You'll never believe this...

Extortion, bribery and corruption? The scandal at the 'New York Post' makes our home-grown newspaper diarists look whiter than white

Those who regard gossip columnists as the pond-life of journalism will feel vindicated by the scandal at the New York Post. One regular reporter for the paper's Page 6 column, Jared Paul Stern, is alleged to have tried to extort $220,000 from a Californian supermarket billionaire in return for favourable coverage, while others stand accused of improperly accepting gifts and junkets. A federal investigation is under way.

While one may not want to go quite as far as Humbert Wolfe - "You cannot hope to bribe or twist, Thank God! The British journalist" - this is an occasion when social diarists on this side of the Atlantic can allow themselves to feel a little superior. It is unthinkable that such serious allegations could be made against Fleet Street gossip columnists. They may, on occasion, be venal, drunken, lazy or inaccurate; but not crooked.

If an accusation could be fairly levelled against our diary columnists, it is that, far from colluding with their subjects, they take an unhealthy delight in causing them discomfort. Before Boris Johnson's affair with Petronella Wyatt became public knowledge, the Tory MP was driven to distraction by the Daily Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle column, which made regular references to "private editorial discussions" between the two. Johnson pleaded with Peter McKay, the column's editor, to desist, but the allusions continued.

Neither could all the champagne and hospitality at his disposal help Dai Llewellyn when one diary editor took against him a few years ago. Llewellyn was the front man for the Dorchester Club, a swish venue on Park Lane. The then editor of the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary, however, having conceived a violent dislike of the blameless Llewellyn, insisted the club could not be mentioned without its name being prefixed by the word "unfashionable". By way of variation, it was sometimes referred to as "the increasingly unfashionable Dorchester Club". I remember running into Llewellyn at the time. "Why?" he asked, despairingly, "why?"

This is not to say, of course, that some low level corruption does not go on. One London PR man has ensured positive coverage of his clients in nearly every diary through a well-worked strategy. First he gives the diarist membership of an expensive private health club, then he takes him out to lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants on his books; all the while insisting that there's "no quid pro quo". They're just "mates". Later he calls with what he deprecatingly insists is "not a story". Indeed it isn't. It is probably a shameless puff. But by this time, the diarist is so grateful that he thinks, "I must do something for X", and an obliging paragraph duly appears in his column.

Diaries are all about contacts, and no diary editor is going to stitch up friends who are good sources of information. The reader, it is true, is thereby deprived of unflattering news of these friends, but that is the price of doing business. Thus Nigel Dempster would write in glowing terms about Princess Margaret, and Ross Benson would comment sympathetically on George Best's troubles.

The problem for the diarist comes when writing about the editor's friends. It is not always obvious who these people are, but they must be written about respectfully. At one paper I wrote a rather rude piece about a New York publisher, only to be called in by the editor. "He's a friend of mine," he said. The item was rewritten, and the publisher described as a hero among men.

During Max Hastings' editorship of the Evening Standard, the situation was much more of a headache for the staff of Londoner's Diary. So sensitive was Hastings to references to his friends, and such was his wrath if any one of them was inadvertently slighted, that a list was drawn up. In the end, we decided, it was simplest to avoid writing about them at all. But this also applied to those Hastings disliked.

One morning his attention was drawn to a kindly item about Antonia de Sancha, who had embarked on a romance with a raffish scribe known for his lounge singing. "I know he's a friend of yours," Hastings said to Sebastian Shakespeare, the diary editor, "but I think he's the scum of the earth". (The scribe in question was none other than The Independent on Sunday's own incomparable diarist, Christopher Silvester, whose fearless investigations into Hastings' finances in the pages of Private Eye had, so Hastings told a colleague, increased the cost of his divorce.) The story was pulled from the later editions, and a second list, of Max's enemies, was drawn up.

So yes, favours are done, and a little back-scratching goes on. But the hand of Inspector Knacker has yet to be felt on the British diary editor's collar. There is a certain honour, even among gossip columnists.

Guy Adams

Pandora, 'The Independent' Voted best-dressed journalist by Press Gazette, Adams is of the huntin', shootin', fishin' school. Many of his best stories stem from days in waders with right-wing MPs. He's also popular with PR girls in London's party scene. His big scoop was Labour's 'anti-Semitic' flying pigs poster.

Oliver Marre

Pendennis, 'The Observer' The new kid on the diary scene, he arrived for the paper's relaunch in January. So far, he has revealed Charles Clarke's fight in Norwich Cathedral and Gordon Brown's book of speeches. He was first to break the story of David Cameron's 'green' expedition to the Norwegian ice floes.

Celia Walden

Spy 'The Daily Telegraph' The daughter of former Tory minister George Walden, Celia brought glamour to the Telegraph social diary when she arrived last year, but some readers wrote to complain that she was showing too much flesh in her alluring byline photo. Celia has specialised in celebrity chefs, and has been seen partying with Jean-Christophe Novelli and Tom Aikens. Notable stories were Labour MP Shaun Woodward buying a £6m home in the Hamptons, and Wayne Rooney's girlfriend, Coleen, appearing on the cover of Vogue magazine.

Sebastian Shakespeare

Londoner's Diary, 'Evening Standard' Shakespeare is Fleet Street's longest-standing diary editor. Described by Alan Clark in his diaries as a "tricky little prick", Shakespeare and his public school minions fire off more than a dozen stories a day. His best contacts are in publishing. The diplomat's son is also Tatler books editor. Top stories include Prince William accidentally shooting an ibis in Africa and Zac Goldsmith's denouncing of sandwiches as unecological.

Peter McKay

Ephraim Hardcastle, 'The Daily Mail' To borrow one of his own favourite words, McKay, left, is the 'boulevardier' of Fleet Street. A diary veteran, he now pens the waspish and unmissable column in the Daily Mail - with a succession of glamorous assistants. More a long-luncher than a party-goer,McKay has lots of senior political and media contacts who provide the rumour and suggestiveness that pepper his column. The exuberant Scot, a genius of innuendo, claims there is no story so libellous that a form of words can't be found to smuggle it past the lawyers. His former target, Petronella Wyatt, now works for him.

Tim Walker

Mandrake, 'The Sunday Telegraph' An old Millfield boy, Tim has been described as the Noël Coward of the diary world. John Mortimer's love-child with Wendy Craig was his finest scoop and most memorable was the story about General Sir Mike Jackson having surgery which removed the bags from under his eyes. He is rarely seen out but is well-connected with poor relations of the rich and famous.He is not afraid to take a gamble with royal stories, though they occasionally backfire.,

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

Personal and Legal Assistant – Media and Entertainment

£28,000 - £31,000: Sauce Recruitment: A Global media business based in West Lo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice