Home Investigations The pen is mightier than the sword!

The pen is mightier than the sword!

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Speaking out carries risks for all investigative journalists

After 23 years with the BBC, and 39 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), here our Editor Phil Parry looks with horror at how a senior American official has now been charged with murdering an investigative journalist, when the words he used to describe his alleged victim are the same ones that have been thrown at him. 

Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.

 

‘Smirking’ Robert Telles said the journalist he is accused of murdering was a ‘bully’

“He’s a bully” and “he’s obsessed with me”.

These are words that have been used by the Las Vegas official, Robert Telles, about the investigative journalist he is charged with murdering, Jeff German.

Mr German, who was 60 (my age), was found stabbed to death at his home last month, and Mr Telles was detained by armed police officers, before being prosecuted for the crime.

Mr Telles appeared in front of a judge smirking, according to media reports, as he was told when his next court appearance would be. The man he is accused of attacking was working on a story about Mr Telles the week he was killed, according to his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Jeff German was working on a story when he was killed

They are phrases that could, though, equally well apply to me, because they have also been hurled in my direction many times, and I must admit, the death of Mr German has rattled me.

Mr German had covered Las Vegas for 40 years. Most recently, he had worked as a reporter on the investigations team for the Review-Journal. He also contributed to the newspaper’s true crime podcast, ‘Mobbed Up’.

His target, Mr Telles, had lost his primary re-election bid in June, after Mr German had reported allegations of bullying (which is ironic), favouritism, mismanagement, and an “inappropriate relationship” between Mr Telles and a staffer.

Jeff German shone ‘the light on the darkness’

For his part, Mr Telles, a career attorney who ran for office as a Democrat, has denied the claims and repeatedly lashed out (in a non-violent way) at Mr German,  calling him a “bully” on Twitter, and writing that a request for comment was “a veiled threat”.

On his campaign website, Mr Telles had added a section he labeled “the truth” (the subjects of my attention have used those words too!), where he denied accusations which staff members had made against him.

Phil finds ‘light in darkness’

The paper’s editorial cartoonist published an illustrated tribute to Mr German, calling him, “one of the finest investigative reporters in the country. His job was to shine the light on the darkness”.

There are parallels here, too, because the mission statement of my website, The Eye, is: “Finding Light in Darkness”.

Some people just don’t like what is said

Let’s look, though, at the words ‘bully’, or ‘bullying’, because they are often wheeled out, and used against me.

The latter was seized on, last year for example, in response to a piece I wrote concerning a television ‘reporter’ who had posted pictures of herself on Facebook (FB) or Twitter in skimpy clothes, and is typical of the insults I constantly receive.

This was the obnoxious pronouncement: “Your article on Ellie Pitt was bordering on mysogynistic bullying, a really pathetic article written by a bitter individual who was a complete failiure as a BBC correspondent and also loved bashing the Catholic Church with your disgraceful Panorama programme”.

He still expounded his views on podcasts, despite calling Phil an ‘obsessive coward’, and the failure of his media outlet

Then there’s ‘obsessed’ or ‘obsessive’.

The ‘comedian’ and failed media executive, Huw Marshall, likes to accuse me of those things, in his tirades condemning items I have written about his extraordinary exploits. He has used Twitter to say that I am an “obsessive coward”, linking the inaccurate comment to a piece I had published about one of his unsuccessful ventures.

Mr Marshall has declared, too, that he has a number of different Twitter accounts, but says he reserves one for articles which may bother me, saying: “@marshallmedia is where I post Everton related stuff and things that upsets Phil Parry”.

What happens makes Phil very angry

Remarks like these are, though, unfortunately par for the course, and a regular part of life for an investigative journalist like me or Mr German.

I endure constant abuse online, and my Wikipedia entry is regularly vandalised.

The latest example of it, was that the person took out: ‘…online investigative website…’and added: ‘…personal blog called…’Bizarrely, though, in the ‘career’ section, it still said: ‘…launched his own investigative website “The Eye”…’.

