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Tuesday 12 March 2013

Pryce Of Running To Rupe

In the wake of the Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce affair, the Guardian’s Marina Hyde put it fairly succinctly: “Don’t talk to a newspaper”. She could have easily narrowed it down to “Don’t go to the Sunday Times”. Because when it comes to failing to protect your sources and doing the right wing’s dirty work, Rupe’s upmarket Sunday troops have got past form.

This man trusts one thing: money

The Sunday Times used to mean serious, even-handed and fearless journalism. But that was before the Dirty Digger got his hands on it. Under Murdoch’s less than benign leadership, the paper got involved in the Hitler Diaries fiasco, its problems made worse after Rupe personally overrode the reservations of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (“f*** [Lord] Dacre, publish!”).

After Frank Giles walked the plank for that episode, Andrew Neil was appointed editor, and the ST scored what was considered to be one of the greatest ever journalistic scoops, the revelation of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. But Neil and his team failed to protect their source, Mordechai Vanunu, who had tried to interest the Mirror while the ST prevaricated over the story.

The Mirror was, at the time, owned by Robert Maxwell, who was rumoured to have tipped off the Mossad. Vanunu was lured out of the country in a classic honey trap operation and abducted in Rome. He was put on trial – in secret – in Israel and, although released from prison in 2004, is still subject to severe restrictions on his movement and may not leave the country.

And the ST soon became caught up in the machinations of the Thatcher Government, which Rupe slavishly supported. After Thames Television screened Death On The Rock, about the killing of three unarmed Provisional IRA operatives in Gibraltar by the SAS, the Murdoch press was in the vanguard of a smear operation that culminated in their being successfully sued for libel.

The unlikely subject of the Sunday Times’ (and Sun’s) attack was a Gibraltar housewife called Carmen Proetta, who had witnessed the shootings and given a statement to Police. She appeared in the Thames programme and was subsequently accused of involvement in prostitution, drugs, assault and association with criminals. The Sun called her “The Tart Of Gib”.

Andrew Neil was subsequently most reluctant to discuss his part in the award to Ms Proetta of north of £300,000. But it seems the paper he edited is still happy to do the right’s dirty work, as well as shop its sources (the Murdoch press has always loved kicking the deeply subversive Guardian over Sarah Tisdall, but at least they went all the way to the House of Lords. The ST didn’t even appeal before shopping Pryce).

Vicky Pryce should have done her homework. Never go to the Sunday Times.

1 comment:

Chris Neville-Smith said...

Interesting, one key difference between Vicki Pryce and Sarah Tidsall was whether the paper in question should have been attempting to protect the source in the first place. As an ex-civil servant, I know perfectly well the risks you take disclosing secret information. Sarah Tidsall presumably knew the risk she was taking, tried to hide her identity, and failed.

But we saw yesterday with Vicki Pryce, the thing that counted most heavily against her was not her lack of proof over marital coercion, but the lengths she went to conceal her own involvement in a crime whilst hoping her ex-husband went down for the same offence. Frankly, one small piece of common sense could have told her that was never going to work. Even if the papers hadn't revealed her identity - well, the case against Huhne was exhibit A: the form with her signature on it, and exhibit B: proof she couldn't have been driving. Result: she'd have been exposed anyway.

If I was the journalist (and this assumes I still had a sense of ethics, but let's just assume), I would have advised her to either come clean on day 1 (and probably avoid a prison sentence) or don't report the story at all. But I think I'm still putting 80% of the blame with Vicki Pryce. This wasn't some vulnerable abuse victim or X Factor reject being taken advantage of - she was intelligent enough to know better.

I think the phrase I would use is: If you are a public figure, don't go to the papers (Murdoch or otherwise) anonymously unless you realise you will probably get named eventually are prepared for the consequences of that. Doesn't quite roll roll off the tongue quite so well, but more accurate.