“I was sent to save orphans in Africa. I’m proud of what I do.”
Not my words.
“It’s hard to adjust to this seat height. It’s because I’m used to what my fiance drives. He has a sports car.”
It was March 2008. The person talking was a News International (now known as News UK) journalist. I had strong reason to dislike her.
But I couldn’t criticise a saviour of (African) children.
In the media regulation debate, there are a lot of people concerned about their reputation.
Obsessed about what others think, lost in a one-dimensional world in which they are constantly CLAIMING or DEFENDING or STATING or FLAUNTING.
I have found it rare to meet a journalist who doesn’t live their life from the outside looking in.
The men: they create an image as a rough, uber-masculine, tough “hack”, living an edgy but ultimately principled life.
The impression I personally got: manipulative bullies, yet thin-skinned to criticism themselves.
Physically diminutive, they hide behind cameras, cover up their own faces.
People in a difficult situations, women carrying children, journalists junior to them: all fair game.
I cannot imagine them having the same attitude when confronted by peers (think of Paul Dacre and his refusal to publicly debate with men he will attack from behind the pages of the Mail)
Male journalists latch onto footballers and soldiers: as if they can pick up the badges of conventional masculinity by osmosis.
The Sun and the (late) News of the World have a history of setting up elaborate stories in which they “allegedly” catch others in sinister plots: little men trying to make themselves heroes.
Some have been dismissed as fantasists: they use entrapment to pretend they are collaborating with the police.
News UK finances this.
Their perception of law and order is skewed: they get their idea of playing policemen from a B-list action movie.
(I am reminded of this
Have you heard what happened to the meanest cops on the street?
One is hellbent on justice. One is a force for good, looking to be the Champion of the Underdog.
They’re both fired. They make really terrible cops).
I was reading a blog by a former News International journalist. I couldn’t get beyond 30 minutes.
I thought: I am actually embarrassed for you.
He showed photos of himself at army clubs.
He claims he dressed up as an army captain in order to “investigate” stories, because everyone thinks he looks like a good army captain. He tried to set up a story in which he was a hero fighting and exposing Nazis.
He has never served in the military himself.
(he was jailed after he and his employer were implicated in phone hacking a number of people, including the families of dead soldiers).
The women: the News International journalist I encountered seemed desperate to get into “women’s magazines” .
She came across as uneasy, defensive: a little girl stuck in a big woman’s body. Marrying a short, rotund investment banker with a sports car was confirmation of her femininity.
Reading the Leveson Inquiry any “criticism” of the Press was measured.
No lynch mob, no paparazzi, no personal attacks.
It wasn’t a case of “an eye for an eye”, even for those who had endured fairly horrible situations.
The inquiry witnesses spoke of their personal experiences (rather than singling out individual journalists).
They did not demonise the whole Press: they were swift to praise when they felt something was done right.
Someone had taken the (unpaid) time to submit a regulation plan which would actually financially benefit the media.
Every though the catalyst for Leveson had been chaos and anarchy, the solutions were working within the confines of responsible legislation.
The Press’s response to Leveson was savage. The Mail ran smears on the more prominent voices.
A study by the Media Standards Trust found over 80% of the leaders and comment pieces in the Press contained no positive comment.
Words used were “curbs”, “muzzles” and “shackles”.
Opinion polls revealing the public was overwhelmingly in support of press regulation were ignored.
The savagery, is, I believe, due to more than pragmatic commercial interests.
For a large section of the Press, it is incredibly important to see themselves as modern day heroes, almost on some God-given mission.
I remember an article in the Independent (written by a former Mail journalist) about the online chat section of the parenting site Mumsnet.
Of course, some Mumsnet users felt it would interesting to discuss online the article a journalist had chosen to write about them.
A surprise visitor arrived: the journalist himself.
A single childless man, he had joined a chat forum mainly aimed at women. He claimed a “friend” had told him about discussion of his article.
He compared criticism of his article to censorship in the Middle East.
(he had written a piece along the lines of let’s have a laugh at women talking about the conception process)
The journalist went onto his Twitter and tried to organise his followers to support him, claiming the whole Mumsnet site was both about and against him.
He produced a couple of pages on why he was a good person, implied anyone who disagreed was stupid and vindictive.
This echoes my personal experience: members of the Press have a delicate emotional balance and a desperation to be thought of well.
It must take huge psychic energy to hold it together: the side of them that needs to says I am a hero and the side of them that knows what they are.
Where does this need come from?
Perhaps they need to justify how they were treated as trainees: The psychological effect of prolonged bullying has been well-documented.
The culture of the Mail, both in staffroom and in its pages is down to John Junor bullying Peter Dacre at the Express, and Peter Dacre passing this onto Joan and Paul Dacre, all those years ago.
As they age, some journalists cannot let go of the ritual humiliation and the shaming and the knowledge that they didn’t have the self-respect to walk away.
If the journalist is middle aged, there is a sense of I’ve given my life to this I need to justify the last 20 years of my own choices.
Both Rebekah Brooks and Paul Dacre started young: the media world is all they know. There is something stunted, adolescent, about their desire to assemble evidence to prove what good people they are.
The men at the top are happy to bully their subordinates into doing degrading things on a whim.
In 1998, Rupert Murdoch decided his publishing company, Harper-Collins couldn’t publish Chris Patten’s book on China.
To protect their boss from criticism, Harper-Collins executives were forced to lie, claim it was “boring”.
Chris Patten’s editor at Harper-Collins disagreed and spoke out, getting sacked in the process.
Rupert Murdoch was trying to bribe the Chinese government into allowing News Corporation to gain influence in China.
It may have worked in 1998. He was able to show what compliant staff he had at Harper-Collins.
But, long-term, Murdoch could not manipulate an Asian country with pride in its history and a confident nature.
“There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us [China]. First, China doesn’t export revolution; second, China doesn’t export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn’t come and cause you headaches, what more is there to be said.” said the President of the PRC, Xi Jinping, in 2009.
In 2013, the Sunday Times, an English newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, tried to slander and insult Xi Jinping, claiming his doctorate was faked.
Murdoch would have liked to control the Chinese government through his newspapers (the way he controls the UK and American governments).
Having failed, he now insults and mocks the Chinese leaders and Asian philosophy which stood strong against his influence.
His son, James Murdoch, said marketing a Business of Ideas is hard in China. No friend of China, he insults the Chinese by claiming they are stupid and do not understand ideas.
Rupert Murdoch now expects his publishing company Harper-Collins to make profits in China, selling books to Chinese people, Chinese children.
He would like to use Harper-Collins to influence Chinese children into being loyal to his values. The money Chinese parents spend on books from Harper-Collins will support the Sunday Times in insulting the Party and its members.
It’s not enough to demean his own staff in the UK and the USA: they must bring his influence into other countries, spread their disharmony.
(I cannot go into more detail here, but it is my strong belief that having lost respect in the UK and the USA, Rupert and James Murdoch would like to use Star TV and Harper Collins to turn India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia – including Malaysia – and China into colonies under their power.
Living in England, having seen the disharmony his newspapers have produced, I hope Asian politicans will be very, very careful about his influence).
The Murdoch business and the Dacre newspapers are like a family dominated by a abusive member.
Everyone is contaminated by the rage of that one person, has to cover for his inadequacy. They organise it so no-one can get out with any identity and self-respect.
Authority works when the leader is worthy of being emulated, leads from the front, takes risks with himself.
Not a weak-minded, angry, defensive, man looking for people to indulge his impulsive grudges and whims, and then get rid when it suits him.
(remember the case of the Times journalist who hacked the Nightjack blogger?
The Times didn’t reward him, they ran his story then sacked him when it looked too much hassle to keep him. He hasn’t worked for years. Mail journalists have suffered a similar fate)
Cicero wrote of noble men who plant trees to serve a race to come: they bestow their labour, knowing they will not reap the benefits.
Paul Dacre is stuck in a state of childish rage. Rupert Murdoch would appear to be setting up his children and favourites to fight amongst each other.
He wants them to build a legacy celebrating…himself. He’s had extra children just in case.
Many journalists seem trapped in a state of endless self-justification: they have no sense of higher purpose or vocation.
It’s understandable really. When led by such weak, uninspiring men, how can the Press have any respect for itself?
Maybe the Press worked for a while. As long as the good times were happening: as long as they had absolute control (police officers and MPs intimidated into not raising any questions about their methods) they were Ok.
But now they’re under pressure from the outside, both from overall industry trends and people sticking their head above the parapet to question their illegal methods.
They need others to validate them.
One of their techniques: “if we know we won’t beat them, we’ll try to get them to join us”.
My experience: the News International journalist who had originally done the piece on me contacted me to ask if I would comment on another “sex expose story”.
I could set myself up as the person who commented on others.
For anyone interested in how they got the original News of the World story…
by Sufiah Yusof