The truth was, is and always will be the most important ingredient in a reporter’s armoury – not for some highfalutin’ ethical reason but simply because any journalists who trade in deception inevitably will be found out, exposed to ridicule and robbed of all credibility – before being fired.
Their efforts will become a shortlived joke like those yellow peril sheets bound for the knacker’s yard after a diet of headlines like Elvis spotted in Neasden chippy or Flying fortress found on moon. In the end nobody buys them.
Our detractors also ignore the fact that, day in and day out, 99 per cent of the output of broadcast and print media is the straight, unvarnished truth. Wild speculation, misrepresentation and downright lies don’t come into it. Reading Adrian Monck’s book you could be forgiven for thinking the opposite.
The essence of Monck’s argument in Can You Trust The Media?, the book he wrote with Mike Hanley, is that it will never be possible to trust the media: First things first: What do journalists themselves think about the trust thing? Do they care whether or not their readers trust them? Do the editors of tabloids like Britain’s The Sun or America’s New York Post stay awake at night worrying about whether or not their journalism is trusted? Yeah, right.
They may stay awake wondering whether more people will pick up their newspaper tomorrow than did so today. They may stay awake wondering if the phone will ring with an incandescent Rupert Murdoch at the other end, furious about the editorial line. But do they care if you trust them?
Much of the time, the answer to that question seems to be an emphatic ‘no’. Despite the fact-checking, the editorial processes and the elaborate constructs put in place by part of the media to ensure that ‘standards’ are met, we are constantly being let down by our news professionals, if Monck is to be believed. There are countless examples and they arise every day. Why? The simplest answer is money. From a commercial perspective, trust is a worthless asset for media owners.
Codswallop. Indeed I have news for the learned professor. When Murdoch appointed me editor of The News of the World, I asked him about budgetary restraints. ‘You concentrate on getting the paper right,’he said. ‘I’ll worry about the money.”
Another little detail that might surprise the Guardianistas of City University, where Monck is a professor of journalism: In my day I worked for Hugh Cudlipp, Lord Matthews, Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. Not once did any of them ever try to impose their political views on me, even though they must have known I was somewhere to the left of Keir Hardie. True, Murdoch did foist Woodrow Wyatt on me at the NoW. I got my own back by putting this subhead under his byline: The voice of reason. I reckon the whole world with the exception of Wyatt and Murdoch knew I was taking the piss.
A full version of this article appeared in the 16 May edition of Tribune magazine