This may sound insignificant, but actually it is VERY important, because it effectively says that a story does not contain facts at all, but is a ‘personal view’, and I am glad to say the new addition was quickly spotted, so that the entry could be put back to its original form by one of my supporters.

Other attacks have been cruder – for example in the past the word “knobhead” has been added after my name.

I have been compared on Twitter to the comedy broadcaster Alan Partridge by a Sion Tomos Owen whose blog describes him as: “…a bilingual TV and Radio presenter, illustrator, writer and creative workshop tutor…”. Mr Owen said in Welsh: “There’s no way that this website (The Eye) is for real?! It’s as if a Take a Break (light magazine) story has been edited by Alan Partridge” (laughing emoji).

The abusers need to be told off

Indeed accusations of being ‘misogynistic’ (which is the CORRECT spelling!) or ‘misogynist’ are a constant line among those who fire off offensive comments, if factual stories are published with the focus of them happening to be women, yet these are potentially libellous words, and the description is provably wrong.

I have also been accused online (incorrectly) of being a “bastard” (many times), an “anti-devolutionist wanker”, “pure scum”, a “liar” (also many times) a “little git”, and (correctly) a “nosey git”“irritating”, or a “nuisance”. But these come amid many others. Too many, in fact, to mention.

The abusers don’t know the effect of their insults

A conman I exposed launched a furious diatribe against me – contacting as well my friends and family on social media.

In one rant he wrote on FB:  “You write total lies about people (only facts are reported), bully to the point of harassment and suicide, and will not answer a direct email? This is not journalism this is a mixture of Phil Parry (The ex journalist) and (others) you are pure scum!!!!! Let it be publicly known that The Eye does NOT care about people it just lies to make fictitious stories up. BULLYING, LIES, MENTAL HEALTH ABUSE TO NAME BUT A FEW!!!!!”.

In another he said: I am have contacted you (sic) numerous times before asking why you consistently, stalk, bully and harass me? … You so far have asked the following for comments:
Thief
Abuser (if this is meant as a sexual abuser, it has never been said)
Liar
Sex Offender (It has never been said that this man is a sex offender).
Drug user (It has never been said that this man is a drug user, just that he has dealt in illegal drugs).

But these are not the only events of note.

‘Honest comment’?!

As with Mr German, I have visited one individual at home who I was effectively accusing of murder, when the door I came through was bolted behind me.

In the past I have had to have a security expert give me advice about keeping my movements irregular, and my house has been wired for intruders, with panic buttons installed at the bedside and in our hall. We had two small children in the house at the time of this, and it scared the living daylights out of my wife!

Rather worryingly, in the context of what has happened, a threat has also been made on social media.

Marc Winchester – ‘I’ll whack him’

After it was said that my reporting was “negative journalism”, a Marc Winchester, wrote on Twitter:  “I’ll whack him (me).

This was described as a ‘joke’ by Mr Winchester, who has claimed he was a multi-millionaire but ran a convenience store, yet it was still reported to the police who mounted an investigation.

I rarely sue (although I do sometimes) unless the online message is particularly outrageous, and contains a libel (which most of them do). Some can be rebutted in court using an “honest comment” defence (formerly known as “fair comment”), however most cannot, which means that any libel case is likely to be successful.

Armed police surrounded Raoul Moat – but Huw Marshall made a ‘joke’ about the incident

But the offensive observations (or threats) I receive are just part and parcel of life for an investigative journalist.

US prosecutors appear to believe Mr German may know this to his cost…

 

The memories of Phil’s extraordinary decades long award-winning career in journalism (when stories often upset his targets) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A Good Story’. Order it now. 

A different book, though, has not been published, because it was to have included names.

‘Let me tell you about what I have to put up with…’

Tomorrow – another result of investigative journalism, and how a remarkable admission from the largest police force in Wales, that their prosecution was “flawed” 70 years after the execution of a man following a wrongful murder conviction, highlights why a legal inquiry is now being demanded into the same force’s actions in the wake of a series of miscarriage cases more recently.

 

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