Monday, December 17, 2007

For those of you who came in at the end of that...

Here's what I said an hour and twelve months ago:

Right. I'm off. For the first time since 2001, I've got the full Christmas break off, and I have no intention of even going near a computer until 2008.

Because I know so many of you check in here daily in sticky-fingered anticipation, I'll leave you with the pick of my stories for Private Eye over the last 12 months - yes, in other words, it's a lazily cobbled-together review of the year to fill space while there's no-one in the office - just like next week's papers, in fact.

Happy Merry.


And just when you thought it was all over, a new journalistic hero emerged. I have a feeling I shall be typing the words “Gordon Smart” rather a lot in the coming months. We kicked off in Eye 1199:

On his first day in charge of the Bizarre column, new “Prime Minister of showbiz” Gordon Smart detailed his “manifesto” (geddit?) to Sun readers.

“Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Johnny Foreigner of equally limited talent are welcome on Bizarre on condition that they are little wrigglers and appear almost naked,” he announced. “The caners league continues. All celebrities, nonebrities and musicians are actively encouraged to get tanked up and cause high jinks.” To prove the point, he led off with a picture of Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole embarking on some “liver punishment” in a nightclub, pointing out that “you can’t deny she has cracking bangers”.

In this spirit – and to prove the Sun’s point in its 12 November editorial that “Britain is in danger of becoming a binge-drinking paradise” – we present this picture of Gordon Smart showing off a pair of cracking bangers of his own. His little wriggler is not pictured.


I liked this one so much I wrote it up twice… first for Popbitch, and then for Eye 1197.

Anyone taking issue with the issue with the opinions of the Sun’s chief irritant Jon Gaunt is invited to write to him via the email address given at the top of his weekly column.

Those who have done so recently received the following automated mass reply: “Hi, Gaunty here. As you’ve written to me – either to comment on things I’ve talked about on the radio, or after being wound up after what I’ve said in The Sun, I thought you’d be interested to know that my autobiography, Undaunted, is out now… If you’re one of the few who haven’t rushed out to order it already, you’ll be glad to know I’m making it easier for you.”

After full details of how to obtain the book at half price and an exhortation to “add to your favourites”, Gaunt signs off thus: “Remember if you’ve got kids, give them a kiss, give them a hug, and don’t forget to tell them that YOU love them.”

Music to the ears of convicted celebrity pop paedophile Jonathan King, who received this instruction after emailing Gaunt to complain about his coverage of gay issues. A delighted King replied immediately: “my own, or someone else’s?”


Those self-imposed bans – they never work, do they? From Eye 1195:

“This newspaper was among the first to urge a tougher code of conduct for television and the Press,” announced a lofty Daily Mail, still laying a stake to the moral high-ground after the death of Princess Diana, on 27 September 1997. “On the initiative of our proprietor, Lord Rothermere, we were the first to ban pictures taken by paparazzi. And last week we warned: ‘If television and the Press cannot put their own house in order, state regulation will become inevitable.’ A broad welcome there must be then for the proposals put forward by Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, to tighten up self-regulation. The public mood demands more respect for privacy, protection for children and curbs on the harassment of individuals.”

So which was the paper which had to pull a shot of Prince William and Kate Middleton taken by paprazzo Alessandro Copetti, from its front page at the last minute last Saturday after Clarence House reminded it that the “aggressive pursuit… by photographers on motorcycles, in vehicles and on foot” which the couple had experienced breached that very tightening-up of the PCC code? The Daily Mail.

No such qualms at the Sun, which splashed the pictures – purchased via pap-agency Matrix – across a double-page spread on 6 October. This was, of course, the same paper whose publisher announced in January that it had “imposed a ban on all News International publications printing paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton.”


Issue 1193, and time to analyse how that “new kind of politics” promised by our still-shiny and new Prime Minister is going.

Tony Blair, 1997

Enters Downing Street outlining priorities as education, the NHS, and to “be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country… That is our objective for the people of Britain. Today, enough of talking – it is time now to do.”
Gordon Brown, 2007
Enters Downing Street outlining priorities as “change in our NHS, change in our schools, change to build trust in government… That is my promise to all the people of Britain, and now let the change begin.”

