What planet does Paul McMullan come from?
Last night, for the second time this year, I watched in open-mouthed amazement Paul McMullan talking about the News of the World (NOTW) phone-hacking scandal.
He was a journalist at the News of the World between 1994 and 2001.
My first exposure to him was in April on C4's 10 O'Clock Live news show. Paul McMullan implies that privacy is a luxury when he said that "privacy is the place where bad people do bad things".
He then goes on to say (edited):
"On Tuesday [Sienna Miller]'s prancing around in front of a camera. Why on Wednesday should she complain about it because she happens to be caught by a pap who maybe listened in to her messages to see where she's gonna go."
Do read the full transcript.
My second exposure was on BBC Newsnight last night. I'd been following the acitvity on Twitter following the revelation that messages on Milly Dowler's hacked phone had been deleted to make room for more messages while she was missing.
Paul's last statement was (edited):
"People keep saying phone hacking as if it's a big deal. I'd estimate that at least 10% of the population have hacked into someone's phone. It's so easy to do. And that's now being made illegal. It never used to be illegal. It used to be fair game. You used to be able to sit outside Buckingham Palace listening to Prince Charles talking about ridiculous ideas."
Please read the transcript.
Or are we just naive?
It"s all too easy to gasp at Paul McMullan's outrageous comments and label him stupid or - because he says these things without any irony - consider him insane.
For him to say that phone-hacking is fair game, that journalists who use these techniques should be praised rather than villified says a lot about the world that he lives in. You have to appreciate that, in his world - where he works, the people he mixed with - these are reasonable ideas.
It's an example of when someone is embedded in a way of thinking about the world when their immediate environment, friends and family do not challenge their beliefs - because they all think the same way. Amongst them, it's normal. It's only when they come into the world that the rest (most?) of us occupy, that there is a disconnect between the ease with which they share their barmy ideas and the reaction they receive.
What would the environment have to be for Paul McMullen not to have a clue that what he believes about phone-hacking is unreasonable? What if - WHAT IF - what he believes is normal for tabloid journalists and that it's us that are being naive?
I mean, are we just in denial about lots of things? How did we think that stories got discovered? Always by above-board investigation? Really? Or, even, how can Tesco really afford to sell jeans for £3? Are they made by UK workers above the minimum wage? Of course not. And how do MacDonalds make their burgers so tasty? With healthy ingredients always?
Perhaps we should start taking responsibility for things that come a little too easily. We should ask more questions.
This week's revelations about the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone has come from somewhere. She went missing in 2002. From The Guardian's Monday article Missing Milly Dowler's voicemail was hacked by News of the World:
"The paper made little effort to conceal the hacking from its readers [in] 2002"
"The newspaper also made no effort to conceal its activity from Surrey police. After it had hacked the message from the recruitment agency on Milly's phone [in 2002], the paper informed police about it."
What I want to know is, if this is old news, why is it coming back now? In whose interest is it? Where has the story come from? I feel as if I am being manipulated and I want to know who is behind it.
The government and the media occupy different worlds from us in terms of the rules they play by. For example, when a government spokesman uses the words "we need to be seen to care about [x]", they don't mean "we care about [x]" they really do mean, they think it's important that they are seen to care about [x]. Manipulating us is so normal for them that it doesn't even occur to them to conceal it.
I would like this horrid little saga to prompt a wider discussion of how stories come about. The implication is that dodgy tactics is somehow our fault for buying the newspapers. But I think that even NOTW readers would balk at some of the practices used to obtain stories if they were aware of them.
There has been a Twitter storm over the last two days to put pressure on companies to withdraw their ads from the News of the World. I'm glad it's made a difference but I suspect it'll only be temporary, reacting to bad press not principle.
Quite frankly, even if phone-hacking is endemic amongst tabloids, nothing short of the demise of the News of the World will satisfy me now.
Paul McMullan transcripts:
- "People keep saying 'phone hacking' as if it's a big deal" [ 5 July 2011]
- "Privacy is the place where bad people do bad things" [7 April 2011]
- "The bugger, bugged" by Hugh Grant [@ The New Statesman] [April 2011]