As if the News Corp. hacking scandal weren't already lousy with pitch-perfect villains, a new one has topped them all. Former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan gave a bravura performance today before a British government inquiry into the press scandal, gamely defending the most loathsome transgressions of his colleagues in the U.K. tabloid press with Snidely Whiplash relish.
McMullan has made something of a career in recent months of being the only guy in England willing to stand up in the face of the accusations against his former newspaper—hacking into a dead child's voicemail, etc.—and say, "So what?" He was rather famously entrapped by Hugh Grant, who wandered into the pub McMullan runs in Dover wearing a wire, and got him to speak candidly about the "20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks" and other nefarious details. He has gone head-to-head with Grant, Steve Coogan, and other celebrities whom he argues are "banging on about privacy" in a bid for attention.
Today McMullan spoke just as candidly before the British public, offering his testimony before the Leveson Inquiry, which is tasked with assessing the state of the media and offering regulatory solutions to the problem of reporters doing bad things. McMullan's answer: Reporters are bad people! So are celebrities! It's all a vicious game, so stop whining and quit with the sanctimony. Here's some of what he had to say, courtesy the Guardian's liveblog:
On whether celebrities have a right to privacy—
In 21 years of invading people's privacy, I've never actually come across anyone who's been doing any good. Privacy is the space bad people need to do bad things in. Privacy is evil; it brings out the worst qualities in people. Privacy is for paedos; fundamentally nobody else needs it.
On how Pricess Di ruined celebrity car chases by dying—
We had a set of pool cars -– about 12 -– that you can swap around. I absolutely loved giving chase to celebrities. Before Diana died it was such good fun. How many jobs can you have car chases in? It was great.
On the acceptability of surreptitiously accessing subjects' private voicemails—
I have sacrificed a lot to write truthful articles for the biggest circulation newspaper, which is why I think phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool if all we were doing is trying to get to the truth.... It was a schoolyard trick practiced by many teenagers across the country that is now known as phone hacking.
On former NOTW editors Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both of whom have denied knowledge of the extent of hacking—
Andy Coulson brought the practice wholesale with him when he was appointed deputy editor.... We did all these things for the editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.... They're the scum of journalism for trying to drop me and my colleagues in it.
On the time he stole a photograph of the woman who took former British prime minister John Major's virginity and then-NOTW editor Piers Morgan praised him for it—
We found her but couldn't get picture of her with her new boyfriend. I think the cleaner was in, so I blagged my way in and pinched it off the mantlepiece. Rebekah Brooks said 'No, put it back. We're not allowed to nick stuff,' but Piers said, 'Well done.'
On searching through celebrities' garbage—
I think most journalists, me included, would find the contents of people's bins incredibly interesting. It gives you a much better starting point, much better than hacking into people's phones.
On how hacking into preteen-murder-victim Milly Dowler's phone was the honorable thing to do—
The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was not a bad thing for a well-meaning journalist to do.... We were doing our best to find the little girl. The police are utterly incompetent and should be ashamed that the killer was allowed to carry on.
On the time he found an actor's daughter begging outside a tube station and took topless photos of her, and how he feels bad about it now since she killed herself—
I really regret it because I'd got to know her very well and I really quite liked her. The fact she was begging outside Chalk Farm station came from a police officer, who had been surprised when he asked her to move on. I went too far on that story. Someone crying out for help, not crying out for a News of the World reporter. I then took her back to her flat and took a load of pictures of her topless. Then she went on TV and described me as her boyfriend. When I heard a few years later that she'd killed herself I thought 'Yeah that's one I really regret.' But there's not many.
It should be interesting if Piers Morgan shows up at the inquiry—he has been called to offer testimony—and is asked whether he knew about, or condoned, all the illegal phone hacking his reporters engaged in while he was editor of the NOTW and later Daily Mirror. Because the answer is yes. He did.