Do you remember that time when the Daily Mirror libelled Frankie Boyle by calling him a racist?
It was fairly recent, and it was a massive story. Surely you remember all these things happening:
- The managing director, chief executive and head of the Daily Mirror resigned
- The Daily Mirror’s head of journalism was sacked
- The Daily Mirror’s entire legal team offered to resign
- The head journalist of the Daily Mirror did a corruscating interview with his own boss, in which he ritualistically tore him to pieces and was incredulous at the failings
- The Daily Mirror ran headlines and the first 7 pages of its newspaper with massive coverage of the scandal and crisis for over a week
- The Daily Mirror made a full, frank apology, as did its board and the trustees
- Members of Parliament asked questions in the House, and spoke widely about the urgent need to reform the whole newspaper… including offering personal opinions about who should be the next editor and manager of the paper
- The Chairman of Mirror Group Newspapers appeared all over the media, frankly answering questions about the role of the Mirror, and offering to scrap the newspaper and start again with a completely different team
Surely you remember that? It was very similar to all of those times the Daily Mail has been found guilty of libel since 2001, when all the Mail’s staff resigned in disgrace and the paper spent 10 full days apologising on every single page. As a reminder, these are the libels in question:
- Alan Sugar awarded £100,000
- Diana Rigg awarded £30,000
- Elton John awarded £100,000
- £30,000 award to Dr Austen Ivereigh, who had worked for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
- £47,500 award to Parameswaran Subramanyam for falsely claiming that he secretly sustained himself with hamburgers during a 23-day hunger strike in Parliament Square to draw attention to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka
- the former lifestyle adviser to Cherie Blair and Tony Blair, Carole Caplin received “substantial” libel damages
Isn’t that familiar either? It should be, because I definitely remember the Mail spending days and days in soul-searching, and the main stories on every page being about the crisis at the Mail. I remember Paul Dacre, the editor and chief exec, standing down with a humiliating public statement.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s only the BBC which has to do this kind of self-flagellating bullshit perp-walk every time a member of its staff makes a mistake. To be clear, the BBC fucked up, and they did it in some style. But they did not report that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile: they reported that a member of the public had claimed a “top Tory” was a paedophile, and Twitter and gossip – some of it already circulating – filled in the blanks.
And yet somehow half a dozen people who have had flawless, exceptional careers in public service have to go. The BBC has to rip itself to pieces for days on end, and go through paroxysms of guilt. We demand it. And it’s an utter fucking nonsense.
In all of this, let’s not forget what we should actually be focussing on – criminals at large, who have cause misery to potentially hundreds of children. Not BBC executives or one wonky report. Yes, it was an error. In fact, it appears to have been about 10 errors, each compounding the last. But nobody died, and in actual fact I’d be surprised if Lord McAlpine could even sue for libel, considering he was never identified. Not even his job was – nobody said “McAlpine” or “Treasurer”. Other people leaped to that conclusion, and they fact that they were able to simply demonstrates that the rumours (albeit false rumour) were already in existence.
For that matter I could state that a well-known panelist on a popular Saturday evening talent show is an utter cunt who fucks goats and squirts tart lemons into the eyes of kittens while sipping Martinis made from the tears of orphans. But if (and I should state that this is entirely for the purposes of illustrating my point) Simon Cowell or Pier Morgan decided to sue me for libel, it would be extremely hard, because I didn’t mention either of them by name. And I never would.
Not even if it was Piers Morgan.