Hypocrisy of media luvvies and FT reporter who turned his paper pink with shame
LAST Friday afternoon at 5.08pm, the Financial Times journalist Mark Di Stefano sent a brief valedictory message to his 118,000 followers on Twitter. ‘hi, letting everyone know today was my last day at the FT,’ wrote Di Stefano, until then the paper’s media correspondent. ‘This afternoon I offered my resignation. Thank you everyone who has given support. I’m now going to take some time away and log off x.’
As he disappeared into digital exile, a flurry of tweets from the great and good at the BBC and the Guardian, as well as hard-Left activists and even a Press reform campaigner, expressed sympathy and support for him. But by so doing, they turned what had been a scandal about one man’s ethical failings into a wider debate on the double standards of some in the liberal media.
It was widely believed that Di Stefano, who had already been suspended by the FT pending an internal inquiry, was allowed by his bosses to jump before he was pushed.
his offence — probably a criminal one, at that — was to have hacked into private meetings that took place on the Zoom digital platform last month.
The meetings were instigated by senior executives at the Independent and the evening Standard to tell their staff about salary cuts and furloughing to be imposed because of Covid-19.
The employees learnt the bad news unaware that a journalist from a rival news organisation was electronically eavesdropping on them to get a scoop.
The Di Stefano affair is a huge embarrassment for the FT, which, after some considerable delay, eventually apologised publicly to the victims of its staffer’s hacking attack.
The financial world’s media platform of record, the FT has long and sometimes loudly prided itself on its journalistic ethics.
But parallels with the shameful and criminal News of the World phone-hacking scandal of almost a decade ago are all too obvious. Indeed, Di Stefano — an Australian with left-ofcentre views — seems to have employed a similar modus operandi to the criminal cadre at the now defunct Sunday tabloid.
News of the World hackers took advantage of celebrities, crime victims and rival journalists who had failed to reset the original simple factory passwords for their phone voicemails. According to reports, the Zoom meeting Di Stefano hacked was not password-protected either.
Broken by journalists at the Guardian newspaper, the phonehacking scandal of 2011 led to the News of the World’s closure that summer. The surviving industry was rocked to its foundations.
The anti-Press pressure group hacked Off campaigned successfully for what became the Leveson Inquiry into newspaper ethics. The existing system of Press regulation was overhauled, though not to the satisfaction of hacked Off and its supporters.
Many of them — but not all — were on the Left, politically. The News of the World and other newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch supported the Conservatives.
There was an ideological aspect to the furore.
The reputation of the UK newspaper industry as a whole was seriously damaged by the criminal behaviour of a few at the News of the World. So how do we explain the reaction from some notable figures in the media to Di Stefano’s resignation tweet?
BBC Newsnight presenter emily Maitlis responded: ‘Sad to see this
Mark. hoping you’re ok x’. This prompted one of her own 261,000 Twitter followers to quip: ‘Next week emily tweets get well wishes to Kim Jong Un.’
Another message of sympathy for Di Stefano was sent by Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who has almost a million followers. ‘Best of Luck, Mark,’ he wrote.
Regular BBC Question Time panellist Ash Sarkar is contributing editor at the hard-Left digital news and comment platform Novara Media, which was one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most loyal media outlets. She tweeted to Di Stefano: ‘hope you’re alright, and good luck for everything that’s yet to come.’
This will have surprised any who recall a Novara editorial published in February 2018 which ripped into newspaper critics of Mr Corbyn and called for ‘Leveson 2’ — a further inquiry into Press ethics. It was written by Novara co-founder Aaron Bastani, who on Friday tweeted: ‘Sorry to read this Mark. We all make mistakes and I hope you come back stronger.’
Pippa Crerar, formerly of the Guardian and now political editor of the Daily Mirror, which has had to pay out huge sums to settle phone-hacking claims of its own, sent Di Stefano this cheery message: ‘Oh mate, sorry to hear of this, You’ll bounce back. Sending love x.’ (Ironically, Pippa Crerar also used to work at the evening Standard, one of the papers Di Stefano hacked into.)
Paul Lewis, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Money Box, went further in his support. Replying to the Di Stefano message, he tweeted: ‘Dreadful. You did your job as a journalist. Now you have been forced out.’ Other Twitter users asked Mr Lewis if he thought the law simply didn’t apply to journalists when they were ‘seeking truth’.
