Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Will Fox come out of its lair and go where 'The Sun' already shines?
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The Independent Online

There is nothing for it, once again, but to bow down in fealty before Rupert Murdoch's preternatural fluidity. Seldom has any political candidate been better designed than Barack Obama – whose views on Iraq, gay marriage, reversing tax cuts to billionaires (like himself), talking directly to nasty foreign tyrants (not like himself; Rupert is very keen to chat with him, and is a naturalised US citizen anyway) and much else – are anathema to the old goat who brought us Fox News. Yet here he is swinging the empire behind America's most liberal senator.

Last week, the Drudge Report highlighted the front page ("He Has A Dream") of a Sun edition that carried an astonishingly warm leader article. The Sun, which employs a phalanx of columnists to reinforce its loathing of immigrants, has fallen in love with a candidate whose message is predicated on his status as the son of an African immigrant. Mr Murdoch admits instructing the New York Daily News, The Sun's closest US equivalent, to support the Illinois senator, so we needn't hold a seance to ask Doris Stokes who played Cupid between Obama and Rebekah Wade. The truth of Rupert's conversion is almost too obvious to state. He reckons that Obama will win handily in November and, just as with Mr Tony Blair in the mid-1990s, wishes to gain leverage by hijacking what he calculates to be an unstoppable bandwagon.

Mr Blair sold whatever passed for his political soul by flying off to that News Corporation pow-wow, of course, and it cost him control over European policy. Mr Obama is a bigger and braver figure, and will doubtless treat Mr Murdoch's request for talks with the froideur it demands. In the meantime, it will be fascinating to learn whether Fox News will follow The Sun's lead by putting its formidable weight behind the candidate who represents almost everything it and its owner passionately loathe.

When the Daily Mirror tarted itself up a while ago, it was generally assumed that this would remain the high point for disastrous newspaper redesigns for decades to come – the industry's equivalent of the long-jump record Bob Beamon set in Mexico City in 1968. So a rousing hats off to The Times for setting a new mark so quickly. We always moan about revamped papers until familiarity breeds acceptance. But this would appear to be the work of a coalition of the blind, the deranged and saboteurs from rival papers, all the way from the page two leaders to relegating the outstanding Jane Shilling to a backwater at the rear of times2. A shocker of a rare order indeed.

Still with times2, what a blow-out it served fans of physical beauty last Tuesday. As if the cover snap of Simon Barnes holding a turkey – a fiendishly droll visual pun on the country he's adopting for the Euro 2008 championship – wasn't delight enough, a host of staff writers were featured inside in other national football strips. Now, myself, I can't get enough of David Aaronovitch's mind, but the appetite for his body is sated by the picture byline above his weekly musings. Enough with the staff pics. More than enough.

Over at the Mirror, meanwhile, what a week for sporting revelations. Over three days, the back page carried exclusives not only about Alex Ferguson's interview with David Frost (covered by every other paper) and Ronaldo's wish to go to Madrid (in The Sun the same day). It also hosted John Cross's exclusive that Saturday's Austria vs Croatia match would bring a keenly awaited punditry debut. "Former England coach Steve McClaren joins BBC Radio 5 Live's coverage of Euro 2008," he began. "His first commentary game will be Austria v Croatia on 8 June." Sorry, I must have mixed up my notes. That wasn't John at all. That was the BBC press release issued on 23 April.

I am increasingly distressed by sniping, on theatrical blogs, at the work of Sunday Telegraph critic Tim Walker (in the manner of my colleague Stephen Glover, I must declare an interest and mention that he replaced my wife in that post). For such paltry reasons as his genius for confusing very minor characters, such as Othello and Iago, certain so-called rivals never leave Tim alone. I would remind the Sunday Express's Mark Shenton and others that Kenneth Tynan himself was prone to this sort of trivial slip. He once wrote that Julius Nyerere was stabbed on the Ides of March, and frequently referred to productions of Falstaff and Juliet, Titus Bramble, Cory Aquino and, of course, Henry the Ford Parts I, II and III (the "histories are bunkum" trilogy, as Ken collectively knew them). Now let the poor lamb be.

Worrying further evidence, finally, of Jon Gaunt's solitary flaw. You will recall how Gaunty avoided confronting "feral youths" on a train, and cancelled the performance of his one-man Q&A for which I'd bought tickets at very short notice ("recording commitments"). Now he's surrendered meekly again after being phoned by John Terry, whom he lacerated the previous week as a "crybaby" for weeping after missing that penalty. Following their chat, Gaunty has gone into reverse once again, declaring that Mr Terry "could become a real leader of men". No one could ever supplant him as my favourite columnist, so I trust he'll take this for the friendly advice it certainly is. The juxtaposition of all the tough talk and the incessant raising of white flags is sending out a dangerously mixed message. Gaunty, boy, you've just got to do something about this yellow streak.