The Daily Mail, Leveson and anonymous witnesses: four kinds of hypocrisy

DailymailPosted: January 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

by Brian Cathcart

The Daily Mail is going to court on Friday to press its case that the Leveson Inquiry should be barred from taking evidence from anonymous witnesses on the grounds that this is a departure from natural justice.

Here are four ways in which the paper is being hypocritical.

Hyprocrisy 1. Imagine this was a public inquiry into gross failures at a leading bank and well-placed witnesses offered to give evidence anonymously because they thought their careers would be damaged if they were named. The bank, however, has objected and demanded that all witnesses be named.

In those circumstances, whose side would the Mail be on? My bet is that it would lambast any bank that behaved in this way. It would accuse it of bullying and intimidation and call on the courts to reject its case out of hand.

Yet when it comes to anonymous whistleblowers in its own industry, the Mail is on the side of the intimidators. (It may be worth recalling that the Mail is an intimidator itself when it chooses: ask anybody it has monstered in its pages.)

Hypocrisy 2. Like almost every organisation in the news business, the Mail itself relies sometimes on anonymous sources.

In public interest journalism these are people who have important information to share but have good reason to fear being identified. In such cases a responsible journalist will often agree not to name them as sources in an article, and sometimes should even be prepared to go to jail rather than breach that anonymity.

No doubt Daily Mail journalists occasionally find themselves in this position and no doubt their editor stands by them in protecting anonymous sources. Now, however, in a case where a legally-constituted public inquiry wants to adopt a similar approach, the paper wants to deny anonymity.

Hypocrisy 3. The Mail does not reserve anonymity in its reporting for public interest cases. It allows its reporters to grant anonymity pretty freely. Think of those “onlookers” who always have a marvellously pithy quote about celebrities photographed by paparazzi in the street (“She’s put on a lot of weight, hasn’t she? Must have been at the pies”). Those onlooker are always anonymous. I wonder why.

More significantly, take the Mail’s coverage of Christopher Jefferies at the time of his arrest a year ago (for a crime he did not commit). It would be wrong to repeat the many libels for which the Mail later apologised in open court and paid damages, but it is safe to say that the great majority of them were anonymous. Many false suggestions about Jefferies’s character and behaviour, some of them presented as quotations and some merely reported, were published without named sources.

Hypocrisy 4. The Mail is claiming that, if anonymous witnesses are allowed to testify before Leveson, the newspaper’s rights under the Human Rights Act would be breached. That right, the Daily Mail is using the Human Rights Act. Does Richard Littlejohn know?

The Mail complaining about anonymity is like a pornographer complaining about decency. It should be laughed out of court. But it is worse than that, because it is also intimidation. Who can doubt that the Mail’s real motivation here is to deter people who fear the paper’s huge power to destroy reputations from telling Leveson what they know?

12 comments

  1. Jon_S - reply

    I don’t know about the first one; it doesn’t rely on any hard facts. I mean, the Mail *might* take that line on the hypothetical banking enquiry, but we don’t know that for sure. Hypocrisies two and three are on firmer ground.

    And nojarvis raises an excellent point!

  2. patrick graham - reply

    The Mail reporters were of course, named when they stepped into the editor in chief’s office, back when Dacre ruled the pages from the main news office -
    they were generally called C*nt!

  3. BenBamBoo - reply

    The Daily Mail uses “Daily Mail Reporter” fairly often to articles they have copy/pasted off some poor, uncredited blogger. Its not even one of their reporters being embarrassed to attach a name, it is someone else’s work.

  4. Ann Kittenplan - reply

    It’s genuinely heartening to see Mail bashing. Makes me realise I’m not alone but…aren’t all accusations of hypocrisy ad hominem? Playing the man not the ball. The argument should be against anonymity not against the Mail.

  5. Jammy Sivelle - reply

    Great piece. I think we can safely assume that the first point applies to the Daily Fail and even if we can’t, just allow us this. Please? Our anger and sheer hatred for this rag makes us illogical at times. Ad hominem arguments are less likely to be fallacious when doing just what this article does. The exposing of hypocrisy. Bravo…more…encore.

  6. Ann Kittenplan - reply

    Ad hominem is not fallacious it’s just besides the point. It vents your spleen, which is fine, but it shouldn’t be confused with addressing the issues.

  7. Jammy Sivelle - reply

    Hypocrisy is an issue in itself. It needs to be tackled. I imagine ‘Professor’ Cathcart understands ad hominem arguments just fine.

  8. Christine Burns - reply

    Interesting. The principle of being able to see and face your accusers developed in criminal law for good reasons … yet even there it is overridden on occasion in order to see justice.

    But #leveson is an enquiry, not a trial. The above principle therefore shouldn’t apply.

    Does the Mail think it is on trial? Maybe it realises how many people think it ought to be.

    The point about Human Rights is that they protect individuals against the whims and excesses of the state or powerful interests. Which one does the Mail think it is?

  9. Felicity Lowde - reply

    Hi I wrote earlier today, just to confirm that the site where there is some expose on the appalling behavior by the Daily Mail is at http://www.fjlathome2.blogspot.com, I am not sure whether I put in the ‘blogspot’ part of the address. Please correct before publication if that part of the web address was missing in my earlier posting, many thanks.

  10. Felicity Lowde - reply

    Not sure if my earlier posting went through at all. .. here is another…… I am appalled that the Daily Mail cunningly tried to put such a case into court for pure strategy reasons and very glad they lost their case. Will they be objecting to anonymous donations to your cause next? Incase they still haven’t realised, people have the right to privacy in life, especially in vulnerable situations.
    The News International papers and the Associated Newspapers’ Daily Mail committed numerous serious human rights abuses towards me, which are outlined in part at http://www.fjlathome2.blogspot.com . ( also linked hereto.) I am amazed and appalled that the Daily Mail seek to exploit the Human Rights Act for sneaky strategy purposes considering their behavior and the fact that their serious human rights abuses victims are so many walking wounded. I can prove every part of my case against them, and I believe they should fact redress at the European Court of Human Rights and at the Hague.
    It really is dreadful that the news companies specified put up these disgracefully inappropriate defences designed to waste time instead of admitting their acts and apologising deeply to their victims. In this repsect they seem to be behaving like so many who are summoned to the Hague.
    God bless Hugh and Jude for being so forthright in their cause.

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