George Clooney's father was a newscaster and Ed Murrow was regarded as a hero in the their household. George has earned a fortune playing charming and glamorous lightweights, but now he has turned his not inconsiderable intelligence and clout to an issue which clearly is all too topical. Just as McCarthy's witch hunt against Communism in the 1950s led to a kind of collective paralysis among those who feared to speak out, it could also be argued that television and radio in America has settled for crowd-pleasing entertainment rather than crusading investigative journalism. CBS was cowardly and shunted Murrow's series out of prime time to a Sunday afternoon slot, and then killed it off altogether. You have to go all the way back to All the President's Men to see an American film that tackles these issues so powerfully.
The film has its longeurs and, although exquisitely shot in black and white seamlessly melding together newsreel footage of the day and dramatic inserts, lacks pace and emotional impact. But these are quibbles, because the performance of David Strathairn as Murrow is so compelling you can't take your eyes off the screen. And while I was sitting in the cinema enjoying this intelligent and well-crafted celebration of ethics and free speech, what was the main story filling the pages of our biggest-selling newspapers? What was the story more important than unexplained deaths of young people in army barracks, more important than the death of a young man in Iraq, more important than global warming, human rights in China or a new drug for heart disease?
The sorry saga of the editor of The Sun bashing her husband! Now isn't that the kind of story that investigative journalists like Ed Murrow fought for the freedom to write about and broadcast? News bulletins all day long and headlines in the evening papers and then the morning ones, just confirmed one thing: George Clooney's film should be required viewing for all secondary school students and anyone who want to enter the media, because the standard and agenda of its protagonists are ancient history these days. Is the other piece of news that a second soap star, who coincidentally plays the brother of the first tough guy in our most popular soap opera, got bashed by his ex-girlfriend, a real piece of hard-hitting current affairs in the Ed Murrow tradition? Forgive me for being cynical, but surely the whole series of events was just too convenient for words - allowing The Sun to display the "attack" of the man who wasn't married to its editor all over its front page?
Let's just remember how The Sun treats gay men like my friend Stephen Gately from Boyzone. They call them up and tell them they are going to run a story about their private lives, and so homosexual men and women have to "out" themselves, before the paper does it for them. I call that bullying, not journalism - we don't seem to have moved on a long way from the McCarthy era, do we?
There is a certain hypocrisy about a female editor who runs a campaign about domestic violence resorting to it herself, and then laughing it off as "a bit of a tiff". I'm sure the next time police are called to a house where two people harming each other have dialled 999, they could be forgiven for not giving the call top priority in case it's a bit of fun laid on by The Sun.
And when the Today programme runs an item next day in which three giggling men, presenter Jim Naughtie, PR man Max Clifford and media writer Roy Greenslade, all have a good laugh about this "hilarious" saga and its prominence in the press, I want to scream. I'm sure that the couple of hundred men and women all over Britain who suffered violence at the hands of their partners in the past 24 hours find this story high comedy, too.
What the Today programme should have been doing was mourning the end of journalism. Ed Murrow fought for the freedom of the press, and in the hands of Ms Wade and co journalism has become a branch of show business where the truth, the myth, the secret story and the reality have all been blended seamlessly together. Hoorah!
Horror from the Royal Box
I was thrilled to be able to sit in the Royal Box at the ballet the other night - and dressed up for the occasion. Sadly, the view was dreadful; apparently when HRH pops in unannounced, she comes with a friend and slips at the back of the stalls. Highlight of the evening was the extraordinary performance of Ivan Putrov in Glen Tetley's Pierrot Lunaire. This boy can not only dance, he's a brilliant actor, too. Shame the place was only half full, but how anyone stayed after the horror of the first ballet (La Fête Étrange) is a mystery. I've never seen such ugly costumes and ineffectual choreography - a period piece that should have been retired.
Awards # 1: Spare me these festivals of plonk, plinths and PR
I have long regarded awards ceremonies as a washout. Hundreds of people cram into dinner jackets or too-tight satin frocks, pack into a ballroom with all the atmosphere and elegance of a Ford assembly line and spend several hours eating chicken kiev - prepared in a factory several hours before - washed down with plonk. Then there's "entertainment", and I use that word loosely, having once endured a cabaret performed by Paul Daniels. Just when your buttocks are drained of blood, your back is aching and your head starts to throb, an endless list of citations is read out and a procession of "winners" shuffles up to the stage and leaves clutching misshapen bits of metal of glass mounted on heavy wooden plinths - just the thing to take home in your handbag. As I've said before, most of these awards are run by PR companies and sponsors to gain maximum publicity. I would rather give any money raised to a charity, than go through this. Unless an award is voted for by members of the public or an impartially chosen panel of experts, it is worthless.
Awards # 2: The McCartney sisters don't need to be patronised
The 50th Woman of the Year awards last week were sponsored by 'Good Housekeeping' magazine, and presented at a women-only lunch. The McCartney sisters, whose brother Robert was murdered in Belfast in January, refused to accept an award when it emerged that Margaret Thatcher was going to be given a life-time achievement award, and that they would have to share a platform with a former prime minister who is reviled by the Catholic community in Ireland. Perhaps they'll be luckier in another set of Woman of the Year Awards, in aid of the Nordoff-Robbins music therapy charity. The point is, we all salute the McCartney sisters, and we don't need to patronise them with a spurious award for being female. The days when people got gongs for having a vagina are long gone.
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- George Clooney
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- The Sun (newspaper)