Stephen Glover on The Press

It would be cruel to persecute a Rottweiler that has lost its teeth
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The Independent Online

hy is it that I cannot get very worked up about the case of Clive Goodman, the News of the World's disgraced sleuth? Last week Mr Goodman pleaded guilty to intercepting private telephone messages involving the Royal Family. His co-defendant, Glenn Mulcaire, admitted the same charge. They will be sentenced in January.

Commentators fulminate - Polly Toynbee got dangerously close to overheating as she attacked Rupert Murdoch, Mr Goodman's proprietor, in The Guardian. Sir Christopher Meyer, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, brims with censure. A sinister sounding personage called the Information Commissioner has proposed more draconian penalties against erring journalists.

Am I in some way deficient for not being more exercised? Maybe I have become brutalised by writing a column for the Daily Mail, a newspaper which, while it would never dream of employing the techniques of Messrs Goodman and Mulcaire, might sometimes do things that could upset gentle souls like Polly.

Or am I influenced by the fact Mr Goodman's "scoops" were small beer, and his targets the sort of people who might be expected to look after themselves? One of Mr Goodman's hum-dingers revealed Prince William had consulted doctors about a pulled tendon in his knee. Wowee. Among those targeted by Mr Mulcaire were Simon Hughes, MP, Max Clifford and the supermodel Elle Macpherson. With the possible exception of Elle, I confess I am not eager to unsheathe my sword on behalf of any of these poor persecuted people.

Is it also possible that, while of course in no way defending the practices of Mr Goodman, I am influenced by an old-fashioned belief that journalists partly exist to ferret out important information? It is not inconceivable - and I think that Sir Christopher Meyer has said as much - that tapping the telephone of a dodgy politician or crooked businessman might be in the public interest. Mr Goodman had no such justification, but the techniques he employed were not necessarily reprehensible.

All these considerations may have restrained my indignation, and the reader may - or may not - think me very pathetic for not linking hands with Polly and the Information Commissioner. There is one further point that may explain my reaction better than all the others. I regard the News of the World as being much less fearsome than it was. Once it was a raging Rottweiler with bared teeth and slavering gums. Now it has grown podgy and a little sedate. The gums are worn down and the teeth blunted. It may be no nicer than it was, but it is much less dangerous, and happiest when trotting after scantily clad women.

The point might be extended to all the red tops which, as I have recently observed, without exception enjoy shrinking sales. The once-mighty People, which toppled David Mellor, and imagined him in a Chelsea strip, barely clings to life. The Sun, which gave us "the Squidgy tapes" and Norman Lamont's Barclaycard statement, has mostly gone legit. When did the News of the World last produce a knockout story? It is difficult to think of a recent red-top scoop, other than the Daily Mirror's revelation about Prezza and his mistress, yet I can think of numerous scoops in the middle and so-called quality market.

In this sense, Clive Goodman serves as a symbol of the paper he has worked for. Once we all quaked before him. Now he is reduced to pinching stories about Prince William's tendon. No doubt he could still give us a nasty nip, and the News of the World will produce the occasional scoop, but it is not as intimidating, and probably not as unscrupulous, as it once was. Dear old Polly is fighting yesterday's war.

scmgox@aol.com

Abandon hopefully, please

Everybody knows that The Times has dumbed down, and that its news stories are not always as well written as they once were. But I cling to the belief that its leader writers still operate in a world of their own, and hear the paper's ancestral voices.

Alas, the first leader last Wednesday ended with this sentence: "Mr Grade's greatest services to broadcasting may, hopefully, be yet to come." This should, of course, have read: "It is to be hoped that Mr Grade's greatest services to broadcasting are yet to come."

The leader writer concerned might like to consult a book called New Words for Old, a collection of columns written for The Times by Philip Howard, a journalist on the paper for many years. Mr Howard argues that the common misuse of the word "hopefully" is "a fashionable transatlantic abuse" as well as being "ugly and illiterate". Please keep it out of the leader column.

Your guide to who's missing

The other day I bought the recently published Who's Who in the Media, thinking it might be useful in my line of business. Published by Guardian Books, it describes itself as "an essential guide to the most powerful movers and shakers in the media". Naturally, I was pleased to see my name included, though the entry had not been submitted by me.

Pleasure however turned to disbelief as I read on. The huge number of omissions was baffling in a book claiming to be a guide. Carolyn McCall, chief executive of Guardian Media, is included, as is her counterpart at News International, Les Hinton. But my new hero, Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, is omitted, as are Ivan Fallon, chief executive of Independent News and Media, publisher of this paper, and Guy Zitter, managing director of the Daily Mail.

Among journalists, inclusions and omissions are no less wayward. There is an entry for The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins, but not for Polly Toynbee of the same parish. The interviewer Lynn Barber is included, but not Allison Pearson or Julie Burchill. Martin Newland earns a mention as an ex-editor of The Daily Telegraph, but his much longer-serving predecessors, Charles Moore and Max Hastings, still distinguished columnists, are omitted. Richard Ingrams has an entry, but Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye for 20 years, does not.

And so on. Among many other inexplicable omissions are Andreas Whittam Smith, Boris Johnson, Frank Johnson, William Rees-Mogg, Tom Bower, Peter McKay and Richard Littlejohn. I am less familiar with the worlds of television and radio and new media, supposedly also covered by the guide, but I bet their entries are far from comprehensive.

This book is junk. Don't on any account shell out £19.99 for it. If it is jealous of its reputation, The Guardian will withdraw it from sale.

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