Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Why Paxo owes me an apology
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The Independent Online

In the light of Charles "Chat Show" Kennedy's display of courage last week (the precise equivalent of a soap star "bravely confessing" to a red top poised to turn him over), thoughts turn to the subject of apologies. Charles himself has, at time of writing, yet to say sorry for all the whoppers, although he may do the full number when the need to revive his telly career is more urgent. But what of Jeremy Paxman?

In July 2002, of course, Paxo came under fire for asking Chat Show, on Newsnight, about the boozing. This, it was widely agreed by we lions of the print media, who eschewed any accurate reporting on the matter in favour of snide innuendo, was a gross liberty. "The other privacy barrier broken last week was Jeremy Paxman's brutish questioning of Charles Kennedy about his drinking habits," wrote Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, leading an attack eventually joined by the fearless Broadcasting Standards Commission. "The point about these barriers is that once broken, they stay broken," Toynbee continued. "It is no use Paxman apologising afterwards: the damage is irreparable ... Shock-jocks like Richard Littlejohn might have done it, but the shock was that this was Paxman from the BBC's most cerebral news programme who caught the tabloid fever."

Well said, Polly! Is it really the electorate's concern, after all, if a man presenting himself as a potential prime minister happens to suffer a potentially fatal illness that routinely renders him incapable of doing his work, and is almost guaranteed to get worse should he ever be exposed to the insane pressures of running the country?

In the ensuing row, Paxo did offer a muted apology, but it's time for another one now - not to old Chatters, but to those like myself and Polly (on Friday, by the way, she called on Charlie to resign) whose delicate journalistic sensibilities he so grievously bruised.

ON REFLECTION, I am so struck by Polly's argument that a senior politician's alcoholism is a purely private matter that I feel compelled to take it further. This sort of tittle-tattle may be of interest to the public, but it's no more in the public interest than... well, a divorced cabinet minister who publicly propounds the sanctity of marriage, privately nicks another chap's wife before she's had time to unpack the trousseau, impregnates her, finesses the visa for the nanny, diverts police to catch schoolboys knocking on her front door, and so on. I have therefore decided to contact John Whittingdale, my friend Gerald Kaufman's successor as media select committee guv'nor, to argue for draconian privacy legislation to protect the public from irrelevant trivia about those in positions of power.

THERE HAS BEEN no confirmed sighting of Sir Gerald, incidentally, since late November, when a source who lives in his St John's Wood block of flats reported that "he's looking much better... more colour in his face". If anyone should see the old munchkin, apple-cheeked or otherwise, do let us know. It's so important to keep in touch.

IT TOOK THE cardinals five minutes to choose a Hitler Youth for Pope, but from Andrew Neil there belches only black smoke as he takes a languid approach to replacing Boris Johnson. Appointing Stuart Reid, who has edited The Spectator so well while Boris has been busy elsewhere, would be the smart and sensible move, which is thought almost to rule him out. Stuart is a distant 100-6 chance in a latest show that sees Tatler boss Geordie Greig a rock-solid 9-4 favourite. Simon Heffer, the pride of Southend (his memoir, "Son of PC Gone Mad!", returns next week), looks attractive at 100-30, with left-to-right switcher David Aaronovitch an 11-2 chance. The Times gossip-hound Andrew Pierce, Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips and BBC nebbish Nick Robinson are bracketed on sevens, with the faintly demented right-wing philosopher Roger Scrotum at 10-1.

Then comes Stuart Reid, followed by the late Arthur Mullard, the subject of professional money from the Far East, at 18-1. The Wyatt family - Petronella, her mother Lady Verruca and vanished brother Pericles - is quoted at 22-1 to form a ruling troika; and it's 28-1 bar those.

I'M IMPRESSED TO find the Daily Mirror doggedly persisting with its portrayal of David Cameron as Lord Charlie, a name presumably designed to link Ray Allen's upper-class twit Lord Charles with cocaine. This promises to be as effective an attempt to damage a Tory leader as The Sun's nicknaming Iain Duncan Smith "Smiffy", under David Yelland's editorship, was to assist one. I hope they stick with it.

EVEN IN NEWSPAPERS, meanwhile, there is little more depressing than columnists who bang on about others' errors. So I'm saddened to find, in a so-called rival media section, Christina Odone dredging up the "embarrassment" of the coltish Times political pundit Pete Riddell, who "endorsed a dodgy poll that suggested Cameron was being run close by David Davis". In fact, Christina understates the howler, since the poll Pete endorsed showed Davis with a two-to-one lead over Cameron, an almost precise inversion of the true figure. Yes, it was a monumental cock-up by any standards. There's no denying that. An absolute shocker, even for a young fella who hasn't been in the hardest game in the world for two minutes. But must we harp on about it, week after week after week? Let it lie, Christina. For God's sake, let it lie.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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