LETTER from THE EDITOR

'You put a gun on the front page to call for a ban on firearms; a boot there for the football. What when the next parliamentary sex scandal breaks?'
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The reassuring thing about editing is that the difficult decisions turn out to be ethical ones, or at least about values in a general way. This is how it should be. The biggest problem coming up for us here may be the Sophie Hook murder case - the sex-murder of the seven-year-old girl who was snatched from a garden tent.

It seems clear that the evidence will be lengthy and horrible. My preference is to avoid most of the evidence, covering the main developments in the case in an episodic rather than daily way, and steering clear of the nasty bits. This time, that's what we will do.

But plenty of my colleagues think this is plain wrong: we are a newspaper and should report all the facts, no matter how unpleasant.

They have a point: many readers, however much they shudder, want to know everything there is to know about such crimes. And sometimes, the telling detail matters or resolves some important unknown. The Fred and Rosemary West trial, Dunblane, the Bulger case - these could not have been properly reported without some terrible stuff.

So there is no point in telling you that we have an answer for, or a formula to, what has become almost a weekly dilemma, if not yet a daily one. If anyone has suggestions or strong views about it, I'd be glad to hear them.

One of the unexpected events of the week was breakfast with one Dr Henry Kissinger, who regaled the company with his views on Russia, Asia and European integration, not to mention the quality of leadership on offer in Washington.

He is still someone visited by senior foreign leaders from across the world and probably has better access to their thinking than any other single individual. But why was he in London? A big international conference? A private confabulation with Major and Rifkind? Well, not exactly. As a fervent soccer fan, Dr K was here for the footie.

Another American visitor was Ben Bradlee, the former Washington Post editor and veteran of Watergate who is a member of our board. He spent time yesterday in the newsroom, regaling us with political gossip and reflections on the trade. He tends to be described as ''the legendary Ben Bradlee'', a tag he hates. ''A legend in his own mind,'' was his sardonic response.

Returning to the football, here is a message for everyone who was offended by last Saturday's front-page piece about General Robert Venables, the ''womanising, drunken rat'' who was defeated by the Spanish in the 1650s. Our headline may have led some people to think we were referring to the saintly Terry Venables instead. Well... all right, that was the idea. It seemed funny at the time. To me, it still is. But since this is The Column What Tells It Like It Is, let me confess that the "drunken rat" headline may, just conceivably, have been a little over the top. The person responsible (me) has been severely rebuked by the editor.

In the same edition, we had a life-sized picture of Alan Shearer's boot, referring, in advance, to the England-Spain match. At a splendid Oxfordshire party that night - and what a state we were all in the next morning - the following unanswerable challenge was posed: ''You put a big gun on the front page to call for a ban on domestic firearms; you put a big boot there for the football. My question is, what are you going to do when the next parliamentary sex scandal breaks?'' No answers on a postcard, please.

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