Appoints former personal adviser Peter Mandelson as cabinet office minister to be eyes and ears across government
Appoints former personal adviser Ed Miliband as cabinet office minister to be eyes and ears across government

Appoints SDP founder Roy Jenkins to chair commission on electoral reform
Appoints SDP founder Shirley Williams as advisor on nuclear proliferation

Gives David Simon, chairman of BP, peerage and makes him Minister of State in DTI
Gives Digby Jones, former head of CBI, peerage and makes him Minister of State in DTI

Appoints former Conservative front-benchers Chris Patten and Michael Heseltine as chair of RUC inquiry and Millennium Commissioner respectively
Appoints former Conservative front-benchers Patrick Mercer and John Bercow as security adviser and children with learning difficulties respectively

Holds hour-long meeting with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street within three weeks of moving in
Holds hour-long meeting with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street within three months of moving in

Dithers over whether to rule out referendum on Euro entry
Dithers over whether to rule out referendum on European treaty

Brown-noses Stuart Higgins, editor of Sun, in return for favourable coverage
Brown-noses Paul Dacre, editor of Mail, in return for favourable coverage

Lets it be known that he has been consulted by family at centre of enormous news story, death of Princess Diana
Lets it be known that he has been consulted by family at centre of enormous news story, disappearance of Madeleine McCann

Changes party conference procedures to end composite motions raised at last minute and put to vote with potential to embarrass leadership
Changes party conference procedures to end emergency motions raised at last minute and put to vote with potential to embarrass leadership


The silly season arrives, the papers fill their pages with nonsense, and Street of Shame fills its columns with nonsense about the papers filing their pages with nonsense. From Eye 1191:

Outraged at being hoodwinked by the publicity for ITV’s Malcolm and Barbara documentary which erroneously suggested it featured the last moments of a man dying from Alzheimers, the Sun delivered a damning verdict in its editorial column. “The film-maker Paul Watson had the gall last week to attack ‘greedy’ producers of OTHER shows found to be fakes. But the hype around HIS programme is a big lie too… Heads have already rolled over this crisis of trust in British television. More may have to go now to rid the networks of an arrogance that results in the humble viewer being treated with contempt.”

So how did the Sun react to its own crisis of trust, when Kevin Keeble, whose photograph of a great white shark had been splashed all over the paper on 1 August beneath the headline “Just when you thought it was safe…”, admitted that he had actually taken the snap in South Africa, not off the coast of Cornwall as the paper claimed? In contrast to previous days, which had featured headlines like “tourists flock to see great white”, “I saw monster”, “Sun Fins out there” and “Jaws just 40ft from a beach”, the paper breathed not a single word on the matter.


NB: <----- She's going that way

You know, now that we’ve actually seen the programme – perhaps the most boring and deferential five hours of television ever – can you really blame Stephen Lambert for trying to jazz it up a bit? Oh, yes, that’s right, we can. From Eye 1190:

“The BBC is truthful, or it is nothing,” opined the Telegraph, reeling from the catalogue of faked phone-ins and editorial juggling acts ’fessed up to by the corporation’s director-general. “It is staggering that the programme’s makers believed they could get away with inventing a sequence involving the head of the British state. But they did. It gives a disturbing indication of what they are prepared to do when ordinary people are their victims.” Many Telegraph readers were also staggered by the paper’s front-page report on the execution of the former Iraqi head of state on 30 December last year, which got a number of details wrong, largely because, as hack Toby Harnden subsequently admitted, he was “writing about Saddam’s hanging before it happened” – indeed, a full nine hours before the timeline “3am” which the paper printed prominently next to his story. Harnden’s excuse? “It was one of those tricky journalistic challenges when no matter how much you hedge and speculate, the reality will always mischievously diverge from the finely-turned piece one filed.” And the Telegraph’s take on the BBC affair? “Surely it should be obvious to any employee of a nationally subsidised, world-class broadcasting organisation that deceiving the public in the manner of a tawdry, fly-by-night showman is not acceptable.”


