Magazine article The Spectator

'When He Tells a Lie, It's Perjury. When I Tell a Lie, It's Funny

Magazine article The Spectator

'When He Tells a Lie, It's Perjury. When I Tell a Lie, It's Funny

Article excerpt

What is the Rusbridger affair about? It is about humbug: it is about journalists accusing others of wrongs they commit themselves. The essence of the Guardian's case against Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken is that they accepted freebies and told lies about them. In the pursuit of these charges, the paper used up more column inches, by far, than it did in covering the collapse of Soviet communism, the most important event of the entire second half of the 20th century. So what, then, is a freebie?

Last week I walked with friends in the Swiss Alps. We covered over 120 kilometres. I was wearing Brasher boots. How did I come by them? In March, Christopher Brasher, who runs a sports goods firm, asked my permission to reprint an article of mine on walking in his annual catalogue. In return he would send me a pair each of his new brand of walkingboots and shoes. I accepted and I am glad I did so: the gear is excellent. I hope Brasher is pleased too with his part of the bargain. This was not a freebie but commercial barter, and the value of the boots will be entered in my next tax return. Again, on 8 July, the Guardian accused me of going on a freebie to Korea in 1992. Not so. My accounts show I went on a commercial speaking engagement, at world competitive rates, and was handsomely paid for doing so; and my fee was duly reported to the Inland Revenue and tax paid on it.

I regard going on freebies as a mug's game, best left to self-important editors. The nearest I came to it in the last decade was when my wife and I attended the annual Anglo-Spanish get-together last autumn. As the meeting serves a useful purpose, as I was a hard-working member of the British delegation and as I paid my wife's air fare, I don't regard it as a freebie. But it was a marginal case.

Now let us look at Mr Rusbridger and his boss/subordinate Hugo Young. They both went on the spree to Hong Kong which celebrated the most disgraceful episode in modern British history. Everything was laid on, on the grandest possible scale. They charged their share to the Guardian. The total cost, for both of them, must have been well over 5,000. What percentage is that of the paper's weekly editorial travel budget? I would like to know. So would humble Guardian foot-soldiers. Rusbridger and Young say it was a `normal journalistic assignment'. I say, phooey. True, Young wrote a `think piece', but he could have done it just as well, or badly, from London. The fact is they went out as official members of the `Accompanying Party' to the Prince of Wales and the government. They were on an ego-trip as pseudo-VIPs and they got the Guardian to pick up the tab. So it was a freebie - for them, not for the paper.

These issues can be argued about, but you would think that, in view of the Guardian's freebie accusations against Aitken, Rusbridger at least would take care to keep his own nose absolutely clean. That would not occur to him. Is he not the greatest investigative editor who has ever lived? Has not the Guardian devoted literally scores of pages to his forensic triumphs? Is not his entire editorship a gigantic celebration of his genius? And is it not also a nauseating exercise in humbug? Rusbridger ran tabloid-style front pages accusing Hamilton and Aitken of being liars. Reproductions of one were used to wrap up the chips at a Rusbridger-Guardian self-congratulatory celebration (paid for by the paper, naturally). But what is Rusbridger's recent record in the matter of truth? …

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