Matthew Norman: How to get ahead in hackery...


There are many compelling reasons to offer up what was known in her most memorable Sun headline to date (on the death of Dr Harold Shipman) as a rousing "Ship, Ship, Hooray" on Rebekah Wade's ascension to become News International's chief executive.

Firstly, its a breakthrough for neo-feminism in general, and for Women In The Media, which she honoured on becoming editor by plugging on with the Page Three girls that she had fought to jettison under her predecessor, in particular. Above even that, it is the ultimate triumph for the power of networking over journalism.

Best of all, it brings a blessed sense of relief to those of us ridden with angst at the prospect that the Murdoch-government axis that has ruled us for 30 years, with a brief break during the Major years, might be coming to an end. From arriving at Elizabeth Murdoch's Christmas party on the arm of then prime minister Tony Blair, via attending Sarah Brown's pyjama party at Chequers, to including David Cameron as well as Gordon among her wedding guests, Rebekah's ungodly talent for charming leaders past, present and future explains her rise better than any unknown commercial acumen.

The Murdoch newspapers' profitability may decline and even vanish, but while they retain the power to finesse government media policy to Sky's advantage, and to open potential revenue streams by undermining the BBC and its grip on the licence fee, there could no one better to sit at the centre of this enchanting web weaving her magic. As an editor, Rebekah has spent six years as a paradigm of bare adequacy. As an operator, she stands entirely alone.

The heir apparent

The first show of betting is in, meanwhile, for the race to replace her. Much has been made of Rebekah's failure to mark her ascension by naming her moose-headed deputy Dominic Mohan, but he remains the clear favourite at 11-8. Sun TV suprema Victoria Newton is next on 4-1, with the Mirror's Richard Wallace and Lady Gaga both looking short priced on 11-2. Top Tory spinner Andy Coulson gets a 15-2 quote "with a run" (he may well be more useful to the company at David Cameron's right hand), although his laissez-faire approach to editing the News of the World (you will recall his absolute ignorance of the six-figure payment to a freelancer to bug royal phones while running the paper) – strikes leading professors of journalism as a stumbling block.

Bunched on 14s are Bizarre editor Gordon Smarm, Linda Lusardi, Kelvin MacKenzie and Sir Lenny Lottery. Myleene Klass is on 18s, with Star editor Dawn Neesom, TV's hardest man Ross Kemp (Ross Wade as was), Tina Weaver, Carol Ann Duffy, lucky cardigan-wearing Sun columnist Fergus Shanahan and Dear Deidre all available on 25s. It's 40-1 bar those.

A Gaunt-like intellect

Even my so-called rival Paddy Power, whose book looks frankly nonsensical (Paul Dacre at 20-1, forsooth), finds no place for Jon Gaunt, but he will always be a favourite with us. Gaunty was on fire on Friday, confining references to his SunTalk radio show to just the three ... one less than the asterices required to bowdlerise "pr**ks" and "ar*e" in a demand for the full publication of BBC freelance salaries to go with executive expenses. Most touching was his confession to failing the 11-plus, despite which he supports the grammar school system.

The pernicious thing about the 11-plus, of course, is the burdening of failures with a misplaced sense of intellectual inadequacy from which some never recover. Thankfully, Gaunty's more resilient than that ("I don't care what you write, you c***," as he put it when calling me following his inclusion of Rolf Harris in his Ten Greatest Brits, "but I'm not having you make out I'm thick"). Others, such as John Prescott, are not.

Aim a few at News, Mark

Speaking of BBC expenses, time for yet another futile plea to Mark Thompson to hoist himself up (why he didn't claim for a new pair of knee pads I've no idea; no one could question the legitimacy of that), and throw a few punches back.

He might, for example, make the tediously obvious point that while he and his chums have claimed a few hundred thousand (if anything, those exes are depressingly tiny), Mr Murdoch has cost us hundreds of millions by avoiding taxes in the most legal of ways. He could suggest that, since even the minuscule amount that News Corp does pay is reduced by off-setting reimbursements to staff against corporation tax, there is a public interest in the publication of the exes claimed by the likes of Rebekah.

He might even commission a documentary examining, in intimate detail, how News Corporation comes to pay a little less tax each year than a mini cab controller in Warrington.

A well-timed departure

Mark's one stroke of luck was that the story was driven off Friday's front pages by Michael Jackson. Out of all the ceaseless coverage of that death, Victoria Derbyshire deserves a word of praise for locating the crux of it so quickly on her splendid BBC Radio 5 live phone-in. At 11am on Friday, some 12 hours after the news broke, Victoria introduced a feature on how to get your money back if you had bought tickets for one of Mr Jackson's gigs.

'Tis but a scratch

As for The Times, its online coverage on Thursday night was barely less impressive. "BREAKING: Jackson 'dies' after suffering heart attack" was the main headline. Below it, and an inch to the right, was "Jackson denies ill health after concerts are delayed". Ah well, one out of two ain't bad. Although once Rebekah takes charge, it may not be quite good enough.

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