Di Stefano has powerful friends rooting for him in the digital world. Ben McOwen Wilson is managing director of the UK arm of the Google-owned video platform YouTube.
he tweeted ‘Best of luck Mark. I look forward to the next chapter.’
But perhaps the most unlikely goodwill message came from Peter Jukes, author of the phone-hacking exposé The Fall Of The house Of Murdoch and an early supporter of hacked Off. Mr Jukes is now a director of Byline, the media organisation funded by motorsport tycoon Max Mosley, who successfully sued the News of the World in a landmark privacy case when the paper exposed his participation in a sadomasochistic orgy.
Mr Jukes tweeted: ‘We’ve had many disagreements but I’m still sad to hear this, Mark. Be well.’
But not every BBC journalist was keen to comfort Di Stefano. Certainly the sympathy on his Twitter feed began to dry up when BBC investigative researcher hannah Bayman posted this bombshell.
‘Two years ago @MarkDiStef infiltrated a private chat of BBC women staff members — ordinary workers, not execs or editors — and published our conversations along with a string of inaccuracies,’ she tweeted. ‘Never called anyone to verify or give right to reply. It’s not journalism.’
The Mail tried to reach Di Stefano and Ms Bayman for further comment, without success. But in May 2018 Di Stefano had authored an exclusive report on ‘leaked messages’ from a WhatsApp group of female BBC employees, published by his then employer BuzzFeed.
The leaks concerned ‘heated discussions on the role of trans women’.
It may be that Ms Bayman’s tweet — retweeted a number of times — caused Mr Jukes to do an about-turn. On Saturday night he tweeted of his original message to Di Stefano: ‘For various reasons I retract this . . .’
Last night, a close friend of Di Stefano said: ‘Mark denies categorically that he illegally accessed a BBC WhatsApp group. he feels strongly the claims which hannah is making are unfounded, unfair and libellous of him.
‘he knew members of the group and they sent him screen shots of some of the comments which were being made in that group . . . he was merely using the information his sources supplied to him.’
DI STEFANO had only arrived at the FT in January. he had followed Janine Gibson, the FT’s associate editor, from Buzz Feed. She had previously been the Guardian’s deputy editor.
‘It [is] actually always about ethics in journalism,’ her protege had pontificated on Twitter on March 19 this year.
he was caught because his FT email address appeared on the log files for a Zoom meeting two weeks ago. The Independent reported that his name had appeared on a private video call to its journalists for 16 seconds before he left.
Di Stefano had then apparently managed to log in to the meeting using an anonymous device with the video function turned off. It is thought he infiltrated a similar meeting involving the evening Standard on April 1. Di Stefano broke news of the meetings on Twitter as they were taking place.
It is not clear whether he contravened the Misuse of Computers Act. expert legal advice has suggested he would struggle to mount a public interest defence.
In a statement issued after his resignation, the FT said: ‘Last week, the FT received a complaint from the Independent that a reporter had joined a staff conference call
without authorisation. Access details had been shared with him. The journalist in question has now resigned from the company.
‘The FT wishes to apologise to the Independent and the Evening Standard, which subsequently informed the FT that the same reporter had accessed a meeting it had held.’
A source at the FT yesterday cast doubt on speculation that Di Stefano would have been fired if he had not resigned. ‘Not in a million years,’ said the source. ‘He was Janine Gibson’s golden boy.’
Unlike most national newspapers, the FT has a system of self-regulation.
The word ‘karma’ appears repeatedly on Di Stefano’s moribund Twitter feed.
A fellow Australian journalist with whom he had crossed swords tweeted: ‘Hope you learn from this. You’ve orchestrated campaigns against many people, including myself, in the past. You’ve encouraged pile-ons and a cancel culture against anyone you consider ‘conservative leaning’. And what of his Twitter apologists?
As another tweeter suggested: ‘Conclusion from [their] replies on this thread: hacking not so bad if done by someone I like.’
Supportive: Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, left, and Left-winger Ash Sarkar tweeted sympathy for Di Stefano
Caught out: Mark Di Stefano accessed staff Zoom calls