Journalist Iain Martin tried his best to make light of my post earlier this week about his appearance on the sofa of The Andy Marr Show (tm), when I questioned why he had stressed so deliberately - and repeatedly - that there was “a clear public interest defence” in the Keith Vaz story run by the Sunday Mirror. “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked. But he knew exactly what was being talked about.
It was vital to establish the narrative, to frame the story, in a way that would enable the larger part of the Fourth Estate to claim some kind of moral high ground over what looked like an old-fashioned “sting” operation - and separate that story from the revelations over former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, which the same press had sought to keep quiet - and on which Martin was not alone in kicking campaigning group Hacked Off.
This divergence has been explored further by Brian Cathcart, who was at the eye of the storm which descended on Hacked Off as the press decided that, despite their having had no part in breaking or indeed promoting the Whittingdale revelations, they somehow did it. There was also the flagrantly dishonest claim that Hacked Off had “demanded” Whittingdale be exposed. And they didn’t do that either.
Cathcart has gone through the list of points made by the press establishment as their reasons not to pursue the Whittingdale story. There are six of them. Only one of those points is any different in Vaz’ case - he is not a single man, as we were told repeatedly of Whitto, but married. So the only difference between Vaz, with “a clear public interest defence”, and Whitto, where there was allegedly none, is adultery.
Have a think about that. Adultery is the only difference between “how dare Hacked Off say there is a public interest defence” and that there is “a clear public interest defence”. The only difference between Iain Martin displaying gravitas on the Marr Show, and Evan Harris getting shouted down by Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. The only difference between serious credibility and getting sneered at on Newsnight.
But our free and fearless press is not always so precious about alleged adultery, nor at keeping single men out of the papers over their private lives. Otherwise, there would be no discussion of London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, or Steve Norris, or indeed the still nominally Labour MP Simon Danczuk. And there would be no single Slebs getting turned over by the tabloids.
As Brian Cathcart rightly concludes, “The Vaz case is proof, if it were needed, of a double standard in our national papers. They published their story about him and claimed a public interest justification. In the Whittingdale case they could have made almost exactly the same claims but they chose not to publish”. And it’s not as if they didn’t have anything on Whitto, as the Mail On Sunday demonstrated very soon afterwards.
That, Iain Martin, was what I was talking about. And well we both know it.