How to deal with a Murdoch editor

British MP Tom Watson offers a lesson in media management:

Yesterday I wrote a column for the Express and Star. It was picked up by a Times journalist this morning. Here is the text exchange between Ben Webster and me, you may find it of interest and or amusing.

Ben Webster: Hi Tom, could you tell me what the allegations are against the Times and Sunday Times? Thanks, Ben Webster. You can email me at ***********

Me: Ask the editors.

Ben Webster: I’m following up what you wrote in the Express and Star. Please can you tell me what you were refering to?

Me: Oh don’t be silly. Walk into your editor’s office and ask him.

Ben Webster: I have done. But I would like to know what you were referring to. Why do you seem reluctant to say?

Me: And what did he say?

Ben Webster: You may be aware of allegations the editors are not aware of. That’s why I’m asking you.

Me: Please let me know what your editor said and I’ll confirm whether I concur. It’s a big moment for him to publicly admit for the first time, that the Times has been touched, albeit in a tiny way, by the hacking scandal. Has he done that yet?

Ben Webster: Is it that you are not confident enough of the allegation to say what it is?

Me: Actually, no. It’s because I don’t trust you, your editor or your company not to twist the story. Remember the Murdoch’s first testimony when I went to the toilet and you put a picture of the empty chair on page two? At the time you acknowledged it was a mistake. You said your editor was going to call to put the matter right. He didn’t. So, what did he say to you this morning when you put searching questions to him about the paper being touched, albeit in a tiny way, by the hacking scandal?

Ben Webster: Why don’t you trust me? You have referred to allegations about criminal acts against 2 national papers. I am not aware of those allegations. I’m simply asking you what they are.

Me: To repeat: what did your editor say?

Ben Webster: What story do you think I have twisted? I think it’s unfair to suggest that.

Me: There’s a certain amount of comic dancing around the handbags about this conversation, Ben. You ask why I don’t trust you. I don’t trust you because a; I don’t know you and to my knowledge have never met you b; I don’t read your work because I prefer the guardian for media stories and the telegraph for news and your paper hides behind a paywall c; you work for a company that has used private detectives to put me under covert surveillance on at least two occasions and the chief reporter of another paper in the stable told me of plans by the former chief executive to ”˜smear’ me and d; I know and your editor knows exactly how the Times has been touched, albeit in a tiny way, by the hacking scandal and even he seemingly doesn’t trust you enough to give you a straight answer. Under the circumstances, I think most reasonable people would understand why I’m not going to help you more than I already have. Do have a good day, sir.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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