Magazine article The Spectator

Strange as It May Seem, the MoS Believes the Allegations about Charles Are True

Magazine article The Spectator

Strange as It May Seem, the MoS Believes the Allegations about Charles Are True

Article excerpt

Earlier this weck my dear friend the writer William Shawcross left a message on my answerphone. I am sure he will not mind if I repeat it. 'Hi, Stephen, it's William, your old friend. How are you? I have just heard some wonderful rumour today that you are going to use your entire column to denounce Associated Newspapers for its contemptible torture of both the Prince of Wales and George Smith. If this is true, I am so pleased. Congratulations, old bean.' This message, it can be fairly said, is delivered in tones of jocular irony.

Nor do I think that Boris Johnson, the editor of this magazine, will mind if I repeat what he said to me on the same subject. 'I must say,' said Boris, 'that I think the behaviour of the Mail on Sunday has been absolutely contemptible. But I don't suppose you will want to say that, because you take the Daily Mail's shilling.' This is a reference to a column I write for that newspaper.

So here is a friend and my editor assuming that I share their views about the Mail on Sunday's treatment of Prince Charles but am too craven to say so. It is not altogether flattering. I find myself sorely tempted to attack the Mail on Sunday simply to prove to these two that I am not the wimp they evidently think I am. The trouble is that I do not think I do share their view of what it is permissible to write about members of the royal family. William, of course, is the staunchest monarchist in England. All the same, the Mail on Sunday is by no means off the hook.

The Shawcross-Johnson view, which I suspect may be shared by a majority of The Spectator's readers, is that the MoS intended to run a scurrilous story about Prince Charles which even it did not believe. The story is based on allegations made by George Smith, a former royal servant, whose mental stability is widely impugned. How, say the critics, can a newspaper possibly conceive of publishing the uncorroborated allegations of one man whose word cannot be depended on? They seem to have little problem with the injunction which, most unusually, was placed on the MoS after Michael Fawcett, another former royal servant, applied to a High Court judge.

If this view were correct - that the MoS cynically intended to ventilate scurrilous allegations which it knew to be false - then the critics would surely be right. It is no defence for the newspaper to say that the allegations were already widely known in media circles, and it was merely repeating them. Publication would obviously have given some credence to what had been widely regarded as baseless rumours. The only respectable defence for the newspaper would be to argue that there was reason to believe that the allegations were true, and it was therefore in the public interest to publish them.

Arc they true? The critics scoff at the idea. They say that they are utterly preposterous. I am not sure how they can be so sure. It is not, after all, as though what has been alleged is illegal or necessarily aberrational. I would guess it goes on all the time. When I hear the critics huffing and puffing, I can't help remembering how in 1992 similar voices dismissed Andrew Morion's book about the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, as tittle-tattle. Sir Max Hastings has written that, when he was editor of the Daily Telegraph, no mention was made of Mr Morion's book for six months because it was believed to be so scurrilous. Later Sir Max conceded that it was largely accurate.

This, as I understand it, is the recent chain of events. …

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