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Monday, July 19, 2004

So farewell then Paul Foot (as they would say in Private Eye)

One of the most high-profile investigative journalists in Britain died of a heart attack age 66.  In his favour, he showed just how to do high quality investigative journalism. His principled departure from the Mirror, which in its heyday combined quality coverage and a popular touch, was evidence of this. He certainly looked ashen-faced the day I met him in the lobby of Maxwell’s redtop back in 1990. He probably sensed he was losing his audience, to be replaced with tabloid trivia.
Yet he was also prone to the moralism and economism of the British left.  A Question Time appearance during the 1992 general election saw him go all self-righteous when told by a Tory that people in Eastern Europe had rejected his creed. ‘I don’t care if I am the last socialist in the world’ he harrumphed.  It would have been better to point to the capitalist economic crisis that did for the Tories within months of them winning the election.  At other times he was plain wrong, like his take on the '36 Counties' situation in Ireland: Why Britain Must Get Out.  A decade later he was hoodwinked by the Hear the Silence docudrama, in which anti-MMR campaigners got to play the underdog in their battle with safe vaccinations.  
The thoroughness of some of Foot’s investigative campaigning is a useful example to us all, particularly as an antidote to the endless pedantic ‘fisking’ going on on-line.  Yet it was precisely when he dropped the thoroughness and let the moralising take over that the limits of this sort of journalism – and politics – became apparent. 


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