An extraordinary item appeared last Tuesday on Professor Roy Greenslade's MediaGuardian blog. It was a harsh attack on his colleague Henry McDonald, the long-serving Ireland correspondent of The Observer and The Guardian. The Prof noted that the previous Friday a story by Mr McDonald had appeared in The Guardian wrongly attributing a Belfast murder the night before to "Republican paramilitaries".
Mr Greenslade was right that in the heat of the moment Mr McDonald had got his facts wrong, apparently relying on incorrect information from Republican dissidents. A man and a woman with no paramilitary connections were later charged. Yet it seemed odd that the Prof should have launched a public attack on a colleague for a pardonable mistake. Mr Greenslade, who has long-standing links with Sinn Fein, evidently resented the imputation of Republican involvement.
Before writing his piece he did not contact his colleague. Nor did he do so last August when he wrote a blog criticising British newspapers, including Mr McDonald's, for not covering the annual Sinn Fein conference during which a Presbyterian minister and former British Army chaplain, the Reverend David Latimer, called Martin McGuinness one of the "true great leaders of modern times". Had the Prof spoken with Mr McDonald, he would have learnt that he had intended to attend the conference but did not do so because his mother was dying.
Few people are aware that The Guardian's media sage has affiliations with Sinn Fein. During the late 1980s, when he was managing news editor of The Sunday Times, he secretly wrote for An Phoblacht, the Sinn Fein newspaper, which then served as a propaganda sheet for the Provisional IRA. His pseudonym was George King. We know this from Flat Earth News by Nick Davies, a Guardian colleague and instigator of the journalistic investigation into phone hacking. When Mr Greenslade reviewed Mr Davies's book on his blog in 2008, he did not deny what some may regard as a pretty serious allegation. In a more recent blog, he described Mr Davies as his friend.
The connections endure. Last June, Mr Greenslade spoke at a Sinn Fein conference in London on the 30th anniversary of the hunger strikes, and he wrote an article on the same subject for An Phoblacht . He has had a house in County Donegal for many years. One friend is Pat Doherty, from 1988 until 2009 vice president of Sinn Fein, who has been named as a former member of the IRA Army Council.
Given his sympathies, it is fair to surmise that Mr Greenslade dislikes Mr McDonald's articles about Sinn Fein's links to organised crime, and saw his recent piece as an attempt to blacken the organisation. Mr McDonald is certainly no friend to Sinn Fein but, equally, he has received Loyalist death threats, and his house in Belfast has been fortified against Loyalist attacks. (By the way, I have never met him.) I'd say he was a brave and honest reporter who, unlike Mr Greenslade, is not parti pris.
May I suggest that when he next writes about Northern Ireland Mr Greenslade should be open about his allegiances? And also that he should talk to colleagues before attacking them? Both are considered good journalistic practice, and he is, after all, Professor of Journalism at City University, where there must be impressionable students who look up to him. Roy Greenslade would do well to ponder on what, one way and another, is a bit of an ethical tangle.
Sometimes Leveson careers out of control
What should we make of the article in The Daily Telegraph last Friday by Rebekah Brooks' solicitor suggesting the former chief executive of News International may not receive a fair trial? My first response was that it is interesting her lawyer seemingly concedes that charges might be brought against her.
But is Stephen Parkinson right that "much prejudicial material has come into public domain" as a result of the Leveson Inquiry? He cites Paul McMullan, former News of the World deputy features editor, who told the Inquiry last November that Mrs Brooks had been the "criminal-in-chief". He also mentions Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, who recently spoke of a culture of illegal payments at The Sun.
These allegations are surely too unspecific to have prejudiced a fair trial, though the Attorney General is considering whether the second case could amount to a contempt of court. But they do indicate how the Leveson Inquiry has sometimes careered out of control. Let's hope there will not be any more remarks that might interfere with any criminal proceedings.
Is the Sun on Sunday Murdoch's fifth column?
Yesterday's Sun ran a prominent piece by Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary, attacking the Coalition's record on crime. I doubt such an article would have appeared in the Monday to Saturday Sun, which is unremittingly pro-Cameron. Might Rupert Murdoch be using the Sunday Sun as a fifth column to get back at the Prime Minister, whom he blames for the Leveson Inquiry?