Sunday, June 17, 2012


In recent weeks I have been wholly transfixed by the procession of statesmen (and others) giving evidence under oath before the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the British press. The hearings, which stream live online, and may be consulted subsequently, together with witnesses’ written submissions, provide a unique and baffling picture of the British press in recent decades—but more interestingly an opportunity to hear an extended narrative furnished by people who were at one time at the very heart of government that is, for once, neither conveyed nor indeed meditated nor interpreted nor disrupted nor rationed nor tampered with by the press, television, or radio. I cannot remember a time when it was possible to sit there and take the measure of a public figure purely through what he has to say (in answer, here, to questions asked by Counsel to the Inquiry Robert Jay, Q.C.), without the background noise of media distortion, and outside the fiercely combative theater of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Perhaps this is naïve, but it is at least a pleasant change—and to me revelatory. Sir John Major was especially impressive, I thought, far beyond the fact that he spoke in whole and uninterrupted English sentences, without notes, without hesitation, many of them complex, and brimming with common sense—in this case for more than two and a half hours, without interruption. In a sense this is anti-television, contra-media, and probably for that reason completely engrossing.

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