By Richard Lutz
A West Midlands policeman once said to me: ‘Follow the rabbit.’ I asked him exactly what that meant.
Know what your story is, he explained, and don’t get sidetracked.
If the rabbit goes down the hole, follow. Don’t depend on what other people claim.
Piers Morgan, formerly of The Sun, The News of the World and The Daily Mirror and now of USA-tvland, is in the news because this past week there were two specific allegations that he knew or took part in phone hacking. If true, it is devastating and he is open to UK police inquiries. If false, he has been libelled.
Both sources ignored the rabbit. One was an MP and the other a very erudite journalist. They had to apologise because they were wrong. They were waylaid by gossip and half truths. Here’s what happened.
In the first case, Jon Snow of Channel Four News broadcast that Morgan had been sacked by CNN for phone hacking- Snow’s source was a tweet message. No one checked it out. It was seen as simple fact because- well, it was a tweet and therefore a fact.
It was unsubstantiated garbage. Snow said sorry. Tweeting, my friends, isn’t journalism or truth. It is the detritus that people spew out of their minds: a mix of semi fact, quarter-fact and bizarre nonsense spiced with whatever: rumour, assumption and gossip. Snow didn’t follow the rabbit.
In the same week, Louise Mensch, the Tory MP who helped rip apart the Murdochs ten days ago, said in the Commons that Morgan admitted he took part in criminal hacking in his book The Insider.
She made an elemental mistake: she mis-quoted The Daily Telegraph rather than reading the book herself. Shame, shame, shames. Sloppy, sloppy sloppy. She didn’t follow the rabbit either. She got waylaid. She apologised.
It just so happens that I have just finished The Insider this week end. Call it coincidence et al. And, to me, Morgan seems in the clear. His diary may be monumental self advertising for the ludicrous bile he infected Britain with last decade. But he never says he was linked to hacking.
Now, sure, you can say that if he wrote or edited the dairies in hindsight, his lawyer would have advised him to watch that he stayed within the cozy confines of the law. But you get the feeling after reading this 460 page gossip packed book (and a good read it is too) that, actually, he really was out of the frame for this sort of stuff.
I read the diary with the express intention of finding some clues in light of the News of the World scandal. He often alluded to phone hacking…but in a quizzical tone as if it was outside his personal universe.
Here are two edited quotes:
28 July, 2000
‘We were offered a dodgy transcript of a phone conversation between James Hewitt and Anna Ferretti…’
24 January 2001
(Morgan is in trouble with the DTI over allegations of unethical sharedealing. Rumours abound)
‘Given that the DTI has not to my knowledge been leaking anything, I am mystified. But someone suggested today that people might be listening to my mobile phone messages. Apparently if you don’t change the standard security code…then anyone can call the number and if you don’t answer, tap in the standard four digit code to hear all your messages.’
One story that does needs explaining, though, is a famous picture of Morgan when he was editor of NOW posing in front of a huge front page splash pre 1997. The headline screams: ‘Di’s Cranky Phone Calls to Married Tycoon.’
You have to ask: how did he and his paper get ahold of that fact and its contents? A little murky, that one.
But all in all, it looks as if Morgan is a victim of bad reporting. And considering all the self important venom he spewed out in The Sun, News of the World and Mirror (before he was sacked), it seems a bit rich that the clown prince of hackdom should be the subject of bad information.
All in all, my Birmingham cop friend would have been appalled as two senior figures got sloppy, used dubious sources and maligned if not libelled someone.
Follow that rabbit, you politicians and reporters. Don’t think the web or social media is fact and if you see something in a newspaper- check it out. They’re just reports.
Follow the rabbit