In the last few months, you can’t have helped noticing, the liberal-Left media, led by the BBC and the Guardian, have been dwelling on the News International phone hacking scandal with a shrillness and hysteria and foaming moral outrage out of all proportion to the nature of the offence.
Am I defending phone hacking or the leaking by police of confidential information to newsapers? Of course I’m not. I think it’s a horrible, grubby practice which must have left all the people who were victims of it feeling soiled and discomfited. But a) as we saw in the cities of Britain last week (and we’re also seeing on the stock markets) there are many problems far more deserving right now of the media’s crusading attention. And b) it’s not as if News International’s imprints which were the only newspapers playing this game. The gutter end of journalism is, of necessity, an unscrupulous, highly competitive business. Tabloid hacks stand or fall on the number of scoops they get over the opposition. It would be stretching the bounds of credulity to claim that other papers, besides those owned by Murdoch, have not engaged in similar dirty tricks.
And possibly not just tabloid ones, either. This is a very important, wide-ranging story which I meant to cover earlier but couldn’t, first because I was on holiday, then because the riots took over as the issue of the hour. It’s a scandal which deserves far wider coverage than it has had so far.
A good place to start is with the excellent Autonomous Mind blog, which has been wondering just how it is that the Guardian seems to be getting so much insider information on the Hackgate scandal.
Throughout the ‘phone hacking scandal’ there was a constant and unscrutinised theme… The Guardian newspaper was accessing or being given access to information no one else but the police had about the investigation, to break new stories and run exclusives.
A story this weekend show the seriousness of such behaviour, with the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigating a claim that an officer on the Milly Dowler murder case gave information to the News of the World newspaper. If it is right for the IPCC to investigate an officer feeding information to the News of the World, then surely the IPCC should also turn its attention to the raft of stories published in the Guardian that appear to have originated with police sources.
Autonomous Mind is especially suspicious of a Guardian journalist named David Leigh. And he’s not the only one. Guido, too, has been on the case. He points out that, despite recent denials, Leigh confessed in a 2006 Guardian article to having been involved in phone hacking. (Good, noble, phone hacking it goes without saying – because it’s only bad when Right-wing newspapers do it.)
It has now emerged that in 2006 David Leigh admitted in the pages of the Guardian, when hacking was less controversial, that he did it and just as we claimed, he taught his students about it.
There is certainly a voyeuristic thrill in hearing another person’s private messages… unlike the News of the World, I was not paying a private detective to routinely help me with circulation-boosting snippets. That is my defence, when I try to explain newspaper methods to my current university journalism students, and some of whom are rather shocked.
And then there’s the Climategate connection, unearthed by some inspired sleuthing from Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit.
In February 2010, a couple of months after Neil Wallis of Outside Organisation had been retained by the University of East Anglia to help them strike back against critics, Leigh authored a smear against Paul Dennis of the University of East Anglia, entitled:
“Detectives question climate change scientist over email leaks: University of East Anglia scientist Paul Dennis denies leaking material, but links to climate change sceptics in US drew him to attention of the investigators.”
Leigh’s smear began by reporting that Norfolk police had interviewed Paul Dennis (as, presumably, other faculty of the University of East Anglia). However, Dennis had “refused to sign a petition in support of Jones when the scandal broke”. Furthermore, according to Leigh’s apparently disapproving “university sources”, Dennis was reported to have sent a letter to UEA head of department Jacquie Burgess “calling for more open release of data” – suspicious activity indeed. Dennis had also refused to observe the fatwa against communication with climate blogs that were critical of CRU and the Team and had even sent an article on isotopes to Jeff Id.
Leigh’s article disclosed two pieces of information that were not in the public domain.
First, Leigh “outed” Jeff Id by name, occupation and hometown. To that point, “Jeff Id” had been anonymous. His registration at WordPress was anonymous and his gmail account was anonymous. To Jeff’s knowledge, there was no public information that would enable Leigh to identify him. [Update 2.30 pm: A reader points out that Jeff Id had been publicly identified as Jeff Condon in a blog article on Jan 10, 2011. This does not explain all the facts. David Leigh identifies Id as “Patrick Condon, aeronautical engineer” from Illinois and located his telephone number. In addition, there are 34 Jeff Condons on LinkedIn – how did Leigh get to the right one?]
A few days before the article, Leigh had telephoned Jeff. Jeff asked Leigh how he had located him; Leigh refused to say. Jeff expressly asked Leigh not to disclose his personal information, which were then not on the public record. Leigh disregarded the request and then proceeded to “out” him as collateral damage in their smear of Paul Dennis.
Murky enough for you, yet? It gets worse. Note the abovementioned Neil Wallis. Remember who Neil Wallis is? He’s the irascible tabloid hack – deputy editor of the News of the World under Andy Coulson and nicknamed the Wolfman by his terrified staff, who was arrested during the Hackgate scandal. Wallis was the man employed in September 2009 as a £1,000-a-day “adviser” by the Met’s former chief Sir Paul Stephenson, who resigned as a result of the Hackgate scandal. How odd that very shortly afterwards, the University of East Anglia should have chosen to hire Wallis as a flak catcher to defend its reputation after the Climategate scandal.
Steve McIntyre has examined the Climategate connection more thoroughly I have space for here. You can read his inspired sleuthing here, here, here and here. I certainly agree with his assessment that UEA’s decision to recruit a man like Wallis represents a very strange use of public money. Surely, if you were an academic institution of genuine probity your first priority were one of your departments (in this case the CRU) to be implicated in skullduggery would be to investigate the allegations properly, rather than see it as a PR issue to be covered up by a hard man from the world of rock n roll and tabloid newspapers.
What can we conclude from all this? At the very least that the whole business stinks. I wonder, for example, whether it was at Wallis’s instigation that the UEA launched its baseless and vexatious complaint to the PCC about my coverage of its behaviour in the Climategate affair and of its subsequent whitewashes. Perhaps – who knows – he might even have inspired the cynical, junk science hatchet job on climate sceptics staged in collaboration between the BBC and activist scientist Sir Paul Nurse. Certainly it seems that the kind of smearing, conspiring, abuse of power and misuse of public money exposed in those Climategate emails did not come to an end with Climategate. And that the Left-wing MSM – notably the Guardian and the BBC – are at best acting as useful idiots for this shabbiness, at worst as its cheerleaders and co-conspirators.
So what exactly is the difference between the kind of behaviour condemned by the Guardian in the Murdoch press and the kind of behaviour it seems happy to indulge in itself?
Well I’ll tell you a couple of differences: never at any stage have any News International publications boasted about being run by a charitable trust which guarantees their independence and absolute integrity; never have the profits of the News of the World or the Sun been largely dependent on money extracted from the taxpayer and spent on public sector recruitment advertising.
Really, I do; more than I loath Manchester United or Elton John.