Friday, 29 July 2011

Louise Mensch - brains and beauty or loose cannon?

It’s too early to tell whether Louise Mensch, the Tory MP prominent in the Commons examination of the Press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, is a breath of fresh air or a disaster waiting to happen.
The chick-lit author (Louise Bagshawe before her recent marriage to the manager of Metallica) had a mixed day today.
She apologised to CNN frontman Piers Morgan for suggesting he admitted in a memoir sanctioning phone hacking while editor of the Daily Mirror. She made the claim under Parliamentary privilege last week as a member of the Commons select committee grilling the Murdochs.
It was clear within hours she was mistaken. It took far too long for her to retract and compounded the offence by going on CNN to defend the indefensible.
If you’re going to go up against a toughie like Morgan - in itself a healthy instinct - you’d better get your facts right. If you do mis-read a newspaper report, as she admitted, then accept responsibility pronto. This was sloppy.
Mensch, 40, was on much surer ground seeing off investigative journalists who apparently were digging for ‘dirt’ committed in her twenties. She got the best of an exchange of emails which she published.
She was asked to comment that, among other claims, “whilst working at EMI, in the 1990s, you took drugs with Nigel Kennedy at Ronnie Scott's in Birmingham, including dancing on a dance floor, whilst drunk, with Mr Kennedy, in front of journalists. Photos of this exist.”
Her response was refreshingly honest and witty. “Although I do not remember the specific incident, this sounds highly probable,” she said, adding “since I was in my twenties, I'm sure it was not the only incident of the kind; we all do idiotic things when young.”
Defiantly Mensch said she had no intention of being deterred from asking how far the culture of hacking and blagging extended in Fleet Street. So good for her and her “publish and be damned” attitude.
Except Mensch could be compromised if drugs legislation comes before the Commons. It would be the height of hypocrisy to support banging up first offenders who did the same “idiotic things” as herself when their age. I hope she would be as understanding of others' youthful misdemeanours as she has been of her own.
I wonder whether Mensch thinks 21-year-old Charlie Gilmour's idiotic behaviour the day of the tuition fees protest deserved a 16 month prison sentence?
PS. I was none too impressed today (10/11/11) when Mensch had to leave the Commons culture select committee grilling of James Murdoch early to pick up her children. Rather than seeing it as a blow for working women, I worried that in Mensch we have an MP insufficiently able to organise their own childminding.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

As the phone hacking scandal hits new depths, the circular firing squad takes aim

Incredible as it may seem after the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone revealed the depths to which the News of the World had sunk, a new low was established yesterday. The newspaper’s investigator Glenn Mulcaire may have hacked the phone of Sara Payne.
Her eight-year-old daughter Sarah was abducted and murdered in 2000. The News of the World under its then editor Rebekah Brooks befriended Sara Payne and together campaigned for the introduction of better child protection from paedophiles.
The Guardian is suggesting that Payne – who eulogised the News of the World in its final edition earlier this month – was hacked on the very phone given her by Brooks.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Pussies galore - cats rule OK?

Treat a dog kindly and there’s a good chance it will return your affection and come when you call; if only children were as reasonable.
Cats, on the other hand, seem like an alien race come from outer space to live among us, tolerant but separate.
I hesitate to say I’ve never “owned” a cat because with those friends that do, the ownership roles seem reversed. Let’s say I’ve never shared my life with a cat; never cleaned up and deodorised its mess or had to replace clawed furniture.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A grumpy old journalist, Jane Horrocks, chavs, and Tesco

I don’t suppose those journalists who were obliged to re-hash a story out of Ab Fab and Little Voice actress Jane Horrocks’s interview in the new edition of Radio Times, imagined this would be their fate when they first made it into national newspapers.
Horrocks was drumming up publicity for a supermarket-based sitcom Trollied soon to be launched on Sky.
The 10 year-long Tesco advertising campaign where Horrocks played Prunella Scales’s long suffering daughter was an understandable kicking off point.
Not so obvious was the unflattering remarks she made about her former paymaster, whose cheques helped so much to buy her luxury London home that she nicknamed it ‘Tesco Towers.'

Monday, 25 July 2011

Amy Winehouse - thoughts on a too brief life

The only point of departure for me from the universal tide of shock and grief that followed the news of Amy Winehouse’s tragic death was that I’m not totally convinced the world of music has lost a genius.
The fault is probably mine. People whose opinion I respect rated her already among the greats with her third album still to come. I need to try harder and listen again to Frank and particularly Back to Black.
My patience with her music failed because I can’t hear her lyrics clearly. Perhaps it’s my ancient ears but I don’t have the same problem listening to, say, Adele. Without an appreciation of her music, it was Amy Winehouse, the paparazzi-fodder, with which I was the more familiar.
Her passing at the age of just 27 raises a host of questions to which there are no easy answers.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Lucian Freud leaves British art in his debt

