Conservative Party

Brooks Newmark's humiliating failure is not the real scandal

There are some enduring debates that will probably never be resolved. Did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot JFK? Are single-sex schools more effective than mixed ones? Should scones be pronounced sCOnes or scONs? And do we trust journalists or politicians less? It’s been a pretty tight contest over the years, but according to the latest Ipsos MORI poll, in the race for our trust in different professions to tell the truth, journalists are nudging just ahead of politicians. Journos shouldn’t be too pleased with themselves, though, as both groups are sitting way down below everyone else at the bottom of the barrel.

Much as this weekend’s sordid affair involving the Sunday Mirror‘s publication of Brooks Newmark’s sexting incident has done nothing to improve our perceptions of either group, this isn’t, for once, a trust issue. Instead, rather than asking who has been twisting the truth to suit their own ends, perhaps the question this time round should be: “Who is least intelligent?”

Brooks Newmark has admitted he has been a “complete fool“, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Given previous newspaper entrapments, you might think that he would have been slightly suspicious that a good-looking 21-year-old – 35 years his junior – was enamoured with him to the extent that she wanted to exchange naked pictures. Sadly, it would appear that the offer caused Brooks to bypass the use of his brain and start thinking entirely with his genitals. He’s been a fool for hurting those close to him, putting his marriage, position and credibility at risk over the hope of a potential fling, and has paid the price for his stupidity.

This might have been a moment of spontaneous idiocy, but, in contrast, the Sunday Mirror had no excuse for their role in all of this. For some reason the Mirror are adamant that this episode, which is a classic case of subterfuge, is entirely in the public interest. Why, O why is it of interest to any of us that an MP can be tempted to share intimate pictures of himself with a complete stranger? Sleazy it may be, but an abuse of power it is not. Surely the greater public-interest story lies in knowing that Alex Wickham, reporter for Guido Fawkes (aka @WikiGuido), has been working in an unethical way, going round trying to bring down a number of MPs for little more than a chance to make some prurient headlines?

If you stick ‘Sunday Mirror‘ into Google you’ll get Mirror Online: The intelligent tabloid. Where is the intelligence in trying to ruin careers and marriages, or exploiting the photos of an innocent Swedish model?  And what is intelligent about bringing the battered reputation of your profession into further disrepute? Just as Brooks Newmark lost his faculties over a fantasy girl, so the Sunday Mirror has done the same over the desire to humiliate a few Tory MPs whom it loathes, and create a major distraction for the Conservatives at their party conference.

It takes something highly unusual to leave us sympathetic toward a fallen MP, but that is exactly the reaction that has prevailed. There are two guilty parties, but their attitudes to the revelations have been poles apart. Newmark’s mea culpa has not sought to go on the attack against the Mirror‘s dirty tactics. He has only held himself to account: “I have no-one to blame but myself. I have hurt those I care about most.” The Mirror, in contrast, has not shown an iota of remorse, even following the revelations that the Sun and Mail refused to go near the story.

Brooks Newmark is a fallen man, but he is now through his repentance embarking on a journey to restoration. This is something we should all be able to relate to. Which of us has never made an error of judgement that has led to the need for forgiveness? For ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’

This chance to put things right can only begin, though, when there is an admission of guilt. When we are so arrogant that we are blinded to our own moral failings, it is impossible to  find salvation.

Last October the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby talked of bankers ignoring what is morally right because they are focusing solely on whether their practices are within the law:

“Is being good in business merely about keeping the rules? If you keep the rules you’re OK… I think that’s been utterly disproved.One of the things we saw on the Parliamentary Banking Standards Commission most clearly was people were constantly asking what was legal and never asking what was right.”

Then, in December, he said that some senior bankers were still “in denial” over the banks’ role in the creation of the 2008 financial crisis.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of thinking to replace the banks with newspapers and the 2008 market-meltdown with the revelations that led to the Leveson inquiry. Does the Mirror seriously not consider its actions over the weekend even remotely questionable?

We’ll now have to see if the new Independent Press Standards Organisation has any teeth and whether Leveson was worth any of the immense time and expense it consumed.

It shouldn’t have had to come to this, though. The real scandal here is not another slightly pathetic incident involving a Member of Parliament, but rather a media organisation that still, despite all that has gone before, cannot tell the difference between what is salacious and what is right.