A new prime minister – and a whole new set of ministers for the Eye to get its teeth into. From issue 1187:

The Sun declared itself its approval of “Gordon’s Young ‘Uns”, praising every member of the new Prime Minister’s “youthful cabinet”… except one.

“Why the hell has he picked a ferocious anti-American as Minister for the UN?” the paper’s editorial column demanded, homing in on an obscure junior minister, Mark Malloch-Brown. “Nobody here knows Lord Malloch-Brown. But the White House is acutely aware of his bitter personal attacks on Mr Bush and his tirades against the Gulf War. Malloch-Brown is entitled to his opinion. But he should not be a member of the British government. His appointment casts a shadow over Mr Brown’s new-broom Cabinet.”

While most other publications seemed to agree that the new Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN was a relatively blameless herbert, the Times was equally outraged. “This self-promoting former Deputy UN Secretary-General has made some crude public remarks about the US Administration along with the slightly unhinged assertion that the UN’s failure to act decisively on Darfur is partly the fault of the US and UK for invading Iraq,” its leader column huffed. “It will be interesting to see what is uncovered by investigations into the UN Development Programme under his tenure. Lord Malloch-Brown’s elevation is believed to be part of the Prime Ministers’s scheme to bring in ‘all the talents’. He should approach this venture with far more caution. It may sound noble in theory but it could easily result in crass tokenism in practice.”
Could this vitriol be in any way connected to Malloch-Brown’s very public complaint in June 2006 that the UN failed to receive fair coverage because “much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News,” which was determined to keep “the UN's role in effect a secret in Middle America”? Presumably not – for Rupert Murdoch, who just happens to be the proprietor of Fox News as well as the Times and the Sun, has on several occasions given assurances that he never interferes with the editorial lines of his newspapers.


And then a little girl went missing, which was a news story – and over the next seven months an awful lot of other things happened, which weren’t. From Eye 1185:

Perhaps buoyed by their triumph last December, when supermarket worker Tom Stephens was arrested on suspicion on the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich last December after pouring his heart out to their paper (before being released three days later when someone entirely different was charged), senior management at the Sunday Mirror advised reporter Lori Campbell to go to both Portuguese and Leicestershire police with her suspicions about Robert Murat, a man who had been offering translation services to those involved with the investigation into the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in Praia da Luz. “He was acting very strangely. I found him to be creepy,” Campbell told police. “Given the unimaginable horrors which Madeleine's parents were enduring, it seemed the very least I should do.”

After questioning him, police declared there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything – but the British press begged to differ.

“‘Chillingly, Murat said: ‘I know how it feels to Madeleine's parents because I have a daughter aged three and a half,’”
- news report, Express, 15 May
“As a parent of a four-year-old little girl it breaks my heart to imagine the anguish that the parents must be going through”.
- “Letter of the Day”, Express, 15 May

“Murat was reluctant to be filmed.”
- Sun, 15 May, page 4 paragraph 11“He told his story and wandered around the scene in front of TV cameras.”
- Sun, 15 May, page 4 paragraph 14

“For the last few days Mr Murat has helped out the media. He has a very friendly relationship with police”
- Daily Mail, 15 May
“He had continually haunted the crime scene.”
- Daily Mail, 17 May

“Police swooped on Moscow-born Malinka, 22, after discovering emails from him on Murat's laptop computer.”
- Mirror, 17 May
“Mr Malinka confirmed that he worked for Mr Murat earlier this year to create a website for his estate agency. The Russian citizen is believed to have volunteered to help police.”
- Times, 17 May

-Headline on Mirror website, 17 May, morning
- Headline on Mirror website, 17 May, afternoon

