When Byline Media broke the story of (now former) Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and his significant relationship with a known sex worker, the response from the press establishment was at first indifference, and then hostility. Whitto, they made known, had done nothing wrong, and so there was no public interest in the story. Moreover, we should all Look Over There at campaigning group Hacked Off instead.
But there was nothing wrong with Nick Mutch and James Cusick’s analyses: Whitto had indeed jeopardised cabinet security - the Mail On Sunday confirmed this after the event - and his use of known sex workers was a blackmail risk. And now we know that the main plank of the press establishment defence - that he had not done anything wrong - has also been split apart, after confirmation he broke Parliamentary disclosure rules.
As The Independent has told, “Ex-cabinet minister John Whittingdale has admitted breaching Parliament's rules after the standards watchdog found he did not properly register a trip to Amsterdam … An investigation concluded the former Culture Secretary failed to correctly register the £1,500 trip to the 2013 MTV awards, that he took with his then-girlfriend”. And there was more - much more.
“Mr Whittingdale explained to the Commissioner that he did not believe he needed to register the hospitality because it was only worth £534.82, which was under the threshold of one per cent of an MP's salary … But Viacom, the firm which paid for his attendance, told the Commissioner that figure did not include the ticket and other costs for the MP's partner. The total value was £1,529.07, according to the company”.
Whitto’s response? He was surprised! “I of course recognise that this should have been declared in the register at the time … I apologise that I failed to do so which was the result of my misinterpreting the information that I received from the company as to the cost”. Like he would confuse “£534.82” and “£1,529.07”, you understand. The result is that he has had the proverbial rap across the knuckles and otherwise been let off.
That, though, does not absolve the press from blame for their keeping Schtum. Whitto had indeed done something wrong, yet they did nothing. Worse, when Byline Media broke the story, they and their pals denounced Byline and new head man Peter Jukes as tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists, even going so far as to arrange a Sunday Telegraph hit piece claiming dishonestly that Hacked Off had been trying to promote the story.
Compare and contrast with the press establishment’s attack on Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, who has not been proved to have done anything wrong. The difference is that Vaz is not as useful to the press as Whittingdale was, given the latter was stalling on signing off Section 40 of the Crime And Courts Act. The impression is once again given that our free and fearless press is at least as adept at covering up stories as breaking them.
Byline Media has been vindicated by today’s news. Don’t all shout at once, press poodles.