Magazine article The Spectator

What Paper Drops a Distinguished Correspondent after 28 Years? the Guardian, of Course

Magazine article The Spectator

What Paper Drops a Distinguished Correspondent after 28 Years? the Guardian, of Course

Article excerpt

Imagine if the government put out a press release like this feeble specimen just issued by the Guardian.

`Martin Walker has resigned from the Guardian to take early retirement after a career which included postings in Moscow, Washington and Brussels. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, said: "Martin has had a long and distinguished career on the paper, during which he has reported with distinction from all over the world. We wish him well." Martin Walker said: "It will be a wrench to leave the Guardian after 28 years, but I have more books to write and new challenges in store." '

Convinced? Of course not. The whole thing reeks of disingenuousness. No politician would be allowed to get away with it. The Guardian's most celebrated foreign correspondent - a personal friend of President Clinton, whose biography he has written - leaves the paper in his prime and we are asked to take it all at face value. In any case, why the press release? Normal departures are not marked in this way. Its very existence should arouse our suspicions.

Mr Walker (aka `Sweetie Walker') has in effect been driven out. Some weeks ago he was accused by his paper of certain irregularities regarding expenses. It was suggested that Mr Walker had sublet his Guardian flat in Brussels (his most recent posting) and that an educational allowance for one of his children had been wrongly claimed. 'Sweetie' strenuously denied these charges. Lawyers were engaged by him, and no less a personage than John Foster, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, became involved. Mr Walker's friends say that he was acquitted of every stain and blemish, but that he was nonetheless asked by Mr Rusbridger to leave Brussels for an unspecified job. This he refused to do, having been posted to Brussels from Washington a couple of years ago despite earlier promises that he would be able to stay in America. So he decided to leave the paper for which he had slaved for 28 years, taking a year's salary by way of compensation.

The Guardian does not wholly accept this version of events. One of the paper's representatives confirms that no irregularities were proved but tells me that Mr Walker has not been paid a year's salary. He will merely be paid for a further three months. Nor was he offered another posting. It appears to follow therefore that there was no longer any place for Mr Walker at the Guardian. That sugary press release obviously conceals a considerable bust-up.

Let me here interject a historical note about expenses and foreign correspondents. Until about 20 years ago there was a convention, accepted by journalists and managements, that foreign correspondents would ideally bank their usually not very large salaries and live off their expenses. I do not for a moment wish to suggest that Mr Walker has at any stage in his life conducted his own affairs in such a way. I only observe that this was how it was often done. Those who want a fuller exposition of such practices may care to read a definitive essay on the subject in a book published this autumn (edited by myself, as it happens) written by an anonymous hand. The author brilliantly evokes a world in which one foreign correspondent passed off a racehorse as a family pet, and another hired at vast expense a racing camel that rendered magnificent and heart-rending service to his paper.

All that has changed, of course. Our modern accountant-run, cost-conscious Fleet Street has put an end to such extravagances. …

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