- Ill discipline part one - 28th March 2023
- Nation in a state - 27th March 2023
- A final episode of Howard’s way? - 21st March 2023
During 23 years with the BBC, and 39 years in journalism (when he was trained to use simple language, avoiding jargon and clichés), seeing the truth behind headline events was always crucial for our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, and here he examines the shrill protests from aides to MORE revelations former Prime Minister Boris Johnson KNEW about the Downing Street parties, but that they were simply part of a political ‘witch-hunt’ against him.
Previously he has described how he was helped to break 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 made 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 Cymru Wales (BBC CW) 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.
Earlier he disclosed why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, and how information from trusted sources is crucial at this time of crisis.
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”, wrote Shakespeare. That line is from Hamlet, but another from Macbeth is equally aposite currently: “Double, double toil and trouble”.
Actually the Bard’s writing can teach us a lot about events today.
New revelations have just emerged concerning the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s knowledge of a series of parties which were held during lockdown while he was at Number 10.
He will now face searching questions before the House of Commons Privileges Committee.
However, news that the woman behind the investigative report into his behaviour, Sue Gray, joined the Labour party at a senior level, has played into the hands of his supporters, who believe that this is all a politically-motivated “witch-hunt”.
Mr Johnson hasn’t actually used that cliché so far (although he has in the past), but his supporters have, and I am reminded that when there is such a response it usually means there is substance to the accusation – in fact perhaps it is a case where he ‘protests too much’.
To his accusers Mr Johnson is a serial liar, and has been in trouble before, when, of course, ‘witch-hunt’ was wheeled out, as well as ‘kangaroo court’. Another cliché which we see regularly. The Tory MP, Lee Anderson, said these things last year, declaring that his critics were “on his (Boris Johnson’s) case all the time”.
Mr Johnson (or his ‘aides’) is not alone though. For example, Donald Trump (who is a frequent user of the phrase) spouted it when he was defending himself in the latest troubles he faces (of which there are many).
In the bi-partisan House of Representatives investigation into the riot attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, in which five people died (some say 10), it was disclosed that Mr Trump had engaged in a “multi-part conspiracy”, but he attacked the results of their 18-month long inquiry, by saying on his Truth Social platform: “The highly partisan Unselect Committee Report purposely fails to mention the failure of Pelosi to heed my recommendation for troops to be used in DC, show the “Peacefully and Patrioticly” words I used, or study the reason for the protest, Election Fraud. WITCH HUNT!”.
Use of this term, however, may raise eye brows in the context of what happened. The January 6 committee report into the rampage at the Capitol building, was based on interviews with more than 1,000 witnesses, it followed 10 hearings and resulted in millions of pages of documents. The politicians who wrote it, concluded that the evidence “has led to an overriding and straightforward conclusion: the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him”.
But it has not been the only time Mr Trump has wielded this platitude. A grand jury in New York found two Trump Organization companies guilty of multiple charges of tax fraud and falsifying business records connected to a 15-year scheme to defraud authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation for top executives. The Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation were found guilty on all charges they faced.
Mr Trump was mentioned repeatedly during the trial by prosecutors about his connection to the benefits doled out to certain executives, including company-funded apartments, car leases and personal expenses. At the end of the case, his company faced a financial penalty of $1.6m (£1.3m). The Trump Corporation was fined $810,000 (£662,976), and Trump Payroll Corporation was fined $800,000 (£654,792).
The amount imposed by Judge Juan Manuel Merchan was the maximum allowed by law, and he ordered payment of it in full within 14 days, when he had been asked for 30. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said the fines constituted “a fraction of the revenue” of the Trump Organization and that the project was “far-reaching and brazen”. During a four-week trial, prosecutors said Mr Trump himself signed bonus cheques, as well as the lease on an executive’s luxury Manhattan apartment, and private school tuition for the Chief Financial Officer’s (CFO’s) grandchildren.
But this heavy penalty was, of course, (like many of the other controversies to swirl around Mr Trump), part of “a witch-hunt” against him.
He is also under scrutiny by federal and state prosecutors for his handling of classified documents, and the accuracy of the Trump Organization’s business records and financial statements. He is, too, facing a $250 million civil lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging he and his adult children were involved in a decade-long fraud.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is being sued, as well, for defamation over remarks made while denying an allegation by the writer E Jean Carroll, that he raped her in a department store changing room in New York in the mid-1990s. Among many other things he had said that Ms Carroll was not his “type”.
However it does not look good for Mr Trump, as a judge rejected as “absurd” his attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge, Lewis Kaplan, refused an application for dismissal of the case brought against the former president under the Adult Survivors Act, a New York law which gives adults a one-year window to sue alleged attackers even if statutes of limitations have expired. A trial is scheduled for 10 April, yet this too, like all the other things, will no doubt be described as a ‘witch-hunt’.
But surely some of this is true, and it isn’t ALL “a witch-hunt”?! Or am I just being thick?!
In fact we see the phrase being used all the time, not just by Mr Trump or ‘friends’ of Mr Johnson.
It was screamed out, too, in the row between Brussels and Warsaw, after Poland’s top court rejected the supremacy of EU laws, in a country where the nationalist Law and Justice party rules.
Polish judges had opposed the basic principle of EU legal primacy – a core pillar of the bloc’s rules order that all member states sign up to on joining. They repudiated significant articles of the EU treaties, including that member states will take “appropriate measures” to fulfil their obligations under EU law, and politicians as well as legal scholars have described the move as a “legal Polexit” which jeopardises Poland’s access to EU funds, along with the rights of its largely pro-EU population.
