Jack Shafer

Two cheers for tabloid trash

Jack Shafer
Nov 30, 2011 23:28 UTC

Giving testimony yesterday at the Leveson phone-hacking inquiry (PDF) in London, former News of the World features editor Paul McMullan took the only position on the scandal not yet occupied: That of an unrepentant tabloid journalist.

Don’t blame tabloid excesses on tabloid journalists, McMullan held, as he blithely parried the panel’s questions about how he could justify the tabloid press’s phone-hacking practices, its surveillance of subjects, and other intrusions into people’s lives.

Blame tabloid readers, McMullan said.

“Circulation defines what is the public interest. I see no distinction between what the public is interested in and the public interest,” he said. “The reason why News of the World sold 5 million copies is that there were 5 million thinking people and that’s what they wanted to read.”

Continuing his blame-the-readers-not-me tack, he said, “[Readers] are the judge and the jury of what is in the paper, and if they don’t like it—if they don’t like the fact that you’ve written a story about Charlotte Church’s father having two-in-a-bed—sorry, three-in-a-bed on cocaine, then they’ll simply stop buying the product.”

Asked by Lord Justice Leveson if the ends justified the means, McMullan let his interrogator have it. “Yes, I think so,” he said. “All I’ve ever tried to do is write truthful articles and to use any means necessary to try and get to the truth.”

You got a license for that keyboard?

Jack Shafer
Sep 27, 2011 22:05 UTC

Ivan Lewis energized freethinkers everywhere today by proposing that the naughty U.K. press be reined in by “a new system of independent regulation.” In his speech to the Labour Party conference, the Labour shadow culture secretary called for the press to “consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off,” by which he meant banned from the practice of journalism.

The U.K. press immediately roared back—all but accusing Lewis of campaigning for a cabinet position as Minister of Censorship. Lewis then retreated on Twitter. “I said industry should consider whether gross malpractice should lead to a journo being struck off and i oppose state oversight of press,” he wrote.

By the end of the day, Lewis was backpedaling faster, telling the BBC, “I regret the fact that there has been a response to something that I didn’t say.”