Some Musings About The Press…..

by Ray_North on February 25, 2014

images-7Let’s consider the following scenario which has been played out in the last couple of days.

Now then, The Daily Mail, as we all know, has a fairly clear political agenda – it doesn’t like some politicians and some political ways of thinking. I hate the rag, I don’t buy it, that is the way a free press works, I get that.

Now, journalis from the Daily Mail,Jack Doyle and Sam Greenhill, decide to write a piece for their newspaper, which is their job. I get that as well.

I’ll pause for a second and ask this question. Has anyone ever heard of these two individuals? Indeed, is Sam Greenhill a girl Sam or a boy Sam? No idea. No me neither. They are a couple of faceless hacks. They are called to account by no one other than their editor.

Now, they sit down however and write a story about Harriet Harman – yes, everyone knows Ms. Harman, she is the former Attorney General and current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a serious politician and someone who is, by virtue of her job, open to be rejected or acclaimed by her constituents every few years.

Now, faceless hacks, Doyle and Greenhill, wrote a story about Ms. Harman that is so totally full of innuendo and nonsense that it is almost beneath contempt – the subtext of the story, the thrust of the message that they are trying to convey is that Ms. Harman somehow is an apologist for Jimmy Saville and an organisation called the Pedophile Information Exchange, and that, as such she must somehow be a sexual pervert herself. Indeed, look a bit deeper, and the Daily Mail would like its readers to believe that all liberals and lefties are actually sexual perverts who would molest children if they could.

It is of course absolute bollocks. I don’t know Ms. Harman, but I would eat my own car, if she held any views that were remotely adverse to children.

But, the story has been written. And it’s been written in such a way that Ms. Harman is going to be hard pressed to sue for libel. So, she can either ignore it, or she can comment upon it. In this instance, perhaps saying nothing and letting it die a natural death may have been the wisest course of action – but, Ms. Harman rose to the bait (and I don’t blame her for this), made a statement and as such the story has become a big one leading this morning on most of the news bulletins and making the front page on many daily national newspapers.

For Mr Doyle and Miss or Mr Greenhill – the job is done. Their nasty little story has now grown wings and the preposterous possibility of Ms Harman having pro-pedophile views is now out there. They will be sitting in the offices of their newspaper enjoying the plaudits of their editors.

It is completely unfair, it belittles the actual real debate about pedophilia and is a scandalous slur on the career and life of a politician who, on the whole, has tried her best. It goes on day after day after day.

Sadly, I doubt that Ms. Harman has much recourse – others may know better than I, but I can’t see a libel in the story. So what can she do?

Well, she should be able to face her accusers, she should have the opportunity to debate with the likes of Doyle and Greenhill in public so that they can have their nonsense tested by her under cross-examination and counter argument, so that they can justify the words that they have written.

Perhaps the time has come for those who are accused to have the right to reply laid down in statute – and I mean a proper right to reply, not just a few paragraphs on page 14 or a largely ignored response piece – but a proper right in which the journalists who wrote the bile can be called to account at a public hearing or even on TV.

I for one would love to see Ms. Harman put her case to these men, and I would love to see them squirm as they tried to justify their words and the political message they were proffering. Not only would it make for a good spectator sport, it would also force journalists to think long and hard about writing crap that they know deep down is just simply not the truth.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East February 25, 2014 at 9:56 am

The Daily Mail ran this story in December. No one bit. There was not a sniff of it anywhere then other than in Dacre’s rag. They re-ran it as an ‘exclusive’ last week (which I suppose is true in the sense that only they had ever ran it and it was unique to them) and have ran it on their front page (including the Mail on Sunday) for five days in a row. Up until yesterday no other news agency had ran with it (including the Telegraph and the Murdoch press). There were a few references to it in gossipy columns but nothing in the serious comment and nothing on the news pages. The very well connected journalist James Forsyth noted that David Cameron had told Tory MPs to go nowhere near it.
What does Harriet Harman do after ignoring it for four days, she gives an interview which suddenly makes it front page story across the media (‘Harman refuses to condemn links to paedophile group’ etc) and that it leads the BBC news. Truly moronic as a media strategy. It should have just been ignored. There was absolutely no reason why other media outlets were going to suddenly pick up on it after ignoring it for the first 4 days it ran.
This comes back to LBJ’s famous and very wise words: ‘it’s not about whether your opponent is a pig fucker, it is a rather a question of getting your opponent to deny he fucks pigs’. Dacre must be rubbing his hands with glee over how Harman walked into this.

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MrMickS February 25, 2014 at 11:25 am

I don’t think its the pro-paedophile smear that Harman needs to worry about. It’s the way that she responded to the facts, albeit tainted with allegation, by attacking the source of the report rather than just dismissing the content. It allows her to be painted as someone that doesn’t judge issues on their merits but rather responds emotionally. What for that to be used in the run up to the next election.

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George_East February 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Ray, on your ‘where’s the libel?’ question. ‘Apologist’ (see the headline) strikes me as potentially libellous. Even on the basis of the material they have I don’t see that they have anything suggesting that Harman was making excuses for paedophilia.

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Ray_North February 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I think that’s a fair point George – not my area of law (unfortunately) – -
and I suppose the mail would argue that the headline referred to her bring an apologist for the organisation rather than the act – though of course the implications contained in the headline are as clear as a bell. That’s why I’d love to see an individual have the chance to put that to the journalist free from the burden and standard of proof.
It’s just a thought.

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George_East February 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Not my area either – but ‘paedophilia apologist’ is hard to read as anything other than what it says on the tin. Of course as it is libel, the burden would be on the Mail to prove justification, not on Harman to prove its falsity.

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John Dunn February 25, 2014 at 8:42 pm

Isn’t the wider point here that she is the deputy leader of a major political party, who has proved herself to have a total (and profound!), lack of judgement? And hence not fit for the post she holds?

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George_East February 25, 2014 at 10:44 pm

In what way? This is a bollocks story that relates to her job in the 1970s. She wasn’t an MP until 1982 and wasn’t deputy leader of the Labour Party until 2007. Nonsense of the first order.

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Jackie_South February 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm

John – she was an employee of NCCL, and not in a decision making role and, of course, only joined after the most controversial episode of PIE’s involvement.

By your logic, any politician who has worked for RBS (even at the counter) should apologise for their role in the downfall of the British economy. Any politician who has worked for BP (perhaps as a teenager doing nightshift in a petrol station) should apologise for the Gulf oil spill.

I’m not sure I could agree with that.

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John Dunn February 28, 2014 at 4:40 pm

I think Patricia Hewitt’s appology, stands in stark contrast with Harman, and Dromey’s refusal to do so.

They are a disgrace, and what is more, Milliband will regret his support for Harman. Very bad mistake for Labour.

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John Dunn February 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Jackie_South
Let me turn this around. Would you take up a post as legal officer for a small company, that you knew had associations with PIE?
Harriet Harman, did exactly that.

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