It was last Monday’s Daily Mail that dared asked the questions that everybody else had shied away from. With its revelatory follow-up to a sensational exclusive, it probed where most had feared to look, shining a light on profound mysteries that would hit right at the heart of our society.
But so much for the crackpot predictions of the Bible Code II (“Dare we ignore this message?” Er, yes). What about Cherie Blair and the conman?
Why did the rest of the pack react so languidly to The Mail on Sunday’s original revelations that the PM’s wife had got so foolishly involved with Peter Foster over a property deal? Why did they so meekly accept Downing Street’s initial denial of the story’s truth?
Tuesday’s Mail itself had no doubt. It was because the media outside Kensington, in particular the BBC, was “craven and cowed” by a government of which it is terrified or with which it is in love.
Yet those editors that may have scoffed at that Tuesday assessment were choking by Thursday, when the Mail splashed with the e-mails that perfectly proved its point. The editor of The Times admitted at a Press Gazette law conference the following day that he was “flabbergasted” when reading them. The pack woke up, smelled the coffee and the frenzy began in earnest.
Magnanimity in victory – and a victory this undoubtedly is – may not be the Mail’s strength; nor do its wild theories on why nobody else ran with it hold too much water. (Although how Associated’s corridors must have echoed with laughter at The Guardian’s “yeah, you scooped us but can’t you shut up about it” leader this week).
Nonetheless, searching questions will still need some answers; namely, where can the media’s relationship with the government communications machine go from here?
Journalists always knew that Alastair Campbell’s answers would be wrapped in layers of New Labour packaging, but would have expected civil servants like Godric Smith and Tom Kelly to be able to give them a straight, untainted answer. How do they deal with them now? Much depends on how hard the media can fight to restore the increasingly blurred distinction between civil servant and party spin doctor.
And there’s a further question too that all editors must now be asking: has their typical Monday instinct to knock down a rival’s Sunday stories become too much of a knee-jerk reaction?