Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Tuesday 26 April 2011

The first rule of journalism.

THERE are many cardinal sins in Fleet Street but with his super-injunction Andrew Marr broke the most serious of all - 'never become the story'.

To protect the lovechild he thought was his is fair enough; the story was not in the public interest, merely of interest to the public. That the gag had the knock-on effect of sparing his blushes and keeping him in his £600,000-a-year position as the BBC's top political commentator was, I am sure, a happy coincidence.

But it was the job that ultimately proved his and the injunction's undoing. Had he been any other kind of journo, famous or not, the court order would have held indefinitely. It was his position as a high-profile, impartial interrogator for the publicly-funded state broadcaster which made him, in his own words, "a stinking hypocrite".

It was that smell which meant every hack in the street knew about his affair, the child, and his mistress. Marr got one of the first super-injunctions, which bans anyone from even saying they've been injuncted. When we've been gagged by one of our own it tends to stick in the throat, so word spread out of vengeance as much as a desire for a good gossip.

The injunction also rendered him incapable of doing his job - the one we all pay him for. He was not the type to interview John Terry, fortunately, but whenever he was presented with a politician whose character was in doubt Marr knew - and every journalist watching him knew - that he could not ask the questions he should.

As a result Private Eye and its impish editor Ian Hislop, who quite rightly wanted to report that licence-fee payers' money should not be spent on gagging the Press, went to court. They overturned the 'super' part of the injunction and it became more widely known that Marr had injuncted something.

Next week the Eye was going back to court to try to overturn the rest of the injunction. Aware he was going to have to continue shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to fight what was probably going to be a losing battle, Marr came clean.

He said he felt "uneasy" but it was the right thing to do "at the time" to repair his damaged marriage and protect the child involved.

What he didn't say is that in the meantime he had discovered, via a DNA test, that the child he had been paying maintenance for was not his. His decision to speak now carries the unpleasant reek of a man who has utterly washed his hands of a seven-year-old who for some years will have regarded him as her father. Setting aside the irresponsibility of unprotected sex and of an affair outside marriage, while that child has no legal claim upon him there is surely a degree of consideration she still deserves.

It does seem however that Marr has finally realised it was getting the injunction in the first place which made the story of legitimate public interest. It also caused years of gossip for his wife and mistress to endure, and now all of Fleet Street will get a second bite of the apple where, originally, only one paper had the story. The same is true of every other celebrity gagging order - first there's the nameless details, accompanied by a silhouette, then the internet speculation, the cheeky asides in gossip columns. Eventually, and inevitably, it all comes out.

It always does. It always will. That's another of the rules of journalism. Number four, I think.

So rather than having a month of embarrassment Marr and his nearest and dearest have had years of innuendo, and now will have significantly more. If the identity of the child is revealed she will be known forever as 'Not Andrew Marr's Lovechild'. He has done everyone concerned a massive disservice in trying to hush it up: the only bonus is that now he will be labelled a "jug-eared love-rat" every time he's ever mentioned in print.

That's not to say journalists are not all hypocrites to some extent. We're as flawed as any other humans, but we have to be able to criticise or praise those that deserve it without our personal reputations overshadowing our work, and that means keeping our heads below the parapet and our noses (relatively) clean. A hack can have a fling with a celebrity, indulge in misbehaviour or push the boundaries of privacy so long as a) they don't get caught and b) no-one cares. Once those actions become of public interest the journalist becomes the story, and that makes it impossible to do the job - it's for this reason, and this alone, that Andy Coulson left the Screws of the World and, later, his job as spinmeister to Prime Minister Dishface.

As a result of all this Marr can never question a politician about their private life, however legitimate the enquiry could be. He cannot comment or ask about fatherhood, paternity rights, the legal system, the creeping privacy law no-one in this country has voted for, or even raising a child when arguably his actions will have harmed the one involved in this story.

Andrew Marr should never work as a journalist again. He probably will, because the BBC can be very stupid like that, but his credibility is shot, his impartiality is gone and his reputation is ruined.

If only he'd kept his trousers on, hey?

Jug-eared love rat Andrew Marr.