MHP Blog

Jimmy Savile: the other question we should be asking

15 October 2012 ,

Reading old news coverage with the advantage of hindsight can evoke all sorts of emotions, burnishing or rubbishing the reputations of journalists and pundits depending on how event subsequently turned out. Yet it is hard not to read old coverage of Jimmy Savile with anything other than a bitter sense of sympathy for journalists who got close but not quite there with their stories.

Take this interview with Jimmy Savile, conducted by Lyn Barber for The Independent on Sunday in 1990:

There has been a persistent rumour about him for years, and journalists have often told me as a fact: “Jimmy Savile? Of course, you know he’s into little girls.” But if they know it, why haven’t they published it? The Sun or the News of the World would hardly refuse the chance of featuring a Jimmy Savile sex scandal. It is very, very hard to prove a negative, but the fact that the tabloids have never come up with a scintilla of evidence against Jimmy Savile is as near proof as you can ever get.

I wasn’t sure whether Sir James actually knew what the particular skeleton in his closet was supposed to be, though I notice that he told The Sun five years ago that he never allowed children into his flat. “Never in a million years would I dream of letting a kid, or five kids, past my front door. Never, ever. I’d feel very uncomfortable.” Nor, he said, would he take children for a ride in his car unless they had their mum or dad with them: “You just can’t take the risk.”

Still, I was nervous when I told him: “What people say is that you like little girls.” He reacted with a flurry of funny-voice Jimmy Savile patter, which is what he does when he’s getting his bearings: “Ah now. Sure. Now then. Now then. First of all, I happen to be in the pop business, which is teenagers – that’s No 1. So when I go anywhere it’s the young ones that come round me. Now what the tabloids don’t realise is that the young girls in question don’t gather round me because of me – it’s because I know the people they love, the stars, because they know I saw Bros last week or Wet Wet Wet. Now you, watching from afar, might say ‘Look at those young girls throwing themselves at him’, whereas in actual fact it’s exactly the opposite. I am of no interest to them.”

Lyn Barber was not alone. Many people shared the rumours, some – like her – raised them. No-one however felt able to prove them.

That’s why in amongst all the other investigations and demands, there is one important question that should be asked: why did journalists fail to land the story? Asked not in an accusatory way, but a supportive one – for here surely is a case where the problem wasn’t inaccurate journalism or trivial journalism, but journalism sniffing around an important story and leaving it unpublished as they could not quite manage to prove it.

Much of the current discussion of journalism is about stories that were published that perhaps shouldn’t have been. We shouldn’t forget that a healthy society needs investigative journalists who do dig up public interest stories their subjects would rather keep quiet.

The Jimmy Savile case is one to learn from and an important reminder that it isn’t always a problem of too much prying by journalists. Sometimes the problem is they don’t manage to pry enough.

 

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceUPDATE: My MHP colleague Ian Kirby has now blogged his perspective from having worked as a journalist on the News of the World.

 

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9 comments
Dominic Carman
Dominic Carman

Mark, sorry that should read: To see how close some journalists did come, see Roy Greenslade's blog in the Guardian from October 10th: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/oct/10/jimmy-savile-bbc This states as follows: "Paul Connew, when editor of the Sunday Mirror in 1994, did have "credible and convincing" evidence from two women who claimed Savile had been guilty of abusing them at a children's home. Though "totally and utterly convinced" they were telling the truth, the paper's lawyers, after a careful assessment, decided it wasn't strong enough to risk publication. (See postscript below). I am sure the same situation occurred elsewhere." Please also see my Guardian blog on this matter from October 15th: http://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=carman+guardian+savile&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&ei=eLGCUNOsHsup0AWa84GQBA

Dominic Carman
Dominic Carman

Your second point: 'No victim ever came forward to a newspaper or television programme while he was alive.' is simply not correct. See Roy Greenslade blog in the Guardian from October 10th: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2012/oct/10/jimmy-savile-bbc This states as follows: "Paul Connew, when editor of the Sunday Mirror in 1994, did have "credible and convincing" evidence from two women who claimed Savile had been guilty of abusing them at a children's home. Though "totally and utterly convinced" they were telling the truth, the paper's lawyers, after a careful assessment, decided it wasn't strong enough to risk publication. (See postscript below). I am sure the same situation occurred elsewhere." Please also see my Guardian blog on this matter from October 15th: http://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=carman+guardian+savile&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&ei=eLGCUNOsHsup0AWa84GQBA

Tracy Connell
Tracy Connell

It's not just journalists though. It's police, BBC staff, famous people, parents, and other adults. Look at them coming out of the woodwork saying they heard things and saw things. How can soooooooooooo many people feel the need to keep quiet. How many other stars have been up to this sort of thing and people have kept quiet? As Nick Clegg said, how can this have been kept quiet for so long?

Tracy Connell
Tracy Connell

Yes. You first need credible witnesses/victims, which is what this documentary exposed, and could have done so when he was alive.

Mark Pack
Mark Pack

Tracy Connell I suspect the answer about why people are coming forward now is that the story has reached a tipping point: people with accusations no longer feel that they are on their own and would be ignored. I've seen this with a different issue that I've got some close knowledge of - until the first credible accuser goes public and gets sympathetic coverage, all the other accusers/witnesses hold back for fear of being ignored, rubbished and picked on. However, when everyone is holding back not wanting to be first, you have a circular problem.

Tracy Connell
Tracy Connell

Thanks Mark. To pick up on this "No victim ever came forward to a newspaper or television programme while he was alive. That meant there was no one to work with, and no secondary evidence" If the documentary that was screened on Saville could have been done now, why couldn't it have been done when he was alive? The people who made that documentary went out tracking down victims. It's not like they all came rushing forward - you wouldn't expect that, but something like this could have been done years ago. Yes he says you can't libel the dead, but the evidence in the documentary clearly was not libellous material. As we have seen, it only takes one step like this for floods of other victims to come forward. The evidence is compelling and consistent from all witnesses. What worries me is that in places like hospitals and children's care centres is the lack of child protection. Surely this is a major failure if an adult can walk in and be left to molest any child he chooses? Obviously his celebrity status gave him some level of protection from being caught out. But it shouldn't!

C-