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Press: Turmoil at Washington Post keeps rival’s hacks occupied        

28 June 2024


THE row over British journalistic ethics in the United States continued: Rob Winnett, the Daily Telegraph executive who had been chosen by the former Murdoch executive Will Lewis as the next editor of The Washington Post (Press, 21 June), withdrew after a staff revolt. The New York Times continues its attacks on a rival with more details about Mr Lewis’s part in cleaning up the phone-hacking scandal in 2011, these stemming from a policeman who worked on the inquiry.

“Confidential documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with people involved in the criminal investigation show that, almost from the beginning, investigators with London’s Metropolitan Police were suspicious of the company’s intentions, and came to view Mr. Lewis as an impediment.

“The police suspected that the company was trying to ‘steer the investigation into a very narrow remit’ by pointing the finger at a few journalists ‘while steering the investigation away from other journalists and editors,’ one of the lead detectives wrote in a previously undisclosed internal summary of events.”

The juiciest detail is that the Murdoch organisation attempted to blame Gordon Brown — of all people — for some of their mass deletion of millions of emails covering the period of interest: “The company removed the emails, Mr. Lewis told police, after receiving an unsubstantiated tip that Mr. Brown, a member of Parliament at the time, was plotting with his allies to steal emails of a top company executive.

“Mr. Lewis conceded that he had no evidence to back up the tip, could never corroborate it and never mentioned it to the police until after the emails were deleted, according to police minutes of meetings.

“Mr. Brown told The Times that the claims are ‘completely untrue and without any foundation at all.’”


THE other fun thing in The New York Times was a long obit of the literary critic Frederick Crews, who spent much of the latter part of his life demolishing the reputation of Sigmund Freud. He certainly deserved to be remembered for that.

But his other notable contribution to intellectual life was that he brought to the printed pages of The New York Review of Books the implacable grinding hatreds that have come to characterise online life. This sentence from the obit links to five separate exchanges in the NYRB: “Professor Crews was often at his most full-throated in The Review’s letters to the editor column, where intellectual debates can border on trench warfare.” This must have been fun to research.

That said, his standards of invective were very high indeed, and any journalist has something to learn from them: “As [Freud] encountered frustrations in a medical career for which he was ill suited, and as he found himself incapable of devising purposeful experiments, cocaine euphoria encouraged him to believe that he could take shortcuts to fame.

“The first such shortcut, tellingly, was his public advocacy of cocaine itself in papers whose impressionistic manner, carelessness, boasting, and, finally, sneering sarcasm toward opponents had no precedent in his earlier work. The second and more successful bid for glory was psychoanalysis. Its false therapeutic claims, its indefiniteness, its circular demonstrations, its revolutionary tone, its pretension to limitless insight, and its recourse to bluffing and slander in place of evidence all pointed to a break with the scientific ethos and a surrender to grandiosity on Freud’s part. Do Appignanesi, Forrester, and Frances seriously believe that cocaine played no part in such a radical transformation?”


A DISTANT disciple of Crews in this country is Damian Thompson, who had a piece on UnHerd about the evils of Pope Francis. Now that I no longer get organs of Paisleyite sentiment, Dr Thompson is the only writer who treats Catholic hierarchs as being personally wicked as well as mistaken: “The Vatican official responsible for enforcing Francis’s ruling, ironically entitled Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of Tradition), is his liturgy chief Cardinal Arthur Roche, a native of Batley, West Yorkshire, who has approached his task with Cromwellian zeal.

“This year, the power-hungry Roche forced his old rival Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, to ban the celebration of traditional Holy Week services in his diocese.

“In England, especially, Traditionis Custodes has revived memories of the Tudor persecutions. What will happen to Old Rite Catholics if the Vatican turns the thumbscrews yet again? It’s worth noting that the heroic Elizabethan clergy who emerged from priest holes to say Mass for recusant Catholics were celebrating a liturgy very similar to the one Francis is trying to suppress.”

I may be being unfair here: perhaps the only way to interest the secular press in religious stories is to tell the reader at once who the villain is (heroes are optional). That is certainly the model followed by Private Eye’s anonymous correspondents, and no one else has had as many stories followed up.

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