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This column has been simmering in my head for the last couple of days. More than the content of the column itself, I was wondering whether the functional imperative outweighs the potential fallout.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the imperative does, in fact, outweigh the fallout, mainly because some things need to be said and there are only so many people who would even dare. Besides, this website was set up with the express purpose of reporting and exposing with no fear or favour, and that is what I will keep doing.

Given that I happen to be beyond the stage in which I can afford to waste time being nice to hacks, I’ve decided to dedicate this space to explaining why I think it is beyond shameful that the mainstream media outlets of this country are peddling the Labour Party’s biggest lie: the idea that disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat can be quoted and referred to as if he weren’t a corrupt rat who deserves to rot in jail.

I was not at my desk when the Times of Malta published its wannabe big Sunday scoop story about having seen a Labour Party poll that “suggests a 40,000 gap victory if Joseph Muscat runs for MEP”. I was, however, slamming my head against said desk when I saw it properly the following morning.

The story claims that, according to this internal poll which the Times says it saw – whether in actual fact or through some mystical act of scrying is left entirely up to your imagination – at least 20,000 Labour voters who said they would abstain or are otherwise not sure whether they are going to vote or not would vote again if Muscat were on the list, and that many of them would be voting for him specifically. Eight out every 10 Labour voters would do so, apparently.

The bit about how exactly the Times managed to obtain such privileged access to a party that is notoriously paranoid about the press is intentionally obscured. We do not know who is responsible for the leak, and more importantly – given the context – why the information was leaked.

While I would not consider this to be abnormal if this was a whistleblower situation and the source’s anonymity was paramount to their safety, in this case, we are talking about the Labour Party. We are not talking about a bad act coming to light, but about an article that presents a dubious premise and strengthens the hand of the most corrupt prime minister we’ve ever had.

Needless to say, the Labour Party’s internal poll was conducted by Vince Marmara’, who the Times presents as a leading statistician and pollster and not as someone who made over a million euros in direct orders and lucrative government contracts since the Labour Party came to power. The story – quoting another Marmara’ survey without attributing any other information to any other sources – says that without Muscat, the Labour Party is set to win the election with a majority of around 27,000 votes.

Like a bunch of silly schoolboys getting giddy from talking about who the best football player ever is, the story then dedicates a whole sub-header to how Muscat – again, based entirely on Marmara’s seemingly incessant polling – might potentially exceed the vote count of all other MEP candidates to ever contest an election on behalf of Malta. Then, we get some gossip from “senior party sources” and “insiders” who poured cold water over the idea that Muscat might finally stop being a cock-tease and just get on with it already. The latest update seems to be that he’s going to tease them a bit more while prime minister Robert Abela, as desperate as ever, sits on it.

“Political parties are known to regularly carry out internal polls to keep tabs on ongoing voter trends. Although the polls generally remain unpublished, they often predict voter intentions with remarkable accuracy,” the story continues, assuring us that all is well and that there is nothing potentially untoward or perhaps even deliberately misleading about a poll which features a disgraced former prime minister as its centre piece.

Of course, even the context is entirely misleading – it amounts to an allusion to the pathetic fawning on social media from rabid Muscat supporters (as if engineered elation on social media somehow cancels out the decade’s worth of propaganda that has decimated the fabric of truth itself), a reference to another badly framed article about how prime minister Robert Abela’s Cabinet whispered their secretive fantasies about Muscat’s return to the party, and finally, three sentences which are so short on context one would think it’s become as rare as a precious metal these days:

“Muscat’s return would extend Labour’s streak of landslide victories. But political observers are aware his return could also land the PL in hot water, as an impending magisterial inquiry over the hospitals’ scandal could lead to criminal action against the former prime minister.

Despite the evident political benefits of his candidature, both Abela and Muscat are not yet convinced it would be the best way forward for the party, the sources said.”

The fundamental flaw of this entire story is that the Times chose to run it to begin with, because making that call means you are also assuming that the source of your information – which, in this case, has to be someone within the Labour Party – is a credible, trustworthy source of information whose agenda more or less aligns with public interest. Anything outside of that frame of thought is not journalism. It’s political hearsay dressed up as a scoop.

