A man with the looks, voice and charm of Roland Rat proudly presented himself as the face of the gutter press this week, explaining that he was a dedicated seeker after truth and justice, someone who had tried to hold power to account.
That was Paul McMullan’s self-appraisal.
An alternative opinion might be that Mr McMullan was sleaze made flesh, amorality personified, ethics denied, a foot soldier in a semi-criminal press underworld.
These are opposing interpretations. You pays your money and you makes your choice, at any point in between.
One can only imagine which view he triggered in the panic-stricken offices of tabloid editors.
It was a defining moment for the Leveson inquiry and, perhaps, for our industry. Here Lord Leveson saw his challenge encapsulated in one person. How do you deal with journalists who hold a different view of right and wrong, of compliance with the law and of the exercise of compassion?
On Tuesday we saw the best and the worst of journalism cohabiting at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The inquiry has started to resemble in part a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Hearing.
In the morning a leather-jacketed Nick Davies delivered a masterclass in the kind of admirable investigative journalism which has led to the present proceedings. He followed Richard Peppiatt, one-time Daily Star reporter who had switched sides and now wished to apologise to people he had once written about.
Then, after lunch, it was the turn of Mr McMullan.
If Davies were to be cast as the revolutionary hero, Peppiatt as the brave hack struggling with his conscience, then McMullan would be the secret policeman.
The nation has to thank him for his candour. In his position most of us would have dissembled, ducked and dived. In fact he leapt ahead of the questions, so eager was he to follow his professional instincts and give us revelation, sensation and headlines
As a former deputy features editor of the News of the World, he offered insights into the editorial initiatives which had ended with the paper’s demise. Although it has gone, its culture, ethics and practices may have been embedded elsewhere.
He testified for two hours. Here’s some extracts from his evidence as he discussed the 300 articles he had written, without once losing a libel case.
Anti-paedophile campaign: ‘I’d written something and created a riot and got a paediatrician beaten up. You like to do something that has impact.’
Editorial selection: ‘This is what the people of Britain want. I was simply serving their needs...the judge and jury are the readership.’
Phone hacking: ‘Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifice we (journalists) have to make to get to the truth.’
Milly Dowler: ‘...The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was not a bad thing for a journalist to do...(it was) a well-meaning journalist on their side looking for Milly, and how annoying it must be for Pc Plod. Our intentions were honourable."
Ends and means: ‘Most of us would have done what was required to get a story. You don’t just go to a paedo priest and say, “Are you a priest because you like abusing choirboys?”...Any means is fine by me if the target is worth it. The end justifies the means. Kelvin MacKenzie said that if you didn’t get caught you got the Pulitzer, if you get caught you go to prison.”’
Voicemail interception: ‘Not uncommon. (Judge warned him against self-incrimination.) I swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother for David Beckham’s. Once I rang up David Beckham and he answered (impersonated Beckham’s voice). I didn’t hack his phone in that instance.’
Editors awareness: ‘Yes. We did these things for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson...Andy Coulson brought that practice with him when he was appointed deputy editor.’
Brooks and Coulson: ‘They should have been the heroes of journalism but they’re the scum of journalism in that they dropped me and my colleagues in it. How dare they throw us to the wolves?...The little men - the reporters - were screwed big time by our bosses.’ David Cameron: Cameron had been ‘moulded’ by Brooks. ‘We have a future Prime Minister cosying up to the arch criminal.’
Editorial checks: ‘The first thing the editors asks is where you got the story from. Senior editors listened to messages.’
Other culprits: ‘Phone hacking was widespread across Fleet Street.’
Paparazzi: ‘They don’t give a hoot what you’re saying here. They just want to get pictures and send them back to Mexico.’
Subterfuge: ‘I used to pose as a drug taker, drug dealer or millionaire from Cambridge.’
Photo stealing (referring to a photo taken off a mantlepiece): ‘Rebekah Brooks said, “No, put it back, we’re not allowed to take stuff,” and Piers (Morgan, then NotW editor) said, “Who cares?” and we put it in the paper.’
Ripping off (two girls in a bubble bath, made a spread about a film actor): ‘One was foolish enough to tell me without signing a contract. We didn’t pay her. I got a £750 bonus, for ripping off the story.’
Car chases: ‘Twelve pool cars, switched around. Before Princess Diana died, it was such good fun.’ Claimed most celebrities enjoyed being pursued, that Sienna Miller and other complainants were the exceptions.
Dustbin rifling: ‘Yes.’
Privacy: ‘Privacy is the space bad people do bad things. Privacy is for paedos, privacy is evil and brings out hypocrisy.’
Expenses fiddles: ‘We were not well paid. I was on £60,000. So I claimed £15-20,000pa, of which £3000 was legit.’
Press Complaints Commission: ‘The glory days of the 90s when it was so much fun before Diana died... people do take notice and are reigned in.’
Jennifer Elliott, daughter of actor Denholm Elliott: Tipped off by a police officer, he found her begging. He also found needles and drug dealer notes in her bin. ‘I went too far for that story, someone crying out for help, not crying to meet the News of the World. I asked, “Would you have sex for £50?” and she went, “All right.” Was she a prostitute (as described in story)? It gets worse. I took her back to her flat and took a load of pictures of her topless. She was in the grip of addiction. I wanted to help her but I was driven to write the best story I could. When I heard she’d killed herself, I thought there’s one I regret - but there’s not many.’
The first week of evidence to Leveson was bad enough, especially that from the Dowlers and Kate and Gerry McCann. This week it got worse.
A dignified Christopher Jefferies described what it was like being the centre of a newspaper witchhunt after being wrongly arrested for the Joanna Yeates murder in Bristol.
He said: ‘I was effectively under house arrest and went from friends to friends - rather as if I were a recusant priest at the time of the Reformation I suppose, going from safe house to safe house.'
Ann Diamond said she’d been deliberately targeted by Murdoch newspapers because, she believed, she had dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch over some of his newspapers’ journalism.
Richard Peppiatt said that the Daily Star made up stories and that it had exploited race for commercial purposes...‘This will sell us more papers if we keep banging this drum.’
Of his own reporting of Matt Lucas’s partner’s suicide, he said: ‘I’d like to apologise to his family. I accept no one held a gun to my head. I feel very ashamed...the tabloids are only interested in what they can get away with.’
Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor to Tony Blair, summed up the wider impact of Leveson revelations.
He said: ‘Now the public know the truth, they are horrified and they are demanding Parliament does something about it.’
The inquiry is compelling in the way an internet suicide site might be compelling. For journalists and readers of Ranters, there is only despair.
It has a long way to run yet. Perhaps someone will yet offer hope.