Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hello Pot, meet Mr Kettle

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.


  1. Did you hear the item on R4 this morning about cheating and being human? It's not just MPs or journalists - it's everyone!

  2. Why is there this huge sense of entitlement? The idea of honesty seems to have flown off into space.

  3. For a shocking insight into journalism today, read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. He has a web site too of the same name.

    Journalists today get few opportunities for proper stories, so perhaps that's why there is all the hullabaloo. But it's important to remember there is almost no 'proper' journalism any more - this story, like most others,will be based on recycled wire copy filed by the Press Association.

    I've worked in and around the commercial side of newspapers all my adult life (came to Wales to launch a newspaper) - and they are the most hypocritical organisations going.

    On a related note, I see that Richard Desmond (he of Express Newspapers, who made his fortune in porn magazines) is to be given a special award from the Variety Club. Hypocracy is widespread.

  4. I think that initially this was all good and proper reporting but it now seems to be turning into a kind of witch-hunt. The Telegraph needs to be careful that it doesn't backfire on them...

    In the old days of journalism expenses were amazing....I remember being told off for not putting in enough while my boss was away (as it showed up her own expenses)...we were out for lunch every day... but all gone now, I fear - few papers will even pay freelance expenses.

  5. Gawd I remember being hauled up in front of my Editor and being told to flesh out my expenses so I wouldn't let the side down!
    It does feel like pot calling kettle black but apart from not being elected although expenses were pushed the guys in charge were not in collusion so expenses were just that not things like second mortgages, moat cleaning, duck houses and porn...

  6. ChrisH - We do seem to live in a society that always wants something for nothing.

    Pondside: Exactly. Why this sense of 'entitlement'?

    Mark: I haven't red Flat Earth News. Will I find it horribly depressing?

    ExmoorJane and TattieWeasle: I too was told to make sure my expenses matched everyone else's so as not to 'show them up'. My editor would've roasted me and the other reporters alive, though, if he's only actually read our expenses forms and not just signed them. (I'd loved to have seen what his were too.)

  7. Ah, a journalist = now I know why your posts are always so fascinating, and why love reading them. Its interesting to read the 'inside stories' from other publishing houses - I cant believe what I read (having set up a magazine publishing business in 1967, until we 'retired' in 1999) none of this makes sense.

    But it does when I think back to my earlier teaching days and was told that I must not rock the boat. .....

  8. I, too, recall (with fond nostalgia) some somewhat - even rather more than somewhat in some cases - inflated expenses claims from my days in advertising.
    But the salient point here is that those expenses - like all the others cited by commenters here - were reimbursed directly out of net profits (ie money we/the company had made and paid tax on). Whereas MPs, whose salaries and expenses are funded by taxpayers, are in effect claiming even more of OUR money, tax-free.
    Big difference ...


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