Opinion

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.”

Cop-out in London

Jack Shafer
Sep 20, 2011 20:46 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

What were the London police thinking when they invoked the Official Secrets Act last week to compel Guardian reporters Amelia Hill and Nick Davies to disclose the confidential source for their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story? Did they think the Guardian would roll over when they arrived in court on Friday to contest the order? That Hill and Davies would submit? That free-speech advocates, members of Parliament, and journalists around the world would pay no mind to the prosecutorial over-reach?

Whatever the Metropolitan Police thought, they’ve rethought it today, announcing that they’re dropping for the time-being their request for a court order that the Guardian give up its sources.

With the perfect vision that comes with hindsight, it now appears that the court order was a bluff. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the Met did not consult the director of public prosecutions before wielding the Official Secrets Act, as the 1989 law requires. He was only consulted on Monday. In other words, the London police went rogue. If that’s the case, perhaps the goal of the cops was to give the Guardian and its journalists a fright and deter other reporters from investigating the pile-up of journalistic malfeasance, crimes by private detectives, corporate malfeasance at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps., and, of course, bribe-taking by the Metropolitan Police.

London police shoot the messenger

Jack Shafer
Sep 16, 2011 22:41 UTC

By Jack Shafer
The views expressed are his own.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who helped cover up the U.K.’s phone-hacking scandal for the better part of a decade, have finally figured out how to crack the case. Attack the press.

The Guardian, which kept the story alive after Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World minions, top politicians, and the cops throttled it, reports that the Metropolitan Police have requested a court order to force two of its reporters, Amelia Hill and Nick Davies, to surrender their confidential sources from their July 4 Milly Dowler phone-hacking story. Hill has already been questioned by police.

The Met is making its demand under the  Official Secrets Act, which is usually invoked in national security cases. In 1985, Ministry of Defence employee Clive Ponting was prosecuted under the act for divulging information about the sinking of an Argentinean ship during the Falklands War. In 2002, counter-intelligence officer David Shayler was convicted of giving secret documents to a newspaper. In 2003, U.K. government employee Katharine Gun was charged under the act with leaking to a reporter email from the National Security Agency requesting help in bugging the United Nations offices of six countries.

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