Matthew Norman: Is this the end of the Fox-Palin affair?

This one, to borrow from the President-elect on the infinitely vexing question of when precisely human life begins, is above my pay grade. So I call on our revered professors of journalism to settle the matter as only they, in all their sonorous wisdom, can. It concerns our friends at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and a conundrum they faced.

Now available on YouTube is a post-election chat between Fox anchor Shepard Smith and chief political correspondent Carl Cameron, in which the latter relates how a McCain staffer told him that, when she joined the ticket, Sarah Palin was labouring under the belief that Africa was a country rather than a continent.

We need not spell out the impact this revelation would have had on an electorate already tending towards the dubious over the Alaskan Governor’s credentials to lead the free world should McCain die (that oft-quoted actuarial 7-2 shot) during his first term. It would have indisputably ended any lingering chance Fox’s preferred candidate had of winning the White House. Mr Cameron peremptorily explained that he hadn’t seen fit to share this with the public because it “was off the record until after the election”.

It’s worth noting here how taken Mr Murdoch was with Mrs Palin, patting her on the back and whispering “thank you very much” as they emerged from a charity gala in late September. A little earlier, meanwhile, the New York Post (as much the mouthpiece of his world view in the US as The Sun is here) had described her in a leader as “charming” and, with wonted prescience, “rock solid”. So the question is as follows. Was Carl Cameron’s startling reticence a stirring expression of the highest journalistic ethics regarding the respecting of a confidence? Or was this in fact the most irresponsible, cowardly and despicable instance of partisan self-censorship in broadcast media history? Professors, it’s over to you.

A missed target

If the mild temptation with this one is to sneer and tease, the overpowering emotion is pity. For the editors of our newspapers, daily beset by a range of insoluble problems into which it is too depressing to go, here was a gift from God. After an election that established with brutal clarity how in America the internet has already relegated the printed word to the status of aged uncle sitting bemusedly in the corner, here was a blessed chance to put a stamp of sorts on an event of historical significance. And to its credit, with near unanimity, our editors accepted the gift with glee with a series of uplifting front pages. And so to Peter Hill of the Daily Express. Charged with capturing the mood on Thursday, “Target Obama” was Peter’s headline for a splash dwelling on the bullet-proof screen behind which Obama made his acceptance speech. As if the obvious needed spelling out in a two-paragraph brief on page 29. Gifted an opportunity to offer that fabled first take on history, this was the best Peter could manage.

Win for stats supremo

Our award for Website of the Year goes to fivethirtyeight.com, on which Nate Silver analysed the staggering weight of polling data with an insightful brilliance unwitnessed in this field even from the golden pen of Times number cruncher Peter Riddell.

Many polling firms had spectacular elections, but Silver’s final popular- vote projection came within two tenths of a percentage of the reality, and a media superstar was born.

Pure parody

A joy to note the spreading influence of sportswriter Simon Barnes – who once assured us that Roger Federer “is as myriad-minded as Shakespeare ever was” – on his colleagues at the Times. “Arsenal’s football was pure parody for much of the first half,” declared the genuinely excellent Matt Hughes of a scoreless Champions League effort last week, “a work of art beautifully constructed but ultimately worthless. Were they mocking the notion of art itself?” Were they? Was that what Cesc Fabregas, Gaël Clichy and Robin van Persie were up to at the Emirates? I think, on balance, it certainly was.

Half measures

It would be a crime against humanity to allow this diary to pass without mentioning my favourite columnist’s take on Obama’s victory. Jon Gaunt tells Sun readers that he’s irked by talk of Obama being black when half of him is white. “Surely the fact that he is mixed-race is a more potent symbol of how far America has progressed …” Or might it have been even more potent had the US elected a jet-black descendant of slaves with no reassuringly middle-American genetic heritage? As so often with his musings, we could spend months pondering the question and be not one inch closer to the answer.

Play nicely, children

Elsewhere in another flawless column, Gaunty rebukes the comedian Kevin Day, “who squared up to me this week and accused me of slagging him off”. Gaunty had accused Kevin of being a faux-football supporter. “Grow up, you pathetic specimen – you must be nearly 50 years old, not 15,” he thunders. “‘Oohmummy, Gaunty says I’m not a real football fan!’” The infantile preciousness of these media types, eh? It is three weeks today since Gaunty rang me in the highest of umbrage (“I’m not having you making out I’m thick, you twat”) over the perceived suggestion that he included Rolf Harris among his Top 10 Brits – shame on Daunt’s in London’s latte-sipping Holland Park, by the way, for not stocking the new book – in ignorance of Rolf’s nationality. Jon Gaunt is 47 ¾.

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