Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Like father, like son? Let's hope not
Monday 10 December 2007
What mirth and merriment at News Corporation, where in keeping with the company's fervent meritocratic principles control passes smoothly from father to son. And already we note a break with tradition.
Where for so long Rupert upheld the absolute editorial independence of The Times, as he promised Parliament he would, we now find an editor appointed before the meeting of the board that had been expected to make the choice this week. I should state an interest, by the way, and admit to making a tentative application myself (I'm desperate to get on a few quangos, and on the Simon Jenkins precedent editing The Times seems the perfect launch pad). Despite the disappointment, it must be said that the slightly unnerving fact about James Murdoch is that he seems rather a good egg and certainly less likely than his old man to use pliant editors and politicians to further business interests. Although James is said to share his father's views on the EU, he is impeccably green and instinctively liberal, and not the kind of chap to sit on the loo (you may recall a profile of Rupert by a former butler) yelling "bloody pooftahs". A while ago, in fact, I heard James give a terrific speech in honour of the youth theatre company Chicken Shed, which Sky generously sponsored at his behest, and he seemed such a likable soul that for some reason an old anecdote came to mind one about how, when his sister Elizabeth was a little girl, Rupert gave her beloved pony away in a News of the World readers's competition. Sometimes, perhaps, the apple does fall some way from the tree. Let's hope so anyway.
A WORD about outgoing Times editor Robert Thomson before we bid welcome to his replacement. On the one hand, Robert technically made The Times stronger in almost every respect. On the other, few editors of a supposedly serious title have ever put it so shamelessly at the disposal of a political machine. Some reporting of New Labour misdemeanours, and even more so some non-reporting, staggered even this wizened old cynic. A mixed record, then, and we wish him well at The Wall Street Journal.
AND SO to new Times guv'nor James Harding. First, let's say how tremendous it is to see another city journalist promoted. A glance at the careers of David Yelland on The Sun and Patience Wheatcroft at the The Sunday Telegraph confirms that money hacks invariably have the breadth of interest good editors require. As for Mr Harding, I've only come across him as part of the same group of Spurs fans that included Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis, yet another city hack, and Andy Coulson who ironically lost his News of the World berth due to lack of fiscal nous (the poor lamb failed to notice that a chunk of his editorial budget was being paid to someone to bug princely mobiles). Exactly how exposure to the perpetual defeatism that goes with supporting Tottenham hot houses these careers is one for a doctoral thesis. All I can say about Mr Harding is what I said about Mr Lewis he too, to borrow from the late Larry Grayson, seemed like a nice boy which isn't very much at all. No doubt we will come to a more considered view in time.
SIMON HEFFER treats Telegraph readers to an account, dusted off in the wake of the weirdo Geordie donor fiasco, of how Harriet Harman once tried to leave a restaurant with his expensive umbrella rather than her own plastic cheapo. Students of Simon's oeuvre will be reminded of an account, in his poignant rite of passage memoir Son of PC Gone Mad!, about how, during a surprise visit to the Heffer's Southend home during the election campaign in the autumn of 1974, Barbara Castle tried to nick the hot plate from his mother's new hostess trolley by slipping it under her blouse. This is widely believed to have turned him away from socialism.
THE EYE is caught, finally, by a Daily Telegraph interview in which Gaby Roslin ascribes her dwindling career to ageism, sexism, her refusal "get my tits out" and a wicked press deciding "it was my turn" over her mid-90s chat show one that made Davina McCall's recent effort seem like a hybrid between the best of Brian Walden, Dame Edna, Jonathan "1000 journos" Ross, John Humphrys and David Letterman. Motherhood also played a part in her absence from the screen, she adds, which reminds me of a dinner yearsago during which Gaby told her neighbour how she was bullied at school (although God knows why) because of her name. This was why she'd taken such care, she went on, to ensure her new born daughter would never suffer on this ground. So what, she was asked, have you called the baby? "Libi-Jack," she said.
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