Casa Liliana - Two-storey white-painted villa 150 yards from McCann apartment. Sniffer dogs go ‘mental’ on entering. Search of villa, roof, grounds, garage, a small shed beneath the pool where chemicals appeared to be stored, and the Murats’ green van and a Hyundai. Swimming pool drained, internal walls torn down, garden cesspit checked. Three video cassettes and communications equipment seized. Shredded paper found at Casa Liliana could not be reassembled. Results of tests for DNA and fibres found at the Murat villa awaited.”
- Mirror, 19 May
“Police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have found no ‘material proof’ from the villa of their prime suspect, the Briton Robert Murat. The results of DNA tests at the villa Mr Murat shares with his mother, 160 yards from the McCanns' apartment, are still awaited, but initial forensic analysis has turned up nothing and there is no evidence of a kidnap.”
- Independent, 19 May


Before there was Maddy, there was that other great non-story of 2007: the “murder” of Bob Woolmer. This from Eye 1182:



“Was cricket coach killed by a bookie?” – Evening Standard, 21 March

“Did match fixers want him dead?” – Daily Mail, 22 March

“‘Mafia executed cricket chief Bob’” – Mirror, 22 March

“Yardies fed Bob venom in his bath” – Daily Star, 23 March

“Woolmer strangled by a hitman” – Express, 23 March

“More than one killer was involved” – Times, 23 March

“Did a cricketer kill Woolmer?” – Sunday Express, 25 March

“Al-Qaeda link to Woolmer murder” – Sun, 29 March


“He had suffered a suspected heart attack. There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.” – Daily Mail, 19 March

“Did drink and drugs OD kill coach?” – Evening Standard, 19 March

“World Cup coach was strangled” – Daily Mail, 22 March

“Test ace Bob murdered with snake venom.” – Daily Star, 23 March

“Poisoned dish sent to room” – Sun, 23 March

“Was he REALLY strangled?” – Daily Mail, 31 March

“Cricket legend was killed by drug from ancient plant – cops believe it was sprinkled on his sleeping pills.” – Sunday Mirror, 1 April

“The Pakistan coach slipped in the shower after downing a bottle of whisky” – Express, 2 April

“Squashed carton of mango and carrot juice – did this contain poison?” – Sun, 3 April


A hefty bit of analysis from the Hackwatch slot, Eye 1180:

“It will have taken a full decade for the grim evidence left in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, and the testimony of witnesses, to reach a coroner’s inquest,” declared the Times on March 3. “By any standards, this is lamentable.”

But why exactly has it taken so long for a British coroner to consider the death of the Princess of Wales?

1997: It is decided that a UK inquest will not take place until the conclusion of the French investigation into the crash.

1999: French investigation concludes that Diana and Dodi died because their driver Henri Paul was drunk. Mohammed Fayed immediately appeals in the French courts against the decision not to prosecute the paparazzi.
He also applies to the British High Court for a judicial review of coroner John Burton’s decision not to allow him to be represented at Diana’s inquest, which will be held separately to Dodi’s. Inquest now predicted to start in late 2000.

2000: Having failed to gain representation at Diana’s inquest Fayed seeks judicial review of coroners’ decision to hold separate inquests, requesting joint or concurrent ones. Fails.

2001: Appeal against verdict of French investigation is defeated in French High Court. Fayed appeals again. British inquest now not expected for “two to five years”.

2002: Michael Burgess replaces John Burton as Coroner for Royal Household, announcing inquest could now be held “next year”. “Mr Burgess seems to be taking things forward, which is very much to be welcomed,” announces Fayed spokesman.

2003: Burgess announces joint inquest will be held after all. Fayed promptly demands public inquiry.
Burgess points out he is unable to open inquest because “some of these matters are still before the French courts.” Civil action by Fayed against photographers in France fails. He appeals. “Sources close to the Fayed family” tell Daily Express that “someone with a suspicious mind may say that someone is deliberately trying to delay the inquest.”
Burgess invites Fayed legal team to meeting to discuss possible timetable for inquest. Fayed tells Express “It was no accident and they do nothing. No inquest, no public inquiry. It is not acceptable.”

2004: Burgess opens inquest, requests that Metropolitan Police investigate deaths. “I do not criticise the exercise of whatever rights of appeal there may be, but it may prolong the proceedings in France and result in delays in the French material being made available in England,” he points out.
Fayed brings further action in French court of appeal over several aspects of the French investigation. Appeals twice in Scottish courts against decision not to hold public inquiry.

