The Leveson Inquiry is back in full swing this week, and a number of witnesses have given testimony during the morning, but these were mere warm-up acts for the main event, the re-appearance of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, boss of Absolutely Everything That Moves at Associated Newspapers. This time, though, the Vagina Monologue would have to face questioning.
And so, eventually – well after the 1400 hours kick off time – a tired and croaky Dacre took the oath. From the outset, he took a lot of trouble to dissociate himself from the characterisation that has endured for so many years, that of the editor who controls his empire with an iron hand and an awful lot of aggression, as evidenced by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News.
But he was unequivocal when it was put to him that his ideal was traditional matrimony and “traditional values”, and that he felt free to criticise those who did not meet that specification: there was one word of answer, and that word was “yes”. And his quoting Tim Luckhurst as a “professor of journalism” skated over the inconvenient fact that Luckhurst is one of his own pundits.
So how did Dacre fare under questioning? In a word? Badly. Not at all well. He was far more comfortable when addressing the Inquiry in the manner of making a statement. As soon as the questions got difficult, the breathing got heavier – one mischievous Tweeter likened it to Darth Vader – and Dacre became tetchy. One sensed an outburst was lurking beneath the surface.
A reference to Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News was not well received, while a brief look at Operation Motorman led The Great Man to tell that the Observer was as bad as the Daily Mail (it wasn’t, and since Roger Alton was eased out of the editor’s chair, it has largely stopped using enquiry agents). But it was his admission on Friends and Family phone numbers that caused the real intake of breath.
Dacre clearly believed that this list of ten numbers was somehow legally available. It isn’t. The hint he was given was when it was revealed that one set of the numbers set the paper concerned £500. Had the information been legally available, there would have been little point in shelling out £5, never mind £500. That, combined with all the “I don’t know” responses, was not a good sign.
Neither was his assertion that “we check facts”, when it is well known that his pundits routinely don’t bother and just make up whatever is convenient for them (like Melanie Phillips only this morning, or Richard Littlejohn over Jody McIntyre). This performance has not been a convincing one, and I doubt that it will stand up to scrutiny as it is – inevitably – pored over later.
Part 2 of the Dacre analysis follows later.