Matthew Norman's Media Diary
A 'Mirror' that makes rocks disappear
Monday 25 February 2008
I've put this off for as long as humanly possible, not least because it requires a statement of interest after the fashion of my colleague Stephen Glover, but the time finally comes to consider the Daily Mirror's political coverage. All that endless "Tory Toff" stuff, trotted out day after day by all the columnists, is a minor irritant, and one can even sympathise with the continuing deification of Gordon Brown. After all, denial is the instinctive self-defence to the sight of the animal you've been heavily backing since it was a two-year-old travelling in reverse a couple of furlongs after leaving the Epsom stalls. But when the propagandising infects the handling of a news story regarded as splash-worthy by all self-respecting media outlets, higher ethical standards are expected. And so to the Mirror's coverage of the nationalisation of Northern Rock a week ago. Far be it from me to question the news judgment of editor Richard Wallace, who very sensibly sacked me as a columnist soon after becoming editor (that was the Gloverian declaration), but you'd have expected some reference might be on the front page. Or failing that, a report on page two. Or even page 4, 5, 6 or 7. Or at least that the leader writers would have a thought or two to say on page 8. Not a bit of it. Pages 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,14, 15 and 16 slipped by, until the weary trek for any reference ended on page 17, where a sub-headline placed all the burden on Alistair Darling in the affected belief that such decisions have anything to do with him. Dear, dear, dear, this is precisely the tactic used in defence of Tony Blair by The Sun and The Times, which routinely ignored or buried stories damaging to him. We expect no less from Murdoch titles, but the Mirror comes from a different tradition and surely can do better than this. The barest minimum of professional self-respect cannot be too much to ask
* Not everyone agrees, and writing in PR Week Gordon's old sidekick Charlie Whelan certainly didn't. Charlie argued that since GMTV, which is "more in touch with real people than the BBC", also declined to lead bulletins with the nationalisation, axiomatically it couldn't be a major concern to the PM after all. In fact huge job losses and Gordon throwing a failed bank a £110bn subsidy on behalf of the taxpayer constitutes nothing more than esoteric chattering classes dinner party twittering.
* On the strength of that intervention, Charlie is installed as 100-30 second favourite for the vacant editorship of the New Statesman, where Gordon's other friend Geoffrey Robinson cements his reputation as the most gifted magazine proprietor since Mohamed Al Fayed revived Punch. This may prove one of those baloney things, but the early favourite is my old friend Paul Johnson, an 11-4 chance with Hills and BetFred. Paul edited the Statesman in the 1960s, long before becoming "Ronald Reagan's favourite historian", but is now contemplating a reverse lurch back towards the left. After those two it's 7-1 about reticent acting editor Sue Matthias, with a clutch of hopefuls including Martin Bright, Martin Kettle, Martin "Chariots" Offiah, Sir Gerald Kaufman and recently deposed ITV sports anchor Jim Rosenthal all on 12-1. It's 16-1 bar those, while Mr Robinson's preference for a telegenic editor is behind the week's only big market mover, Lily Allen being slashed from 66-1 to 18s.
* How depressing to note Natasha Kaplinsky denigrating her own profession, by expressing her bemusement at being paid £1m per annum to read whatever passes for the news on Five. As I'm getting fed up of saying, there is nothing remotely facile about the art form known to kindergarten students around the world as "reading out loud", and Natasha's muted angst demeans a noble and underrated profession. She's let the viewers down, she's let the station down, and second worst of all she's let herself down. Worst of all, she's let Huw Edwards down. Poor show.
* Can anyone not be a little moved by Radio 1's reaction to the imprisonment in Dubai of its drum and bass DJ Grooverider? "He has made a serious mistake," declares the station, "and is paying a very heavy price." What, four years for possession of 2.13 grams of hash (almost enough for one flimsy joint) is a very heavy price? Ya think? No doubt the audience the station targets by hiring the likes of Mr Grooverider, Pete Tong and the rest will agree about the gravity of the error, and we anticipate this hard line being reinforced by the introduction of mandatory random drug testing for all Radio 1 employees. In the meantime, let's congratulate Radio 1 for showing such support to a freelance – the press were thoughtfully notified of his employment status – who worked for it for barely 10 years. You just can't buy loyalty like that.
* Tremendous news, finally, that coltish Times number cruncher Peter Riddell is on a panel of experts investigating allegations of funny business involving Ken Livingstone and the misuse of opinion polling data. It was Peter, you may recall, who wrote The Times's splash affecting to believe that David Davis was poised to beat David Cameron shortly before the Tory leadership election – a wilfully eccentric interpretation of data which some mischievously suggested was designed to resuscitate the transparently doomed campaign of Downing Street's dream opponent. Good to see the polling community overlooking that fiasco.
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