Magazine article The Spectator

Dog Devouring Dog Used Not to Be a Story. Now It Is

Magazine article The Spectator

Dog Devouring Dog Used Not to Be a Story. Now It Is

Article excerpt

Ever since I entered Fleet Street I have heard occasional rumours about financial journalists enriching themselves through tipping shares. But to the best of my knowledge there has never been any public scandal of the sort now engulfing the Min-or and the Sun. There has been nothing to compare with the famous Wall Street Journal case in America in 1983, when one journalist was imprisoned and another put on probation after they had been found guilty of 'ramping' shares. The case involving Piers Morgan, editor of the Mirror, will no doubt prove to be much less serious: on 17 January he bought shares worth 20,000 in Viglen Technology which nearly doubled after his own paper tipped them the following day. This may very well turn out to be a coincidence, and Mr Morgan may be guilty of nothing more than foolishness and naivety. Nonetheless, this case marks a momentous development in the British press.

In some quarters the whole matter has been represented as a silly spat between two tabloid editors, Mr Morgan and David Yelland, editor of the Sun. So it is, up to a point. It certainly has little to do with principle and a lot to do with testosterone. For some reason, Mr Morgan seems to hate Mr Yelland, though the two of them were supposedly chums when they were young journalists on the Sun in the early Nineties. When Mr Yelland was appointed to his present position in June 1998, Mr Morgan was quoted as saying, 'I intend to do everything in my power to give [David Yelland] a good kicking.' Perhaps Mr Morgan could not bear the idea of a man of near equal youth - he is 34 and Mr Yelland 36 - being appointed to the editorship of a rival paper. Perhaps he genuinely does not rate Mr Yelland as a journalist. At all events, Mr Morgan has been true to his word, persecuting his old friend at every opportunity. He gave him an almighty bashing after Mr Yelland foolishly published that topless picture of Sophie Rhys-Jones, as she then was. He also created the rather amusing notion that the bald and admittedly oddlooking Mr Yelland hailed from the 'Planet Tharg'. Mirror readers were invited to vote as to whether Mr Yelland should be returned to Tharg. Not surprisingly, they thought he should.

On the whole, Mr Yelland did not retaliate, though he could not resist pummelling the Mirror and its editor after the paper had placed Mohamed Fayed on a pedestal at the end of the Hamilton libel trial. His chance came last Wednesday in a more advantageous way than he could have ever dreamed. The Daily Telegraph ran a story revealing that Mr Morgan had bought the Viglen Technology shares the day before the Mirror's City Slickers column recommended them. Mr Yelland went into superdrive, remaking the Sun's front page for the story as soon as he saw early editions of the Telegraph. Two days later the Guardian added more fuel to the fire by revealing that Anil Bhoyrul, one of the two writers behind City Slickers, had 10,000 shares in a restaurant group called Belgo which the Min-or had repeatedly tipped. Then the Sunday Times alleged that James Hipwell, the other half of City Slickers, had bought and sold shares in at least two companies that had received favourable reports in his column. Tina Weaver, the Mirror's deputy editor, was said also to have bought shares in a company mentioned by the paper. The effect of all these stories on Mr Morgan was dreadful, and on Tuesday the Mirror struck back, alleging that Ian King, the business editor of the Sun, had admitted secretly owning shares in companies that his own column had plugged in the past three weeks. …

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