The Leveson Inquiry has made the press extremely uncomfortable.  For once, their own conduct is being subject to investigation and critical scrutiny. To use a well known phrase, they like to dish it out, but they can’t take it.  A number of newspapers regard scrutiny of their own conduct as constitutionally improper – an unjustified interference with the freedom of the press to do what it likes, regardless of the impact on others.

The Daily Mail has been a leading exponent of this view.  But, up to now, it has largely held back from a full expression of its fury. This week, it could restrain itself no longer.  In the belief, perhaps, that Lord Justice Leveson’s report was written and at the printers, it decided to unleash its attack dogs.  The chosen victim was a Leveson assessor – one of those appointed by the Prime Minister to assist the Inquiry.  The target of their bile was Sir David Bell, a former Chairman of the Financial Times (perhaps because he is first, alphabetically, in the list of assessors).

Friday’s “Daily Mail” had a front page picture of Sir David Bell, accompanied by the banner headline:  “Leveson: Disturbing Questions Over his Key Adviser“.  The “investigation” covered a remarkable twelve pages of the newspaper – to the bemusement of many of its readers.  It focused on links between Sir David Bell and the training organisation “Common Purpose”.  A helpful summary of the key points can be found in the Press Gazette. 

The story was eagerly taken up by the “Sun” and the “Daily Telegraph”.  The former under the headline “The leftie plotters with one Common Purpose… to gag the Press” and the latter confining itself to “Senior Leveson adviser faces questions over links to press reform lobby“.  The Sun even manages and imaginative link between Sir David Bell to the Jimmy Savile scandal – and to illustrate its story with a picture of the late DJ – using the following remarkable piece of tabloid logic:

[Sir David Bell] is also a trustee of the disgraced Bureau of Investigative Journalism — whose report led to Tory peer Lord McAlpine being falsely smeared as a paedophile.  That came in the wake of the scandal over BBC Newsnight’s failure to expose paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile.

For those who do not wish to wade through pages of turgid “Daily Mail” prose, the startling piece of information that Sir David Bell is linked to the training charity “Common Purpose” and the media reform charity the Media Standards Trust can be found in a more accessible form cunningly hidden in his short biography and Declaration of Interest on the Leveson Inquiry website.

“He resigned as chair of the Media Standards Trust on being appointed an assessor for the Leveson Inquiry. He remains Chairman of Sadler’s Wells, Chair of Council at Roehampton University, Chairman of Crisis, Chairman of Common Purpose, Chairman of the Transformation Trust and Chair of The Institute of War & Peace Reporting Europe”.

The “New Statesman” has an entertaining piece on the “Daily Mail” story entitled “11 Surprising Revelations in the Daily Mail’s anti-Leveson hatchet job“.  These revelations include

3. These are some pretty scary people we’re talking about:

“Mother-of-five Middleton is the founder, chief executive and presiding guru of Common Purpose. She has been described as ‘messianic’ in her crusade to improve standards in corporate and public life”.

6. David Bell is conscientious

It’s always the hard-working ones. Richard Pendlebury writes:

But while some of the Leveson assessors have patchy attendance records at the Inquiry, Sir David — whose unbridled eagerness to join the judge in his private rooms when the sittings rise has been remarked upon by observers — seems to have barely missed a day of the public hearings that began almost a year ago.

9. We’re not like those mad conspiracy theorists!

For a number of years Common Purpose has attracted the obsessive attention of the more outré internet conspiracy theorists such as David Icke, as well as bloggers on the far Right. This has provided a convenient smokescreen against a more rational investigation.

The absurdities of the “Daily Mail’s” attack on the former Chairman of the Financial Times as being a sinister left wing plotter are obvious.  But this ill conceived tirade is an interesting indicator of the desperation of the press and a clear implicit admission that it fears heavy criticism by Lord Justice Leveson – partly for the kind of low quality “attack” journalism illustrated by this article.  The last word can be left to a comment left under the article on the “Daily Mail’s” website

“You could have saved a lot of typing by just putting “We’re scared, desperate, and grasping at straws”.”