THE MIRROR RUMBLED
The Daily Mirror has been caught trying to place a journalist in a salaried job at Tory Party HQ. It seems that the paper's Emily Miller got close to gaining a job at the heart of the Conservatives' organisation but was rumbled during the reference-checking process, in part because officials checked the IP address on the machine that she used to mail her application and found it was a Mirror computer (who knew Tories were so computer-literate?).
If Ms Miller had been offered the job she would have been privy to all sorts of Tory party secrets and could have provided a stream of scoops to the Mirror (in practice, I suspect that, in a small organisation like Tory HQ, the source of the leaks would have been rapidly identified).
Anyway, much outrage from the Tories. Iain Dale, who broke the story, believes the party should break off diplomatic relations with the paper, while some of his commenters go further and, even allowing for party bias, clearly think this goes beyond the pale. On the other hand, libertarian Tory blogger Guido Fawkes thinks the Mirror's stunt was fair game.
One Iain Dale commenter remarks "imagine if BP did this to shell " - and clearly, if they did, it would be regarded as a highly serious case of industrial espionage.
So is the Mirror case any different? The paper would undoubtedly argue that what they have done is legitimate journalistic enterprise and point to other cases in which journalists have gone undercover to get stories.
I find myself rather torn on all this. It's good to see a tabloid newspaper investing time and ingenuity in trying to get serious political stories, rather than tales about celebrities and Big Brother contestants.
However, the question the Mirror will face is 'what is the public interest in the subterfuge?' - particularly if the journalist is shown to have broken the law (it can be a criminal offence to get a job by lying materially on your cv, for example). Was the paper trying to expose wrongdoing or bring to light some buried scandal that could not be exposed through any other means? So if the Mirror could say, for example, that it was on the track of a story about high-level political corruption, it may be able to claim public interest. If, on the other hand, it was simply on a fishing expedition for stories that might embarrass the Tories, it won't have that defence.
The closest recent parallel that I can think of is the case of the Cabinet Office, Claire Newell and the Sunday Times, which seems to have tailed off without a prosecution or an investigation by the Press Complaints Commission. Though there seems to have been no sanction applied in that case, it doesn't mean that what went on was legitimate. Organisations often think it is better to let these stories die naturally, rather than keep them alive through official complaints. Who knows what the Tories will do in this case, but if they do complain to the PCC, the Mirror may have a difficult job defending itself.
UPDATE In Media Guardian, Roy Greenslade, a former Mirror editor, takes a dim view of his old paper's antics. As he points out, it is the second time in a month that a Mirror stunt has been exposed. Perhaps Mirror journalists need a refresher course in investigative journalism?