The shameful sex scandals of the dirty tabloid editors (I hope)

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The Independent Culture
THIS HAS always been a world of semen and dresses. But it's only fairly recently, in the last 40 years or so, that - thanks to Kinsey, Shere Hite, education and feminism - we have learned that our semen and our dresses are not unique. Most people's sex lives are not conducted on tramlines from first kiss to last breath, via courtship and marriage; rather, the road is usually marked with erratic tyre tracks. And even where our actions are restrained or inhibited, our thoughts often are not.

If I were to pass judgement on someone else's sexuality, what would I first have to admit about my own? I am, I suppose, about 5 per cent gay. Or is it 10 per cent? The first person I ever fell in love with - at 18 - was a boy; the second was a girl who was herself gay. I have always fancied very bright women who have a short-haired, gamine appearance. Suspicious, eh? And there are one or two sexual episodes in my life (a long, long time ago) of which the public discovery would embarrass me immensely - although they wouldn't lead to prosecution.

That's probably as much (if not more) than you wanted to know about me. Not least, I suspect, because your story is only a variant of mine. And when Bill Clinton lied on TV, and to Paula Jones's lawyers, he wasn't actually doing very much that we haven't done, or contemplated doing, ourselves. The American people did not think that he had behaved well, originally, and if they had been electing a warden for a ladies college, he would not have got the job.

In some measure, though, they understood. But they weren't supposed to, were they? At each twist of the Lewinsky tale, the American journocracy predicted a popular uprising against the President. Pundits and columnists - Stateside and in Britain - played leap-frog over their own forecasts. The tide would turn with the Starr report, with the release of the Clinton videotape, with the mid-term Congressional elections. Some 120 American newspapers called upon Clinton to resign, or be resigned.

Well guys, I told you so. When the votes were counted last Thursday, despite millions of dollars being spent on last minute Zippergate advertising by Newt Gingrich and the Republicans, it was clear that the poor, silly voters had decided to cast their ballots over issues such as taxes, education and crime.

Immediately, the press - that had repeatedly told the poor old Republicans that they could expect a huge electoral bonus from the Lewinsky affair any day now - turned on the hapless right-wingers, accusing them of misjudgement. It is a hard lesson for those who ally with the press: newspaper editors are never, ever wrong. By the weekend, it was Newt, and not Bill, who had been forced to sling his hook.

From events this weekend in Britain, it seems that some of our newspaper persons have not quite caught up with last week's news from America. For the attempt is being made to persuade us that the sexual orientation and behaviour of ministers and MPs are legitimate areas of public concern. It is the public's right - among other things - to know who is gay and who is not. Just as remarkably, their campaign to "out" members of the Cabinet shifted the news concerning the rubbing-out of a large part of Central America from the top of BBC bulletins.

This was a mistake; it's only a guess, but I think Hurricane Mitch will figure in the history books and Nick Brown's sexual preferences will not. The Sun, naturally, is the most egregious. Yesterday, with its homophobia masquerading as sympathetic concern, the newspaper invited closet gay MPs to get things off their chests: "Do YOU want to come out? Phone 0171- 782 4105." An article by their agreeable political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, promised that The Sun would continue to investigate MPs' sex lives. On behalf, naturally, of a public "concerned not with people's sexuality, but with their probity, honesty and fitness for office". Mr Kavanagh subsequently pointed out that four gays in a Cabinet was a lot, and (bizarrely) that politics has always attracted gays, "much as the theatre has". There was a worry, Trevor added, about a "gay mafia", whose proclivities would lead to shadowy decision-making. One wonders what powerful gay cabal got Nick Brown the job of agriculture minister?

If The Sun's hypocrisy sounds funny, I should add a sombre corrective. Yesterday's coverage of the story in the Daily Mail (aka Adultery News) was particularly insinuating in its anti-gay tone. Gays had, it argued, "disproportionate representation" in government. Fun was poked at Mr Brown's former role as an adman who dreamed up romantic slogans for Lenor washing liquid. The implication was that he had always been a bit of a nancy. But last Thursday's edition of the same paper carried the story of the suicide of a 15-year-old boy, who had been bullied beyond endurance by schoolmates accusing him of effeminacy and - wait for it - being gay. I wonder whether their parents read the Mail. Or The Sun.

Emotionally, I find myself with John Prescott on this. The Deputy Prime Minister, like Henry II, invited knights to rid him of the troublesome press. "Let's pursue the editors and journalists who do this," he said. "Let's see how they like their private lives taken apart on the front page." This must be right. If The Sun's and the Mail's view is that the private lives of powerful people should be outed, they can have no objection to every detail of their own lives being known.

And not just homosexuality. Given the scope of these newspapers, we need to be told about (inter alia) their use of porn, occasional fetishism, adultery, attempted adultery, office groping, lascivious conversations, impotence (that's always good for a laugh!), and - most important, I think - masturbatory fantasies. So come on, David Yelland (so to speak), tell us - what do you, the Sun's editor, dream about? Call me on 0171- 293 2000, and I'll write it all down and then produce a nasty story about you.

But in the interim, while we're gathering the information for this assault, what should we do? Privacy legislation won't happen, and the self-regulation of the Press Complaints Commission is a complete joke. The first task, I think, is to stop letting this kind of journalism set the agenda for the broadsheets and the BBC. The public understands it, even if others have forgotten; they do not need, nor particularly want to know, about Nick Brown's willy. The second is for Alastair Campbell to cease from sucking up to these monsters and their deplorable masters and start sucking up to decent, tolerant people like me instead.

If "feasting with panthers" has a meaning today, Alastair, it describes too close a relationship with the likes of The Sun. OK? Finally, everyone, as soon as you've read this, call 0171-782 4105 and tell The Sun to sod off.