Tom Curtin Cartoon 6 March

Never trust a journalist

March 6th, 2023

That’s a tough headline but is it true?

I was a journalist for 20 years and have been dealing with them throughout my career.

In the UK, there is a major scandal involving a former senior government Health Minister, Matt Hancock, who decided that he would like to tell his side of the story of the Covid pandemic in a book. So he hired a journalist, Isabel Oakeshott, to help him write it.

He gave her access to all his correspondence including 100,000 WhatsApp messages between himself, his team, the Prime Minister, senior civil servants and more. He tied her to a confidentiality agreement.

The book was written to, how shall I put this politely, mixed reviews.

Three months later, Isabel brought to whole lot to The Daily Telegraph, who have been running it as front-page story every day for the last week.

Now back to the headline about trust. First, we need to look at some of the characteristics that lead a person to a career in journalism.

  1. The Truth. Journalists are never after you – they are after the story. They are like puppies – they like to chase things. A puppy chases a ball, so a journalist chases the story. What happens if you don’t throw the ball, say by telling the truth: the journalist loses interest. The more you try to hide the story, the more intensive the interest.
  2. The common people. Journalists see it as their duty to represent the ordinary person who cannot stand up for themselves. So, they are tough on politicians, big business, rock stars, anyone who puts themselves above the rest. For that reason, they are often accused of being left-wing.
  3. The Scoop. The exclusive – to get the big story before everyone else – is every journalist’s dream.
  4. Excitement. There is huge adrenaline rush when your story appears. Journalists are natural risk-takers.
  5.  Money. They are not too interested in this – the vast majority are paid peanuts.

So let’s go back to Mr Hancock and Ms Oakeshott. She has what’s known in the trade as ‘form’ – she has had a number of exclusives in her time. For example in a book about former Prime Minister, David Cameron, she revealed that he put his private parts in a dead pig’s mouth as part of an initiation rite at university.

And Mr Hancock has ‘form’, too. He took £300,000 to appear in the reality TV show ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’, where he had to eat a camel’s rude bits among other delicacies. He also lost his job as a Minister having been seen on CCTV in a clinch with his mistress.

You can see now how this is perfect fodder for a journalist. Of course, Ms Oakeshott claims that it was all in the public interest.

And I am inclined to agree with her.

So, put your WhatsApp on delete or better still, don’t use it all.

Have a good week.


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