THIS is a tale of two journalists who have made headlines themselves in the past week. Piers Stefan Pugh-Morgan, better known as Piers Morgan, and the less ornately named Roy Greenslade, were both in years past Editors of the Daily Mirror.
They also have in common the main issue that has involved them in controversy: the degree to which journalists should be neutral and fair to both sides in any dispute they are covering, and the degree to which they should express - or hide - their personal opinions.
The case against Greenslade is more open and shut. While working at the Mirror and later as managing news editor on the Sunday Times, he now admits to having secretly supported IRA bombing attacks that killed men, women and children, and to writing for the Sinn Fein propaganda paper, An Phoblacht, under the pseudonym of George Black.
More concerning is the fact that his senior editorial positions would have allowed him access to briefing papers from reporters covering Northern Ireland which would have included off-the-record information about the names and activities of IRA terrorists.
As a close friend and neighbour in Donegal of Pat Doherty, who was for many years Vice-President of Sinn Fein and also a member of the IRA Army Council, a man with Greenslade’s admitted sympathy for the Republican cause could have passed on operational information about the IRA held by MI5 and Special Branch, though he strongly denies this.
He was also likely to have gathered from his Republican contacts useful information about the IRA that he did not pass on to the British authorities. Again he denies this.
But it would be good to know what exactly he said in those articles for the Sinn Fein paper.
What he cannot deny is that in 2014 he wrote a column in the Guardian disparaging the claims of Maria Cahill that she had been raped by a member of the IRA. The paper has now apologised to her. He also provided surety for John Downey, who was suspected of taking part in the Hyde Park bombing of 1982 in which four soldiers were killed. Downey escaped trial as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
It strikes me as significant that when Greenslade read my newspaper memoir, Shouting in the Street, the only comment that this long-time media commentator had to make about it was to say that in a reference to Bobby Sands and the men who died with him in the hunger strike at the Maze Prison in Long Kesh in 1981, I had said there were nine other men who died when, in fact, there were ten.
When he recently confessed to his support for IRA violence - after keeping it hidden for nearly 50 years as a journalist - The Times called him “an IRA apologist” and his old paper, the Sunday Times, called him “a useful idiot.” The fact that he lectured on media ethics for some years as a Professor at the City University in London has been described as “hypocritical.”
His Private Eye soubriquet, “Roy of the Provos,” proved to be fairly apt.
He shares another thing with Piers Morgan: the charge of dishonesty. Apart from withholding his Republican sympathies for so long, Greenslade admitted to the Leveson inquiry into press conduct in 2011 that he had fixed a spot-the-ball competition on the Daily Mirror, offering a million pound prize, so that nobody could win it.
Morgan survived an official inquiry into profiting from share tips in the Mirror and later left the paper after publishing what turned out to be a fake picture of British troops torturing prisoners in Iraq. It may have embarrassed him, if anything could ever embarrass him, that his brother, Jeremy Pugh-Morgan, is a Colonel in the Army.
Morgan sometimes makes it hard for people to like him. Although he could go on a bit, I found his aggressive interviewing on the ITV programme Good Morning Britain the best thing about it.
It is interesting that his final programme, from which he marched out in high dudgeon over internal opposition to his comments on the performance of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in her notorious interview with Opra Winfrey, the audience figures beat BBC Breakfast for the first time.
The row he caused, prompting over 40, 000 complaints to the regulator Ofcom, comes down to whether it is right for a journalist to question the word of someone who claims to have been driven close to suicide by her treatment from the Royal Family – or indeed, whether it is ever right to challenge the veracity and good faith of someone who has problems with mental health.
Some critics have gone further and said it is wrong for a journalist to challenge someone who claims to have suffered racial abuse.
I am on Morgan’s side on both issues. Meghan’s claim that the Royal Family refused to help her when she suffered mental health problems raises the question of whether they are qualified to do that anyway.
And doesn’t an actress in her late 30s who comes from Los Angeles know how to seek psychotherapy if she needs it? Even to raise these points is opposed by many critics on the grounds that a person’s feelings about mental health should not be challenged.
Likewise, on the alleged racial comments from an unnamed source in the Palace, it is being said that if Meghan “feels” that she has suffered from racial abuse, no one should challenge those feelings.
Even Prince William’s off-the-cuff comment that the Royal Family is “very much not racist,” when asked a direct question about it in the street by a journalist, was described on the BBC news as “inappropriate” by a black rights campaigner, since it suggests that Meghan’s claim was false.
This is where it gets hard, in trying to establish the truth, not to challenge some of the claims in the interview, or at least to point out that no real factual evidence was produced about racism in the Royal Family.
When Opra asked Meghan if her son was deprived of the title of Prince because he was of mixed race, she should have said “No” because she should know that wasn’t conceivably (or constitutionally) true. Instead, she allowed Winfrey to make teasing comments about skin colour.
Yet we don’t know what was said to Prince Harry, how it was said, or who said it. Without that, it is impossible for anyone to draw reliable conclusions.
Meghan used the race card and the “driven to suicide” card against the Royal Family, which are deeply serious charges. Morgan said he didn’t believe her. Others will need more evidence before they believe them either.