance at all to what The Guardian claimed in the opening paragraphs.
To top it all off, when I actually Google for hutton inquiry, I don’t see any ads at all. The top link goes to the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk (I don’t know who owns that, and don’t care enough to do a whois). And in a fine display of self-referentiality, the top news link goes to that Guardian story.
So, is all mainstream news reporting this bad, and I just don’t realize it most of the time?