I saw Lucian Freud at the National Gallery’s Titian show in 2003. I was among journalists and other favoured guests at a preview which the painter, who died at the age of 88 on Wednesday, also seized the chance of an early view of the blockbuster exhibition.
Freud looked frail then; but I was delighted to see his shoes were paint-splattered.
I recall too a sense of disloyalty. Freud was the first modern artist with which the young GC had felt any rapport – it took many years before I began to ‘get’ Picasso.
Freud’s style was instantly recognisable and, being figurative, intelligible, and while the opposite of erotic the female nude was a focus of attention, an enthusiasm GC shared.
But I had been disappointed by the Freud retrospective at Tate Britain a year earlier.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Through Beatnik Eyeballs - an appreciation

For all the loose gooses* among you I’m declaring today the 50th anniversary of the publication of Through Beatnik Eyeballs by R. A. Norton.
The potboiler which advertises itself as A Novel of Teen-Age Life was printed in 1961 and bought by a 16-year-old GC and is still in my possession; and today might as well be its birthday.
The book is a mostly unreadable love story – and I remember thinking so back then. It’s written in Kookie-talk, the author’s invented argot purporting to be a “language that teenagers readily understand.”
So we have, for example, a sentence such as: “I've driven in from birdland in my chariot after a dark four and I'm here in the frolic pad to lay some gut bucket on you loose gooses before I shake my reins and head for dreamsville.”

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sorry, The Hour is a waste of 60 minutes

BBC 2 gave the game away in the launch timing of its 6-part drama series The Hour yesterday.
If you think a show has got legs you don’t lay out your stall just when viewers are likely to be away at some stage on holiday.
Rather than the buzz The Hour was Britain’s answer to Mad Men, it’s a summer filler – and on the evidence of one episode not a very good one at that.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Lord Kinnock - wobbly on Press balance

Labour leader Ed Miliband had better start looking for a new set of mentors because his current choice of elder statesmen father figures is doing him no favours.
Last week’s anti-Rupert Murdoch self-justifying rant by Gordon Brown on one of his fleeting visits to the House of Commons might be pardonable as the cry of pain of a wounded beast rapidly being deserted by the herd.
But Neil Kinnock’s extraordinary big idea that the Press could be regulated in the same way as television to enforce the promotion of balanced opinion is positively chilling.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Helmand - too few were ordered to do too much with too little

A scandal greater than phone hacking reporters, toadying politicians, and corrupt policemen all rolled up together has surfaced.
Yet the Operations in Afghanistan report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, published at the weekend threatens to be overshadowed in the wave of arrests and resignations that continue in the wake of the News of The World furore.
The report concluded: “It is unacceptable that UK Forces were deployed in Helmand for three years from 2006 without the necessary personnel, equipment or intelligence to succeed in their mission.”

Friday, 15 July 2011

Murdoch's belated apology won't wash with the public

Defiance hasn't taken any of the steam out of the phone hacking scandal, so News Corp media mogul Rupert Murdoch is giving contrition a try.
His "We are sorry" letter in this weekend's newspapers is the opposite of the tone he took in his recent interview to the Wall Street Journal which he owns.
There he said his company had handled the crisis "extremely well in every way possible" making just "minor mistakes."
I don't doubt the sincerity of his apology to Milly Dowler's family today, which they would appear to have accepted. But I doubt his letter will wash with the British public.
He recognises "the serious wrongdoing that occurred" and "the hurt suffered by the individuals affected." Murdoch adds: "We regret not acting faster to sort things out." I bet he does but it all comes years too late.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Jerry Lee, my sister, and me

A family get-together yesterday had my sister and I reminiscing about the time we went to see Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent play at the Golders Green Hippodrome. It was a riot, literally.
The Hippodrome, in north-west London, started life just before the First World War as a music hall and after many incarnations today it is a church.
For me in the 1960s it was the place to see plays by the likes of Harold Pinter and Arnold Wesker before their West End-runs – as well as two rock & roll legends.
A Google search has only taken me so far. I think I’ve established the concert took place on December 1st 1964. That would have made me 19 with my sister five years younger. I wasn’t that good a brother so I must have been stood up by a girlfriend to have taken my sister.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Lies and the newsroom - a journalist confesses

The time: c. 1991
The place: the City office of a national newspaper, empty at a weekday lunchtime save for one financial journalist, me.
The phone rings and I'm reluctant to answer. I can see the caller is our newspaper’s tyrannical news editor. But the honour of the department demands that it is always seen to be staffed during the day (and on call at night).

GC: Yes, Mike?
News editor: Can you do us 8 pars on the treble-chance-ski story?
GC: Pardon
News editor: The treble-chance-ski. (already growing irate) Don’t you guys (i.e. me) watch the wires? Littlewoods is setting up in Russia. Great story. 8 pars as soon as you like.
GC: On it right away, Mike.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

MPs caught doing their job shock

Ed Miliband beware. You’re having a good war – the one against the Murdoch media empire. To force David Cameron into his biggest U-turn yet by having him support your Commons motion tomorrow calling on Rupert Murdoch and News Corp to withdraw the BSkyB bid is a genuine coup.
But you mustn’t get carried away with your own bombast.
"We have said that the purchase of BSkyB should not proceed until after criminal inquiries are complete,” the Labour leader declared quite reasonably today.
Unfortunately he added, "There are times when the House of Commons has got to rise to the occasion and speak for the public.” As our representatives rising to the occasion and speaking for the public are supposed to be what we pay MPs to perform full-time.
We know, of course, that for many when they weren’t fiddling their expenses they were jostling for the privilege of kissing Rupert Murdoch’s backside.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Freedom of the Press matters to me but...

