Say what you like about The Sun, once it has declared it will back you it does not renege on the agreement. For years it slavishly supported Tony Blair, enthusiastically endorsing his case for war against Iraq, and underplaying or ignoring the bad news when things began to go wrong after the invasion.
Now the paper has switched its loyalties to David Cameron, it is employing similar censorship techniques. Last Monday the Tory leader "messed up" (his words) when he softened a cast-iron commitment to provide tax breaks for married couples should the Tories win the election. Almost alone among the Press, The Sun did not mention his faux pas. Instead it made much of Mr Cameron's championing of the NHS, and attacked Alistair Darling over his "dodgy dossier" alleging a black hole in Tory spending plans.
On Friday most newspapers reported that Steve Hilton, David Cameron's chief adviser and friend, had been arrested after a foul-mouthed tirade at Birmingham railway station. The incident, which happened last October, has only just come to light. After declining to produce a ticket, Mr Hilton let fly verbally, and was carted off to a police station, where he was fined £80 and acquired a criminal record. Not a big deal, perhaps, but surely worth reporting at some length, given Mr Hilton's importance. The Sun could manage only a tiny "news in brief" item.
Just before Christmas there was a startling omission. The multi-millionaire businessman David Ross, a substantial Tory donor and close friend of Mr Cameron's, was involved in a minor scandal. A Lithuanian call girl telephoned the police in the early hours while outside Mr Ross's Belgravia house, claiming she had been assaulted.
Mr Ross and his much younger girlfriend (a scion of the Pilkington glass family) were in the house at the time. He was interviewed for two hours last week, and a file is expected to be sent to the CPS. Here was the kind of carry-on that would have normally gripped The Sun's imagination: well-known wealthy businessman and blonde heiress and call girl, also blonde. And yet while the Daily Mail and some of the posher papers covered the story in detail, The Sun ignored it entirely. Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, and as it happens the last editor of The Sun, killed it dead.
Mr Ross is too close to Mr Cameron for comfort, and the Tory leader must be protected. A further explanation may be that earlier in the evening the businessman had attended a party at the Notting Hill house of the PR guru Matthew Freud, where Mrs Brooks was also present. She and Mr Freud, and arguably David Cameron, are fellow members of the so-called Chipping Norton set, inhabiting the "North-West Oxfordshire triangle".
It is true The Sun's less successful rival the Daily Mirror sometimes suppresses news it does not want to print, or takes dictation from Number 10. I suppose you pays your money and you takes your choice. But in blotting out disagreeable facts, The Sun is in a class of its own. In an odd way it is reassuring to see its instincts are as strong now that it supports David Cameron as they were when it backed Tony Blair.
This was no ordinary 'friend of the student'
Where was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab radicalised? It suits some people to say that the man who tried to blow up an aircraft bound for Detroit was turned in his home country of Nigeria and in Yemen rather than during the three years he spent as a student at University College, London.
On 1 January the BBC website carried an item based on an interview with Qasim Rafiq, who knew Abdulmutallab at UCL. Mr Rafiq said he wanted to know what had driven his former friend "down the road". If the "humble, kind, well-mannered, well-spoken individual" he knew had expressed radical views during their friendship, it would have "raised question marks with him". CNN ran a similar piece on its website.
Both organisations presented Mr Rafiq as a perfectly ordinary student who happened to be a friend of Abdulmutallab's. No mention whatsoever was made of his position as head of media and spokesman of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis).
A modicum of research by the BBC would have established that Fosis has been criticised in some quarters for its radicalism. For example, on behalf of Fosis Mr Rafiq strongly condemned "the repeated attempts to discredit the character of Mohamed Ali Harrath, CEO of Islam Channel". This gentleman may well be upstanding, but happens to be wanted by Interpol on terrorism and related charges.
As Fosis spokesman Mr Rafiq also criticised the BBC in July 2008 for citing a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion which had alleged the growth of Islamic extremism at some British universities.
There is no requirement for the BBC to take any line on the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. But to report the views of Qasim Rafiq about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab without mentioning that he is its head of media is naïve and amateurish journalism.
I fear Charles is not rugged enough for a grim dungeon
Friends of Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, will be relieved that Jonathan Ross is parting company with the BBC. He had informed readers of his Telegraph column that unless Ross were removed by the Corporation he would not be paying his licence fee. Since he reiterated this threat on several occasions, there was no prospect of his getting out of it.
In recent weeks the forces of law and order had finally been closing in. A recent item in Mr Moore's diary in The Spectator magazine revealed that a gentleman representing the licensing authorities had almost felt his collar. I quailed for him at that point. He is not as young as he was, and was never of a notably rugged disposition. The idea of his being incarcerated in some grim dungeon – as he would surely have had to have been in the end, along with elderly ladies who refuse to pay their council tax – was not a pleasant one.
Now friends will be grateful that we will not have to send him food parcels after all. Or will we? Suddenly the dreadful thought arises that Mr Ross may not have been actually sacked by the BBC, and Mr Moore may therefore be reluctant to relieve himself of his pledge. Could Pentonville still beckon?
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