Around five years ago I interviewed Jimmy Savile about his visits to the Haut de la Garenne care home in Jersey during a time children were being raped and tortured by a range of respected pillars of the community.
At first he said he’d never been there. When I showed him a picture of him outside with some of the children, he said he may have visited once, but couldn’t be expected to remember ever children’s home he’d visited over the last 50 years.
When prompted further he did remember judging a fete in Jersey several times in the ’70s. As there was a picture of him there – shirtless and surrounded by kids – as a coaster on his coffee table, I was glad remembered that at least.
Afterwards he spent an hour preaching to me about the morality of the press and what he’d learned as a columnist for the Sunday People. He also recounted the story of a newspaper reporter who’d quit because his editor had made him write nasty things about him.
I didn’t quit. Not then anyway. Instead, I went home, filed the story and pictures and waited for it to be spiked.
Inevitably it was, because the lawyers said by claiming he visited while kids were being abused we were inferring he was a paedophile. Which of course we were, but couldn’t prove.
Now Jimmy Savile is dead no one has to worry about proof anymore. The story has since appeared in the Daily Mail and the picture cropped up in The Sun around the same time as my interview – both without any comment from him.
All allegations against him are treated as fact. In this picture it looks like he is making a grab for my boobs. He didn’t, but I could insist he did and put a claim in against his estate.
Yesterday morning I was invited by BBC Radio Tees to talk about whether “post Jimmy”, we are in the midst of a moral panic in which no man in the media is safe from being accused of being a sexual predator.
The term moral panic was used by the sociologist Stanley Cohen in reference to media coverage and public reaction to The Mods and Rockers in the ’60s. He described how certain groups of people are made ‘Folk Devils’ by the media and used as the embodiment of something which challenges society’s values.
Sometimes moral panics can have very horrific consequences such as in Germany in the 1930s. My students find it hard to believe that as recently as 1988 the Daily Star called for AIDs victims to be segregated from the rest of society.
Jimmy Savile is the latest face in a moral panic around paedophilia which has simmered for the last 13 years since Rebekah Brook’s (then Wade) infamous name and shame campaign.
But in the wake of this unfettered reporting – enabled by the fact he’s dead and can’t sue – a lot of men in the public are being accused of being like him and that accusation is enough for the public to associate them with the worst of Savile’s actions.
To apply Cohen’s argument, men in the public eye are becoming Folk Devils for paedophilia, and once an accusation is made they are condemned long before it reaches trial.
During the BBC interview I was also asked whether I feel I’m the victim of a moral panic following my arrested and quick exoneration as part of Operation Weeting.
While it was a pretty awful experience, I don’t feel I can whine too much about it. The irony of a bunch of tabloid hacks being caught up in a moral panic isn’t lost on me.
But although the News of the World has become shorthand for the worst of press behaviour, thinking every reporter who worked on it acted illegally is as ludicrous as thinking every BBC radio DJ or TV presenter is a paedophile.
The shame is that despite having a taste of what it is like to be on the receiving end, the tabloid press don’t seem to have changed their behaviour at all.