Sarah Abdurrahman is a producer for On the Media
On the Media Talks to Former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan
Thursday, December 01, 2011 - 02:08 PM
In the aftermath of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, British Prime Minister David Cameron declared that a public government inquiry would look into the practices and ethics of the British press. For weeks now, the Leveson Inquiry has been hearing testimony from witnesses like Hugh Grant, J.K. Rowling and the parents of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old murder victim whose phone was hacked by NOTW back in 2002.
On Tuesday, one of the most shocking and eye-opening testimonies was given by former NOTW deputy features editor Paul McMullan, who openly talked about some of the questionable techniques he utilized as a tabloid reporter, like posing as a teenage prostitute to entrap a priest. We managed to track down McMullan, who spoke to Brooke by phone from the cellar of a pub he owns in Dover, England.
Echoing his testimony in the inquiry, McMullan was mostly unapologetic about his work, saying he just gave readers what they wanted.
"I'm a journalist, so I keep the journal of the day. As the Daily Mirror is titled, we are just a mirror to the society we report on," McMullan said. "That’s why [Rupert] Murdoch is such a professional, he just wants to create the shiniest mirror that reflects society in the clearest possible way."
He went on to argue that if readers didn’t like tabloid stories, journalists wouldn’t write them.
"The truth was that with that...material of stars misbehaving and a bit of sex, we were selling five million copies a week. And that was the biggest selling English language newspaper in the world, bigger than anything in America, anything across Europe, so we really hit the right note," McMullan said. "The public was interested in that, so we fulfilled their need."
McMullen says he tried moving away from writing about scandals and celebrity gossip when he went to report on the Iraq war, but his editors at the Sunday Express (where he worked at the time) called him back.
"Here I was in Al Jaber with the British and American forces and I was standing around filing copy on a satellite phone in a chemical suit," explained McMullan. "And then to go through that just to get a news story back to the UK, for them to ring up and say 'You know, the war is not doing real well, come back to London and do some show biz'…I’ve gone to this extreme to try and do something worthy with my career but the reality is it doesn't sell. They didn't care. They wanted more David Beckham fooling around with another woman. That kind of thing. That sells. That's what the British public wants. So despair at the British public, don't despair at the journalist who simply keeps the journal of the day."
We will have more with McMullan on this week’s show, including why he thinks privacy is just a shield "bad people need to do bad things," and the one celebrity scandal story he actually regrets writing.