December 21st, 2017

I listened to Justin Chang’s review of The Post yesterday, and the movie dramatizing decisions made by Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and Editor Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, regarding The Pentagon Papers sounds good.

When the story broke in 1971 I was preparing to enter my junior year in high school and tangentially involved in Poiuyt, a mimeographed underground newspaper newspaper published by local high school students. My decision to become a journalist would come later, but even then I was fascinated by the larger-than-life people like Bradlee, Daniel Ellsberg, Ben Ben Bagdikian, and later Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

That, however, was then. The Paradise Papers and The Guardian are today, right now.

What concerns me is today.

Paul Johnson, The Guardian’s deputy editor emails:


As regular readers and supporters of the Guardian you probably will have seen our reporting of the Paradise Papers – how massive streams of money flow around the globe, moving offshore to avoid tax.

We thought it important to update you on a new and sudden turn of events.

The Guardian was one of 96 media organisations who exposed the shadowy workings of this massive network – we alone had a group of reporters who worked for over 11 months on the leaked documents.

Now we, and the BBC, are being sued by the firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers – Appleby – based offshore in the Isle of Man.

Despite the stories quite literally appearing all over the globe we are the only two media organisations being sued.

We are not being taken to court because we got the stories wrong or published untruths. We are being sued for damages over breach of confidence – with a demand that we hand over any documents that contributed to the reporting.

In the wake of the Paradise Papers, there is an inquiry by the UK’s tax authority, HMRC, into schemes operated out of the Isle of Man. A formal inquiry by the Australian tax office, calls from the EU finance commissioner to stop “vampires” avoiding tax and there was an emergency debate in the British parliament.

Appleby says the documents were stolen, that many are legally privileged and that there is no public interest in the stories.

An outcry has followed the news of the legal action, with senior politicians in the UK voicing alarm. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn described tax avoidance as an “immoral scourge” and said the reporting had “shone a powerful light on the absolute scandal of tax dodging”. Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, described the tax avoidance as “industrial scale” and the reporting as “patently in the public interest”.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who co-ordinated the reporting among outlets including the New York Times, Le Monde and Süddeutsche Zeitung, described the legal challenge as a “potentially dangerous moment for free expression in Britain”.

We intend to fight this as vigorously as possible—and will keep you updated.

I subscribe to Johnson’s paper and check in several times a day online to read and discover what has happened in my world.

The paper’s writers do consistently good work.

Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, wrote in a footnote on age 69 of my copy of Homage To Catalonia:

One of the dreariest effects of the war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as the Right.*

*I should like to make an exception of the Manchester Guardian. In connection with this book I have had to go through the files of a good many English papers. Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty.

In my book that doubleplusgood endorsement is more than sufficient.

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