Freedom of the Press matters to me. It is part of the foundation of any democracy worthy of the name.
This belief is the starting point of many of my posts on politics and the media. I maintain, for example, despite its failure to get to grips with the telephone hacking scandal, the Press Complaints Commission should continue as the industry’s self-regulating watchdog.
The police and Parliament were lied to by News of the World executives, so why should the poorly staffed PCC – which in any case had no investigative powers – have done any better? Give the watchdog more teeth, I say.
That said, hand on heart, and while sorry for the hundreds who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, I cannot see the demise of the News of the World is any great loss.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Press freedom is threatened by vengeful Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron thinks the News of the World phone hacking scandal serious enough to warrant a judicial inquiry where witnesses give evidence under oath.
These powers were denied the current Iraq Inquiry. Indeed initially the then-PM Gordon Brown wanted proceedings conducted in private and had to yield to widespread protests.
Can we assume Cameron is the more fearless? No, he senses a once in a lifetime opportunity to punish the Press for its audaciousness in exposing MPs expenses fiddling.
The Press Complaints Commission failed to get to grips with phone hacking at the News of the World. But it took its lead from the police investigation and Parliament’s silence on the affair. So it was in good company.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

News of the World closure - the big questions

1. How long will it be before the Murdochs think sufficient time has elapsed before they can launch a re-branded News of the World as The Sun on Sunday – or some similar title?
2. Will the newspaper's many millions of readers have the stomach to buy it?
3. What is the survival secret of Rebekah Brooks – current News International chief executive and NoW editor at the time murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was hacked by the newspaper (pictured above with Rupert Murdoch)?
4. Were top police officers at the Met ‘blackmailed’ by the newspaper to conduct only a superficial investigation into the phone-hacking scandal the first time round?
5. How extensive was the cash-for-information corruption of Met officers by the NoW in the past?
6. How quickly can those who have had their phones hacked by the NoW be compensated?
7. Can the Murdoch empire – a malign influence on British public life – be denied its ultimate goal, the 100 per cent ownership of BSkyB.
8. How can we prevent the leaders of all major UK political parties from continuing to brown-nose the Murdochs and their acolytes?
9. Why couldn’t Prime Minister David Cameron see the risks he took running with the Rebekah Brooks’ set and in appointing another former NoW editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief?
10. As for the closure of the News of the World itself how generous will be the redundancy packages for the current staff who are innocent of the phone hacking and bribery charges yet are to see their 168-year-old newspaper destroyed?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

MPs pot calling the Press kettle black

Sanctimonious MPs who seek to tar all journalists with the News of the World brush would do well to remember the British public have long memories.
The phone hacking scandal is gathering speed and there is every likelihood that the few media bad apples will have to answer for their crimes.
But their numbers will be slight compared to the small army of politicians – many still sitting in the House of Commons – who cheated on their expenses.
Sir Thomas Legg’s investigation sparked by the Daily Telegraph's exposé saw £1.46 million of taxpayers’ money repaid by almost half of all MPs.
The 2010 General Election witnessed a record number of 149 MPs stand down – many who feared being de-selected or else being booted out by their angry constituents.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Boycotts loom for disgraced News of the World

So heinous, so despicable, so deficient in human charity for the first time in nearly 400 posts I am lost for words in my disgust.
I speak, of course, of revelations about the alleged hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone by the News of the World in 2002.
Apart from the intrusion of privacy, deleting voicemail messages to make room for fresh ones brought false hope to Milly’s family she was still alive – and hampered the police inquiry.
This is the moment the public wakes up to the fact the phone hacking scandal reaches beyond rich celebrities and rides roughshod over ordinary families who, usually, tragedy has propelled into the headlines.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Finkler Question - is it any good?

I wish I could warm more to Howard Jacobson the novelist. I’ve seen his intelligence and wit dazzle in live debates and he is just as accomplished on television and radio. But I had to abandon his novel The Act of Love, a case of quietus interruptus.
I’ve only just got around to buying his follow-up The Finkler Question which I did finish. It must have been a slow year though to have picked up the 2010 Man Booker Prize.
It was supposed to be a breakthrough for the comic novel but laughs had been redacted in my copy.
The Finkler Question is really The Jewish Question, you’ll have to read it to find out why. Asking the questions is Julian Treslove, the gentile who thinks his empty existence will be filled by becoming Jewish. He is at once unlikeable and unbelievable.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Strauss-Kahn - the good news for British justice

There may be some knock-on benefits for the British justice system from the heavy-handed treatment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York.
According to The New York Times it looks very much as though the prosecution case that the former French-born IMF chief tried to rape a hotel maid is about to fall apart.
Sexual assault is a serious offence and the NYPD was right to arrest Strauss-Kahn and investigate the allegations regardless of his prominence.
However what followed, in European eyes at least, suggested the New York authorities considered their man was as good as guilty from the start.