LOGIC, like a black hole, is impossible to escape. You make countless counter arguments to the logic system, but it always traps you.
On Tuesday, former News of the World deputy features editor Paul McMullan gave evidence to the inquiry into media ethics and practices currently underway in London. Of all the statements, claims and allegations so far in the Leveson Inquiry, this one is the true corker: “Privacy is for paedos.”
It’s beautifully simplistic, and inescapable.
“I want some privacy.”
“Then you must be a paedo.”
“But I’m not.”
“Well then you don’t need privacy do you?”
In fact, McMullan’s logic system, which he seemed to say applied to News of the World and all other papers, is really very straight forward. Only those wanting to hide something believe in privacy. Everyone is up to something.
He said: “In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never found anybody doing any good. The only people who need privacy are people doing bad things. Privacy is evil. [It] brings out worse qualities in people [sic]; brings out hypocrisy.”
That might seem contrary to all the fights for privacy on Facebook, and protecting medical records from being lost on trains, or ensuring user data is safe on gaming platforms. But it’s not. McMullan wants everything out in the open. And so do the upmarket Guardian and the hacking group Anonymous. Calls for an open society are so loud these days that one might wonder if the world will someday be see-through because it is so transparent.
Everyone wants everything open to scrutiny because they presume governments or authority figures have something to hide. That’s the same logic as McMullan. It’s inescapable. ”If the Indian government is hiding the transactions of money, they’re all paedos.” The default is they’re guilty, and only by being open, or by being exposed, will we know if they’re not.
Except of course the media never exposes innocent people!
You can apply the same logic system to babies.
“If you’re not commenting about whether you’re having a baby, then you must be having a baby.”
“But we’re not.”
“Then show us your womb.”
“Then you’re having a baby.”
More seriously, nothing puts my back up more as a reporter than someone telling me, “You can’t report that”. Immediately I presume there’s something being hidden. And often there is. The news must probe for a truth, and then question and counter-question the basis for that alleged truth.
So, how do you escape an inescapable logic system? You can’t simply say, “You’re morality is wrong”, because that’s merely a personal attack that reinforces the idea you’re hiding something.
Nor can you presume everyone is “good”, because then you will not question those hiding something criminal or corrupt. “An individual is equally capable of good and evil.” Ah. Now, let’s try that.
“I want privacy.”
“Then you’re a paedo.”
“But you’re also capable of being a paedo. Prove that you aren’t.”
“Then you’re as likely a paedo as I am.”
Part of the problem of logic systems in the media, is they are usually applied behind closed doors. They expose private matters to public scrutiny, but are rarely exposed to the same gaze (with the exceptions of occasional inquiries) themselves.
So if the hackers behind Anonymous are unnamed because they are ‘engaging in criminal acts’, Why are the authors of Economist articles not named? Because they’re committing criminal acts?
There the logic system collapses. But anonymity can breed both good and evil. Anonymous wants openness, but not of its members. The Guardian wants openness, but of government systems. The former News of the World staff wanted openness of celebrities, and everyone else.
We are all equally capable of hiding, and exposing, ourselves and others. As reporters, we must seek out the hidden, knowing that people are capable of good and bad, as are we ourselves.
Anonymity, like openness, is a double-edged sword. Some Occupy Wall Street protesters, and the hackers of Anonymous, use the Guy Fawkes masks made popular by the film V for Vendetta. The film, and the graphic novel before it, famously quote the line from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Conceal me what I am; and be my aid or such disguise as, haply, shall become the form of my intent.”
Concealing can be revealing (when people hide their wrong doing), but the intent can also be well intended. Then you must test the logic of who gets to conceal, and who gets to pull away the mask. Who decides? That potentially unanswerable question is inescapable.