Parliamentary sketch: a good day for Ed Miliband

"Murdoch makes Miliband" is a headline even the News of the World would have turned down.

The door opened and in he slipped so nervous even his quiff was quaking. He stared around the room in vain for his mates, but the only big boy who had turned up was Vince Cable, and you knew he was just there for the fun.

When he took the job of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, he imagined backstage at the opera, lunches with the luvvies, and best seats at the Olympics. Nobody mentioned Monday afternoons on your own in the House of Commons.

The chamber is normally a desert this time of the day but the promise of a spit-roast packed them in. There isn't that much flesh on Jeremy Hunt, but there was clearly going to be a lot less before MPs were finished with him.

It hadn't been a good day from the start, but then again it hasn't been a good week, or indeed a good fortnight for the man only recently described as a safe pair of hands. That safe pair was clearly shaking as he stood to defend the indefensible towards the end of yet another astonishing day in the life of "one rogue reporter", who we have discovered had many brothers and even a few sisters.

Yesterday was a good day, though, for the man who had summoned Jeremy to the House to be ritually eviscerated. Many have written that this has not been Ed Miliband's year, but even he could not have imagined getting down on his knees to thank Saint Rupert for riding to his rescue. "Murdoch makes Miliband" is a headline even the News of the World would have turned down.

But there he was, cheered on even by those who just last month would have swapped him for Jeremy. Ed spoke for England -- and maybe even for the rest of the UK -- as he demanded Rupert pack his bags and depart.

He'd kicked off this campaign earlier in the morning yesterday, as part of his successful strategy of keeping Dave and his boys on the run. In fact, so successful was it that by the time he turned up in the Commons, anybody worth anything on the Tory side had clearly found reasons to visit those parts of their departments yet to be axed.

Proceedings were slightly delayed by a rambling discourse on the "big society" by one of its inventors, Oliver Letwin, but the noises off finally persuaded even this most semi-detached of ministers that he was not the reason for a packed chamber, and that he was delaying the main bout.

It had been a day of speech and counter-speech. The government sent a series of coded messages to Rupert begging him to get them off the hook, while Rupert refused to concede that those who had spent all those years telling him how great he was had not meant it any more than he had.

Dave, by the way, had gone missing. As Ed prepared to present Jeremy with his own entrails, the Prime Minister had found a reason to be in Canary Wharf, trying to talk about something else. Ed invited Jeremy, who by now looked as it he needed a hankie, to further ruin whatever remains of his career by rubbishing his leader. He looked tempted.

As a Tory source had so succinctly put it earlier: "We had expected to eat a shit sandwich over this deal, but not a three course meal."

Elsewhere, the main players were getting on with their day. The Guardian provided enough breaking news to give the Sky News strapline hiccoughs. This produced the wonderful vignette of Kay Burley and Adam Boulton discussing the revelation that Rupert, having realised that those who said he was popular had been lying all these years, was going to run for cover for a while, and that meant Sky News would still be owned by him.

This sneaky play was just enough to allow Jeremy to back away from Ed's knife, but the Labour leader isn't finished with it yet. This is the last week of Parliament, after which Ed will go and have his nose job. It now looks like Dave will need one too -- if only to get Ed out of his patrician snout.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

 

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.