2005: Fayed petitions European Court of Human Rights over aspects of the French investigation.

2006: Fayed appeals in France’s Cour de Cassation over decision not to prosecute photographers. This further delays police inquiry, which is already more than a year overdue.
Fayed threatens legal action at High Court and ECHR over jury at inquest, which is required to be made up of officers from royal household. Michael Burgess resigns and is replaced by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
Lord Stevens announces his report will be ready in December. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to delay publication, insisting he should see it first.
Butler-Sloss announces preliminary hearings for inquest will be held in January. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to prevent them being held in private. She agrees to open them to public.
“The British public faces an agonising wait of up to two years before the full inquest into the death of Princess Diana is heard,” announces Fayed’s favourite newspaper the Express. “But last night a source close to the inquiry said: ‘Two years is too long for something that has dragged on and on. We want answers now - and we want the truth.’”

2007: Preliminary hearings open in January. Having rejected Stevens’s 832-page report as a “cover-up”, Fayed threatens judicial inquiry unless he receives transcripts of all the interviews he conducted.
It is announced that the inquests will open in May and be held jointly, as requested by Fayed way back in 2000. “Lady Butler-Sloss's most recent decision clearly continues the Establishment policy of cover-up,” declares Fayed. “They treat them both as if they were part of the royal household, just to stop the truth emerging”.
She also announces that there will be no jury of royal officers after all. Fayed demands judicial review of this decision.

Having succeeded in persuading the High Court to force Lady Butler-Sloss to use a jury of the public at the inquest, Fayed’s legal team last week turned up to the second preliminary hearing and promptly demanded … a further six months delay. “I am trying to keep this inquest moving; I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to find anyone else who will move it with me,” observed Lady Butler-Sloss.

The inquest is now due to begin in October 2007. As Richard Keen QC, representing the family of Henri Paul, noted, the photographers who witnessed the crash may be more willing to give evidence given that in French law, criminal charges must be brought within ten years.

It will also mean there can be no culpability of the Fayed employees who put the couple in the charge of a drunk driver with no back-up vehicle. What an extraordinary coincidence!


Gun crime rocketed all over Britain in 2007. But not in this particular case. From Eye 1179:

“Just two hours to buy a deadly weapon,” thundered the Daily Mail on February 16 over the news that hack Christian Gysin had been offered “a classic 9mm Beretta-style automatic pistol” after a few phone calls. “Last night a weapons expert said the gun offered to the Daily Mail appeared to be a copy of the 1911A1 pistol which has been used by the U.S. Army for decades,” Gysin reported. “‘Many of these types of weapons can be made to fire live rounds,’ said David Dyson.”

Mysteriously, the rest of the quote Dyson gave to the paper failed to appear. It concluded: “But not that one.”

His full opinion of the weapon in question, as outlined to the Eye? “It’s a toy. It couldn’t be more obvious. You just have to look at it. You don’t need to mess around with gangsters to get hold of one of those – you could just walk into a toy shop and buy one.”


We kick off with the story that never was – what would have been the scoop on the entire “TV fakery” scandal if Ian H had decided to put it in when I filed it for issue 1175 in the first week of January. One month later the Mail on Sunday got on to Cactus for the Richard and Judy “You Say We Pay” scam, the Times noticed the BBC weren’t playing fair either and all merry hell broke loose. The media story of the year, you might say.

Tch. Editors, eh?

Interactivity is the key word at the BBC – but no matter how many times presenters repeat those phone and text numbers, some shows are definitely more interactive than others.

Eamonn Holmes was the star guest on an edition of BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen last month, choosing his “heaven dish” (apple charlottes with thyme custard) and “hell dish” (poached pears with ginger ice cream) so that viewers could vote by text message which one they wanted to see host James Martin cook at the end of the programme. As usual, they were also invited to send in questions for guest chefs Atul Kochhar and Silvena Rowe with the promise, that, as the programme’s website puts it, “the best questions will be answered live on the programme, 10am-11.30am on BBC One.”

