Magazine article The Spectator

Help! the Guardian's Head of Press and Corporate Affairs Has Got Physical with Me

Magazine article The Spectator

Help! the Guardian's Head of Press and Corporate Affairs Has Got Physical with Me

Article excerpt

I have received a threatening letter from a well-known firm, seeking to influence what this magazine prints about it. It is the sort of communication from which editors in, say, Chile seek the protection of our liberal Guardian. The trouble is, it comes from the Guardian.

Readers of The Spectator will have noticed that Paul Johnson, Taki and Stephen Glover have for varying reasons been adversely critical of the Guardian over the past year or so. Mr Johnson and Taki think that the paper is being vengeful towards Mr Jonathan Aitken. Mr Glover disapproved of Libyan money turning up in the bank account of the paper's deputy foreign editor, in order to finance a Ghanaian politician's libel action against another liberal newspaper (the Independent), and wondered whether the Guardian would have been uncensorious had a right-wing regime's cash been found in the bank account of the deputy foreign editor of a British right-wing newspaper to finance a right-wing politician's libel action against a liberal newspaper. He also suspects that, for the purposes of pursuing Mr Aitken and Neil Hamilton, the paper became too involved with Mohamed Al Fayed, Mr Al Fayed being the sort of figure whom one might have thought liberal journalists would investigate rather than investigate with.

I confess to not being very high-minded about any of this. As an editor, it all seems to be grist to my mill. Some readers enjoy it as much as I do. Others deplore such squabbling among journalists, and people mixed up with journalists - or at least affect to deplore it. But both categories seem to be reading it. And the first duty of an article, it has always seemed to me, is to be read; at least by a reasonable number of people.

I have also taken the view that so far all the contestants - Mr Johnson, Taki, Mr Glover, Mr Aitken, Mr Hamilton and all concerned at the Guardian -- should be expected, in their contests with one another, to take care of themselves. None has lived a life free from any tendency to be adversely critical of others. I should therefore strive to let them say what they like about one another. I would not extend this principle to anyone and everyone. I would not allow anyone to say what they like about anyone else. I apply the principle only to those who live in what is called the public domain. Neither the Guardian's editor nor Mr Al Fayed lack the means of replying to hostile criticism.

Nonetheless, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, asked me last year why I allowed Mr Johnson to write 'lies' about him. He also complained to my proprietor. Then he wrote another letter, the gist of which was to ask me on what principles I edited The Spectator. I seem to remember his phrasing it in such a way as to teeter on the brink of pomposity. Somehow I did not think he was seeking to enlighten himself as to my philosophy of journalism. I think it was another attempt to persuade me to stop my contributors telling 'lies' about him, or, as I would put it, being irreverent about him.

Then, last week, after Mr Johnson announced in these pages that he was going to write a volume called The Black Book of the Guardian, I received a letter on Guardian notepaper signed `Camilla Nicholls, Head of Press and Corporate Affairs'.

Let us assume that this letter is genuine, and not a practical joke being played on me by one of my several mischievous friends. …

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