Wednesday, 8 February 2017

BeckhamGate: Private Emails Are Private Regardless How Juicy the Story


Earlier this week Donald Trump was rightly criticised for an interview he gave to Fox News prior to the Super Bowl in which he admitted that Vladimir Putin (Vlad the Botoxed) is a killer. But, said Trump, America does plenty of bad things too. It's an offensively bovine remark even for the foot in the mouth president. There are few countries that are as pure as the driven snow, but the US does have the small matter of an independent judiciary, a separate legislature and a constitution rightly admired around the world. It does not have critics poisoned or murdered in broad daylight and in foreign capitals. Last week Russia even poisoned one persistent critic and opponent for a second time.

This kind of but-what-about defending of the indefensible is something however that is not entirely confined to the egregious Mr Trump and Russia.

This week we have seen the story of David Beckham's emails. These were stolen from a server in Portugal. I say again with emphasis: these private emails were stolen. The Daily Mail, which has a special kind of line in pious hypocrisy, routinely starts stories about this issue insisting that it abhors the theft of Beckham's private emails. But, it says, before then going to town on them in full sanctimonious outrage mode. We abhor this theft, they say, but isn't what is revealed in them juicy. The Mail has set aside its principles and written article after article about them for days since.

Now I hold no particular sympathy nor animus for David Beckham. He was a better than average if not excessively talented footballer, albeit one with a prodigious ability to pass the ball.  He also, more importantly for his brand, happened to be terribly handsome. Then, just to make him into the superstar he is today, he had the good sense or fortune to fall for a pop star with every bit as much of a talent as he for self promotion. In truth both have always been greater at that self promotion than they ever were in their chosen professions. But we live in a world in which such talent frequently prospers. One such 'talent' after all has recently been elected to be President of the United States.

Thus it should come as no great shock to us all that Beckham is not the paragon of selfless virtue he has sometimes been portrayed as. He is a stupefyingly wealthy man and can afford very very good PR advice and management. He has created an image of himself as a kind of secular saint. In truth what very wealthy man or woman does not seek to portray themselves in this way? But do we really believe that all of this great show of humility and charity work was simply so that St Dave could get himself a knighthood?

Because here is the thing: there is no such thing as a truly selfless act. There is no such thing as pure altruism. We all know that surely? So why the surprise that Beckham's charity work is not wholly selfless? Whose charity or voluntary work is completely selfless? If you put it on your CV or mention it to that nice looking girl you meet at a party then your motivations are mixed if still laudable. Even if all you get from working in a soup kitchen is the feeling of satisfaction then your work is not entirely selfless.

But this is not to say that Beckham's isn't mostly selfless. I genuinely believe that it is. I genuinely believe that he knows how lucky he has been and wants to give something back. If he also enhances his brand as a nice guy, gets a few more lucrative contracts wearing pants and lusts after a knighthood then so what? Knighthoods have been handed out to much less deserving people, not least when David Cameron resigned.

I have not troubled myself to read all of the stories about the emails of Beckham. I have no idea how true a portrait they paint of a man who is undoubtedly vain and rewarded excessively given his talent or the lack thereof. Yet few of us would emerge well if our private communications were read by the outside world. Imagine if our phone calls could be listened in to as well as our emails read. Imagine if our private pictures stored on our smart phones were accessed, if our communications addressed to one person were read by those who were the subject of them. We've all done it. We've all written an email in anger and regretted it later.

This is why nobody has the right to read private communications. This is because they are private. The Mail even criticises Beckham for attempting to stop the story with a court injunction. Well good for him. That is the very sort of issue that should be protected because there is a reasonable expectation that private communications should stay private and not be stolen. The Mail does not applaud him for the principled decision to not pay the ransom demanded by the hijackers, even though the price to his good name may well be far higher than the £1 million demanded.

Ultimately this is a matter of principle and David Beckham ought not to be traduced in this way. This is the case whether or not the picture of him that has been told this week is 100% accurate, which is extremely unlikely. These were private communications and that ought to be an end to it.

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