Only yesterday, master of serial dishonesty Richard Littlejohn was talking about “brave whistleblowers” within the Police force. He did so in order to support the editorial line of his legendarily foul mouthed editor, Paul Dacre. As they have done for decades past, the Mail, Sun and now the Maily Telegraph all took whatever the Police told them as immutable fact.
After all, they took Police accounts as fact for the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Winston Silcott, Colin Stagg, Hillsborough, Orgreave, Blair Peach, Jean Charles de Menezes, and last summer Mark Duggan. So what could possibly go wrong when they took as fact – without bothering to get a second source – an account of an altercation at the end of Downing Street from an allegedly disinterested passer-by?
Except, in what has since been called Plebgate, the passer-by was a serving Police officer, and though his account matched the official log of the incident, which as with the first account was leaked to a paper known as a conduit for this kind of material, it now seems that he was not there at the time. Young Dave is said to be furious, and so he should be – one of his MPs appears to have been fitted up.
Yes, Andrew Mitchell – by his own admission – swore at Police officers, something that has got others arrested (an action that all of those newspapers have heartily applauded). There was a less than harmonious relationship between Mitchell and his deputy at the Whips’ office. There was tension between the Government and the Police over spending cuts. All these are true.
But none of those factors discharge editors and journalists from their duty of care: to get the story, but then check it out and stand it up before publishing. This, after all, is exactly the charge they have all levelled at the BBC’s Newsnight, following the episode which led to Alistair McAlpine being wrongly accused of involvement in the North Wales care homes scandal.
Moreover, what the return of Plebgate has also done is to show that these titles are utterly and totally incapable of doing investigative journalism any more: if the story is not fed them by PR people or lobby groups, if it does not arrive under plain wrapper on a CD-ROM, if it does not emerge from exercising “The Dark Arts”, or trawls of the electoral register, the land registry or Companies’ House, they are lost.
That the proper investigative analysis was done by a broadcast journalist, Michael Crick, does not occur to them. It is not Leveson that is putting a chill on journalism: that has already happened under the aegis of Dominic Mohan, Tony Gallagher and Paul Dacre. In a world where agenda-driven copy and what Nick Davies called “The News Factory” rule newspapers, they have been found gravely wanting.
And all they can do is flail around like so many dinosaurs. That’s not good enough.