Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Sun smears Professor David Nutt's family

When Professor David Nutt was sacked by Alan Johnson as head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs a couple of weeks ago, The Sun newspaper made it clear that it thought Johnson had been correct to do so.

Although I disagree with The Sun and I feel that they often distort the debate about drugs I do understand that there are people who have real fears about what liberalisation of drug laws could mean (although I think they are misguided). The Sun is entitled to their opinion about this. They make their case and it is up to those of us who believe that a legalised and regulated framework would reduce harm, crime and have all sorts of other benefits as I have blogged about many times to make our case and try to talk people round to our view. I fully accept The Sun's right to argue their side of the case too, and indeed they regularly do. In fact David Nutt is not in favour of legalisation of drugs but it is fair to say that his comments could eventually lead to this argument being taken more seriously and that seems to be how The Sun have treated them.

Yesterday however The Sun decided not to engage with the debate on this issue. Instead they decided to attack and smear Professor Nutt's children. I am not going to link the The Sun's "story" on this (you can find it via Graham Linehan's tweet that alerted me to it here if you wish). I am however just going to highlight a few of the tactics they have employed in this disgusting gutter "journalism" they have decided to indulge in.

The piece is entitled "Off his Nutt" and focuses primarily on Professor Nutt's 24 year old son Steve. It is peppered with pictures of Steve taken from his Facebook page which shows him looking a bit worse for wear and in a few cases holding what could be a lit cannabis joint. They also draw attention to one of his Facebook status updates:

Steve Nutt thinks his dad is probably more famous than he'll ever be, BARRING A TERRORIST ATROCITY THAT IS...

They also say "Terrorism is a theme that regularly crops up in his messages." and reference his Facebook profile picture:

Shockingly, instead of sticking a portrait of himself in his "profile" photo slot like most Facebook users, his image is of an orange labelled "product of Israel" - one half of which is a GRENADE.

Many young people tell jokes that are in bad taste. It's part of growing up. In a few years time Steve will probably look back with a bit of embarrassment about some of things he has published on Facebook. I suspect many in my generation are grateful that these social networking sites did not exist when we were younger for this very reason. To have this stuff plastered across a national newspaper simply because the newspaper disagrees with some comments made by the young man's father is absolutely reprehensible. Steve has not done anything that many, many of his contemporaries will not also have done. He is a normal man in his early-mid twenties not some sort of aberration as The Sun are trying to make out. Indeed the fact that it was so easy for The Sun to find apparent evidence of one of David Nutt's children smoking cannabis (and I am sure they could do this with hundreds of thousands of his contemporaries) is evidence of how massively widespread its use is under the prohibition regime that The Sun so vociferously supports.

They did not stop there though. They then move on to Professor Nutt's daughter Lydia's Facebook page:

Photos show her and girl pals cavorting with a bottle of spirits in hand - and were uploaded two years before she turned 18.


This is pathetic. A large proportion of 16 year old children drink alcohol. There is nothing unusual about this despite The Sun trying to make the most of the fact that she was TWO YEARS UNDERAGE. It's notable as well that they have no evidence that she has taken illegal drugs so instead focus on this. I would be fascinated to know how they think this can be in the public interest.

Oh, and there's more.

Meanwhile older lad Johnny, 26, has posted photos of himself prancing NAKED in the snow in Sweden.


WTF? What has that got to do with anything at all? Even by their own tenuous standards this has no link with Professor Nutt's comments. In his comments about drugs classification he said nothing about naturism or snow. It just seems to be part and parcel of their nasty attempt to smear his entire family.

Towards the end of the article there are more comments about bad taste jokes that Steve has made online. I'm not going to go into the details here, you can read them if you are interested for yourself but they all fall into the same category as above, i.e. ill-advised jokes he will probably regret in a few years but that he never expected to be plastered all over a national newspaper for millions of people to read.

This is one of the most disgusting pieces of "journalism" I have ever seen. The Sun should be utterly ashamed of itself that it should sink so low as to smear a group of young adults like this for doing nothing more than what many of their contemporaries do. This seems to me to be a politically motivated attack in order to try and discredit the scientific evidence that their father has brought into the public domain.

It actually reminds me very much of the disgraceful "story" published by The Sunday Express back in March (which Graham Linehan also blogged about here) where they had gone onto the Facebook pages of the Dunblane massacre survivors and "exposed" their completely normal for 18 year olds behaviour. After a campaign led by Graham they were forced to apologise for this travesty.

I can only hope that there will be similar revulsion to this.

Indeed a few of the comments posted underneath the piece give me hope:

so what? what a load of rubbish! he's just doing what all guys his age do. just because his father is a scientific researcher doesn't mean his son will be at home reading science journals. the important thing is the findings of Nutts recent research on drugs. he is very clever and spent a lot of time on his research only to get sacked and slandered because the findings weren't to the governments liking. the whole thing was a farce.

what's the big deal? at the end of the day, he just like any other british kid.
and away, his dad must know what he's talking about about.
leave the kid alone!

And those who disagree with the findings? Are you saying that the government disagreeing with something should be the end of it? Even though Prof. Nutt has conducted thorough research on an issue which affects us all? It shouldn't be challenged further?? Because it's not likely that vested interests are behind every decision the government makes. What with the general election coming up.

