Since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in August 1997, the press have had thin pickings so far as the Royal Family is concerned. There had been a time when stories about Diana and her lovers and her divorce consumed untold tons of newsprint. Since her death the only Royal story that has excited much interest among certain editors, and recalled the good old days, was the death of the Queen Mum.
So you can imagine how sections of the press feel about the advent of Kate Middleton - pretty, young, intelligent and, so they devoutly hope, the future wife of Prince William. Here is someone who may be able to fill the vacuum left by Diana - and sell some newspapers. She is worth a wilderness of DVDs.
Last week, as newspapers began to convince themselves that on Kate's 25th birthday she would receive a proposal from William, hysteria took over. The paparazzi descended on her flat in Chelsea. We were all of us shocked by the footage on the BBC of photographers shoving their lenses up Kate's nose as she walked along the pavement without any protection. If only those vermin could be horse-whipped, we thought.
And then another, rather subversive notion occurred to me. If it was wrong for the paparazzi to take photographs of Kate, why was it all right for the BBC to do so? Admittedly its cameramen were not hounding her so mercilessly, and they were hanging back from the scrum. But their presence was a kind of intrusion, and they were certainly stoking the fires of Katemania.
A similar thought came to me when it was announced that News International, which publishes the Sun, Times and News of the World, had decided not to use paparazzi photographs of Kate. How very public-spirited, some said. I confess that I had my doubts, which were confirmed the next day when I turned to the Times, and saw a picture of - who? Kate Middleton.
There seems to be a degree of hypocrisy going on here. The BBC invites us to condemn the excesses of the paparazzi while its own cameramen are up to not dissimilar tricks. News International, no doubt fearful of public opprobrium, banishes the paparazzi with a great fanfare even as The Times carries a picture of Kate that was presumably taken by one of its own staff photographers. There is a new mantra we had better all learn: paparazzi bad, staff photographers good.
In this connection I was pleased to see a piece by my esteemed colleague Professor Roy Campbell-Greenslade (a former editor of the Daily Mirror) in which he was generally critical of the paparazzi and expressed the widely held belief that they "hounded" Diana to her death. This is not true. The Princess and Dodi Fayed died because they were being driven by a man who was the worse for wear and thought he was in a James Bond film, a fantasy in which Dodi and Diana seemed to collude. Rather than race across Paris like mad things, they could, and should, have remained in the Paris Ritz, and spent the night there.
By the way, Diana enjoyed warm relations with the paparazzi when it suited her. Without them she would not have been the international superstar she became. She was also close to a number of tabloid journalists, including Richard Kay of the Daily Mail. It is to his eternal credit that he has never written a book about his friendship with Diana.
Please do not get me wrong. Such paparazzi as I have met do not persuade me that they are necessarily ideal companions for a walking holiday in the Italian Alps. I just think it is childish to pretend that all sin is to be found among them when there are plenty of others trying to cash in on the Kate Middleton phenomenon including, dare one say it, Kate Middleton herself.
If she receives no proposal from William, we will soon forget about her, and the day may come when she wistfully looks back at the time when the paparazzi followed her down the street. If she does marry the Prince, she will receive all the official protection from photographers and newsmen that is possible. My only hope, if she does tie the knot, is that she will learn how to deal with the Press with a little more decorum than did her husband's mum.
Not so much a case of Harnden as hard done by
Extraordinary - and very damaging - items appeared last week in diary columns about Toby Harnden, The Daily Telegraph's US editor, who is based in Washington. They claimed that Mr Harnden had written a blog confessing that he wrote a story about Saddam Hussein's hanging (published in the issue of 30 December) before he was hanged.
In something of a panic, The Telegraph has reacted to the Media Guardian story by removing Mr Harnden's "confessional" blog, as well as comments from readers, some of them vituperative, from its website.
Case proven? I don't believe so. The original piece is very clearly written before Saddam's death. It begins: "Saddam Hussein will spend the last moments of his life hooded as he is led to a steel scaffold where a hangman waits with a noose." The word "will" appears very often in the piece. He "will be led to a cell". He "will be led along a corridor".
Why, then, did Mr Harnden (whom I have met once, but do not know) half-apologise in his blog for this story, which was plainly written before the event? Perhaps he is a man of honour, and regretted saying that Saddam would be hooded, which he was not. But for the most part it was an accurate forecast of what happened at 3am our time on the morning of 30 December. Final editions of The Daily Telegraph carried the news that Saddam was dead, with Mr Harnden's name as one of two above the story.
Mr Harnden's error was to write in his blog that the first story was not his "finest hour". This suggested that he had done something of which he might have cause to feel ashamed. He hadn't. Unfortunately, by removing the blog The Telegraph has added credence to the idea that he had.Reuse content