TRYING TO interpret Rupert Murdoch's thoughts on the scrap for the Democratic presidential nomination is a confusing business. In The Times, the US editor Gerard Baker launches a ferocious strike against Hillary Clinton. Given how brutally Murdoch suppresses anything that might conflict with his business interests, this article's appearance suggests that he has cooled on Hillary since hosting a fundraiser for her in New York last year. On the other hand, his Fox network last week reported as fact the idiotic smear about Barack Obama attending a madrasa in Indonesia at the age of six. Doubtless the old boy will make his mind up soon enough, possibly when it has become more apparent which of them will win.
If Murdoch does eventually plump for Obama, it will be intriguing to see whether the senator gives him a wide berth or lies back and thinks of Pennsylvania Avenue. Let's hope it's the former, because there is little but grief for those who yield, as the sad tale of John Reid confirms. The good doctor's remorseless campaign to ingratiate himself with The Sun climaxed last week with a front-page headline enquiring, in the wake of the prisons fiasco, after the whereabouts of his brain, which it compared, in size, to a walnut. The next day, as this paper's Pandora reported, he presented The Sun's political editor with a Walnut Whip.
I can't decide what's most heart-rending about this - the brave attempt at humour, or the triumph of hope over such recent experience - but the moral is clear. As I've often said before, you cannot go to bed with Mr Murdoch without waking up with a nasty itch and an urgent need for antibiotics.
* SO RARE is it for Paul Dacre to make a public pronouncement that it behoves us, when he does, to treat his words with the care lavished by ancient Greeks on the Delphic oracle. To this end I have been reading the text of last week's Hugh Cudlipp Lecture, in which the mannerly Daily Mail editor turned his guns on the BBC.
Paul's critique ranges from overstaffing, an unfair advantage over commercial rivals, and the Beeb's loss of nerve following the Hutton report, all of which are perfectly decent arguments. But what really gets Paul's goat - seldom an animal, in truth, that plays hard to get - is the BBC's intolerance towards anyone dissenting from its woolly minded liberal-left world view. To him, the BBC is implacably "against the values of conservatism, with a small 'c', which just happen to be the values held by millions of Britons".
What Paul fails to address is why, if the BBC is so contemptuous of the views of so many, it is the only national institution that still commands widespread respect and affection; and why every poll published shows greater trust in BBC reporting than in that of any newspaper.
As for the familiar notion that the BBC "only reflects the views of a tiny metropolitan minority", in the background as I write, BBC Radio Five Live is broadcasting a debate about immigration, held in Blackburn, featuring some opinions that Paul might consider too trenchant for his letters page.
We appreciate his disdain for media outlets that tirelessly propound their own narrow world view without regard for any counter-argument, but not everyone can match his commitment to striking the balance. Then again, the BBC is looking for a new chairman. Could Paul Dacre be the man to address the bias in BBC reporting? It would be the mother of all salary cuts, but I think he could.
* I HOPE that the above doesn't cast me as one of those vitriolic liberal commentators who, as Paul put it, "demonise anyone who disagrees with them", but, again, we have much to learn here from the Mail, where Melanie Phillips is such a lovable fixture. Last week, I asked why Mel hasn't written about Israel in the paper for so long. Although I have no answer, I can direct those missing their fix to her website. There you will find an article approvingly quoting the historian Benny Morris predicting a second holocaust at the hands of Iran. Thankfully, Mel herself isn't convinced that the annihilation of the region's only nuclear superpower is inevitable. The entire text is at www.madmelphillips.com.
* HATS OFF to HarperCollins for scrapping the paperback release of Jade Goody's autobiography. This is the sort of backbone we expect of leading publishers in the face of a media firestorm, and ranks among the more significant statements of the book trade's belief in freedom of expression since Waterstone's refused to stock copies of Jonathan Margolis's biography of Bernard Manning, while continuing to sell biographies of Hitler.
* MIXED FEELINGS, finally, on news that the BBC Radio 4 controller, Mark Damazer, has commissioned Jim Naughtie to make a series of 15-minute shows on classical music. It's terrific for lovers of music, about which Jim is barely less authoritative than on garden birds (his special area of interest on Today). On the other hand, the series will run to only 60 shows. First they expect him to ask a question about transport policy in under 17 minutes; now they want him to scratch the surface of Beethoven in no more than 15 hours. Will no one give the man the time he needs to do his work?