There were two main responses from colleagues to my column last week, in which I had a go at two Daily Mail columnists – "Sardonic" Sandra Parsons and Amanda "Plateful-of-Hatred" Platell – who both regularly launch vicious personal attacks on people in the public domain, especially successful women.
The first was from those who knew Sardonic Sandra. She might work for a ghastly newspaper, they said, but she's really a lovely person. In which case: why does she write this filth? The second came from a few gentle souls who alerted me to the fact that Plateful Platell is a former managing editor of The Independent, and recommended that I thought twice before calling this exalted creature a witch. Well, a journalist who stays his pen for fear of offending the powerful is in the wrong job. On Saturday, Plateful was at her predictable worst. In one diary item she wrote: "Cherie Blair attacks the slow progress of women in British boardrooms and says the equality movement shown in the Arab Spring shames us in Britain. Great. Let's pack her off abroad. I can think of no better ambassador to Syria and Iran than Cherie, provided she wears a burka."
Is Plateful making the point that women are repressed in these countries? Or do we detect a sly insult to Mrs Blair's looks? I think we do. And what has she done to deserve this assault? Ah yes, she married a man who went on to be Prime Minister, during which time he trounced William Hague, for whom Plateful served as chief propagandist. Other than that, Mrs Blair – who I have never met – has raised four children in difficult circumstances, become a QC, championed women's rights and written acclaimed books.
What if a man had said what Plateful did? I don't know, Jeremy Clarkson, say, or Rod Liddle or Richard Littlejohn or Kelvin Mackenzie or that other noted right-wing zealot, Amol Rajan? We'd have been pilloried as chauvinist pigs. Then why is it fine for women to bitch about their sisters in this way?
It is long overdue that we gave up the pretence that this is anything other than misogyny masquerading as journalism. Our embattled press corps has created a squadron of hideous and hateful harridans who pour filth over women they hardly know. As much as any chauvinist, these witches of Fleet Street deserve the ire of modern feminists.
On Thursday I shall conclude this mini-series by examining the career of Rebekah Brooks, the doyenne of this movement.