Matthew Norman: Media Diary

Those who live in Gaunt houses...

Even for the most dedicated students of the press, is there any greater delight than the vision of stern tabloid moralists sharing their thoughts on sexual morality?

I refer here not to the News of the World's heroic struggle for freedom of speech, bracing though it is to find that paper making a rare sortie into the civil libertarian camp, because at the time of writing, that judicial sweetheart Mr Justice Eady has yet to conclude the Max Mosley case. I am thinking of Michelle Palmer, imprisoned for six years in Dubai for having sex on a beach while under the influence. In The Sun, favourite columnist Jon Gaunt shows no sympathy, and the Islamic world will rejoice at this unwonted show of solidarity from a man who used to get excited at the sight of undergarments belonging to his widowed father's girlfriend drying on the line. Equally unsympathetic is Richard Littlejohn, who devotes much of his Daily Mail page to making much the same When in Rome point. Now, there are those in this industry who, having misbehaved in drink from time to time, might be expected to show a little pity. One of the milder incidents involved one particular columnist putting away so much, when reviewing the Soho House restaurant for the London Evening Standard, that he or she had to ring the manager the next day to ask what he, or she, had eaten. But then we hardly need reminding that alcohol can cause even the most shining paradigm of moral rectitude to behave unprofessionally. Try as we might, we cannot all live up to Richard's standards. If only we could.

****

Rancour stalks the roughhouse world of the gentleman's magazine upon Mansel Fletcher's shock defection from Esquire to rival GQ. "Mansel is one of the most stylish young men in London," begins the statement from Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, rushed out a day before GQ's embargoed announcement (and weren't the major US networks livid about that delay?). "He travels the world in search of perfect tailoring and is the only man I know who wears bespoke boxer shorts..." Blimey, he sounds quite the card.

"Having worked on upmarket titles such as Wallpaper and Esquire for many years," continues Jeremy, "I think he will find it an invigorating challenge to work on a mass market magazine for a change." Ouch. These boys are brutal once the gloves come off. Anyway, all the best to Mansel, especially with that all important debut piece... a hard-hitting investigative feature, scheduled for the Christmas "recession special", and entitled, "How to get that bonus sixth wash out of your cashmere socks".

I continue to fret about Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace, who I must mention fired me soon after ascending to his post for reasons that will need no elucidation for readers of this page. Richard is a jolly good egg, by all accounts, but I remain concerned by his interpretation of the word "exclusive". Take Friday's spread headlined "Cheesy but a lot of fun", in which Beth Neil did a bang-up job collecting the opinions of people who'd just seen Mamma Mia! Yet in what sense, other than that these moviegoers didn't confide their critical judgments to anyone else, can this be seen as an "exclusive"? And if it can, why doesn't shouldn't Richard go the extra mile for distinction by sticking "exclusive" above the horoscopes?

****

Still with the Mirror, a word of praise for its campaign against adolescent knife crime. The similar effort of a few years ago was such a tremendous success that it deserved this belated encore. Particularly inspired was carrying a quote from Ronnie Corbett – whose cred with urban youth rests on that cocaine-snorting cameo in Extras – as dictated from a fairway at Wentworth. If the spectre of Little Ron leaving the course and storming along the streets of Peckham waving his sand wedge doesn't scare the pubescent bleeders back into line, it's very hard to imagine what will.

****

The first ante-post show on the race to succeed Christopher Meyer as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission next March is in. News of the World editor Colin "Credit Crunch" Myler is installed as the 11-2 favourite in the wake of his halving the agreed fee for one of Mr Mosley's prostitutes due to global economic circumstances beyond his control, while Charles Clarke, Lord Robert Winston and Dionne Warwick are on 7-1. Bracketed on 9s are William Rees-Mogg, Dame Stella Rimington and John Noakes, with Mr Justice Eady earning a 10-1 quote "with a run". After this, a clutch of candidates on 12s includes John Selwyn Gummer (Little Gum Gum), Sir Simon Jenkins, endlessly angry, media-loathing Tory MP Roger Gale and former cabinet office gaffer Lord Butler. Gilbert and George are on their own at 14s, with former Thai tennis sensation Paradorn Srichapan and wannabe comeback kid Lord Wakeham both on 16-1s. It's 33-1 bar those, with Andrew Neil looking tempting (how often do you get the chance to say that?) at 66s.

****

The best of british to Times editor James Harding, finally, as he prepares to sit the GCSE media studies exam. We have every confidence that he will pick up the A* required to make the searingly original point that exams have been made too facile in the quest for misleading educational statistics. One word of respectful advice. If the exam features a choice of essay questions, James, steer clear of the one that asks, "In no more than 400 words, lay out your ideas, with illustrations, for redesigning a newspaper."

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