Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Monday 04 October 2004
With genuine regret, we return to the vexing matter of Gerald Kaufman.
With genuine regret, we return to the vexing matter of Gerald Kaufman. While Gerald's stewardship of the Commons' Media Select Committee continues to delight, his personal behaviour raises concern. The old sweetheart seems incapable of appearing in public these days without getting into a scuffle.
Last week's ruck, in Brighton, involved pro-hunt protesters ("a baying mob", as this sworn enemy of hysterical overreaction put it), whom he accused of being partly motivated by anti-Semitism. You can see why he might believe this. Fox is a very common Jewish surname, for one thing, while the resonance of men in bright red jackets on horseback needs no spelling out to those of us who are descended from victims of the Tzarist pogroms.
Were the famous Stamford Hill Hunt still going, things might be different. But they're not, and whatever the provocation, it does nothing for the dignity of our industry that its overseer was heard telling these latter-day Cossacks to "fuck off" a reported dozen times. Not so long ago, Gerald was involved in a skirmish with a group on whom even he might struggle to make the anti-Semitism charge stick, when worshippers took against his anti-Sharonist stance at St John's Wood Synagogue.
I know Gerald will take it in the right spirit if I point out that there are scores of excellent anger management courses available. Or, failing that, non-addictive tranquillisers. It would be a disaster if all the tremendous work Gerald does for the media became submerged by this swelling tide of public disorder.
* This will doubtless prove to be cobblers, but, according to a whisper in the States, Matt Drudge is poised to unleash another scoop - namely, that US forces have captured Osama bin Laden, and that Mr Bush is saving the announcement for the days before the election. Logic suggests that the converse conspiracy theory - that Osama may be planning an electoral contribution of his own, along the lines of Madrid - is equally credible. Even so, if Drudge does stick the claim on his website, it is worth noting that he has a more impressive record of accuracy than this column is ever likely to achieve.
* I am besotted with the website of that energetic PR firm, Freud Communications. Flashing across the home page are four testimonials designed to entice potential clients. That three of them come from executives at papers owned by Matthew Freud's father-in-law, Rupert Murdoch, we may pass over as a minor instance of Jungian synchronicity. The question is how they came to be given. "We trust them and that is what really matters," declares a Sunday Times man, while Dominic Mohan of The Sun has this to say. "What makes FC stand out from their so-called rivals is that they actually know what a story is. They don't just simply demand a shameless plug." As so often, Dominic puts his finger on it. A shameless plug is the last thing Freud would demand. Meanwhile, the editor of a non-Murdoch title receives an unsolicited request to supply words of praise for the website.
I've asked it many times before, and in the absence of an answer I ask it again: would Steve Jones, Richard Dawkins or any other leading geneticist please explain how we went from Sigmund to Matthew, via Clement, in three generations? And at this rate of anti-evolutionary progress, how many more generations will it take before one of the family sires a caveman?
* With Peter Wilby away from his desk, the scrap for the non-existent vacancy in his New Statesman editor's chair intensifies.
A while after pressing his claims over dinner with the owner, Geoffrey Robinson, political editor John Kampfner switches strategy from ingratiation to mordant wit. Mr Kampfner has taken to telling a joke about the barely less ambitious Christina Odone, Mr Wilby's deputy.
Q. "How many Christina Odones does it take to change a light bulb? A. Ten. "One to change the light bulb, and nine to ring the gossip columns to tell them how John Kampfner has been trying to stop her changing the light bulb."
It would seem political punditry's gain was the stand-up circuit's loss.
* Our thanks to Alex Brummer, the Daily Mail's City editor, for his thoughts on the effect of moving from broadsheet to compact on coverage of the Middle East. Foreseeing The Independent "peppering the front page with statistics and quotes from the Gaza Strip", this Tiresias of the fiscal press ends an article in The Jewish Chronicle on a sombre note. "Unfortunately, in recent times, black and white attitudes in much of the British media have cast Israel as the bad guy and the Palestinians as the injured party. So don't expect balance." No one likes to be lectured about impartial reporting, of course, but when it comes from the Daily Mail, it's very hard not to listen.
* Finally to Alastair Campbell, who sent us scurrying for the Kleenex when telling the Radio Times that he wonders if he'll ever do anything worthwhile again. He's too harsh on himself. Not long ago, Alastair presented the prizes at The Lawyer magazine's annual awards, and that was worthwhile. Not only did he get an agreement that he wouldn't be photographed handing an award to James Dingemans, counsel for Lord Hutton's inquiry; he also picked up £12,000.
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