If there was a Nobel Prize for Double Standards, Britain’s chattering classes would win it every year. This year, following their expressions of spittle-flecked outrage over the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda by anti-terrorism police at Heathrow airport, they’d have to be given a special Lifetime Achievement Award for Double Standards.
For the newspaper editors, politicians and concerned tweeters now getting het up about the state’s interference in journalistic activity, about what they call the state’s ‘war on journalism’, are the very same people – the very same – who over the past two years cheered the state harassment of tabloid journalists; watched approvingly as tabloid journalists were arrested; turned a blind eye when tabloid journalists’ effects were rifled through by the police; said nothing about the placing of tabloid journalists on limbo-like, profession-destroying bail for months on end; said ‘Well, what do you expect?’ when material garnered by tabloid journalists through illegal methods was confiscated; applauded when tabloid journalists were imprisoned for the apparently terrible crime of listening in on the conversations of our hereditary rulers.
For these cheerleaders of the state’s two-year war on redtop journalism now to gnash their teeth over the state’s poking of its nose into the affairs of the Guardian is extraordinary. It suggests that what they lack in moral consistency they more than make up for with brass neck.
Everything that is now being done to the Guardian has already been done to the tabloid press, a hundred times over, and often at the behest of the Guardian. For all the initial depictions of Mr Miranda as ‘just Glenn Greenwald’s partner’, in fact he was ferrying encrypted information from the NSA leaker Edward Snowden on flights paid for by the Guardian. That is, he was detained and questioned over journalistic material acquired through illegal means. That’s already happened to the tabloids. Over the past two years of post-phone hacking, post-News of the World harassment of tabloid hacks by the state, 104 people have been arrested, questioned, usually put on unjustly elongated bail, and sometimes imprisoned. These include many journalists but also office secretaries and other non-journalist types, like Mr Miranda, who stand accused of handling illegally acquired material. The 104’s crimes include ‘disclosure of confidential information’ – not that dissimilar to what Greenwald and Miranda have done in terms of getting hold of and publishing Snowden’s illegally leaked confidential material. Yet while the redtop writers rot in legal limbo, Mr Miranda becomes a chattering-class cause célèbre.
Those who rather fancifully claim that Mr Miranda is ‘just Glenn Greenwald’s partner’ say it is outrageous that the loved ones of journalists are now being humiliated and harassed by the state. Again, that’s already happened to the tabloids. The private effects of redtop journalists’ partners have been pored over and sometimes confiscated by the police. In the words of the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh, during the many dawn raids on the homes of tabloid journalists (no polite questioning at airports for these scumbags), ‘Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents’. If the state has become a dab hand at harassing the loved ones of journalists, it’s because it has had two years’ practice and no one batted an eyelid.