I have been watching the fiasco of MPs expenses unfold and something has struck me. Perhaps it was the smugness of the Daily Telegraph journalists on the TV news, perhaps it was the way they were positively humming with the enormity of the story (Journalist thinks: This is MY Watergate, am I Woodward or Bernstein?), perhaps it was the way you could see them thinking of their place in history, of how their names would be remembered forever more, perhaps it was the way you you see them thinking Who's going to play me in the movie...?
Perhaps. I'm not going to comment on the whos or whys of the MPs and their expenses (for that see Rotwatch), but I am going to comment on the journalists and the way the story has been dripping out like oil into a big, nasty, stinking slick.
It reminded me of the BBC version of State of Play starring David Morrissey as ambitious MP in hot water, John Simm as investigative broadsheet journalist and Bill Nighy as his editor. The fascination in that brilliant political thriller (better than the current film with Russell Crowe which is set in the USA) is the dialogue between the hacks and Westminster. Equally as fascinating is the constant request from the team of journalists to Nighy: "Can I put this on expenses?"
Call me a cynic, but also call me an NCTJ-qualified journalist. I well remember Tuesday afternoons, after the paper had gone to press. Out would come the expenses claim forms.
"How far is it from here to X?" a reporter would ask, pen poised over a mileage claim.
"Oh, about ten miles," someone would suggest. The reporter would add a bit for 'getting lost' and 'parking'. It would go on the form as 20.
Then there was college where I met other trainee journalists far from the office. They'd walk to college and pick up discarded bus tickets to send in with their expenses claim forms. The hotel bill, which they paid by cheque would be one figure for the form, then the hotelier would give them cash in hand as 'change'. Then there was the taxi driver who, when I asked him for a receipt, gave me a fistful to claim for. (I didn't.)
I'm not alleging in anyway that any journalists involved in reporting this expenses fiasco have themselves made excessive claims, but I'd bet they know someone who has. True, we haven't voted for these journalists, they don't have to be 'whiter than white' like our honourable elected representatives, but I can't but wonder if there could possibly be a bit of 'pot calling the kettle black' here.