How Murdoch’s News International hung Times editor James Harding out to dry
YESTERDAY the Editor of The Times, James Harding, told the Leveson Inquiry into media standards that he had apologised to a blogger named Richard Horton. Before the Times made his name known, Horton was the anonymous author of the NightJack blog.
The Times reports:
Mr Harding also revealed today that the then legal manger of The Times, Alistair Brett, had failed to inform him as Editor that he had taken the NightJack case to the High Court to fight an injunction from Mr Horton, who was seeking to remain anonymous.
“As editor of the paper, I am responsible for what it does and what its journalists do. So I want to say at the outset that I sorely regret the intrusion into Richard Horton’s email account by a journalist then in our newsroom. I am sure that Mr Horton and many other people expect better of The Times. So do I. So on behalf of the paper, I apologise.”
The Times adds:
Scotland Yard is investigating claims that the [now former] Times journalist, Patrick Foster, hacked into the e-mail of Lancashire detective Richard Horton in 2009 to unmask him as the author of the NightJack blog… The inquiry has heard that The Times battled in the High Court to name Mr Horton as the author of the NightJack blog after Mr Foster had told his managers that he had attempted to hack into his e-mail. Mr Justice Eady went on to rule in The Times’s a favour…
Mr Horton, aware that he was about to be unmasked, applied to the High Court for an injunction. He claimed initially that his identity had been disclosed to the newspaper “in a breach of confidence”, but Mr Horton’s legal team repeatedly informed Mr Justice Eady of suspicions over how Mr Foster had obtained his information…
On the evening before the hearing Mr Harding was copied in to an e-mail in which Mr Brett informed David Chappell, the then managing editor, that Mr Foster had told him that he had gained access to Mr Horton’s e-mail. “You don’t recall having read that?” Mr Jay asked Mr Harding.
“I don’t,” said Mr Harding. “I don’t think I would have read it. It was the day of the local elections. On June 4 2009 there was an effort under way to oust Gordon Brown.”
“For me personally, the biggest shock was that the Times had taken the case to the High Court. I wasn’t aware of this fact. We probably didn’t drill down properly into what Mr Foster had done. I have to own my responsibility and failure here: we paid it insufficient attention.”
Mr Harding added:
“Mr Justice Eady has ruled that this is in the public interest. Will The Times now get a name for bringing vexatious cases in the High Court? The reporting had already led to Mr Horton’s identification by Lancashire Constabulary. We felt that having taken up the court’s time and Mr Justice Eady having found in our favour, we had to respect his judgment. Mr Brett did not believe, and still does not believe, that the court was misled. When I went through them (the e-mail exchanges) I felt that information had not been disclosed to the judge. I felt it was right that I should give him an apology. When you look back at all of this, it’s terrible.”
Lord Justice Leveson said it was “abundantly clear” that if someone had “joined the dots” they would have realised “that this was an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, which does not have a public interest defence.”
Anorak takes a view:
The truly curious thing about British newspaper publishing houses which run foul of the law is the Editor is responsible for absolutely EVERYTHING which appears in the printed page. That includes all advertisements, small ads and full page display advertisements. Every story, picture, crossword and news item is the sole responsibility of Ye Ed.
Others, deputy and assistant editors, department heads and section chiefs are given shared responsibility and the major day to day legal strain of staying the right side of the law stays the bailiwick of the chief sub-editor and his team.
News editors and reporters traditionally carry less legal responsibility until forced into a rethink when an enraged sub-editor or chief-sub has a screaming fit. This generally occurs when a yarn is so out of kilter a rampaging priest with his celibate organ out and oiled for the nearest choir boy would have stopped dead in his tracks and called in a lawyer.
Legal action is the editor’s call. He or she would consult with management and when defending or attacking in a legal suit the editor is the one who must represent the newspaper and call for action.
Not so in the Murdoch empire according to the Leveson’s Inquiry’s latest digging.
Those of us who have been editors and sometimes write here….and there are a lot of them…are spitting feathers at the situation which faced The Thunderer’s editor, James Harding, when he was forced into apologising to a very skilful policeman/private eye and blogger NightJack for something a Times lawyer had done.
The legal team seem to have taken a deliberate course to name the blogger in order to win their point and the case.
Not something any editor worthy of the title would ever have considered.
We’re not talking of Ginger Tabby and Thames bargeman’s daughter, former newsdesk secretary Rebekakaka Brooks nee Wade who did not have a day of conventional newspaper training before being hoisted high to the dizzy clouds whereupon the mighty Rupert sat and manipulated.
This is James Harding a mainly reasonably respected journo who knows his Stuff (with a capital S). Lesser mortals would have resigned and taken key team members with them …if there was somewhere else to go. In point of fact there is not, so what follows is new territory and shows a real falling out at the highest levels in News International.
The yarn will not end here.