After the story of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s dalliance with a known prostitute reached the mainstream media, the reaction by the larger part of the press, and in particular their hangers-on, was predictable: there had to be retaliation, the story had to be framed to facilitate this, and the target, or targets, of the retaliation had to be monstered to the point of being - hopefully for the attackers - taken down.pointed out yesterday, the Guido Fawkes rabble were ready with the necessary hit piece as soon as Tuesday’s edition of BBC Newsnight went off air. That post framed the story and identified the main target: it was a conspiracy theory, the campaigning group Hacked Off were behind it, they were hypocrites for reasons that were duly concocted, and all that was left was for the mob to pile in and get them.
It does not seem to have occurred to those piling in that you should never, but never, but NEVER take the Fawkes blog on trust. Those who gave that trust include Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose rant at Hacked Off was rendered invalid by its prominent use of the Fawkes rabble as a reliable source. Mark Wallace of Conservative Home additionally framed the story as rotten lefties coming to get a hated Tory (wrong).
Iain Dale decided he didn’t want to do Hacked Off the courtesy of talking to them before condemning Evan Harris out of hand, and refused to be persuaded otherwise. And today the mainstream press has piled in, resorting to forthright dishonesty, as exemplified by the Mail’s claim that “News of the MP's 2014 relationship was made public last night by Newsnight in an interview with Hacked Off founder Brain Cathcart”.
And to that I call bullshit: the Whitingdale story had already been the subject of two Byline Media articles (HERE and HERE), several posts on this blog, and a full page feature in the current issue of Private Eye magazine. Newsnight ran a report from John Sweeney going over the story - before the discussion which featured not only Brian Cathcart, but also former tabloid editor Roy Greenslade. Still, facts, eh?
The Mail went on to claim “The Independent, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday and The Independent on Sunday decided not to publish, possibly because they thought it was not in the public interest and would breach his privacy”. The fourth paper was the Sunday People, not the Indy On Sunday, and no reason for not running was given, despite James Cusick repeatedly asking Amol Rajan for one. This is pure speculation.
Moreover, Hacked Off did not, as has been suggested, demand that the story be run, but only pointed out that there was a public interest justification for publishing, and asked why this had not taken place. As Cusick noted, there were “several public interest factors - namely Whittingdale’s contradictory moral stance, his voting record in the Commons, the Mosley lecture, and questions over his expenses [which] all justified publication”. Also see under “Sunday Times says Seb Corbyn is on Tinder”.
Added to which is his role in overseeing the press. Yet too many people are piling in on Hacked Off instead, for having the audacity to comment. And, as I’ve told on more than one occasion, there is much more to come. Kicking Hacked Off will not make the mob right. It will not make the story go away. But it may make them look rather foolish.