The lack of adequate context is extremely alarming. Buried in the seventh paragraph lies the only direct reference to Muscat’s disgraced legacy: “the former prime minister resigned in disgrace in 2020 in the wake of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder revelations and has been dogged with claims of corruption since.”

There are no specific references to major corruption investigations linked to Muscat and the mountains of evidence that were unearthed and/or remain in the process of being unearthed, not even any references to the Times’ own investigations about Muscat’s dealings with SpringX Media or Organicum, to name two of the best ones they published.

At best, we only get a vague reference to potential criminal action against Muscat following the conclusion of the magisterial inquiry which is looking into the hospitals concession scandal, and this when quoting unnamed “political observers” in those awful three sentences at the bottom of the story.

Another practice which clearly needs to be brought to a halt is the idea that ministers who form part of the most corrupt administration that has ever governed this country can be given the luxury of providing comments off the record, especially when they are specifically stating that they would publicly support Muscat should he decide to throw his hat in the ring.

The fact is that if a Cabinet member somehow hit their head, forgot who they were talking to, and suddenly decided to speak to me anonymously about what they think about someone like Joseph Muscat, the first thing I would tell them is that they have some nerve to even think of talking to the press in that manner while sitting in one of the highest offices of the country.

Anonymity should be reserved for disenfranchised people whose lives or livelihoods would be immediately placed at risk after they choose to share information that is in the public interest. While a member of a corrupt Cabinet would, if you squint really hard after your fourth tequila shot, fall under that category, the reality of it is that the privilege of anonymity does not extend to anyone. A civil servant who must hide from their micromanaging, politically appointed superior would be plausible. A whistleblower from a private company would be plausible.

A Cabinet member whose sole job is to fulfill an electoral mandate and is endowed with a budget, several authorities and departments, administrative and technical staff, access to practically every platform in the country, and a base of supporters to boot? That is not someone who deserves the cover of anonymity. That is someone who should be using their social standing and direct access to power to speak openly and frankly, even more so if all they are doing is spew garbage about how much of a great hero Muscat is and asking out loud whether he will please come back.

After all, if they believe so much in their wayward idol, then how come they are not saying so openly? Is it perhaps because they are aware that there is a significant chunk of the country which would absolutely eat them alive if they even as much as dared defend Muscat in public?

Of course, never ones to miss anything which might draw in clicks, MaltaToday and Lovin Malta, along with other smaller outlets, followed up on the Times of Malta report verbatim, which is why I am making it a point to hammer the Times more than anyone else. Since it is the biggest news outlet in the country, its monumental disservice to its own readers whenever something like this is published becomes amplified by the other publications who want to get in on the action.

Perhaps out of a sense of longing for the gaslighting of days gone by, Muscat capitalised on the garbage wagon created by the Times’ report by telling his handbag, Emanuel Cuschieri, to spin Michelle Muscat’s deliberately vague statement about The Great Joseph’s return into the equivalent of a test post. Anyone who thinks Cuschieri simply jumped the gun and got it wrong does not understand Muscat’s penchant for stagecraft – this is all standard playbook material, and nothing we’ve not seen before.

If there is one thing Muscat learned about in his career besides the basics of money laundering and corruption, it is most certainly how to use press coverage to hype up or otherwise deflate a situation as is needed.

It is high time that our esteemed colleagues at the Times, along with anyone else trundling along on this abysmal train ride that is headed nowhere, make the call to quit enabling Muscat’s power fantasies and to refer to him as the disgraceful scum that he is. As for any journalists who are thinking of doing any similar stories in the future, remember that there is no juicy tidbit in the world that is worth sacrificing quality journalism for.

On the contrary, quality journalism will expose you to hatred, to anger, to threats ranging from the physical to the legal to the psychological, to being openly targeted by the same individuals you are exposing to begin with.

Anyone dangling a carrot in front of your eyes is simply trying to lead you head first into a wall.

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