Letter from the Editor: Why what we don't publish matters as much as what we do


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The Independent Online

It’s not often I can say without shame that the story of the week was one we had to ourselves, but this time it’s true.

Many of you will have seen Tuesday morning’s front page, in which the maverick Liberal Democrat MP and Home Office minister Norman Baker resigned his government position through this newspaper. As John Humphrys said on the Today programme, his pointed refusal to tell Conservative colleagues in advance meant Theresa May would have found out by reading The Independent.

This scoop, brought to you by Nigel Morris, our Deputy Political Editor, led the airwaves and convulsed social media. It was that rare thing: a surprise resignation from which everyone benefited. Baker and the Lib Dems were able to make a point of their principled disagreement with the Home Secretary; and she could present herself to the world (and cabinet table) as a formidable Secretary of State, whose enemies are vanquished. That will be handy when she comes to challenge George Osborne and Boris Johnson for the Tory crown.

For journalists, there’s nothing quite like setting the agenda, and being at the centre of events. Last week, however, we did so for a different, more macabre reason. One minute and 54 seconds into a grim, surreal video for Isis, the British hostage John Cantlie made reference to this newspaper. “Patrick Cockburn said in The Independent…”, Cantlie says, and I’ll leave it at that.

The vile thugs of Isis were trying, through Cantlie, to co-opt our journalism for their own evil scheme. Specifically, they mentioned Patrick by name, because he is widely accepted to be the most authoritative Western journalist on Iraq.

I thought about doing a big front page repudiating this manoeuvre. This newspaper despises everything Isis stands for. But after wise counsel from senior executives, we decided that would be doing Isis a favour, so instead we commissioned Patrick to write a piece analysing what the video tells us about Isis.

Throughout the rise of this group, we have worked very hard to deny it the propaganda victories it seeks. We tend to run those shocking images of hostages in orange jump suits, about to be beheaded, very small. When Steven Sotloff, the American journalist, was murdered, our front page picture showed him in happier times. This remembered him to the world in a manner his family, rather than Isis, would have wanted.

Editing is an exercise in selection, and what you leave out often matters as much as what you put in. I hope you feel we’ve got the balance about right over the past fortnight, and continue to do so as we carry on setting the national and international agenda.