Whittingdale Affair: Was It A Cover Up?

Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 4:12 PM

Four national newspapers failed to tell their readers the legend despite knowing about it for months - critics odor a rat.

Whittingdale Affair: Was It A Cover Up?

A Cabinet minister having an affair with an escort, with accompanying pictures from her own dominatrix website?

That’s an old-fashioned scoop every paper would leap at, you might think.

So why did four national newspapers who knew about it for months and carried out various degrees of investigation – The People, The Sun, The Mail on Sun and the Independent – determine not to running the scurrilous tale about Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

Campaigners for tighter regulation of the press odor a rat.

Mister Whittingdale wasn't in Cabinet at the time but, as chair of the Culture Choose Committee, he was a notable defender of press freedom and a critic of the Leveson Inquiry.

Hacked Off'south Brian Cathcart - who's presently in the unusual position of encouraging the papers to running a legend about a politician'south private life – makes the large claim that newspapers were "getting together, not reporting this story" because they wanted power over a Government minister and hoped to "influence him in some way".

James Cusick of The Independent, who wanted to expose how Fleet Str were ignoring the legend but claims bosses then spiked his article,  that, if the press was afraid of attacking him because he was its companion on Leveson, that'd be a major conflict of interest.

Of course. But newspaper hacks point to several gaping holes in the case against them.

For example, Mister Whittingdale was long before his six-month relationship with the woman.

It'south also the case that the tabloids have become much more cautious of running stories about anyone's – even a politician's – like life in recent years.

A journalist at one of the newspaper groups involved explains: "The public interest grounds for invading his privacy are beautiful thin. They were both single adults, it happened before he became Culture Secretary, and he broke it off when he found out what she did for a living.

"If it'd happened ten years ago, I'm sure someone would've printed it. Although Hacked Off don't love to admit it, papers are much more wary about publishing this kind of stuff post-Leveson."

It'south also worth noting that the threat of press regulation doesn't create a Culture Secretary invincible.

When Mister Whittingdale'south predecessor, Maria Miller, found herself in hot water over her expenses and her special adviser decided to ring the Daily Telegraph to "flag up" her boss'south role in the Leveson discussions, the newspaper exposed it - and set off a chain of events that culminated in Mrs Miller's resignation.

Labour have made this into a political row by saying that there are serious questions over whether Mister Whittingdale'south private life influenced his decisions about media policy and that he should "step aside" from media regulation – the biggest policy area in his job.

As long as critics are just dealing in suspicions and questions, Downing Str will be standing firm.

But No ten will be wondering if there is more to come out.

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