Curiously, Eamonn Holmes was also hosting his Radio Five Live show from 9 to 11 that morning – and he was inviting texts and phone calls from listeners on that, too. So how did the great man manage to be in two places at once?

“We very occasionally pre-record Saturday Kitchen,” admits a BBC spokesman. “What happens is we record both endings – the heaven recipe and the hell recipe – so it doesn’t detract from the viewers’ experience.”

But what about the questions you invite viewers to spend their money texting in? “Well, we get thousands and thousands of questions each week, and we only ever answer two or three of them on air. Not everyone actually wants their question answered on air.”

So do you answer all the rest of them off air, then?

“No,” says the spokesman. “There’s thousands of them.”

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The twelve (non-posting) days of Christmas

Right. I'm off. For the first time since 2001, I've got the full Christmas break off, and I have no intention of even going near a computer until 2008. Except for checking the Doctor Who advent calendar, obviously.

Because I know so many of you check in here daily in sticky-fingered anticipation, I'll leave you with the pick of my stories for Private Eye over the last 12 months - yes, in other words, it's a lazily cobbled-together review of the year to fill space while there's no-one in the office - just like next week's papers, in fact.

Happy Merry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

your actual gossip

Quick! Switch off! It's him again!

A few years ago, when I used to do regular paper reviews for Sky News, I was in the studio on the night of the christmas party. It was in a marquee in the car park. I wasn't invited.

There were two slightly tearful girls in reindeer deely-boppers sitting outside the door of the graphics room, but otherwise the place was almost deserted - a skeleton staff of two, maybe three producers keeping the whole thing on the air. In the studio itself was one presenter, who shall remain nameless, doing a rare solo-presentation spot.

As usual, I got taken in to the studio during the ad break, and mic-ed up. "You're Cinderella tonight then?" I said to the man across the desk. "What happened, did you draw the short straw?"

He turned and fixed me with a slightly glazed eye. "Actually, we all went out at lunchtime," he said. "And to be honest, I'm still quite pissed, so you might have to busk this one on your own a bit."

And with that, we were back on the air. Thankfully, no terrorist incidents or other major news events occurred during the following ten minutes...

More 21st signs that Christmas is approaching

The Sun launches its annual attack on "politically correct Christmas Killjoys".

Remind me, what did James Murdoch, as of last week boss of the Sun, rename the Christmas party when he was in charge of BSkyB?

That's right, the "Winter Party".

Oh, and for the lovely James in the comments below (plug enough for you?), you'll be pleased to know I've just completed my first Daily Star "school bans christmas" deconstruction for next week's Eye...

Monday, December 10, 2007

21st century signs that Christmas is approaching

... the background music on the menu of your Sky+ box suddenly has sleigh bells on it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Just proofreading my book, and laughing at my own jokes absolutely shamelessly.

Think I know how it's going to end though.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excuse me, Mr Dacre, I'm off for a quick 'And Finally

It's not just Peter McKay - the habit of cracking one out in front of the news appears to be spreading at the Daily Mail - see here.

For god's sake, will someone just buy these people some decent porn?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Express asks the big questions

Op-ed column today: "Why have muscles become a must?"

Er... I think it's something to do with enabling movement and ensuring we don't just lie in a puddle on the ground. Does this help?

That "cry for help" in full

Those pictures of Amy Winehouse in today's Sun are proper chilling, aren't they? Lucky there was a photographer from paparazzi agency Big Pictures outside her house at 5am to capture her "anguished stumbling in the street", or the "pals, already worried for her safety" would not know they needed to be "horrified".

But what's this in a quote from her spokesperson? "Amy had been asleep and heard a noise. She went outside to investigate. She didn't realise the time."

You know, it almost sounds as if a photographer decided to kick over a dustbin outside the house of a vulnerable young woman living alone, just to be able to get a picture of her when she freaked out and came outside to see what was going on, doesn't it? And actually, doesn't that picture look rather like a frightened 24-year-old pleading with someone to go away and leave her alone?

I'm sure it wasn't like that though. I mean, it's not like the Sun would collude with something like that and then try and dress it up as a sympathetic intervention. No way.