The career of the Sun reporter and so-called “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood looks to be in tatters, after a judge ruled that he seems to have lied under oath in the trial of musician Tulisa Contostavlos.
Mahmood has a made a career out of entrapping celebrities in sting operations, and claims to have been responsible for stories that have seen hundreds of people imprisoned.
There can be genuine public interest in undercover sting operations. Arms trading, corrupt politicians, human trafficking — all can reasonably be justified in the public interest.
But there was neither public interest, nor journalistic merit, in the set-up of Tulisa Contostavlos. Mahmood encouraged her to set up a £800 cocaine deal between himself a friend of the former X-Factor judge.
The Sun then ran a serious of front-page splashes, exhaustive centre-page coverage, and an online video, about Contostavlos having been “sensationally arrested… after an undercover operation by the Sun.”
The case parallels that of one-time television actor John Alford, whose career was wrecked by Mahmood in 1997 in very similar circumstances when he was aged just 25.
In the case of Contostavlos, who says she contemplated suicide after the sting, it is accompanied by no small amount of old-fashioned class hatred.
Marina Hyde of the Guardian compiled the following: ‘“Tulisa really is a chav in a tracksuit as she goes to Tesco for late-night shopping,” observes the Daily Mail on one occasion. “You look like council estate Barbie,” runs another Daily Mail offering, adding that “Tulisa shows uncanny resemblance to Little Britain chav Vicky Pollard”. Then we’ve “X Factor judge Tulisa Contastavlos shows off her ‘chav’ fashion style” in the Sun, and “Tulisa reveals chavvy tattoo in skimpy bikini” in the Mirror.”‘
Since when was it news that famous people have access to class A drugs? Indeed, entrap a random twenty-something on the street and the odds of a successful “undercover operation” are pretty high.
This is hardly the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein, and the Watergate break-in — it’s easy, unimaginative and hypocritical moralism from the likes of Murdoch’s Sun.
No, such cruel sting operations represent the slow death of British tabloid journalism, fighting the circulation wars like rats in a sack.
This deliberate humiliation of young and often women celebrities to manufacture mass media spectacles cheapens journalism and demeans public life.
Good riddance to the “fake sheikh”.