But after the far-right populist French politician, Marine Le Pen, met Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, when he was hauled over the coals by his fellow leaders for this, she accused the EU of conducting a “witch-hunt” against Poland using “unacceptable blackmail”.
This was as the contentious Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu had been put on trial for alleged corruption, when he had also accused his detractors of orchestrating a politically motivated “witch-hunt” against him.
Mr Netanyahu denied charges that he received illegal gifts from wealthy benefactors and conspired with press barons to change media laws and regulations in return for favourable coverage. He was in court in the first criminal trial ever against a sitting Israeli leader. Mr Netanyahu had tried to pass laws that would have granted him immunity from prosecution, but failed to gain the necessary majority.
The one-time Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has used the term ‘witch-hunt’, and the headline-grabbing nationalist former Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, has applied the word (or words), as well, as protests erupted in the country’s capital against corruption and fraud.
It has been employed, too, in Wales. A ‘super-agent’ in the tragic case of the transfer to Cardiff City of footballer Emiliano Sala stood accused of fraud, but claimed he was victim of a “witch-hunt”.
During the extraordinary controversy at scandal-hit Swansea University (SU), where the police investigated alleged bribery in a multi-million pound land deal when senior officials including the ex-Vice-Chancellor (VC) Richard Davies, and the then head of his School of Management Marc Clement, were sacked for “gross misconduct”, it, naturely, cropped up! In the long-running saga, support had been clear for the contentious previous Pro Vice-Chancellor (PVC), Hilary Lappin-Scott, who, The Eye exclusively revealed, was to leave.
An unbelievable anonymous campaign in her defence was undertaken using gmail or email, with messages sent to staff at SU as well as senior journalists (including me) and Welsh politicians. One message said: “Only Hillary (sic) can save Professor Boyle (new Vice-Chancellor [VC] at SU) from the same incompetents that undermined Richard Davies’ stellar transformation of your Institution for the Region”. Another read: “Last week’s email was blocked – here it is below for completeness’ sake. Ask yourself: what else is the leadership keeping from you?… Why is this witch hunt therefore still continuing?”.
However my journalists have shown how Professor Lappin-Scott had enraged her staff at SU, by sending tweets from glamorous parts of the world on university ‘business’, and the exploits became the subject of The Eye’s satirical writer. Despite this, the anonymous communications have claimed in the past that Professor Lappin-Scott would lead the university to “an era of gold and honey”.
The term ‘witch-hunt’ was used, too, as inquiries continued into the £200 million pound Pentre Awel (Breezy Village) (previously known as the ‘Wellness Village’) land deal at Llanelli where the police were called in.
The troubled institution has confirmed that apart from looking into the campaign itself, the police were involved in investigating alleged bribery during this so-called ‘witch-hunt’. An official statement from Swansea’s ‘Associate Director Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Head of Legal and Compliance Services’ stated : “Alongside the University’s internal disciplinary process, there is also on-going police involvement (i) with regard to the issues uncovered during the University’s investigation; and (ii) anonymous communications sent to University staff relating to the suspensions and disciplinary processes. The matters under investigation are very serious. The University has invested a significant amount of resource investigating the alleged misconduct, as have the authorities. It is essential that nothing is done to undermine the on-going processes. They must be allowed to run their course without interference.”
The stunning ‘witch-hunt’ campaign at the university also formed a worrying backdrop to an exclusive revelation on The Eye, that officials had hired a fraudster called Steve Chan who worked on a contract at the management school, and after my journalists there were alone in revealing how a previous Dean accused of bullying had died. They showed how, apparently unknowingly, officials had even allowed Chan to represent the university in advising an international agency on the ways to combat fraud!
Chan had been imprisoned by a court in Boston, USA, for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation. His jail sentence was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud, he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.
But the campaign inside SU alleging a ‘witch-hunt’ has been covered only partially by the mainstream media, and had been conducted ever since the incredible investigation was launched.
In part, one recent gmail to staff (and me) as well as the Chair of the SU council read: “Why are these things happening and being leaked to Sion Barry (the Western Mail Business Editor) and, in turn, Phil Parry (someone trolling Professor Hillary [sic] Lappin-Scott) whilst in the middle of an independent internal investigation?”. Another added: “Appended below you can find the previous installments (American spelling) and claims there has been “A trial by media, a kangaroo court, a selection of evidence and suspensions before interviews – almost as if the facts were at odds with the desired outcome”. Although again misspelt a further gmail was clear in the search for a new VC: “Please Hillary (sic) (Lappin-Scott) out (put?) your hat back in the ring!”.
Yet university officials have been less keen than the person behind the anonymous computer campaign to give The Eye (or me) information – this time about Chan’s background, and The Eye have been told in the past that questions about him in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been refused on the grounds they were “vexatious”.
Four of the questions asked in the FOIA were:
- What was the exact date that Professor Steve Chan of the School of Management registered for his Ph.D at Swansea University?
- What was the exact date that he undertook his viva voce examination for his Ph.D?
- Who were the members of his Ph.D viva committee (including external examiners)?
- Who approved the appointment of the supervisors for his Ph.D?
But of course questions like these, as with Mr Johnson’s current problems, could all be part of a politically-motivated ‘witch-hunt’ against him, or perhaps it is just a case of ‘protesting too much’…
The memories of Phil’s decades long award-winning career in journalism (when words were always chosen carefully) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disease Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.
Tomorrow – Phil explores how he started his career on the then biggest-selling paper produced in Wales, but now the latest circulation figures show that readership numbers have plunged, even as executives scrape the bottom of the barrel with stories, and new technology has completely changed the game, and it is about to do so further.