Matthew Norman: Is it a mutation or a melding of minds?
Monday 02 November 2009
In a metamorphosis worthy of Ovid, new Spectator editor Fraser Nelson is rapidly mutating into his boss Andrew Neil.
It's that or a Vulcan mind-meld because, quite suddenly and for no apparent reason, Fraser takes up a cause that has long obsessed the Adonis – to question the link between the HIV virus and Aids. Andrew's attempts to disprove this, you may recall, are up there alongside the Peregrine Worsthorne libel case among the greatest embarrassments of his Sunday Times editorship. Referring on his blog to House of Numbers, a documentary the Speccie's "Event Division" is screening this week, Fraser rhetorically asks whether this is an argument worth having. He would find the answer on badscience.net, where the great Ben Goldacre clinically debunks the more outlandish scientific theories du jour.
Ben makes a few observations about the film ... the fact, for example, that 18 doctors and scientists interviewed for it have since accused the director of being "deceptive" in his dealings; and that a woman whose insistence that she felt so much better for refusing Aids medication forms a central part of it died of pneumonia almost a year ago at 52 – a detail the film deigns to share only at the end of the credits, in tiny letters. So no, clearly not an argument worth having, yet here Fraser is propagating it. At this point, a disclaimer: there is no suggestion whatever that Fraser is being steered by the man who appointed him. If that were so, which it most certainly is not, the implications might be rather serious for Andrew's career. It is unthinkable that the BBC, so hypersensitive about presenter impartiality, would permit him to present The Week and other political shows if it suspected he had any degree of control over the editorial content of a magazine that marches so obediently behind David Cameron's standard. If George Alagiah's role with the Fairtrade Foundation is incompatible with reading the news ... well, it speaks for itself. So let us celebrate this remarkable symbiosis, and hope that it has the good grace to confine itself to the inside of Fraser's skull, leaving the exterior well alone.
The price of Liz's fame
Thanks to Liz Jones for an overdue glimpse into the motivation behind her work. In her Mail on Sunday diary, Liz recounts going to a party where she meets a man who takes her fancy. We join the scene as the chap wanders off, leaving her friend Robi to posit that he was "a bit scared talking to the most famous journalist in Britain" knowing any move he made would find its way into print. "At least I am honest," retorts Britain's MFJ. "Didn't Helen Fielding announce that Bridget Jones was her? Doesn't Zadie Smith write about being black? Don't we enjoy art the most when we think it is based on something real?" So, there we have it. Liz regards her work as art. Possibly art imitating life imitating ... sorry, we did all that with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Let's agree that Liz's work is art, and run for the hills.
Call for Kevlar cardigans
At The Sun, another one bites the dust. A fortnight after Jon Gaunt's departure, fellow columnist Fergus Shanahan announces his. There's no word as to whether a home has been found for the "lucky cardigan" Fergus wore, although a bullet-proof vest might have been wiser. It's such a bloodbath under Dominic Mohan, who appears to be attempting a gentle up-market rebranding, you wonder whether even Kelvin MacKenzie is safe.
Adrift on a blog
The good news for Gaunty fans is that he has been given an allegedly daily blog on The Sun's website (launched on Wednesday but nothing on Thursday or Friday). Having spent a little time with that inaugural and thus far solo entry, I'd like to apologise to the paper's sub-editors for having doubted their commitment in dealing with his previous work.
Judges call a double fault
Condolences, finally, to Mr Justice Eady on more bother at the hands of those pesky appellate judges. Last week the Court of Appeal reversed yet another Eady decision (connected with Marco Pierre White's divorce), and this relentless impertinence towards the Solomon of libel becomes ever harder to tolerate. To Eady J, we say chin up, lippy on, tits out and show a brave face to the world. If that doesn't work, take heart from the words of a sportsman on finally beating Jimmy Connors after a shocking run of defeats. "And let that be a lesson to you all," the late tennis star chided a crowd in 1979. "Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row."
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