Matthew Norman: Comical Desi's sword of truth
Monday 27 July 2009
These are not words I expected to write without some potent psychotropic substance seeping through an intravenous drip, but Richard Desmond becomes a role model to us all. The fearlessness he showed in donning the Jonathan Aitken Memorial Suit of Armour to fight Tom Bower for his good name - and on the notoriously murderous terrain that is Mr Justice Eady's courtroom - speaks for itself. So does the plain spoken reverence for truth displayed in the witness box. Above all, though, it's the Corinthian sunniness that seems such a useful paradigm for troublesome times. The post-verdict statement posted on his own Express web site echoes one of modern history's most resilient wartime orators. Churchill, perhaps, in 1940. Or possibly Comical Ali in 2003 as the coalition tanks rolled into Baghdad. "His biggest mistake," declared Richard of Mr Bower, "was in thinking I would not go to court to fight to uphold my reputation."
This is so patently the truth that one overlooks the triumphalist tone and lack of magnanimity. "It was worth it to stand up in court and set the record straight." Was it ever? You can't put a price on that which is far above rubies. And if you could, £1,250,000 looks a steal for so narrowly failing to persuade the jurors, who queued outside the High Court for Mr Bower's autograph. Richard's Olympian spirit is an inspiration. He is the Baron de Coubertin of libel. For him, the winning means nothing. All the joy is in the taking part.
A fine judge
As for Eady J, I speak for us all, I hope, in commiserating with that red robed Solomon over an unusually vexing trial. To have one crucial ruling in favour of the plaintiff (Richard) reversed by a wilfully impertinent Court of Appeal is mildly embarrassing. To have two overturned in quick succession… well, what do those silly old appellate judges know about the law anyway? The crucial thing for Mr Eady is not to let this erode his confidence. We in the press haven't lost an ounce of faith in his wisdom, and can't believe we ever will.
On and on it goes, and still much of the media can't work out how to deal with swine flu. Even the Daily Mail remains unwontedly bemused. On Friday, it splashed alarmingly with the 100,000 new cases recorded the previous week, but also bought in a piece by Simon Jenkins ridiculing the hysteria exhibited both in headlines like that one and government warnings. You have to admire the certainty with which Sir Simon likens the possibility of mass fatalities from the oinks to that from an asteroid strike. I'm neither an actuary nor Lembit Opik, so we'll not dwell on the comparative odds there. But at least he has the balls to take a strong line, stick with it, and risk looking a touch daft if the strain does mutate lethally later this year.
Although it goes without saying that Richard Desmond is Proprietor of the Week, a word for the runner-up. Rupert Murdoch's generosity continues to amaze. News International made healthy payments to jailed royal correspondent Clive Goodman and co-bugger Glenn Mulcaire after they were imprisoned, we are told, due to "contractual obligations". Now some newspaper groups might have interpreted criminal activity, conducted far behind the backs of senior executives, as a clear contractual breach. Once again, Rupert's sweetness to even the most errant of his foot soldiers festoons him with credit.
Star of Bethlehem
Then again, what would you expect from a gallant Papal Knight? Rupert's godliness informs every corner of the empire, not least the comment pages of The Times. "'And then we'll have that David Cameron'," Matthew Parris quotes a cabbie appending to a rant about Gordon Brown. "'Out of the frying-pan, eh? J****…" I've been through the Viz Profanisaurus twice, and still can't find any alternative to the Son of God. An eccentric piece of censorship, by any post-1957 standards, but one to bring a blush of pride to the cheeks of his Holiness.
A writer's pain
Also in The Times, everybody's favourite Field Marshal addresses Afghanistan. There is nothing novel about David Aaronovitch's rebuke to those unconvinced about the war. Aarono has been steeling the national nerve on matters military for years, marching towards the gunfire in defiance of his shell shock-induced amnesia. You will recall, even though he cannot, his pledge never to believe another word a politician spoke if WMD were not located in Iraq, yet here he is implicitly trusting his government again. What is new is David's willingness to let us glimpse his pain. Those advocating withdrawal "refuse to spell out the consequences," he writes, "while the stayers must live with the constant price of theirs… We know it's hard and we may not succeed. But we have to do it. And we have to keep explaining why." Ah, the agony of living with the fear of paying the ultimate price. Yet borne so lightly.
Tense and sensibility
In The Sun, finally, basic English comprehension problems persist. Nimbly avoiding the lure of the easy option, the paper splashed on Friday with a Michael Jackson story. "Prince, 12, Watched Jacko Die" was the headline. Beneath that, Virginia Wheeler reported, "The family is convinced Jacko had been dead for at least TWO HOURS," when Dr Conrad Murray summoned the boy to witness his attempt to revive him." "Watched Jacko Die", "Watched Jacko Dead."
It's never easy, is it, distinguishing tenses? You need a reading age of eight-and-a-half to master that.
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