Well, it was only a matter of time.
The tedious, long-running, press-bashing, minor-celeb tufty hunt that is the Leveson Inquiry has finally wrought a backlash.
And leading the charge are the lefty-libertarians at spiked, which has launched The Counter-Leveson Inquiry.
In his article announcing the launch, spiked editor (and Telegraph blogger) Brendan O’Neill notes that ones re-opening the inquiry on Monday, Lord Leveson mention he found ‘publicly expressed concerns’ about the inquiry ‘troubling’.
The most remarkable thing about Leveson’s admission to feeling troubled by public criticisms is that, sadly, there has been very little public criticism of his showtrial of the tabloids. You could count on one hand, or at a stretch two hands, the number of journalists and politicians who have dared to question the right of one judge to marshal celebrities and coppers to the cause of redefining the ethics of the press.
Quite so. There has been the usual drooling over the attacks on the Murdoch tabloids by the more totalitarian-inclined of our “liberal” lickspittle media – The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC etc – but the rest of the mainstream media has generally cowered in the corner, with only the Mail‘s Paul Dacre putting up any semblance of a fight in what is really a kangaroo court.
And it is a kangaroo court. Witnesses line up and grab their allotted 15 minutes of fame – or, the case of faded celebrities and failed politicians, to grab another 15 minutes of celebrity – making whatever allegations fits their agenda of vengeance, outrage, paranoia and shamelessness. There is no forensic cross-examination of these allegations such as would occur in a court of law, either criminal, where the criteria is beyond reasonable count, or civil, where the criteria is the balance of probabilities.
Instead, they are met with gentle questions eliciting their feelings, impressions and thoughts more appropriate for a student counselling session than a formal, quasi-judicial inquiry. For many of the witnesses, this is true nirvana: not only do have a spotlight of a softer, more flattering hue cast upon them, they get a free ego-massage thrown in too.
One troubling aspect of the Levenson inquiry that O’Neill doesn’t comment on in his article – strangely, since it’s one of his hobby-horses – is that by almost solely attacking the tabloids, this is really just another extended prole-bash. The tabloids cater for a sizeable readership who loves celeb gossip; some of the tabs catered to this demand by nefarious means, by illicit phone-hacking or paying cops for tip-offs of celeb shenanigans etc. Of that there’s no doubt.
But hang on: during the Leveson recess, we had the unedifying sight of the usual suspects – the aforementioned Guardian, Independent, BBC etc – drooling over “hacked” documents “proving” that the right-wing US Heartland Institute, which takes a robust anti-man-made global warming line, along with many other activities, was plotting to use the untold millions it gets from Big Oil to foil pro-climate changee scientists by “dissuading teachers from teaching science”.
The fact the central “strategy” document was a crudely cobbled-together fake and that the genuine documents – which were blandly routine meeting reports that hardly showed Heartland wallowing around in Big Oil bucks like Scrooge McDuck – had been obtained by fraud by pro-climate change activist, Peter Gleick, who has since confessed to the phishing, though not to the faking.
That they had tacitly supported and thereby endorsed illegal activities because it suited their news agenda in this instance did not seem to faze then usual suspects. Indeed, the Guardian even ran an extraordinary piece by The Ethics of Climate Change author James Garvey in which he said:
Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland’s money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he’s undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.
So: the ends justifies the means, eh? But only if it’s the Guardian’s ends, it would seem. It certainly doesn’t apply to those filthy red-tops’ ends. Some may call that moral relativism. I call it rank hypocrisy.
But don’t expect such high-minded shenanigans to get even a mention at Leveson. It’s the tabloids which are in the firing line, and while it’s them, the usual suspects will happily cheer the inquiry on.
But O’Neill is surely right to note that whether they are active cheerleaders or cowering curs, mainstream journalists are oblivious to the bonfire which is being built under their feet:
It is alarming that, in a country where the poet John Milton demanded freedom of the press more than 350 years ago, and where many other writers and activists subsequently fought tooth-and-catapult to expel state forces from the worlds of writing and publishing, so many should now acquiesce to an inquiry which gives a judge and his chums the power to tell the media what its morals should be.
O’Neill ends his call to arms with another fiery quote from Milton which I urge you to check out for yourself. Because whatever you might think of their views on other topics (which I myself have a love/hate relationship with), on this issue, the spiked gang is definitely on the side of the angels.
Hypocrisy flows as freely through Fleet Street as the river Fleet that give it its name once flowed (before it got clogged with human and animal effluent, bodies, shopping trolleys and the 18th-century equivalent of copies of Heat and the Evening Standard).
But there is cheerful Fleet Street hypocrisy and there’s cynical hypocrisy which reveals a nastier side of the writer’s soul: the latter being the sort that makes you want to physically deposit human effluent and shopping trolleys over what you have just read.
Tonight’s Evening Standard provides just such an example of the latter, with the Pythia of Journalism, Roy Greenslade, pontificating thusly under the headline “Why I believe it’s all over for James Murdoch”:
Rupert Murdoch’s son James is a busted flush…[bore, fart etc…much stuff about the House of Commons media select committee. Finally…] At every turn, the name of James Murdoch will continue to feature in headlines. He cannot run and he cannot hide. His game is well and truly up.”
Well, OK. If you say so Roy. Those of us with a longer memory of yesterday’s chip wrapper (and indeed can remember when newspapers were allowed to be yesterday’s chip wrapper) recall times when your antagonism toward Murdoch had a slightly more, er, financial angle.
So here, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is a little poem:
“You are old, Father Greenslade,” the young man said,
“And with Robert Maxwell you once were so tight;
Yet you stand on your head to attack Murdoch J. —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
According to the Daily Telegraph, “celebrities, crime victims and others who have allegedly had their phones hacked” by journalists or agents acting for them should be filmed live if they give evidence to the inquiry into the “scandal”.
This is the idea of Lord Justice Leveson, who says he plans to have the proceedings televised.
Among the A-list witnesses are Sienna Miller, the actress whose films no-one in their right mind remembers, Hugh Grant, the well-known fellationado, J K Rowling, the author of well-known novels who wrote them in a caff or some-such (I never get much beyond that bit in profiles about her) and former Formula 1 boss Oswald Mosley, who I thought died years ago.
I’m not sure I’m in favour of this televised proceedings business, because I don’t think we do it well. Think of the Murdoch-Shaving-foam-pie-in-the-face incident. The camera angles were all wrong, the Wendy-wallop all happened in the bottom left of the screen from a reverse angle, the focus-puller had loaded the wrong lens, the wrangler was obviously off having a wrangle of his own and God knows where the best boy was.
But I guess Lord Justice Leveson wants to get down wi’ the kids and in with this YouTube action. Why he should want to do this, I don’t know, although I suspect he’s annoyed his application to Strictly Come Dancing was turned down. But I would warn him against such folly, even if his heart is broken at not getting the chance to cha-cha-cha with Edwina Currie.
If you want a showbiz show trial, you need a showbiz judge. Sorry, m’lud, you are not a showbiz judge:
Now here’s a showbiz judge:
Can you imagine how much better the hacking inquiry would be if Judge Judith Sheindlin was in charge? After all, as my learned Lord has readily admitted, the whole thing is a media circus, so why not get a consummate media ringmaster (and one with legal nous to boot) to crack the whip?
“Miss Miller, if you don’ shaddup I’ll wipe the floor with yer! We follow each other?”
“Be quiet, Mr Murdoch! Are you listenin’ to me? No, you listen to me!”
“Mr Grant: beauty fades, dumb is forever!”
“Umm is not an answer!”