Telegraph apologises for false slurs on Huhne and offensive Cristina Odone article

by Stephen Tall on January 21, 2012

The Daily Telegraph has been forced into a humiliating climbdown after making what it now admits were false claims about Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

The paper had splashed on allegations that it was Huhne who had leaked the letter from Michael Gove suggesting taxpayers might make a gift of a new royal yacht to the Queen in order to embarrass the education secretary. It’s unclear what evidence the paper had, if any, because Huhne’s involvement was swiftly denied by the Guardian journalist responsible for exposing Mr Gove’s, erm, politically courageous proposal. Perhaps, perish the thought, they just took a punt and hoped it would turn out to be true.

In any case, the paper has now been forced to correct the record:

Chris Huhne MP – Apology
10:00PM GMT 20 Jan 2012
We reported on 17th and 18th January (“Huhne accused of leaking letter about new royal yacht”; and “All the malice of Machiavelli – but sadly none of his skill”) that Chris Huhne MP had leaked a letter about the new royal yacht to journalists in an attempt to discredit colleagues. We now accept that this is wrong, and apologise to Mr Huhne for any embarrassment caused. We particularly regret the offence caused by Cristina Odone’s article.”

Ah yes, Cristina Odone’s article… The Telegraph has now pulled it from their website, but the sub-heading gives the flavour of its unpleasant tone: “He’s smeared his colleagues and betrayed his wife. Are there any redeeming features to the Lib Dem MP, asks Cristina Odone.” Variations on this theme are then repeated for a few hundred words.

I challenged her about the piece on Twitter when I first saw it. To her credit, she did respond. Slightly less to her credit, she saw nothing amiss in what she’d written:

Now Chris Huhne certainly has his difficulties at the moment, so the press probably sees him as an easy target. But maybe they could focus on his policies in the future, and leave the false claims and pungent moralising to one side?