Matthew Norman: Mel’s mad blog is balm for the anguished soul

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The Independent Online

In these irredeemably dismal times, all I can honestly do is ask you – beg you on all fours, in fact, hands grasping your knees in frenzied imprecation – to take advantage of the finest non-chemical upper available to humanity.I refer, of course, to Melanie Phillips’s Spectator website-hosted blog. Prolific beyond belief, the words gushing forth and overflowing in the manner of a paranoiac Niagara, here Mad Mel redefines an ancient relationship. Where once and for centuries it was the deranged reader who would bombard the journalist with incredibly detailed and frighteningly opaque conspiracy theory diatribes, Melanie flips the tradition on its head. If her recent thoughts on President Obama’s ambition to destroy Israel is choice enough (which is, of course, why Obama chose an avowed Zionist, Rahm Emanuel, for his chief of staff), her work on MMR and autism is choicer. I can’t pretend to understand fully the recent posts on The Sunday Times’s Brian Deer, who has led the way in revealing the disastrously and perhaps dishonestly flawed research with which Dr Andrew Wakefield caused the measles epidemic, with a little help from certain media friends. But then I’ve read them just the seven times, so very early days. Even so, the gist of MM’s argument appears to be that, because his original reporting led the General Medical Council to investigate Dr Wakefield, by returning to a story “in which he was effectively a principal player…”, Mr Deer is guilty of “a clear conflict of interest and breach of journalistic standards”. It’s an intriguing and novel theory, this idea that unveiling a scandal is an automatic disqualification on ever returning to it in print. But whether we agree or not (and who knows, there may be a counter-argument buried somewhere), nothing can diminish our admiration for one who contributed herself to a needless medical crisis by credulously parroting Wakefield’s gibberish in the Daily Mail, and now accuses someone instrumental in exposing a scandal not just of lacking objectivity, but of serious professional malpractice. But don’t take my word for it. Just go to the blog, and scoop up a dollop of this limitless supply of balm for the anguished soul.

Spot the U-turn

Meanwhile, the Mail itself takes a step towards acknowledging its role in the epidemic. Admittedly it’s only a baby step, Frances Childs’s account of how she believes that “middle class MMR refuseniks are putting every child at risk” curiously bereft of any reference to who petrified those middle-class refuseniks in the first place. But it’s a start all the same, and for that relief much thanks.

It’s the Sun wot said it

In The Sun, Julie Burchill writes with magnificent wrath in support of Jade Goody, reminding us that “Goody has been accused of… racism by pretentious, privileged idiots”. She doesn’t name the guilty, but we could have a wild guess. “Jade Goody went into the Big Brother house appearing to be simply a fun-loving working-class girl…” thundered a Sun leader a couple of years ago. “She has left the house with her true personality laid bare – a vile, pig-ignorant, racist bully…” Even pretentious idiots make mistakes, of course. The important thing is that they made them with the same absolute sincerity evident in the empathy they lavish on her now.

Has it been that bad?

Also covertly attacking his Sun employers is Fergus Shanahan, the columnist who retains a lucky cardigan for forays to the keyboard. “Scientists have developed a pill that wipes out bad memories,” writes Fergs. “Can I have one for the last 12 years please?” I’m not sure exactly how long this Val Doonican of opinion formers has spent as the paper’s deputy editor, but it must be the better part of a dozen years. The callous ingrate.

You can bank on Blank

Whatever next in the electrifying career of that corporate Sidam Victor Blank, the reverse Midas whose triumphant stewardship of the Mirror Group has miraculously been eclipsed by his masterly decision to help his friend Gordon Brown by taking HBOS under the Lloyds TSB umbrella? Once Sir Victor has left the bank, another big job will be needed. Perhaps James Harding, Spurs-supporting editor of The Times, could launch a campaign to have him replace Peter Hill-Wood as chairman of Arsenal.

Another Jade ‘exclusive’

Speaking of the Mirror, meanwhile, Jade Goody is the catalyst for a subtle shift in its struggle to redefine the word “exclusive”. We’ve had the exclusive that appears with equal prominence in every other tabloid, the exclusive others deem worthy of a two-par brief on page 12, and the exclusive that’s only exclusive because it happens to be the exclusive experience of a Mirror staff writer. But until now I hadn’t noticed an exclusive, like Beth Neil’s “From Boozy Big Bruv Gaffes to TV Millions”, that doesn’t even bother affecting to be anything but a brazen cuts job.

King of spin is silenced

It is with indescribable gloom, finally, that we learn of Richie Benaud’s imminent retirement from television commentary. He may not have worked here for a while, but the thought of never again catching him on Sky coverage of Australia games is hideous. Whether anyone at the BBC has thought of offering to fly him over for the Ashes and hiring him from Test Match Special I’ve no idea. The problem is self-evident. This would require an abrupt reversal of the policy of limiting the number of TMS regulars with anything interesting and insightful to say about cricket to one (Geoff Boycott). But quota systems, however well intentioned, are seldom easy to love, and nothing – with the one obvious exception of Mad Mel’s blog – could make the coming summer bearable like the sound of Richie floating sibilantly from the radio.