The speed with which commentators judged and found guilty Jeremy Hunt of bias, favouritism and illegality after yesterday’s Leveson hearing was remarkable. It was unsubstantiated judgment on a massive scale.
I listened to James Murdoch’s evidence and to the questioning about e-mails from his lobbyist, and what struck me was that they were written by an employee keen to impress an exacting boss, hinting strongly at embellishment, and how one-sided they were. Although inured to hasty reaction from politicians and media for their own purposes, I was surprised by the immediate acceptance by journalists such as Robert Peston and Nick Robinson that what was written – largely reports of reports – was true. It may be so, of course, but already the lobbyist has admitted he actually had no contact with the Culture Secretary during the period of News Corp’s bid for BskyB despite his claims to the contrary, and civil servants have substantiated the procedures, at least, that were used. More information may well come forward to re-balance a one-sided account of what happened.
It may be that errors of process and inappropriate activity will be revealed both within government and elsewhere – Alex Salmond may have some questions to answer, for example, – but much damage has been done, meanwhile, by the almost hysterical reaction to (so far) unproven statements made by a lobbyist wanting to impress. Even if Jeremy Hunt is exonerated from blame altogether, his career and reputation will have been injured and he will have been much hurt personally. I do not defend him for I do not know the truth, but I defend the right of anyone to be shown compassion and fairness, not put through a public crucifixion without a trial.