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Daily Mail Selectively Denounces Goodwill Tweets to Mark Di Stefano

A headline at the Daily Mail:

Hypocrisy of the media luvvies and FT reporter who turned his paper pink with shame

The article, by Richard Pendlebury, starts with the resignation of the Financial Times reporter Mark Di Stefano following the revelation that he had hacked into recent Zoom staff meetings at the Independent and the Evening Standard. However, Pendlebury’s focus is on how some people on Twitter had expressed commiseration for how Di Stefano had ruined his career:

As he disappeared into digital exile, a flurry of tweets from the great and the good at the BBC and the Guardian, as well as hard-Left activists and even a Press reform campaigner, expressed sympathy and support for him. But by so doing, they turned what had been a scandal about one man’s ethical failings into a wider debate on the double standards of some in the liberal media.

Those lined up for a Daily Mail tweet-shaming for showing a bit of sympathy include Emily Maitlis of BBC Newsnight, the left-wing journalists Ash Sarkar (doesn’t work for the BBC, but is a “regular BBC Question Time panellist”, which is near enough) and Aaron Bastani, Pippa Crerar (“formerly of the Guardian and now political editor of the Daily Mirror, which has had to pay out huge sums to settle phone-hacking claims of its own”) and Paul Lewis of BBC Radio 4’s Money Box, as well as Peter Jukes (discussed further below).

It should be pointed out that while the Tweets cited by Pendlebury might be regarded as unduly generous, none of them condoned what Di Stefano had done or expressed the view that the outcome was unfair. The latter, though, was the opinion of Alex Wickham, a former colleague of Di Stefano at Buzzfeed. As noted by Tim at Zelo Street, Wickham wrote:

Glad there is so much support already for Mark, who is a superb reporter and one of the best, most decent people I know. This is an absolutely ridiculous and appalling outcome.

Wickham got his career start in journalism with Paul Staines’s Guido Fawkes smear-site, although since joining Buzzfeed he has re-invented himself as a creditable mainstream journalist. Others who dodged Pendlebury’s censure included the Press Gazette‘s Dominic Ponsford (“Big slip-up this, but he who never made a mistake never made anything – I am sure @MarkDiStef will bounce back from this in due course a lot wiser as a result” – here); and there was also this Tweet from an Australian journalist named Peter Ford:

Hope you learn from this. You’ve orchestrated campaigns against many people,including myself,in the past. You’ve encouraged pile ons and a cancel culture against anyone you consider ‘conservative leaning’. Despite this I hope in time you bounce back as you’re clearly not a fool.

Pendlebury quotes the first half of this Tweet as evidence that those expressing sympathy are disregarding previous instances where Di Stefano had caused harm – but he ignores the last sentence, which is comparable to other expressions of goodwill.

Perhaps Pendlebury takes the view that the charge of “hypocrisy” only applies to left-wing or liberal supporters of press reform, although most people can understand that someone arguing for press reform might also respond to the predicament of an individual journalist who transgresses in sorrow rather than in anger, particularly if they have had personal dealings with them. Further, Maitlis and Lewis are on the list simply because they work for the BBC. The article, then, can be seen as belonging to the bad-faith genre of the Daily Mail vendetta, rather than journalism in the public interest.

Peter Jukes is the “Press reform campaigner” referred to by Pendlebury, and although he’s only part of the story it’s possible that he was the primary target of the article:

…But perhaps the most unlikely goodwill message came from Peter Jukes, author of the phone hacking éxpose The Fall Of The House Of Murdoch and an early supporter of Hacked Off. Mr Jukes is now director of Byline, the media organisation funded by motorsport tycoon Max Mosley…

Mr Jukes tweeted: ‘We’ve had many disagreements but I’m still sad to hear this, Mark. Be well”.

Pendlebury goes on to note that Di Stefano was soon after accused by a BBC News researcher named Hannah Bayman of having infiltrated a private WhatsApp chat of women BBC workers two years ago. Di Stefano had published content from this as “leaked messages”, but it doesn’t appear that there was much suggestion at the time that he had stolen them. This does now appear more likely (although he denies it), and Pendlebury adds:

It may be that Ms Bayman’s tweet – retweeted a number of times – caused Mr Jukes to do an about-turn. On Saturday night he tweeted of his original message to Di Stefano: ‘For various reasons I retract this…’

The “hypocrisy” narrative thus collapses completely – there was some (arguably undeserved) sympathy for (but still strong disapproval over) someone who appeared to have made an error of judgement and crossed the line, withdrawn when further evidence suggested a determined repeat offender.

But why does Pendlebury write that Bayman’s Tweet “may be” why Peter retracted his sympathy, when Peter responded directly to her with an explicit explanation? He wrote (as again noted by Tim at Zelo Street):

This puts things into a different context, especially with the trolling of  @carolecadwalla. One has to ask, since @janinegibson was his editor at both @BuzzFeedUK and @FT if she knew anything about this.

This is the real issue on which “a scandal about one man’s ethical failings” becomes “a wider debate”. Pendlebury notes in passing a “source” as saying that Di Stefano was Janine Gibson’s “golden boy”, but this doesn’t seem to be an avenue that the Daily Mail is interested in pursuing.

For some reason, Pendlebury’s screed was not uploaded to the Daily Mail website, although can be read on Press Reader, which disallows cut-and-pasting of extracts (I had to manually transcribe quotes above). The article also appeared in the print edition, and a legible photograph of it was uploaded to Twitter by Daily Mail hatchet man Guy Adams. Adams has expressed the belief that press critics had declined to criticise the Financial Times for Di Stefano’s hacking because the FT had supported Remain rather than Brexit, and he in particular denounced the group Hacked Off for supposedly not having referred to the incident.

When Adams was shown that this last point was incorrect, and that Hacked Off had indeed made an unequivocal statement on the matter, his complaint then was that they had failed to make more of it, arguing that “if a popular newspaper had done this, you’d have been on about it non stop for the last week”. This was addressed to Hacked Off’s Evan Harris, who responded:

Let’s consider the *facts* (look it up), shall we, Guy?
FT: One reporter. 2 instances. Victims – newspapers. Discovered. Culprit gone.
Tabloid hacking scandal: Dozens of executives. 1000s of cases. Victims – inc families of dead children. Covered up for years. Culprits promoted

A valiant effort, but given the ludicrously disproportionate and selective Daily Mail full-page spread I don’t think putting things in perspective is likely to have any effect.

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