Why press exposed Keith Vaz but (at least initially) ignored John Whittingdale's affair with dominatrix

vazz

I’ve been asked why Fleet Street suppressed the news former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale had an affair with a woman who worked as a paid dominatrix but exposed Keith Vaz.

The former story was (at least initially) ignored because Whittingdale was not married at the time and there was no suggestion he had paid for sex.

I know plenty of people whose reaction to the Vaz news is “so what?”. And I sometimes wonder whether journalists are more socially conservative than their readers on these matters.

But Vaz is married, so there is the rather old-fashioned matter of betraying and possibly deceiving his wife.

Paying for sex is not necessarily illegal but morally it does put Vaz into another category. Many would view it as beyond the pale for someone who is in public office.

Those who sell sex are often desperate and exploited. There are strong links between the sex industry and people traffickers.

The Mirror tapes also reveal that Vaz was relaxed about the use of cocaine and the possibility of paying for it (even if he said he did not himself use it).

His swift resignation from his job as chairman of the Home Affairs select committee is a vindication of the Mirror exposé. Vaz himself clearly felt it was not possible to publicly defend his actions.

The intimate details of what Vaz got up to in one of his London flats were private. But the public interest in exposure looks clear to me.

As he said: “Those who hold others to account, must themselves be accountable.”

Vaz also said: “It is deeply disturbing that a national newspaper should have paid individuals to have acted in this way.”

As I understand it, the Sunday Mirror did not set out to entrap Vaz. But rather, the men who he was in contact with decided to sell their story to the paper.

It was pretty naive of him to think for a moment that this would not happen. He was far too public a figure for his ‘Jim the Washing Machine salesman‘ cover story to stick.

Still, he may yet have a case for breach of privacy over the level of detail revealed in the story.

A judge may decide that it was not necessary for the Mirror to reveal as much as it did in order to get the salient points across.

Remember, the News of the World found to its cost at the High Court in 2008 that in England, what a married public figure does in a basement is between him and the five paid dominatrices involved.

Even so, I suspect that for high-profile elected public officials the press have far more licence to report on private matters which reflect on their character. Particularly as Vaz’s committee has a remit to investigate vice and drugs. 

One wonders whether those who favour greater privacy would rather the Sunday Mirror suppressed this story after being approached by the Eastern European prostitutes involved. It strikes me that this would be more unhealthy for society than the route of disclosure, which they chose and which should be the default position for journalists.

Comments

2 thoughts on “Why press exposed Keith Vaz but (at least initially) ignored John Whittingdale's affair with dominatrix”

  1. The fact of the matter is that Vaz was chairman of a committee looking into, in effect, the morals of people and their behaviour and, at times, castigating them so it was hypocritical of him to pass judgment on the behaviour of others but expecting not to be “judged” himself.

  2. I’m no Livingstone or Vaz fan but he is correct & his sentiments are spot on in this matter.
    People claim that it’s “in the public interest” for them to know what their elected representatives do and say in private but where do we stop?, Should every MP have his/her life monitored by CCTV to ensure their private conversations are not different to what they say in public?
    And if we have to know of every aspect of an MPs life why shouldn’t we know about the peccadilloes of those who report on them? Do their private lives influence the angle they take on a story?
    Too many people are indulging in schadenfreude over Vaz’s personal life because they either don’t like his politics or think he’s pompous.

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