Keeping one eye on the fallout from the John Whittingdale story, it is striking how secondary (ie non-Cusick/Jukes) coverage has stayed away from the obvious implication of the documented facts.
On Newsnight, for example, Evan Davis set out the issue as follows:
The media’s been playing ‘what’s the scandal’ today. Is it the fact that an important MP, John Whittingdale, went out with a dominatrix, the fact the papers didn’t report it, the fact the BBC did report it, albeit after some smaller outlets already had, or was it that John Whittingdale didn’t report it himself, or, finally, that he had to oversee the press knowing they had something on him, a potential conflict of interest.
Following this outline, Davis interviewed Andrew Mitchell who insisted that there was no conflict of interest. He later asked Nick Clegg the same question, to which the answer was again a resounding no.
There is certainly no evidence that Whittingdale has changed his position on press regulation or the BBC. But absolutely none of the original reporting suggested that. It suggested that the press kept a lid on the story in order to preserve the value of an ‘asset’ in Parliament and now in government. A senior editor at the Independent told Cusick that ‘we’ve got no choice. We can’t take an asset away from the Mail.’ The suggestion is that newspapers decided against publication to protect and promote their interests. At first sight there is something to this. A series of papers looked at the story and devoted considerable resources to it, only to decide to keep it under wraps.
This touches on a dynamic in the media-politics relationship that is both obvious and rarely stated: news outlets know more than they publish. They can leave some players on the board or remove them, as they see fit. The Whittingdale story should prompt a debate about this dynamic. Evan Davis should be asking journalists whether the media decide to keep viable stories from the public, and why.
If this is isn’t a well-understood aspect of the game insiders play then the Cusick interpretation of events becomes less plausible. If it is, then the public have a keen interest in knowing about it.*
Much of the coverage seems hellbent on missing the point, so that the actual relationship between the media and the politicians remains obscure. ‘Some smaller outlets’ like Byline.com and openDemocracy have shed a little light, and they have raised some money to do so. But the media giants remain committed to their mission to misrepresent.