David Cameron’s Favorite Journalists

By , 10 July, 2009, 2 Comments

British newspapers have long had a reputation for poor news judgment, but for the last few months, they have really made the cliché come true. Firstly, there’s the way papers on both left and right jumped on to a witch hunt over parliamentary expenses, playing right into David Cameron’s hand as he worked to convince voters that only Labour ministers were abusing their expense accounts. In reality, there was abuse on both sides, but no massive fraud as was sometimes claimed by politicians.

Secondly, there’s the way the News of the World has started paying hackers to get access to the personal voicemails of public figures it wants to expose. This is especially intriguing since one of David Cameron’s cronies, Andy Coulson, is the News’ ex-editor. After Cameron condemned the News’ behavior (“It’s wrong for newspapers to breach people’s privacy with no justification”) but insisted he had forgiven Coulson, lefty commentators jumped on him as a hypocrite who only stands by journos running exposes on his opponents in good times.

This particular critique falls flat because it equates the journalism in the expenses scandal with that of the News. The Guardian, Telegraph and other papers who made a big deal about expenses were following standard journalistic practice by getting access to public documents about public sector agency finances. They made an error of judgment in choosing to publish that information instead of devoting that space to other more important stories, but once they settled on this story, their process was still one of basic newsgathering. By contrast, the News used illegal means to gain access to private-sector information about non-public finances and published that. EVEN WHERE the stories it was obtained for were of real importance, this is a violation of basic newsgathering norms, as well as of the law. Both incidents should be condemned, but not for the same reasons.

I have no special love for David Cameron, as readers of this blog will know, but I think his critics are letting their hatred of Toryism overwhelm their logic.

2 Responses {+}
  • The Fast Talker

    The Telegraph paid a large some of money to procure expenses documents from a source in the fees office while they were still private (albeit due to be released 3 months later). Doesn't that count as a bit illegal?

  • Preppy McPrepperson

    To the best of my knowledge, it's unethical but not strictly illegal. But I'm not mounting a justification of any journalism done on expenses. It was bad. Nor I am trying to say that it is "less bad" than the News' hackers.

    Rather, I am saying we should not judge the two cases together at all. And we certainly shouldn't judge Cameron or anyone else's opinion of the News based on his opinion of the Telegraph.

    If you want to condemn Cameron, the News and the Telegraph by all means, do it. I may join you. But condemn them each on their own terms, not by lumping them together with a rhetorical flourish.

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