Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Fearless in Washington (no, not Blair)
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The Independent Online

EVER SINCE Alastair Campbell described him as "that ridiculous man who does politics on the BBC" in an interview with Channel 4 News (Ali was on day release at the time), it has been harder to dislike Nick Robinson - and never more than since his sterling performance in Washington on Thursday.

Those of you not watching the live feed of the press conference in which Messrs Blair and Bush reassured us that it's just a little local difficulty in Baghdad, and let's worry our pretty heads about it another moment, missed quite a treat when the President pointed at Nick for a question. His look, after Nick mildly suggested that he might be in denial over Iraq, was a lingering, attemptedly piercing glance of confused rage possibly modelled on a freeze frame of Joe Pesci during the "You think I'm a clown?" scene in Goodfellas. Who the hell is this weird Sergeant Bilko lookalike from London, England, he appeared to be thinking, and how dare he be so importunate?

Whether in private Mr Bush would have gone as far as King Lear and threatened Nick with "I know not what... but they shall be the terrrhhs of the earth" we cannot say, but we can say what a joy it was to behold the successor to that endlessly emollient politician's chum Andrew Marr doing what journalists are supposed to do in such circs, and speak quizzical insolence to power. Having said that, the limits of his fearlessness remain in doubt. The next time a British PM visits the Kremlin, let's see if Nick has a crack at Mr Putin.

* I HADN'T HEARD The Moral Maze for years until last week (can't cope with the ostentatiously caring quality to Michael Buerk's voice), so it came as a shock to be assailed by the throaty tones - and what a deep, sensual voice the old girl has; she's quite the Fenella Fielding of controversialist ranting - of Melanie Phillips. Mad Mel was very cross about something (psychiatric patients killing people, possibly, or the cricket, or the weather; it's impossible to keep up). But you couldn't help thinking how nice it is of the BBC to indulge her like this. Positive discrimination must be one of her own myriad bugbears, but in this context I honestly can't see the harm.

* MEANWHILE, HER Daily Mail colleague and fellow climatological expert Tom Utley (you will recall how he assuaged concerns about rising water levels by pointing out that when the ice in his G&T melts, the liquid doesn't spill over the top of the glass) is in confessional mode. "This may be too much information for breakfast time," wrote Tom in a piece about the NHS computer system, "but the last time I went into hospital, I was suffering from an acutely embarrassing condition" (one he neglected through shame until it could be ignored no longer). But what can it have been? Impacted haemorrhoids? An undescended testicle? Elephantiasis? None of these, in fact. Tom, it was an ingrowing toenail that took you to casualty, not the vacuum-cleaner extension trapped up your bum. For heaven's sake, love, toughen up.

* TODAY'S EXTRACT from the richly recommended stocking-filler Hold the Back Page! by Honest Harry Harris of the Dailies Express and Star concerns Michael Parkinson. The blurb on the back of Harry's book promises "a collection of often hilarious memoirs", and why they qualified it with that "often" is beyond me. Anyway, here's Harry on Parky (cut slightly for space): "Michael is a first rate sports writer in his own right... I have also appeared on his radio shows for Five Live. In fact Michael was kind enough to give me a lift home after his show. That's a measure of the guy; despite his high profile he is completely unpretentious. And I do see quite a lot of him away from work as he is also a member of Wentworth Tennis and Health Club." That's enough hilarity for one week. Next time, Alastair Campbell.

* ALSO FEATURED in Harry's opus is Jeff Randall, who as sports editor of The Sunday Times apparently came close once to hiring him (and what an anecdote that is). These days, we know Jeff better for his work as a financial writer, and best of all for the warmth of his relations with the Murdoch family. Following a recent love-in with Rupert on his Five Live show (no word on whether Jeff drove him home afterwards), last Sunday he interviewed Sky boss James in as friendly a manner as you could imagine without coitus taking place.

God knows what the famously competent Telegraph management make of their editor-at-large's closeness to the owners of their main commercial rival, but in an industry hardly typified by amity I find it most heart-warming. Next Sunday evening on Five Live, hear Jeff and Lachlan go camping in the Lake District.

* RETURNING TO James Murdoch, finally, people have long said he's the sweetheart of the clan, and so it seems. I gather he took a very personal role in arranging a generous Sky sponsorship deal with Chicken Shed, the north London drama company best known for integrating able-bodied and disabled young actors (as a patron, to borrow yet again from my colleague Stephen Glover, I should declare an interest), so the warmest of hats-offs to him for that. As a mark of respect, we will not dwell on the quality of Sky's Ashes coverage for at least the next seven days.