Last Sunday, The Mail on Sunday published confidential emails sent by the UK’s Washington ambassador, and all hell broke loose.
It resulted in a serious diplomatic rift and an ambassador, by all accounts good at his job and blameless, declared persona non grata by Trump.
He resigned yesterday, so the story has its first scalp.
Was the newspaper right to publish?
William Randolph Hearst once said, “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.”
Certainly, many did not want this printing, so it passes this test.
The Independent thinks the MoS entirely justified: “No matters of state security were compromised, and … the revelations will probably do no lasting harm… Any media organisation would have gleefully accepted the scoop.”
Perhaps. It would seem that the law was broken in leaking this correspondence. That in itself is not a reason not to publish, but it does put the onus on the publisher to provide a public interest justification.
I can’t see an obvious one. According to the Editors’ Code, “public interest” generally involves “exposing crime” or “serious impropriety”, “disclosing miscarriages of justice” or “protecting public health”. None of this applies here. Maybe, at a stretch, the story could be justified as “contributing to a matter of public debate”, the loosest of the Code’s criteria.
I don’t want to be too po-faced about this, and given the circulation pressures we’re all under, it’s hard to turn down a juicy bit of gossip, but the real story here is not that Sir Kim Darroch thinks the Trump administration “inept” because lots of others do too, but that the UK’s diplomatic communications are not secure.
However, if this episode helps put an end to the toe-curling expression “special relationship”, then perhaps that’s justification enough…