Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Hugh Grant, the News of the World scandal, and tabloid scum

The only time I’ve ever been approached to take part in a criminal conspiracy was by a Sunday tabloid hack. It happened over three decades ago. He’d done a photo item about a rather dubious “gentleman’s” magazine the publisher I was working for was launching.
After the story appeared, the “reporter” invited me out for lunch at a local wine bar (I was a bit surprised, given that publicity folk normally pick up the tab). After we’d got through our portions of game pie and a bottle of red, he suggested, smirking all the while, that we got together regularly for lunch, paid for it in turn, and then both submitted expenses claims for the lunches we hadn’t paid for. I seem to remember he’d figured out a way of getting restaurants to dish out two copies of the bill – and most things were paid for in cash back then, so the transaction would have been untraceable.

From the practiced way he made the proposal, I assumed he had this sort of arrangement with a number of public relations people. A nice little earner. I presume he thought I’d be up for it because I was working for a publisher who had just entered the sleazy world of soft-porn and therefore had to be a sleazeball myself.

Flesh crawling, I made my excuses and left.

Up to that point, I’d only dealt with literary editors – ever paper had one back then – and there had never been a scintilla of an iota of a hint of anything underhand: they were all, de haut en bas, nice, educated chaps, with whom I spent many an afternoon guzzling, quaffing and chatting. (To such an extent that I piled on three stone in weight over an 18-month period.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that defrauding your employer by submitting false expenses claims is on a par with, allegedly, hacking into the phone of a missing girl and, by deleting some of the texts, giving her parents false hope that their daughter might still be alive. Anyone guilty of the first crime deserves to be dismissed by their employer, and, possibly, receive a short custodial sentence, whereas the perpetrator of the second evidently deserves to spend an extremely long time in a very unpleasant prison surrounded by large, violent men with catholic sexual proclivities

Call me prejudiced, but ever since that lunch, nothing I’ve ever heard about what the people who work in the world of tabloid papers get up to has surprised me in the least. They appear to inhabit a different moral universe from the rest of us – and it’s a particularly disgusting one. (Sorry to come over all high-handed, but really!

I used to have to read these rags when I was with BBC News, but I’m not sure I’ve so much as glanced at one in 14 years, apart from the innocuous give-away celebrity-fests you find on the tube. I realise these papers aren’t exactly aimed at me, and I have no problem with the fact that millions of Britons read them: I’m just delighted I don’t have to. (This isn’t simple snobbery, by the way - it’s also a  source of joy that I don’t have to soil my mind with the Independent, the Guardian and the New Statesman.)

When it comes to disgusting, though, I also have to mention Hugh Grant, who’s gleefully jumped all over this case to support his own campaign against the intrusion of the press into the private lives of the rich and famous.

Not a classy move. There’s a world of difference between torturing the parents of a missing child and trying to find out what a world-famous actor who was once arrested for paying a prostitute to perform a sexual act on him in a car in a public place is getting up to these days. 


  1. Fascinating stuff, DM. This makes Ed Miliband’s moralistic trumpetings seem a trifle opportunistic. Former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson was looking decidedly shifty on the BBC tonight when Andrew Neil asked him why he hadn’t done anything about it during his tenure – because Gordy was scared of upsetting that nice Mr Murdoch? Arch-creep Max Clifford, who says he has been interviewed by the police on this subject many times over the past nine months, was also making the point that their investigation seemed wholly focussed on the News of the World, no matter what Plod was being told about other newspapers. Like the parliamentary expenses scandal, this one really will run and run.

    Oddly, I found myself feeling sorry for current news of the World journos who’ll be collecting their P45s just to keep Rebecca Brooks in a job. Their paper is certainly disgusting, but, given the vast majority of them haven’t had anything to do with this scandal, it seems extraordinarily harsh. Let’s hope they’re swiftly re-employed when plans to launch the Sun on Sunday are announced.
    Friday, July 8, 2011 - 01:06 AM

  2. " Former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson was looking decidedly shifty ..."

    He was looking shifty, wasn't he. When Neil asked him the first time about the Commissioner's 2006 report(s), Johnson immediately started talking about 2009. Neil brought him back to 2006, and Johnson said, roughly, I paraphrase, "we didn't do anything then because there was no Milly Dowler-type case to make us understand what this journalistic misbehaviour meant". Oh dear.

    Neil and Clifford both touched on the ethics of journalists working for other papers than the NotW, but mentioned no names, no Mail, no Mirror, no People, ... With those two, I assume that was a deliberate omission.
    Friday, July 8, 2011 - 01:39 AM

  3. On the periphery of this affair, there is the sad case of that great British thespian, Ross Kemp ["Grant Mitchell", "Henno" and self-appointed macho-man]. When he was married to Rebekah Brooks she decided to beat him up one night and Inspector Knacker and his Husband-Beating Squad had to be summoned. His acting career seems to have ground to a halt and he is reduced to fronting programmes about gang war-fare on obscure satellite channels. Mrs Brooks is a very frightening women and I hope "Lupert" is keping his wits about him.
    Friday, July 8, 2011 - 11:20 AM

  4. This is extraordinary. The Spectator has just landed on the doormat. And do you know what? According to Peter Oborne on pp.14-15 "A 2006 report by the Information Commissioner gave a snapshot into the affairs of ... The Commissioner's report found that 305 journalists ...". Who'd a' thought it?

    Where will it all end? According to Toby Young on p.66 "Without its tabloid newspapers, Britain would be France".

    Will the farce be French? Must we wait for the various enquiries to report? No, says Donnacha Delong in the Guardian*, all we have to do is make News International recognise the NUJ. Nostalgic? You bet. What adjective does Mr DeLong use to describe the Press Complaints Commission? One guess. Yes ... that's right -- "lick-spittle".


    * http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/08/nuj-news-of-the-world
    Friday, July 8, 2011 - 01:21 PM