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Editorial: A silly warning that conveys a serious message

The hamfisted attempt by a minister's special adviser to frighten off a newspaper nosing around expenses claims has the feel of a comedy of errors. The political sidekick of the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, told a reporter from The Daily Telegraph – who was asking about the propriety of the minister allowing her parents to live in a home subsidised by the taxpayer – to think carefully about the fact that Ms Miller is having a lot of meetings with newspaper editors over the Leveson Report just now. It's not clear why these dark hints were thought to have any leverage since Ms Miller and the newspaper take pretty much the same line.

Yet a serious point lies at the heart of the silliness. For it shows how easily politicians can be tempted to exert backroom pressure on journalists. This is a cautionary tale at a time when the idea of state regulation of the press is in the air.