Magazine article The Spectator

Is There Any Form of Human Life Quite So Low as a Journalist?

Magazine article The Spectator

Is There Any Form of Human Life Quite So Low as a Journalist?

Article excerpt

The behaviour of some newspapers is now so degrading that I wonder how much longer I can belong to such a foul trade. The crucifixion of Earl Spencer, not just by the tabloids but by the broadsheets, is a classic example of the abuse of power. Everyone knows that Spencer's offence is not adultery and that the indignation of the press is humbug. Spencer's crime was to stick up for his dead sister and accuse the press, rightly, of harassing her. He believes, along with most people, that curbs should be placed on the present unrestricted right of the media to invade privacy. That is a capital offence in the eyes of the press, and the assault on Spencer, in which any regard for fairness, let alone truth, has been cast aside, is a blatant act of revenge against a brave man.

It is also intended as a deterrent. The press, in effect, is saying to anyone - especially politicans - who might be inclined to advocate a privacy law, `See what happened to Spencer. That could happen to you, if you raise your voice against our divine right to intrude and bully, terrorise and persecute, lie and invent.' Well, it won't deter me. The character assassination of Spencer, a private citizen who has never sought a public role and has been going through a divorce case harrowing for all concerned, makes me more determined than ever to bring the press, as we brought the unions in the 1980s, back under the law.

However, we must not necessarily assume that London journalists are the worst in the world. There are some pretty grim specimens in New York, especially on the pseudo-intellectual Left. Their latest form of character assassination is to accuse their victim of anti-Semitism. Tragically, there is still quite a lot of real antiSemitism around, and for the Left to invent bogus cases makes it harder for us to nail the genuine ones. Last week I was visited by a nice young man from the New York weekly Forward, one of the best Jewish papers in the world (originally in Yiddish), who was inquiring into the case of Norman Davies's bestseller, A History of Europe. As I explained to my visitor, the success of this book, unequivocal in its condemnation of the Soviet Union, has infuriated the Left, which in New York has invented the antiSemitism charge in a desperate attempt to discredit it. Davies is no more anti-Semitic than my old friend Benjamin Netanyahu. His crime, like Benji's, is anti-communism.

The same tactic has been used against John le Carre, the ablest of our spymasters and a writer in the Raymond Chandler class. Le Carre has been in HM Foreign Service, itself a crime in the eyes of the Left, and has taught at Eton, another; worst of all, he has dared to criticise 'Salmonella' Rushdie. Rushdie may not be a good writer - I find him unreadable - but he is a valuable item of left-wing ideological furniture, what Lenin used to call a `useful idiot', and for someone to suggest that he is anything other than a secular saint is heresy. So le Carre is branded an anti-Semite, an extremely damaging charge in the American book world, and one easy to make against any novelist who uses a Jew as a fictional character. All sorts of New York journalistic curs have joined in the dogfight, including Christopher Hitchens, a man so unpleasant that even the city's pavements rise up in protest at his finical tread. The Guardian printed a sentence which reflects Hitchens's literary character so precisely that it is worth preserving: '[Le Carre] is a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makes haste to clamp the brimming chapeau on his head. …

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