Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Brave Dave prepares for the putsch to topple the junta

The most influential armchair soldier in the Western world is back in his metaphorical fatigues. Yes, it's Field Marshal David Aaronovitch, who championed the invasion of Iraq with more vigour than any fellow officer in Her Majesty's First Light Pundits. There have been times in recent years when David seemed to be taking the weeniest backward baby-steps towards admitting that, on Iraq, he may perhaps have dropped the tiniest of bollocks. However, these faint flickerings of the reverse lights on the tank have been quickly extinguished by defiant challenges to opponents, on the exquisitely subtle lines of: "Do you want Saddam back, is that what you want?" And now, far from succumbing to self-doubt, the Field Marshal wishes to invade Zimbabwe and oust Mugabe, which he believes would be another military piece of cake. "How many South African or British soldiers would it take to unseat the junta and disperse the Zanu-PF veterans?"

This is not a rhetorical question, of course. Having unleashed that military brain on the logistical problems, and consulted with his masters at the MoD, he well knows the precise answer, although the Official Secrets Act of course precludes him from sharing the information. Without dwelling on the ramifications of such retro-colonialism in a country that remains so sensitive on the point, lesser thinkers foresee a grave danger of hideous civil unrest. They forget that David was correct to ignore that outlandish prospect so far as Iraq. We salute the Field Marshal for the indefatigability of his faith in interventionism, and look forward to him leading his troops into battle.

And he very well might. Visitors to The Times website will relish a three-minute video of David training for a triathlon in August. Frankly, he looks in amazing shape for a chap turning 54 a week from today, especially in an aerodynamic bodysuit on Brighton beach, and it's suspected that the Field Marshal may be training less for that triathlon than because, tiring of all the desk work his military role imposes, he intends personally to spearhead the initial raid on the presidential palace in Harare. Would the first Times employee to find him digging a latrine in the Wapping car park please let us know?


The prize for Media-Related Column of the Week goes, unreservedly, to Polly Toynbee for a sensationally livid assault on Daily Mail miserabilism. My God, but she's magnificent when she gets really cross.


Anyone typing a wrongly spelt word into The Daily Telegraph's online search engine is greeted by the message: "We have detected that some of your search terms have been miss spelt." Don't expect chairman Aidan Barclay to sort it out, though. Eyebrows were raised that Aidan couldn't find the time to testify before the Lords' communications committee last week, but as the newsletter at his old prep school, Sussex House in Knightsbridge, reported a while ago his primary occupation is "Manager: Ritz Hotel". Don't these people understand that, what with room service to chivvy along, he's a very busy man?

I am saddened to note an intensification of the tension between Tim Walker of The Sunday Telegraph and his fellow theatre critics. We will return to this next week.


Before we come to another inspired Sun column from the golden pen of Jon Gaunt, a word of praise for his early morning paper-reviewing on Sky News. Almost every story that Gaunty mentions is taken from one paper, and tends to be prefaced with a jaunty, "You have to praise The Sun for this", or "The Sun has a cracking story about..." Curiously, he doesn't seem so impressed with the Sun's perplexing new obsession with UFOs, and in a startlingly unwonted attack of corporate disloyalty, Gaunty questions the sanity of those, such as his editor Rebekah Wade, "who believe in visitors from outer space". Too often before has it been my sad duty to chide Gaunty for his yellow streak (you may recall his last-minute cancellation of the one-man show for which I had bought tickets), but not today. Well done, Gaunty!


Concerns about the Daily Mirror's isolationism become graver than ever. On Thursday, the paper splashed with an "exclusive" about Cristiano Ronaldo and his girlfriend snuggling up by a Sardinian swimming pool (also the centre spread in The Sun, and featuring exactly the same agency pictures in every other tabloid) that confirmed how completely it has withdrawn into its own private world.

There were too many other "exclusives" to list here (page three: a soap character being killed off; page seven: man beaten up by "kung fu" cops; page 11: Ronnie Biggs out next year; pages 24 and 25: captivating interview with Shakin' Stevens, etc), but my favourite was an op-ed effort by Ros Wynne-Jones that finished with the assertion: "The world needs new Mandelas, not just in Africa but in the West, too."

It's not clear whether Ros advocates a policy of creating human saints by imprisoning and torturing them for decades, but this was an "exclusive", too. And who could argue with that? Ros didn't write the same piece in a single other paper on that day.


Mischief rears its head in The Guardian newsroom, finally, where a report on last week's Anglican pow-wow was headlined: "Cracks begin to show at summit discussing gay clergy rift." The byline established a proper belt-and-braces commitment to the Carry On titter. It was written by Riazat Butt.

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