The Sun is certainly out to get its former friend Gordon Brown, to the extent that it has published a deeply awkward private telephone conversation between the Prime Minister and a war widow. But however nasty the motives, it was a valid journalistic exercise.
As I understand it the Sun says that she made the recording on her own initiative and then handed it to them. So I am with former tabloid editor and now journalism professor, Roy Greenslade on this one. It might be a vicious and political campaign by the Sun, and it might be that other media should not give it so much space, but it is valid journalism.
I supported the Huffington Post when they used the off the record tapings of Obama and Bill Clinton during the Presidential election campaign. I can imagine the Guardian using a similar tape in a year’s time if it was David Cameron. When I worked at ITN, Channel 4 News was very happy to back the personal campaign of Iraq war widow Samantha Roberts.
There’s also a history of politicians/parties who think that they can use personal case studies (remember Jennifer’s Ear?) and they can backfire. It could also backfire to an degree on the Sun in the sense that a lot of people will think them despicable for exploiting this woman’s grief. But then does anyone buy the Sun because they think it is morally pure?
What it does remind us, is that, as I have written, at the next election there is an army of citizen paparazzi out there waiting to catch politicians out. Politics used to be a war between the competing armies of political parties and the press. Now it is an asymmetric guerrilla conflict fought on the streets by civilians as well as professional combatants.