You only need look at the stats!....hundreds of thousands of people die of smoking and drinking related illnesess every year yet its perfectly legal. You will be lucky if just one person die of an 'e' or a 'joint' this year....things will never change because of the 'tax' issue but people should not be punished for speaking the truth.............and i dont know this guy so why is it news?

"claimed cannabis, ecstasy and LSD are safer than booze and ****."
This irritates me, 'claimed' as though it is purely his unbacked theory. Throughout the world the science shows this.
Go look at what has happened in Portugal since 2001 when they decriminalised drugs, their situation has become far better! The UK is full of hypocrites who don't know what they are on about when it comes to drugs!

Perhaps The Sun has misjudged its readership again.


Anonymous said...

Once, responses to newspaper articles were reflected by their letters page, and that was controlled by an editor.

Today anyone can respond immediately to a story, and people can read it without contributing to the income of the paper.

This has two effects; people outside their normal readership can respond to their stories, and whilst they can express their dislike they cannot remove their support because they never gave it.


Kalvis Jansons said...

Prof. Nutt, and his family, are really having a rough time.

However, I don't think that the Sun will have done much long term damage. I think many will react in the same way you have done.

Tanya Jones said...

I think The Sun are desperately trying to sell papers by going for the lowest stories they can find, but the first commenter is on the button with their analysis of the internet. It's harder and harder for tabloids to control the news agenda, although it's important to remember that there's still a large section of people who will take these stories at face value: I work with a few of them! What's interesting is that they don't buy the papers themselves, though: they just visit the websites.

Paul Walter said...

When you put photos and comments on Facebook, you are not necessarily publishing them, as far as I can make out. If you close down all your privacy settings so that only a few friends can see any of your profile, comments or photos (and indeed you can even make your presence on Facebook invisible to all but friends, by closing down the search options) then I can't see how those items can be described as having been "published". They are simply being shared with a few friends in a closed community.

It's an important point. I don't know what settings the Nutt family had on their Facebook pages. But if they had set everything as private, as I do, then they would have a good case against The Sun with the Press Complaints Commission.

You write: "the fact that it was so easy for The Sun to find apparent evidence". It was not necessarily "easy" for The Sun to find such evidence. For all we know, Steve Nutt may have had all his privacy settings clamped right down and it may well be that The Sun had to pretend to be a "friend" or inveigle a "friend" into helping them in order to get such evidence.

Having said all that, if the Nutt 'children' were like most other youngsters in the UK, they probably didn't even realise they could change their Facebook settings from the default.

Also, it is worth pointing out that it is legal to drink alcohol over the age of 5 in a home under the supervision of an adult. It is also legal for people aged 15,16 and 17 to drink wine, beer or cider on licensed premises with a table meal. In England and Wales an adult must order the alcohol. I don't know what the circumstances were behind the photo of the daughter of Prof Nutt (and perhaps The Sun don't know either) but she was not necessarily "under age" at 16 consuming achohol, dependent on the circumstances.

Fenella said...

I couldn't agree with you more. The Sun has yet again too far in the wrong direction. What on earth does the Facebook profile of Steven Nutt have to do with drug policy in the UK?? The article has grossly impinged on the family's privacy and is irrelevant in regards to anything news-worthy.

This is an appalling piece of journalism.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Personal smears, including of family, have become quite normal in recent years, doubtless in part because it is how New Labour has chosen to operate. Official sanction against infotainment industry scum is accordingly unlikely, open hypocrisy being unfashionable if not unknown, and hence the Sun newspaper expects to get away with its horrid actions.

Anyone in any aspect of public life (very broadly defined) has to expect this - even people like the old man who heckled Jack Straw at a political conference who only suffer the standard "15 minutes of fame".

The effect will be to repel people from public service, not least those like Professor Nutt whose contributions are unsalaried.

Charlotte Stamper said...

Stories like this crop up every day in the 'news'. The Sun had a space and someone had to fill it. Copying and pasting from Facebook and Twitter seem to be part of a hack's job description nowadays. Hell, I even do it on my blog. Lazy journalism yes, but not at all unusual unfortunately.

Paul Walter said...

I don't think they just "copied and pasted" this. There is a possibility that they allegedly used underhand techniques to allegedly inveigle themselves into having access to the relevant Facebook pages. See the last paragraph of this from The Daily Quail, which I suspect is speculation, but the question "How did they get access to those Facebook pages?" needs to be asked:

Martin Belam said...

The PCC code says "Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life". Of course, all of these kids are now adults so I guess in the eyes of the PCC they are fair game. Although possibly the daughter could make a case that her actions when "two years underage" for alcohol also place her as being "underage" for exposure in this way by the press?

M Devonport said...

Failing to even dent a rational argument does not mean it is reasonable to kick your opponent in the groin by publicly destroying their children instead – that is completely vindictive, nasty and utterly devoid of any ethics in the pursuit of personal agenda and money. Even The Scums sensationalist negatively portrayed lie of his sons personality has more morality than John Cole – so does this bent paperclip on my desk. Outrageous!

Ewan Hoyle said...

Perhaps Sun journalists dismayed by the paper's support for the Tories are trying to get the editor sacked by producing utterly disgraceful pieces. I'm not normally a fan of conspiracy theories, but I find this one amusing. :)