If you are a journalist at a party and you hear someone say something unpleasant or shocking about a person, people, or a country, should you then quote that person in your next report or column, even if what was said was spoken in private? In Barbara Amiel’s view, one must.
Not so long ago, Amiel, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and married to that paper’s proprietor, Conrad Black (who is about to launch the New York Sun), gave a party at her London house. As she wrote in her column this Monday: “Recently, the ambassador of a major EU country politely told a gathering at my home that the current troubles in the world were all because of ‘that shitty little country Israel.’ ‘Why,’ he asked, ‘should the world be in danger of World War Three because of those people?’ At a private lunch last month, the hostess—doyenne of London’s political salon scene—made a remark to the effect that she couldn’t stand Jews and everything happening to them was their own fault.”
Since the column’s appearance, the ambassador in question has been identified as France’s representative to the United Kingdom, Daniel Bernard. The name of the socialite is uncertain, although the words of any socialite tend to matter less than those of an ambassador. How could Bernard counter Amiel’s allegations? As the Independent reports, he blamed his English. As Sholto Byrneswrites: “While conceding that his grasp of English may have let him down, Mr Bernard said he was ‘appalled’ that his words had reached the public domain. He denied making the remarks as reported, although he accepted he had made a ‘geographical point’ about the size of Israel.”