Last December the Daily Mail got hot under the collar over a "sleazy" dance routine performed by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera during The X Factor final. The paper was upset as the programme was broadcast before the watershed while young children were watching.
Ofcom pronounced in April that the undeniably raunchy dance was "at the limit of acceptability for transmission before the 9pm watershed". The regulator also chided the Mail for publishing photographs which made the dance routine appear "more graphic and close-up" than it was. Ten days ago the paper took a swipe at "pathetic" Ofcom while it welcomed a report recommending tighter policing of the watershed. My guess is that many parents of young children will be on the Mail's side.
But what are we to make of even more provocative photographs published last week by Mail Online of a video of a Colombian singer called Shakira? They showed her wearing "just a pair of tiny knickers and a string bra" and clutching a pole. As Mail Online put it: "As well as grinding and gyrating her body up and down the pole the singer throws her body forward leaving just her pert derriere in view of the camera."
Mail Online did not express shock or outrage, merely remarking that "the video will no doubt raise eyebrows". Its intention was surely more to titillate than condemn – if condemn at all. This is a good example of how the Daily Mail and Mail Online do not always share the same values.
The sceptics Brooks must now convince
The most interesting question about the News of the World phone hacking scandal has never been whether its former editor Andy Coulson knew what was going on. It has always seemed to me unimaginable that he didn't. A more gripping question is whether Rebekah Brooks was in the know. As Rupert Murdoch's most senior executive in Britain and David Cameron's friend and co-member of the Chipping Norton set, Mrs Brooks is a far more important figure than Mr Coulson.
She was editor of the News of the World between 2000 and 2003, with her friend Mr Coulson as her deputy, before handing over to him when she became editor of the Sun in 2003. It has always seemed unlikely that the practice of phone hacking on the paper, which we now know was very widespread, suddenly sprang up miraculously once Mr Coulson took over. Last week it was alleged in the Commons that Jonathan Rees, a private investigator, had worked for the News of the World and other newspapers as far back as the mid-1990s, and is supposed to have targeted such disparate figures as Jack Straw, Prince Edward, Peter Mandelson and Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England.
Until he stepped down as No 10's spin doctor, Mr Coulson – who had, after all, resigned as editor of the News of the World over the phone-hacking scandal – was in the limelight. Now that he has fled the scene, and allegations multiply almost daily, Mrs Brooks can no longer stay in the shadows. She has been chief executive of News International throughout the period of its dogged insistence that only one journalist had been involved in the hacking. Only belatedly did it institute some rather dilatory investigations led by Colin Myler, present editor of the News of the World.
Now, as this newspaper reported on Saturday, an increasingly irritated Rupert Murdoch has dispatched four hot-shot American investigative attorneys to London to discover the true extent and nature of the phone hacking. Mr Murdoch realises that drip-drip revelations are undermining his, and his company's, reputation, and would be justified in feeling that his protégé Rebekah Brooks has failed to shut down the controversy, and allowed it to spiral out of control.
That would not be, of course, because she herself has anything to hide. We have no evidence that she knew about phone hacking while she was editor of the News of the World. We may surmise, all the same, that these four American lawyers – who will be working alongside the British firm BCL Burton Copeland, which specialises in commercial fraud and business crime – will turn everything inside out. Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police are under growing pressure to peer under every stone as they continue their inquiry.
We have got to the stage where the elusive Mrs Brooks (she seldom appears in public and never gives interviews) will have to satisfy a growing number of sceptics, possibly including Rupert Murdoch, that she knew nothing about the phone hacking at the time, and has not subsequently tried to protect herself or her colleagues. Lurking in the shadows will no longer do. She may be Mr Murdoch's favourite, but in the end she is only another executive, and will not be allowed to exceed her power.
Could it be Kate to the rescue?
May's circulation figures did not make happy reading for most newspapers. Might the Duchess of Cambridge be their salvation? The former Kate Middleton adorned the front pages of the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph last Thursday, the Sun, Times and Daily Mail on Friday, and the Sunday Telegraph yesterday.
Editors evidently hope she will sell more newspapers. I wonder whether even Diana, Princess of Wales was required to do so much service quite so soon. Let's hope it works, but I can't help wondering whether society has not changed over the past 30 years, so that many newspaper readers, while wishing Kate well, may not want her on the front page day after day.