During the build up-to the Leverson Inquiry into the British press, following revelations of wide-scale phone-hacking at the News Of The World, an unlikely hero was born: Hugh Grant found himself as a champion of privacy. During an appearance on Question Time he seemed to encapsulate the thoughts of many people in the audience and the wider public.
Some people, including, unsurprisingly, those being paid by the publications he was attacking, found this distasteful: a middle of the road actor who had, famously, been found with a prostitute, taking the moral high ground. It made them so mad it caused them to spit more of the bile that Hugh Grant was chastising them for, probably creating even more sympathy for his case.
But that, of course, was the whole point – Grant had never claimed to be a moral arbiter, just someone who got paid to do dress-up for a living who had, much to the disgust of the press, avoided the spotlight in so much as he rarely did interviews and didn’t make a living from selling his family photos to magazines and tabloids.
One didn’t have to agree with everything that Hugh Grant was saying to have a large amount of sympathy with his spirit.
The same thing, however, can’t be said for Alistair Campbell. As the Director of Communications for Tony Blair’s government, who now wishes to be seen as a champion of privacy and an honest press. I mention this, not only because he has been busily writing essays about the issue, but also because, bizarrely, he responded to a tweet I made about how badly the role suited him.
— Ciarán Norris (@ciaranj) November 16, 2013
Let’s tick off the ways that this man has supported an open and free press over the years.
First, was his close working relationship with that well known saint Robert Maxwell who died before he could be brought to justice. Then, he actually helped to create the environment that he is now so loudly denouncing.
As Blair’s spin doctor in chief he led the strategy to win the right-wing papers over, and succeeded in the case of the Murdoch ones (including the News Of The World). The strategy failed with the Daily Mail because, noxious as most of its views (and those of its powerful editor Paul Dacre) are, it had some sort of integrity.
This, at the heart of it was what led, inexorably, towards the phone hacking and Leverson: politicians, spurred on by former tabloid hacks like Campbell, who believed that newspapers could make or destroy governments. In fact, as I learned during my brief political studies at university, research showed that the press had no real impact on voters.
What the tabloids had actually done was perfected the art of predicting the winner and then swinging solidly behind them, thereby making it look like the win was down to them. Unfortunately it’s not until Campbell had no more elections left to win that he discovered his crusading zeal.
Finally, when he did have elections to win he was still full of zeal. It’s just that it was aimed at bringing down respectable journalists for daring to suggest that he wasn’t that wedded to the truth, no matter what the cost.
In his desire to “fuck Gilligan” and the BBC, he caused an innocent public servant to be hounded to suicide. When the likes of the Daily Mail used the bizarre result of the Hutton Inquiry to call for the resignation of its Director General, for some reason Alistair Campbell’s attacks on the Mail’s journalistic integrity went missing.
British journalism through much of the last 30 years has been a sorry affair, a mix of brilliant campaigning, vile character assassination and, what looks like, criminality. But Alistair Campbell was deeply involved, whether directly or indirectly, in much of the worst of it, and every time he tries to play the innocent, or even some sort of journalistic St. Paul, he only weakens the cause he claims to be fighting for.
If he really wants to help journalism rebuild its reputation, the first thing he could do is take a good hard look at his own reputation and shut the hell up.