We donât often get the chance to plumb the Delphian depths of the Investigative Journalistâs crania. Reading the Pollard report transcripts as Nick Pollard gamely ventured into that philosopherâs bourn known as Merion Jonesâs ethical compass, one of the most highly paid of that genre, was an eye opener â turns out they do less investigation than yer average spotty blogger with one eye on getting the shirt sued off his back. Ably assisted by an âexpertâ to send Surrey Police an e-mailâ¦.
Then we had the grandly titled Bureau of Investigative Journalism doing a full belly flop, landing in undignified fashion, wallet up, in front of Lord MacAlpineâs voracious lawyers.
Today we are treated to a full eleven pages of the pinnacle of the art â the political editor of the most respected Sunday broadsheet explains just how tiring, how boring, how inconvenient it is when a source offers you the scalp of a cabinet minister on a plate. Eat your heart out fellow bloggers, as you slave through the night deciphering e-mails from the University of East Anglia to write the definitive article on the Machiavellian ways of the climate change industry. Or sink your teeth into the ankle of the anti-smoking industry month after relentless month.
You have no idea how tiresome the life of a political editor can be.
Why Vince Cableâs chief economist is likely to drop in late at night and you have to search your fridge for âfresh prawns and Pinot Grigioâ to sustain them â theyâd be lucky to find the tab end of a cold sausage and the cabbage I was saving for bubble and squeak in my fridge â which is possibly why I donât have such illustrious late night guests. Things are different in the high end world of investigative journalism.
Surely even your bored and care worn political editor feels a frisson of excitement when your guest turns out to be carrying a tape nailing said cabinet minister? Nah, you get irritated when she fiddles with the tape recorder controls â âclearly very tired and hated technologyâ. You reflect â in print at a later date, story safely squirreled away â how âshrill her voice soundedâ and how her language was just de trop in your melliferous household with âexpletives spat out in increasingly hysterical tones in her distinctive Greek accentâ.
Bloody foreign plebs cluttering up the kitchen table eating all your Waitrose prawns! Why you can barely summon up the enthusiasm to speak when she finally plays the tape, and leave it to your hubby:
âItâs not enough,â my husband said flatly. This was not his story, but after 15 years on Fleet Street as an investigative reporter he knows the standard of proof required to publish explosive allegations about someone with money and power.
Now your average blogger would have been working through the night checking out the story, was the murder âvictimâ actually dead, for instance, who do I know who can speak German? (Thanks Tim Worstall!), but your illustrious political editor foreswears all that legwork, they turf the guest out into the night with instructions to come back with a fully proofed copper bottomed storyâ¦..in fact when the guest legs it off to the Mail on Sunday in the hope of finding someone who might actually investigate the story, they complain bitterly:
She had double-crossed me. While I was busy protecting her identity, she had been busy revealing all to a rival newspaper, The Mail on Sunday. Even worse, she had handed it a copy of the tapes. This was an extraordinary betrayal and deeply underhand after everything we had been through together. Our relationship had been based on trust. I had kept my side of the bargain; she had broken hers.
[…] She had been trying to ride two horses: broadsheet and tabloid. It was a dangerous game and it was no surprise that she fell off.
The Mail on Sunday, being a downmarket tabloid apparently didnât have the same scruples about getting their hands dirty and actually investigating the story:
Reporters were able to prove that Vicky had been in central London on the day Huhneâs BMW was clocked speeding in Essex. He had been in Strasbourg that day. His routine was to fly back to Stansted, where he left his car, and drive home, placing him squarely at the scene of the offence.
Note: âReportersâ, not âinvestigative journalistsâ like wot our subject, Isabella Oakshott, is!
I wonder whether Isabella really deserves the title of âinvestigative journalistâ â should it not be âinstigative journalistâ;
âIn the long message that followed I urged her to tell her story openly. I felt this would achieve her objective â bringing Huhne down â with the minimum damage to her own reputation. She would simply tell the truth and see what happened. I also suggested ghostwriting a long article for her.â
âHer objectiveâ, but then a trawl through the e-mail correspondence of April 18th between Isabella and Vicky Pryce gives us the following quote from Isabella:
[…] as you say, we may have to be patient, which Iâm not feeling and Iâm sure youâre not either (Sunday Times splash yesterday named him [Huhne] and Tim Farron as Cleggâs main threats for the leadership. Iâd like to topple him before thereâs any danger of thatâ¦.)â
That look suspiciously to me as though it is Isabellaâs objective to topple Huhne!
Still, bored Isabella manfully soldiered on with the story, despite getting up the duff, an altogether more absorbing matter than researching a story, she had, after all, promised her Editor that she âwouldnât go off the radar whilst pregnantâ. An unfortunate choice of phrase, since Isabella managed to get very much on the radar during this period â done for speeding herself. We know this detail because actually the entire article could be sub-titled the trials and tribulations of âbeing Isabellaâ complete with professionally posed picture of the blond bombshell to compare with the shot of a careworn Vicky Price.
So, not-off-the-radar Isabella graciously agrees to spend Â£75 odd quid of the Sunday Timesâ money taking Vicky to ânot a fancy restaurantâ – just one where they relieve you of Â£75 for a bottle of mineral water, a Chicken Caesar salad and a lump of Sea Bass. Where Isabella, suffering for her art as ever, is forced to read a run down of Chris Huhneâs private finances.
She had a copy of his financial declaration with her and produced it rather furtively. She wondered if there was anything of journalistic interest. I skimmed the various investments. Nothing jumped out.
I have it all somewhere in an old notebook: details of multiple houses, Isas, pension funds and bank accounts, as well as lump sums he received from his elderly father. It added up to about Â£5m.
âNothing jumped outâ. Not to a serious Political Editor maybe, but we bloggers are bottom feeders. How about what âhe received from his elderly fatherâ? Did you think to look into that further?
See, Chris Huhne made a lot of money selling shares his Father had sold him cheaply when Dadâs company was floated on the stock market. So what was Dadâs company? âTraffic Safety Systemsâ. What do they do? Oh, just supply speed cameras and CCTV to Police forces across the country. Including Essex.
Quite literally hoist on his own petardâ¦..well, at least the family petard. I havenât laughed so much since I found Ernest Marplesâ car in the car pound at the Elephant and Castle â towed away from one of his own parking metersâ¦.