Matthew Norman's Media Diary

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The Independent Online

In the elegant world of national newspapers, rousing praise for a market competitor is found depressingly seldom, so it's a genuine delight to be able to offer a few laudatory words about The Times. Excuse the time lag, but for this we must go back to Friday 25 March, the day after letters were published clearly establishing the Attorney General's shifting opinion on the legality of the Iraqi invasion. As the CNN website observed, "British media reports said the documents showed Goldsmith had changed his mind"... and so they did, with all vaguely serious papers giving much, if not all, of their front pages and large chunks of editorial to the matter. All but one. Admittedly The Times had its Howard Flight scoop for its front, but of the seven other stories flagged on page one, none concerned the Attorney General. Now, who can guess where space was found for what struck everyone else as a most important development? Page two went to Mr Flight, four and five to trouble in Kyrgyzstan, and seven to a most intriguing discovery about dinosaurs. Pages eight and nine were lavished on the danger of a hosepipe ban... and so on, and so on. The leaders came and went without a dickie bird, before Simon Jenkins addressed the matter. Alas, Sir Simon seemed bamboozled. In his defence, he wasn't alone in writing that the Attorney General had been bullied into reversing his opinion. Even so, for a columnist of his standing this was a perplexing howler, because finally we find that elusive report on p31. Taking a leaf from the old Grandstand vidiprinter, we will spell this out lest anyone thinks it a misprint: PAGE. THIRTY. ONE. And the headline? "Legal advice on Iraq war was unequivocal, says military adviser". News judgement is a subjective thing, of course, and Times editor Robert Thomson must be congratulated for showing the courage to cleave to such a lonely path. Even so, wouldn't it save a lot of confusion if he went the extra mile for his less bright readers, and put the Labour logo on the masthead?

* While we're in this charitable mood, and still with mastheads, a rousing hats aloft to another richly impressive editor. Terry Hunt of the East Anglian Daily News has decorated his front page with the motto "Suffolk And Proud". Mr Hunt tells a complainant from near Ipswich, whose children have naturally taken to chanting this mantra at the breakfast table, that he's well aware of the hilarity, but is content to leave it in place. Rumours that he intends to make a dramatic bid for the Muslim readership, by changing his first name to Tariq, remain determinedly undenied.

Good to note the Prime Minister's media strategists regaining their touch after a dodgy few weeks. Inviting the editors of glossy magazines to No 10 for a cosy chat last week will bear fruit when the relevant editions hit the streets. Admittedly magazine lead-times mean that this will be long after the election. Even so, a very cute touch.

* Also finding their form are the PR people at Clarence House. Prince Charles's mumbled aside about Nicholas Witchell is the first sensible thing the poor sap has said in 30 years. Compering the Press Gazette annual awards will never be the cushiest of numbers, but the reception Nick enjoyed a few years ago was something else. If the prince could reserve his next stage whisper for Gerald Kaufman, this might even be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

With the wedding close at hand, meanwhile, you are invited to submit any peculiarly nauseating examples of royal reporting or commentary (not necessarily from Arthur Edwards of The Sun). The best of them will win the sender an all-expenses paid trip to the Ashes Test match of your choice in the summer. Unfortunately you'll have to pay all the expenses yourself, but it will be a grand day out for all that.

* Returning briefly to the PG awards ("the Oscars of our industry"), the absence of Sun reporter Nick Parker from last month's fiasco provokes some captivating gossip. Apparently Mr Parker was put on night duty to keep him away from the event, on the off chance that he might take exception to Trevor Kavanagh winning the scoop of the year prize for the Hutton report leak. This is very odd. It has always been assumed, until now, that Mr Kavanagh came by the detail during a telephone chat with that careless old blabbermouth Alastair Campbell. It's very hard to believe that, if it was Mr Parker who brought the story in - possibly after a security lapse at the printers - his editor would have stuck it under Mr Kavanagh's byline just to give it a little more gravitas and credibility. Indeed I'd even go so far as to say that it's out of the question.

Having had time to reflect carefully on today's first item, I have come to realise how misleading it would be to portray The Times as some kind of Tony Blair fanzine. After all, even if it is broadly supportive, it's hardly as if the paper tries to present the PM as the saviour of mankind. "Britain's plan to save planet from quakes and asteroids", read a front-page headline last week. "Plans for an early warning system to protect the world against natural disasters have been drawn up... on the orders of the Prime Minister." Marvellous stuff. Next Tuesday's splash: "Blunkett: PM Touched Me, I Can See!"

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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