'All I know is that he has a preoccupation with schoolboy smut on his website...Miss X in her bikini, Miss Y showing off her suntan etc, so he may have some sort of strange sex life...'
It was pretty harmless stuff but revealing in the way it was reported. Can Lord Leveson trust the tabloid press to publish balanced reports of evidence which is even mildly critical of them, their editors and staff? Should he appoint an independent journalist to oversee their coverage, ensuring they are not doing themselves, and their fellow tabloids, any 'mutual favours'?
This is a serious issue. I suspect it will become more serious as the inquiry progresses.
If Max Mosley had made the above remarks about, say, a politician, the tabloid press would have gone to town on them. Instead he made them about Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, and the tabloid press ignored them. Were they newsworthy? Definitely, according to the broadsheets, which they ran them. So why were the tabloids so bashful? Why do you think?
There's an old Fleet Street adage: dog doesn't bite dog. It's at the root of the press's problems. It means tabloids seldom, if ever, hold themselves up to to the kind of scrutiny they apply to others. Hence the allegations at Leveson that they have behaved as if they were 'untouchable' and 'above the law'.
But now, are they starting to think they are 'above Leveson'?
Max Mosley's remarks about Paul Dacre's 'old-fashioned' attitude to sex were innocuous and more speculative than evidential and, if Mr Dacre had published them, he would merely have confirmed Daily Mail readers in their view that he rather than Mr Mosley was the right man in the right job, upholding the values in which they believe. Fine. Where's the problem?
So why have they not been published across the mass market? Why did all the tabloid editors come to exactly the same decision? What an amazing coincidence! Or maybe not.
Is it that they know lots more will emerge in the inquiry and they have slipped into an unwritten agreement which says: 'I won't embarrass you personally if you don't embarrass me personally.' There may be such a pact and then there may not. It may be 'understood' and require no conferring or confirmation. But, whatever the mechanism, the tabloid editors have done Dacre a favour and, in popular parlance, 'he owes them one'.
It is not as though it is without precedent. It was the general rule between editors and proprietors during most of Fleet Street's history. Dog doesn't bite dog. More recently, there has been this kind of pact between two of the bosses, Richard Desmond (Express group) and Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere (Mail group). They compete but promise not to get personal.
Those who dish it out daily squeal like big babies when someone dishes it back. That's why they hate the way the Leveson inquiry is dragging them out of the shadowland they favour and into the daylight.
But there is a bigger issue here, which is whether Leveson can trust the tabloids to fairly report evidence which is damaging to them, their editors and staff. Is it asking too much of them? I believe it is. Should Leveson appoint an independent journalist to oversee their coverage, ensuring they are not doing themselves, and their fellow tabloids, any 'favours'? It's not just Mr Mosley's remarks on Paul Dacre. On Tuesday the Mail accused Hugh Grant of 'mendacious smears'. Personally I think the tabloid coverage of the McCann's evidence especially regarding the Express group was rather generous - especially in the Express. This is an area of subtle nuances, I know, and open to argument. But that's my honest opinion. Okay, independent supervision may be difficult. But in its absence I am sure the inquiry team is monitoring the coverage and checking it for balance. The editors should know that when they appear in the witness box, they may well be asked to justify it, to explain 'favours' they might have done for others or, indeed, themselves.
If not tackled, this will do the inquiry an injustice, misrepresenting its work to the very readers with whom it needs to engage.
One complaint about the Press Complaints Commission has been that it was 'like putting the Yorkshire Ripper in charge of the murder squad'. Well, to continue the theme, is this like letting the Yorkshire Ripper leave the dock, cross the court and take a seat on the press bench?
Here I give Max Mosley's remarks about Paul Dacre in full - if he thinks this is 'too personal' then he should read stories in Mail Online - and then I detail the coverage they received in the online editions. I've not had the chance to check print issues, so they are not part of the evidence. If the tabloids think I am being unfair, I will happily publish their responses.
From the witness box, Max Mosley said: 'Dacre said in his speech to the Society of Editors that I was guilty of unimaginable depravity. Well, first of all, it reflects very badly on his imagination but, apart from that, it's not a sensible comment because I wouldn't...I've no idea what Mr Dacre's sex life is. All I know is that he has a preoccupation with schoolboy smut on his website...Miss X in her bikini, Miss Y showing off her suntan etc, so he may have some sort of strange sex life.'
Mr Mosley was describing the effect upon him of the News of the World story headlined 'F1 Boss has sick Nazi orgy.' He told Lord Leveson that it was now accepted that there was absolutely no Nazi theme to the 'party' and this had been deliberately introduced by the newspaper. He also said the wide coverage in newspapers and on the internet had contributed to the death of his son, who suffered depression, from an accidental drugs overdose.
Referring to criticism of legal rulings by the Daily Mail editor, he declared: 'The point is it's not up to me to go into his bedroom and film him and then write about it. It's his business, and equally if somebody has got a slightly unusual sex life exactly the same then applies.
'I think the law is very clear and I think it's quite right, that if it's private, it's adults and it's consensual, then it concerns nobody else. The moment you go into that area where you say I don't really like what you're doing - lots of people do things I don't like sexually - it's not up to me to tell them not to. All I can object to and can say is, 'Please, don't do it in front of me, please make sure everybody consents' - and that's an end of the matter.
'It's a completely old-fashioned idea. It dates from the days when, for example, I was young where it was illegal to be gay, and all sorts of sexual activities which some people find quite normal - I might not - were actual criminal offences even between a man and a woman, and all that's been changed, the world has moved on. The only person who hasn't moved on is Mr Dacre.'
Guardian. Yes, both in a report and a sketch.
Mail Online: Full coverage of Mosley's evidence except these quotes.
Star: Reported Mosley's evidence as 'He said tabloid newspapers had an 'outdated' view of morality', removing the emphasis from Paul Dacre.