Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Monday 18 October 2004
Going the extra mile to honour its libertarian ideals, The Daily Telegraph last week spiked an article by Lord and Lady Black's favourite columnist, the neo-con writer Mark Steyn. Having now read the piece on Mark's website, it's hard to imagine why. Buoyed by retaining his "World's Funniest Canadian" title at last month's Ottowa Chucklefest (he beat Leonard Cohen after a laugh-off against the clock), Mark picks up the Kenneth Bigley ball from Billy Connolly and runs it the length of the field. His gist is that Mr Bigley let the side down by dying the death of a whinger. "If I had to choose in advance the very last words I'd utter in this life, 'Tony Blair has not done enough for me' would not be high up on the list," he writes, counselling future beheadees to emulate the man who ripped off his hood and declared, "I will show you how an Italian dies!". It's worth recalling that, when it comes to stoicism in the face of unimaginable horror, Mark leads from the front. When Zoë Heller was hired a few years back to write a column illustrated with the Stars and Stripes, some of us might have thrown a hissy fit over this perceived threat to our status as top-ranked US-based commentator. Not Mark. All right, he did flounce off for a couple of months, refusing to take calls from the office. But the important thing is that he eventually returned, and it's on the basis of this sort of courage under fire that he lectures with such authority on the yellow streak of civilians held in cages by crazed psychopaths bearing scythes.
* Fears mount, meanwhile, that a man even more besotted with musical theatre than Broadway scholar Mark may have been kidnapped himself. A second successive week passes without a confirmed sighting of Gerald Kaufman, the professional street brawler who moonlights as chairman of the Commons select committee on the media. The authorities have been informed, but if you should happen to spot Gerald, please e-mail the details to the address below and I'll pass them on. But remember that he's extremely volatile, and on no account to be directly approached.
* Back at the Telegraph group, condolences to Niamh O'Donnell-Keenan, a senior member of the management team until she was given the boot last week. Several years back, a restaurant critic (me, in fact) gave a rave review to a place which had the poor manners to close the day before the piece appeared. Naaahh, although admired at Canary Wharf for her impish sense of fun, was livid at this incompetence, and memos were sent. Quite right too. There are executives within newspaper managements who have grasped the monstrously opaque concept of the magazine "lead time", of course, but very seldom below managing director level. We wish her well.
* Following last week's featured trailer from her Radio Five Live phone-in ("should you ever be sacked for something done outside the workplace?"), Victoria Derbyshire maintains the form. "Is gun crime here to stay?" she wondered last Tuesday. As it happens, the answer is: no, it's not. But you'd have to spend a long time studying the history of crime in the United States to know that villains eventually become bored with guns, and revert to the use of knuckle-dusters and kitchen utensils (most notoriously, in the case of the Chicago mob, the egg-whisk). Thank God newspapers never fall into the same trap. ("Did hypnotism turn Hitler into a monster?" wondered a Daily Mail headline last week.)
* Interviewed in another paper, meanwhile, the golf commentator Peter Alliss impertinently refutes my often-levelled allegation that he drives a Lexus and wears string-back gloves at its wheel. He wilfully misses the point. Whether Peter drives a Bentley, as he claims, with bare hands, is irrelevant: it is the psychological truth, rather than the petit bourgeois literal version, that we seek in journalism. As for wondering whether to invite me to lunch to discuss our differences, I'd be delighted. Just send your driver to collect me, Peter. In the Lexus.
* Finally, an ethical conundrum for media professors such as Roy Greenslade, Peter Cole and Steven Glover (Steven has just been awarded the William Rees-Mogg Chair in Accurate Forecasting at Yale). If a chap writes a staggeringly negative critique of a book, should he then accept money from the author of whose morals he so violently disapproves? You may recall that after Sunday Times book reviewer Christopher Hart gave a monumentally censorious crit to Graham Norton's autobiog So Me ("ignorant, spiteful and barely raising a laugh..."), the comic sent him a note reading "Cheer Up!" and a cheque for £500. Christopher has now replied with a card with a sad-looking puppy on the front, and the message "You are rich and generous, I am poor and without principle". It's for the profs to analyse the principle side of things, but the rest of us may assume he's not as poor as he was.
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