Many people believe that Tessa Jowell has been the victim of "media frenzy". The phrase was used by Sir Alastair Graham, chairman of the committee on standards and public life. It was implied in remarks made by Baroness Jay, an old friend of Ms Jowell's. The Culture Secretary's pals, and the Government's supporters, suggest that this is another example of trial by tabloid. There may even be a feeling among those who think she is probably guilty that she has been given a pretty rough ride.
It is all nonsense, of course. If this was a media frenzy, it was a very half-hearted and uneven one. It was the Sunday Times which broke the story on 26 February. It reported Ms Jowell's signature had been on a mortgage application in September 2000, which was soon paid off with a "gift" received by her husband, David Mills. Only the Daily Mail thought the story important enough to splash with it the following morning.
The front page of a newspaper is a kind of megaphone, and its lead story is the megaphone at its loudest. Not once last week, between Monday and Friday, did the Sun, the Daily Express or the Daily Mirror run Tessa Jowell on their front pages. The Times, the Independent and the Financial Times splashed with the story once, the Daily Telegraph twice. The Guardian led four times during the week (on one occasion only from the second edition) while the Daily Mail splashed four out of five times, and on the other day carried a photograph of Ms Jowell on its front page.
As New Labour's most ferocious critic, the Mail might have been expected to lead the charge, and so it did. (I should declare an interest as a Mail columnist, who threw a few grenades in Ms Jowell's direction last week). But no straightforward pattern can be discerned in the reactions of other newspapers. The Guardian, after all, remains quite friendly towards New Labour and yet, after the Mail, it devoted the most energy to eviscerating Ms Jowell and her husband. The Daily Mirror, a less independent-minded supporter of New Labour, played down the story, though it ran one robust leader. Less easy to explain was the relative lack of interest on the part of the Tory Daily Express. Perhaps it was trying to distinguish itself from the distinctly aerated Mail.
There was, however, a familiar pattern visible in the Murdoch press. As I have said, it was the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times which broke the story. This paper has shown itself a regular and effective critic of New Labour - for example, in its pieces about Tony Blair's manipulation of the honours system. For some reason, Rupert Murdoch allows it a surprisingly free rein. By contrast, the Sun and the Times have been dependable friends of the Government since 1997, and rarely stray off-message. On this occasion the Times, while obligingly keeping Ms Jowell off its front page save for one day, did give over quite a lot of inside space to the story. The Sun, by contrast, consistently buried the controversy on page two, which is considered a dead news page. It ran two leaders about Ms Jowell, the first strikingly sympathetic, the second - after she had been preposterously judged blameless by Mr Blair, the man who has most to lose by her resignation - a little harsher.
We are being asked to believe that the Culture Secretary cheerfully raised an enormous mortgage on her house and did not realise until four years later that it had been almost immediately redeemed by Mr Mills' "gift"! Even the dimmest person would surely have noticed that outgoings had been substantially reduced by the early repayment of the mortgage.
So: the Sun, which by a considerable margin has the most readers of any newspaper in Britain, once again elected not to rock New Labour's boat. Some people will remember how during the years of Tory sleaze the paper screamed and yelled on its front page. New Labour sleaze, however, concerns it a great deal less. Indeed, it has been consistently indulgent towards Mr Blair, and has derided suggestions that he or the Government lied over Iraq. It ignores or underplays every bit of bad news that comes out of that country. If during the past week you had been one of the Sun's 10 million readers, and happened not to watch television news, you would have had little or no idea that a Government minister faced extremely grave charges.
Some media frenzy! The two red-top tabloids - the Sun and the Daily Mirror - scarcely laid a glove on Tessa Jowell. The Mirror's dogged loyalty to the Government may not be attractive, but at least it originates in some atavistic allegiance to socialism. In the end, all that binds the Sun (and the Times) to the Government are the business interests of Mr Murdoch, a man who does not live in this country, and probably cares little for it. If many British people have not yet grasped that we have an unusually mendacious Government, a good part of the credit must go to Rupert Murdoch.
It's unfair to lampoon David for his lack of numerical nous
Celebrities are usually fair game. They want to be presented in the fawning terms of Hello or OK! magazines. Newspapers should be more clear-eyed. Nonetheless, on 26 February the Mail on Sunday was unnecessarily beastly to poor David Beckham.
The newspaper made much of Beckham's confession, in the course of an interview with its Live magazine, that he had difficulties with the maths homework of his six-year-old son, Brooklyn. The following day an article in the Daily Mail ragged Beckham mercilessly as a dimwit. Wasn't all this a bit mean-spirited?
In the first place, credit should go to Beckham for admitting his shortcomings. In the second place, his difficulty with comparatively simple maths and English only confirms the inadequacies of the educational system which let him down. As Richard Littlejohn remarked in the Mail, Beckham is obviously bright. It is the system which betrayed him, not Beckham, that should be lampooned.
Whatever Beaverbrook was, he certainly was not pro-fascist
The measured reaction of the London Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold to a torrent of abuse from Ken Livingstone does him great credit. The Mayor of London had claimed that Mr Finegold (whom I have never met) swore at him, but a recording made by the reporter shows that he did not. Mr Finegold remains polite even when Mr Livingstone compares him to a German war criminal, though, as a Jew, he says he is "actually quite offended" by the comparison. Mr Livingstone was not merely rude and abusive. He is also ignorant of history. He suggests that Mr Finegold works for a paper that has "a record of fascism". In fact, during the 1930s the Evening Standard was owned by Lord Beaverbrook who, although something of an appeaser, was certainly not pro-fascist.
The Standard's then-editor, Frank Owen, could be fairly described as an anti-fascist.
In the 1980s the Standard became part of the Mail group.It is certainly true that in the 1930s the Daily Mail briefly supported Oswald Mosley's blackshirts, and its proprietor, the first Lord Rothermere, carried on a warm correspondence with Hitler, though he secretly passed on some of the information he gleaned to the Government. None of this, however, remotely makes the Evening Standard a newspaper with a fascist past.