A dangerous bias?
Ray Snoddy picks over the pieces of two very different confessions by two high-profile journalists
Two well-known journalists made dramatic admissions this week – one was interesting and revealing, the other disgraceful.
They raise serious questions about the duties of journalists to avoid positions that might actually damage the heath and safety of their readers and, separately, how honest they should be about disclosing highly controversial, privately-held, political beliefs.
The two men, initially at least, had much in common.
Peter Hitchens, author and columnist for the Mail on Sunday started out as an International Socialist and travelled all the way from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party and then out the other side towards the libertarian right, or as he puts it, being “a Burkean conservative.”
Former journalism professor, Roy Greenslade started out a Marxist and probably hasn’t travelled too far politically since.
Hitchens, is not so much a lockdown critic as a denouncer who has described the Government’s lockdown policy after March 2020 as “the Great Panic.”
He has described the evidence for the mandatory wearing of face-masks – “face muzzles” or face nappies” as he calls them, as more superstition than science.
In fact, there has been growing scientific evidence worldwide that masks are an effective first line of defence against the virus. Hitchens has also lauded the Swedish laissez faire approach to Covid.
Now, Hitchens has announced that he has joined the common herd and submitted himself, purely for “wholly selfish reasons,” to the terrible imposition of vaccination.
Greenslade did something much more significant.
He voluntarily admitted in an article for the British Journalism Review that across the years, while being news editor of the Sunday Times, editor of the Daily Mirror, Guardian columnist and later professor of journalism at City University, he has supported the right of the IRA to wage an armed struggle, including its murderous bombing campaigns.
He also wrote for the Irish Republican publication An Phoblacht, which many saw as a propaganda sheet for the IRA, under the name George King.
The great Hitchens vaccination saga, and his wriggling to justify it, would be hilarious if it wasn’t sad and his general approach to Covid, not alarming.
As the Mail on Sunday headline read: “I’ve had the Covid jab - and all it cost me was my freedom.”
Hitchens felt forced to have the vaccination because he has family and friends abroad whom he wants to visit and fears travel and many other activities will be impossible in future without a vaccine certificate.
“I hope it becomes known as the Blair passport – as it is largely the warmongering creature’s idea and people will come to hate it, as they have come to hate so many of his actions,” Hitchens wrote.
The Mail on Sunday columnist grumbled that he has been more or less forced to have a vaccination he would not otherwise have bothered with, and he felt a pang of regret and loss.
Hitchens also said that he has had many vaccinations in his life and was not an anti-vaxxer, but on Covid, “the vaccination was a gloomy submission to a new world of excessive safety and regulation. I tried to fight against it and I lost.”
Excessive safety and regulation is a strange phrase to use for a pandemic that has already killed 123,000 in the UK and 2.55 million worldwide, though naturally Hitchens argues the numbers are exaggerated by Covid appearing on the death certificates of those who would have died of other causes anyway.
Hitchens at least is up front and honest about where he is coming from and he is entitled to his opinions.
But perhaps arts educated journalists- Hitchens has a degree in philosophy and politics- should have a care before, in effect denouncing the recommendations of specialist scientists on matters of life and death.
At the very least, he is guilty of putting his individual freedoms ahead of the interests of society, and through his prominent writings, encouraging others to do the same.
His views on the Swedish approach have not aged well. Sweden now has a much higher death rate than all its Scandinavian neighbours.
Meanwhile, the disclosures of Roy Greenslade are both more serious and more inexplicable.
Why should Greenslade, who had had no links with Ireland apart from an Irish wife, suddenly at the age of 74 voluntarily admit that for most of his adult life, he had been both a supporter and an apologist for the cause of the IRA, and that he had expressed Republican views through the writings of ‘George King’.
Greenslade admitted that he wrote under a pseudonym for the simple reason that he had a mortgage and would have been sacked if he had expressed his views openly.
The former Guardian media columnist, who also lectured on journalist ethics at City University, admitted in his article that he had come to believe that the fight between the forces of the state and a group of insurgents was unequal and therefore could not be fought on conventional terms.
“In other words, I supported the use of physical force,” wrote Greenslade at a time when the newspapers he worked for were denouncing the IRA’s terror campaign.
Greenslade says he kept quiet about his views because he knew that however much he believed the IRA’s tactics to be valid, he could not hope to convince colleagues that “the killing of civilians, albeit by accident” was justifiable.
The statement that the IRA, or indeed Protestant terrorists, only killed civilians “by accident” is historically laughable but on to the main point.
In such circumstances, particularly the George King deceit, is Greenslade a suitable person to be lecturing students, and indeed other newspapers, on journalistic ethics?
The Guardian has said it will be reviewing historical Roy Greenslade articles to ensure they meet its editorial standards, whilst City University accepted his resignation this week as visiting professor - emphasising that, on freedom of speech grounds, it had not been required.
City has somewhat swerved the issue. Greenslade has gone and the university has avoided a row over how much freedom of speech should be granted for apologists for terrorism of all kinds.
But students, and more importantly readers, were entitled to know such a senior journalist’s real views and the identity of George King so that they could make up their own minds.
Lord Armstrong, once chief secretary to the Cabinet, giving evidence in the Spycatcher case in 1986, famously admitted that he had been “economical with the truth” a phrase that entered the Oxford English dictionary.
It is the only thing he is remembered for.
In future, Roy Greenslade, after a lifetime of journalism and many books, is likely to be remembered mainly for an article in a journalism quarterly in which he admitted his support for Irish Republicanism and justification for the IRA and his double-life as George King.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am an Ulster Presbyterian atheist opposed to terrorism of all kinds who has happily received my first dose of Astra-Zeneca.