Submitted by Bella Magnani
Oh dear, Nick Davies, what went wrong?
Back in 2008 you wrote a book called Flat Earth News, a meticulously researched and scathing analysis of journalistic corruption and murky practices in British newspapers. You told us: “the modern newsroom is a place of bungs and bribes, whose occupants forage illicitly for scoops in databases and dustbins. Newspapers hold others to account while hushing up their own unsavoury methods. Self-regulation does not always offer fair (or any) redress to citizens who have had lies written about them. Stories are often pompous, biased or plain wrong. Some close scrutiny is not only legitimate: it is overdue.” Ed: The quote in this paragraph is quoting a review of Nick Davies book printed in the Guardian (see link), not Nick Davies book as is erroneously implied.
Ugh! Sounds nasty. So glad you took the moral high ground there and called so passionately for journalistic standards to be above reproach, lest readers end up “soaked in disinformation”. Warming to your theme, in another Guardian article - Our media have become mass producers of distortion - you let rip:
“Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have gene rally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda.”
And here you are telling us about the Guardian’s Hay Festival debate on falsehood and distortion in the news: “Faith in 'quality journalism' has never been lower, but public demand for fair and accurate reporting is undiminished”.
Trust me, dear Reader – nice touch, Nick. Thank you, I’ll try.
It’s become a bit of an obsession with you, this drive to expose tabloid corruption and the failings of the press. You even wrote to your MP about it. Well, everyone’s MP actually.
In fact, you rarely cover anything else nowadays – 65 articles (and counting) about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal you’ve been pursuing relentlessly for three years now. Oh, there’s been a few on the Afghanistan War Logs (3), the Iraq War Logs (3), the Swiss bank whistleblower (4), Julian Assange (2), and a couple of weird ones claiming sex trafficking in Europe doesn’t really exist. But ever since your last article on Assange you’ve devoted yourself exclusively to exposing scurrilous journalists.
Here’s one from December 12 last year. Your words:
“Here's the riddle. If the Guardian, the New York Times and Channel 4's Dispatches can all find numerous journalists who worked at the News of the World who without exception insist that the newspaper routinely used private investigators to gather information by illegal means, why can't Scotland Yard find a single one who will tell them the story?”
Yes, it’s a riddle, isn’t it? The strapline on the article puts it even better:
If the Guardian can find numerous News of the World journalists who admit that the newspaper gathered information by illegal means, why can't Scotland Yard? asks Nick Davies.
December 12? Wasn’t that the day the illegally leaked police protocol from Sweden landed on your desk? You know, the one you used to produce “10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange” a few days later, which you said was based on “unredacted statements held by prosecutors in Stockholm”? Well, the world now knows just how ‘unredacted’ your article was. Hmm … your employers are in a bit of bother over that at the moment too, aren’t they ? “Cooking” cables from Russia and Bulgaria and all that. Time to call a staff meeting, Nick – they need a fearless crusader for press truth like you to knock ‘em back into shape.
Here’s the riddle, Nick: why an award-winning investigative journalist couldn’t see the many, many holes in the police investigation sitting on the desk in front of him. The personal and political association of the first investigative officer with one of the complainants; the disturbing news that she was allowed to sit in on the other woman’s interview; the tampering with statements on the police computer; the two women being allowed to produce revised statements on September 2 in the light of the so-far still secret SMS messages; the police asking a witness about a victim’s prior sex life (WTF?); the failure of police forensics to find DNA on the torn, supposedly used condom presented to police 12 days after the event.
And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg - there’s plenty more beneath the surface.
So, Nick Davies, why did you choose to publish an article based on only one side of the story? In an alleged rape case? Would you consider that good journalistic practice? Or a disgrace to your profession?
Surely any investigative journalist worth his salt could have – would have – torn this ‘story’ to shreds, and called them on it, publicly. Why didn’t that happen here? All of the information above – and more – was available by December 12. Instead, in your “unredacted” version, we got the ‘juiciest’ quotes from the witness statements while others, which flatly contradicted them, were ignored. Of the many questions about police abuse of process raised by the protocol, we got none. And on how the police report came to fall into your hands, we got silence.
Nick Davies' article history.