John Walsh's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

You've heard of "weasel words"? The Daily Telegraph and her Sunday sister are becoming adept at the weasel intro. Recently, the Sunday paper ran an exclusive interview with Bob Dylan in which there were no descriptions of his appearance or his home - strange, since the shout-line promised that "John Preston caught up with [Dylan] at his Minnesota ranch". The enterprising Mr Preston, you see, "caught up" with the great man down the telephone line. Last week the Daily Telegraph flagged an encounter between its rock correspondent and a big subject: "Secrets from the U2 Studio: Neil McCormick spends a month with the band". In fact McCormick did no such thing. But he was commissioned by U2's record company to interview Bono and co for a DVD to accompany their new album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and the Telegraph piece is a pretty straightforward transcript of the voices on the disc. You can hear the record-of-the-article when it becomes available on 22 November.

You've heard of "weasel words"? The Daily Telegraph and her Sunday sister are becoming adept at the weasel intro. Recently, the Sunday paper ran an exclusive interview with Bob Dylan in which there were no descriptions of his appearance or his home - strange, since the shout-line promised that "John Preston caught up with [Dylan] at his Minnesota ranch". The enterprising Mr Preston, you see, "caught up" with the great man down the telephone line. Last week the Daily Telegraph flagged an encounter between its rock correspondent and a big subject: "Secrets from the U2 Studio: Neil McCormick spends a month with the band". In fact McCormick did no such thing. But he was commissioned by U2's record company to interview Bono and co for a DVD to accompany their new album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, and the Telegraph piece is a pretty straightforward transcript of the voices on the disc. You can hear the record-of-the-article when it becomes available on 22 November.

* Bad taste solecism of the week, from the PA : "A priest on board the express train which left seven people dead after it ploughed into a car on a level crossing has told how he preyed over the bodies of the dead at the wreckage."

* In between sending Congratulations and Get Well Soon cards to George Bush and Yasser Arafat, the prime minister had an important meeting in Downing Street last week. Mr Blair was wooing the vote of the Take a Break reader. The teatime-and-childcare magazine's readership (estimated at 4m on sales of 1.2m copies a week) represents a lot of floating women voters. The PM invited along the winners of the magazine's Tycoon Idol competition, and found himself knee-deep in dry-cleaning firms, cafés - and undergarments. He met the proprietor of a company called Know Knockers. "They told me it was something to do with lingerie?" he asked cautiously. "Lingerie for the smaller-breasted woman," replied the entrepreneur, before launching into a passionate speech about the dearth of AAA cups from British bra manufacturers. The PM's face was a picture. "At least I can say," he said, "that I'm helping support the small business sector".

* An awesome troika of national paper editors - Robert Thomson of The Times, Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian and Simon Kelner of this parish - met at the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers in the City of London last week for a debate (predictably entitled "Does Size Matter?") about whether the format of a newspaper affects the content. As they discussed the nomenclature of the smaller paper (is it a tabloid? A compact? A pygmy?) the debate chair Jenni Murray asked Rusbridger what he was going to call the Grauniad's new, smaller incarnation. "At the moment it's called the Berliner," said Rusbridger, "though perhaps we should offer a prize to anyone who can come up with a better name". Quick as a flash, a wag in the audience called out, "The Betamax?" Did he mean the disastrously unsuccessful video format, which became obsolete soon after it was launched? Why should that have seemed relevant?

* Public media appearance cock-up of the week: John Redwood, accepting his gong as Survivor of the Year at The Spectator awards lunch, decided to have a pop at the government's failings. "And when we see John Prescott struggling with the English language..." he said. Only he didn't quite say that. He said, "And when we see John Prescott strumbling, er, struggling, with the English language..." Redwood's increasingly desperate strumblings to choose just one participle at a time had the cruel hacks and MPs in the audience stuffing napkins in their mouths.

* The PEN Media Quiz at the Savoy last week threw some pretty tough questions at the assembled publishers, journos and broadcasters. And some frankly nonsensical ones, like "Which British comedian discovered the planet Pluto?" (The answer was apparently Will Hay, as opposed to Clyde Tombaugh, who actually discovered it in 1930). But, as a smiling John Humphrys told the audience, the answer on the paper in front of him was the only answer he wanted. It was a perfect paradigm of medialand: We're not strictly after the truth here, only what's written down in black and white...

* Felix Dennis, the squillionaire magazine publisher and born-again poet, is a man who re-defines the phrase folie de grandeur. First he gave out a free CD with every copy of his first collection of poetry. Then he lured audiences to his poetry readings with free slugs of Château Lafite '61. Next he enclosed free DVDs of his reading tour inside every copy of his second, not-so-slim volume, Lone Wolf. Now he's written a poem in tribute to the late John Peel, a parody of the original 1820 hunting ballad by John Woodcock Graves. And, encouraged by friends, he's now planning to set the bloody thing to music, get The Undertones (the broadcaster's favourite band) to record "D'ye ken John Peel?" and storm the charts with it. We'd only just got over the horrible prospect of Boris Johnson launching a Christmas single. Now this. Yikes!

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