Stephen Glover: This acquired taste for scooping red-tops could be a risky strategy

Monday 08 February 2010 01:00
The Sun
The Sun

Over the years The Sun and its sibling, the News of the World, have published a great many sexual exposures. If there were a Palme d’Or for running such pieces, these two would vie with each other year after year, and no other newspaper would come close.

It was a surprise, therefore, to pick up last Thursday’s Daily Telegraph and see a picture on its front page of Avram Grant, the manager of Portsmouth Football Club, who, the paper told us, had visited a brothel. The Telegraph has long specialised in seedy court cases with sexual undertones, but until now it has left the really rough stuff to the red-tops.

What was even more astonishing was that this was a story The Sun had not dared publish. On 23 December it ran a piece about a Premier League manager who had twice visited a brothel, but did not name him. The journalists on the paper had been keen to do so, but its legal advisers, harried by Mr Grant’s lawyers, strongly argued against. Memories of the Max Mosley case were fresh. The multi-millionaire motor-racing king had been awarded £60,000 by Mr Justice Eady after the News of the World had written about his action-packed orgies.

The Sun scooped by the Telegraph in its own backyard with its own story! On seeing the Telegraph’s front page late on Wednesday evening, the Daily Mail rapidly re-made its own. The Sun, though it responded with a tiny picture of Mr Grant on its front page, did not push the boat out until Friday morning. Traditionally the so-called posh papers merely follow up tabloid sex stories, not uncommonly holding their noses. This must be the first time The Sun has been outgunned by the Telegraph on a brothel story.

What is going on? Whereas The Sun before Christmas displayed an uncustomary caution, the Telegraph has shown a new ferocity. The week before last it was the first newspaper to draw attention to the “super-injunction” which had prohibited any coverage in the media of John Terry’s sexual shenanigans. The subsequent lifting of the gagging order by Mr Justice Tugendhat seems to have given it the confidence to dust off the story The Sun had not dared publish, using as a pretext the police’s apparent intention to investigate the brothel which Mr Grant had patronised.

Like most newspapers, the Telegraph does not like the idea of a judge-made privacy law, and having established a powerful bridgehead over the John Terry case was keen to press home its advantage with Mr Grant. It is also undoubtedly true that the paper’s pugnacious new editor, Tony Gallagher, who hails from the Daily Mail, is much more at home with stories about sexual miscreants than any previous Telegraph editor. He is a devout Roman Catholic (so, interestingly, is Colin Myler, editor of the News of the World) who brings some moral fervour to the party.

My only question is: what will Telegraph readers think? They may like reading about football managers who have visited brothels after the tabloids have made the running, but I am not sure they want to see their own newspaper leading the charge. This may be a hypocritical convention, but it could be one which Mr Gallagher ignores at his peril.

Poll cruelly topples star columnists off their plinths

Pandering to our obsession with rankings and tables, the online magazine Press Gazette has named the “UK’s top 50 comment journalists”. The methodology is far too complex for me to understand, but it drew on a poll of 1,000 members of the public and the responses of 32 journalists “involved in the field of comment and opinion”.

How many columnists there are! Far more than 30 years ago – and these 50 are only a small portion of the whole. Evidently The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins is the journalists’ favourite columnist, but he comes only second in the overall poll to The Times’s Matthew Parris, who received more popular support. Jeremy Clarkson, of The Sunday Times and The Sun, is third, though he did not receive a single vote from any journalist, and owes his position to his standing with members of the public.

Among the 50 names there are certainly some oddities, though it would be uncharitable to dwell on them here. Perhaps the omissions are more interesting. I was surprised not to find The Independent’s sketch writer, Simon Carr, or the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne and Max Hastings. The Times (with 10 columnists) and The Guardian (eight) did somewhat better than I would have expected. The Independent had six columnists in the top 50.

It is all nonsense, of course, but one can’t help being struck by The Daily Telegraph’s performance. It had only two columnists, Zoe Williams (at number 41; she also writes for The Guardian) and Boris Johnson (lower than I would have put him, at number 50.) Of course, it was ludicrous not to include the Telegraph’s limpid Charles Moore, as well as the ginger-haired sage of Essex, Simon Heffer, whose effusions are unmissable.

A little more mystery Martin and a little less publicity

Martin Amis’s new novel The Pregnant Widow has received more publicity than any book I can remember. He was given the whole of Radio 4’s Front Row, and has appeared on several BBC television programmes. Every serious newspaper, and some not-so-serious, has cleared the decks so that we may be treated to his ruminations.

I expect his publishers are cock-a-hoop, but I wonder whether they are wise to be so. By giving so many interviews, and talking so garrulously, Mr Amis risks lowering himself to the level of a slightly tedious journalistic pundit. The same often mundane thoughts |are recycled again and again. I have lost count of the times he |has said that the true test of equality between men and |women is the equal sharing of household chores.

Novelists with an eye on immortality rather than the sales of their next novel should cloak themselves in a degree of mystery, as the recently deceased J.D. Salinger well understood. After giving innumerable interviews about the background to his exciting new play Love’s Labour’s Lost even William Shakespeare would appear banal.

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