Matthew Norman's Media Diary: Another 'dodgy dossier', Alastair?

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The Independent Online

IN ONE of those sporadic outbreaks of exaggerated self-righteousness that make his work such a joy, Alastair Campbell takes space in The Times to examine the Panorama programme on corruption in football. Wasting no time in establishing himself as the archfoe of journalistic snobbery (the Sunday People, for which he once worked, apparently has higher investigative standards than television documentaries), Ali derides Panorama on two fronts: for the weak standard of the evidence against Sam Allardyce, and for the relentless cross-promotion on other BBC shows in the run-up to transmission.

These are perfectly fair points, especially perhaps the latter. And yet it is so hard to forget, as always when Ali lectures the media about the need for rigorous accuracy, the High Court libel judge who dismissed him as an unreliable witness. "So now Allardyce is hiring lawyers," Ali writes. "So also will the BBC, at our expense, to defend a story that didn't pass the first test: do we know this to be true?" I cannot express how humiliating it is to have to make a point of such exceedingly blistering obviousness. So let us confine ourselves, in considering Ali and the "do we know this to be true?" test, to the two words - dodgy, and dossier - and leave it at that.

If the old chap must cling to his past - "The Hutton inquiry exposed serious deficiencies in BBC reporting standards... The past few days suggest little has changed" - to convince himself that he won that battle, evidently he is spending too long in the Tufnell Park kitchen staring at the long-since-disconnected Downing Street hotline. The man desperately needs a proper job to replace this relentless brooding. Does anyone have a clue when the Rupert Murdoch Professorship in Language and Communications is likely to become vacant?

* SPEAKING OF Mr Murdoch, I am mildly concerned about Lord Stevens, whose own forthcoming preliminary report on football bungs promises to be a little fleshier and more exhaustive than Panorama's. His lordship earns very well for a weekly column he writes in the News of the World. Since another branch of the Murdoch empire, Sky TV, has arguably most to lose if he undermines the entire Premiership that drives Sky subscriptions by exposing corruption on a massive scale, is there the faint aroma here of at least the perception of conflict of interest?

* BACK BRIEFLY with Panorama; a warm hats-off to Paul Woolwich. Not only was Paul the executive producer, but he made a delightful cameo as "Mr Silverman", the wealthy businessman behind the pretend scam. Alastair may be losing sleep at the thought of an infinitesimal fraction of his licence fee going on a possible libel action, but he needn't worry about the Beeb wasting money on actors.

* FROM THE Telegraph Group comes a delicious new euphemism. Where once staff receiving their cards would be "rationalised", today they are "amalgamated". (I should, to borrow from my colleague Stephen Glover, declare an interest here and mention the departure from The Sunday Telegraph in the summer of my wife, whose job as theatre critic was amalgamated with that of diary writer.) The atmosphere at The Telegraph is now said to be historically poisonous. One executive who was overheard sympathising with a newly amalgamated colleague last week, muttering something consoling about the beastliness, was summoned to the office by a very senior management figure, who warned him that such disloyalty would not be tolerated again.

* THERE IS little further news, meanwhile, of the Sunday Telegraph's Patience Wheatcroft, who as so many of you guessed was the editor obliquely referred to in last week's Wicked Whisper after requesting the number of a specialist employment lawyer. Patsy, who seems a perfectly decent if unelectrifying sort, tired of management usurping her function of hiring and firing staff. An uneasy truce seems to have been struck between her and senior management, but if this breaks down Patsy is thought to have the option of returning to The Times, where the fatted calf will be slaughtered in her honour.

* ANYONE PETRIFIED by the torrent of evidence on global warming - the satellite photography of polar ice-caps, the peer-reviewed studies, the stream of scary climatological findings - need tremble no longer. Daily Mail harrumpher Tom Utley is the latest professional controversialist to confess to knowing more about the subject than all the experts (except of course those seconded to Shell and BP). Indeed, Tom has managed to explode one of the major myths. All the stuff about potentially catastrophic rising sea levels caused by melting ice is arrant rot, explains Tom, and here's how you can prove it at home. "Pour yourself a gin and tonic, almost to the top of the glass. Then put in enough ice to take the level of the liquid to the very brim. Now... just sit and watch while the ice melts. Does the liquid overflow? I think not." Unmitigated genius, and if Al Gore gets to hear of it, what a chump he'll feel.

* FINALLY, I am becoming dangerously fixated on BBC2's Eggheads, the most unnervingly weird and plain dismal quiz show in TV history. We'll return to this soon, but on the Tittybangbang principle, anyone involved in the commissioning and/or production of Eggheads who'd like to plead their case beforehand is welcome to get in touch.

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