It’s been a peculiar day for a national inquiry into the activities of the press and rights to privacy.
Paul McMullan – a caricature so extreme as to be almost unbelievable – shared his excitement at the dark arts he was told to take part in, he says, to please his bosses.
McMullan was brutally honest: “I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities. Before [Princess] Diana died it was such good fun. How many jobs can you have car chases in? It was great.”
He was bizarre: “”In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never actually come across anyone who’s been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is for paedos. If there is a privacy law your secrets are going to be much more valuable than they were before.”
And he shared an important insight into life at News International: “”Andy Coulson brought that practice [phone hacking] wholesale with him when he was made deputy editor. They should have had the strength of conviction to say, ‘Yes, sometimes you have to stray into black or grey illegal areas’ instead they said we didn’t know they were doing it. They should have been the heroes of journalism. They’re the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it.”
Much of this was, of course, met with shock and disgust on Twitter. His name started trending and the insults flying from readers and journalists alike. There was also much humour despite McMullan again admitting he fears one of his stories led to the suicide of actor Denholm Elliott’s daughter.
The angry reaction to the tabloid press was similar when defending Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan: a full-on attack on journalism and journalists; an assumption all journalists rifle through bins; calls to curb the power of the press; pity for all those who were “victims” of the nasty practices of British journalists.
You could almost believe that no one read what was printed in the News of the World – despite its circulation being in the millions.
Then I was shown a YouTube clip – watched by millions – of a woman ranting wild, idiotic racism at fellow passengers on a tram.
The video – filmed secretly – was viewed by 3,438,078. The story was reported across most national titles. She was later arrested for a public order offence (Racially Aggravated Section 4a) and remanded on custody: her name, age and where she lives was, of course, revealed in court.
This too started to trend on Twitter. The woman received threats of violence, anonymous death threats, abuse and was vilified and demonised.
She had been secretly filmed being stupid and repulsive on a tram and that stupidity was watched by more than three million people – in much the same way Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan were caught out being chauvinistic with lapdancers and prostitutes by the News of the World and read by many millions.
She has no opportunity to blame the press for her own stupid behaviour and pig-ignorance during a national inquiry broadcast live.
While one can’t remotely defend her outburst one can’t help but wonder where the discussion is about her privacy and – in a world where celebrities get to whine endlessly about media intrusion – if people like her will now become the focus of the gossiping, moralistic, stories of the tabloid press?