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

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Letters to Lillys.

WHILE this is not a newspaper there are some inky traditions worth sticking to, and one of those is letters from The Reader.

Those who criticise must take the same with good grace, even if it's written in capital letters, using green ink, or in perfectly-scanned rhyming couplets with frequent mention of corgis.

So here's a selection from this week's mailbox, edited for sense and grammar but otherwise untouched. Where you see (...) text has been removed.

The post which got most attention was this one on Andrew Marr recanting his own newspaper super-injunction.

An unrelated Andrew wrote:
"I agree with your article and in no way am I an apologist for Marr. But you wrote: 'If only he kept his trousers on first.' When a man has sex with a woman it is either consensual sex or rape. As you seem to be in no way apportioning any blame to the woman, do I take it you are inferring rape? Just curious. But I have to say, I imagined Marr going around dropping his trousers every time he saw a woman and didn't know what to think."
Ed: For the benefit of lawyers there is no suggestion of rape. Marr's injunction and its effect on his journalistic credibility was the topic of the post, not the morality of his mistress. If she pops her head over the parapet she's fair game. Another day perhaps.

Henry was stirred enough to write at length on Fleet Street Fox's own morality and that of The Other Woman in Marrgate:
"I wish I could make some plea to any conscience or kindness you may have, just so you might think first before trotting out an article like the one you wrote about Andrew Marr... It might be worthwhile looking at your own behaviour.

(...)

"How you and others crow over it all, how easy you find it to believe he has no feelings about it. You may live or work with people who think 'he can take it'. Anyone who says that is simply giving a lame excuse for their own cruelty at another's suffering.

(...)

(...)

(...)

"The mother... slept with him, after all, and apparently someone else as well. She happily accepted payments from him... on the pretext that the child was his. Could she not have admitted there was doubt and established paternity sooner? She might have saved the child some pain there...How is Andrew Marr to blame?

(...)

"Do you have ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL that he has washed his hands of this child? ... This whole sentence 'reeks' [of] someone who thinks that Marr's feelings are of no consequence whatsoever, in a situation where he is powerless and probably ill-treated. I'm afraid you just don't want to see why what you have written is so venomously cruel. If that is the case, I feel sorry for you. Also, it seems very hypocritical of you, frankly, to take the moral high-ground about 'the interests of the child' in the middle of a piece of writing full of such spite and schadenfreude. But I guess I'm wasting my time telling you this. I think I can imagine the reception this mail will get."
Ed: I refer The Reader to the original post, and thence to a dictionary. The post was neither personally malicious nor born of a desire to harm but, as should be clear, about the ethics of a journalist injuncting the Press.

Nick was more interested in the identity of Marr's mistress:
"Please help your readers work out who Andrew Marr’s mistress may be. With only a passing interest in politics, we don’t have your comprehensive knowledge. My personal list of suspects is limited: Ann Leslie, Julia Hartley Brewer, the woman who used to be the The Whip on The Sun, Orla Guerin, Catherine Bennett. Am I close?"
Ed: Not even lukewarm.

Ian wanted to point out that after many years as a journalist "I can count on one hand the number of colleagues I know who have not adulterated". He went on to name and shame a few, which I won't repeat here because I don't want to be injuncted, but it included the phrases "respectable erection", "The Westminster Hotel" and "the photographer's missus".

He added:
"If you wish to do this in your blog feel free as long as you add [Ian] Hislop is not a newspaperman, he is an ex-schoolmaster and the most powerful argument there is against nepotism. Our trade invented hypocrisy. By the way do put me on your mailing list because like all fellow hypocrites I love a gossip."
Finally we have "R" who asked not to be named but wanted to say:
"I've only recently discovered your blog, and love it. I write because, as a retired journo who worked for many years out of Fleet Street itself (going back to when typewriters were tools of the trade), I know it's important sometimes when someone out there notices and appreciates what one writes.
"I started to read one of your posts, and in no time had gone through all I could find on the blog site. I was initially sceptical that the author was 30-something -- too much wisdom packed into so few years. But having listened to the R4 link that one of the blogs referenced, I'd accept it may be the case.
"That being so, I reckon you will go far. Your style puts you apart."
Which is nice.

On a separate note, a personal thank you to my Twitter friend @ReynardCity who kindly spent a lot of time producing some artwork for this site, which for technical reasons to do with Blogger doesn't work. But if fox-based sexy cartoons are your thing, I recommend his website to you.

Foxy out.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dear Kate...

YOU'RE the centre of attention on the biggest and best day of your life. Everyone loves you, and the whole world smiles on.

That was my wedding day, a long, dark time ago, and it'll be just the same on yours, except with a RAF flypast and a global audience of billions.

You'll have realised by now there are some traditions you just can't shake. The in-laws want their friends on the guest list, everyone's got an opinion on the honeymoon and there's a table of dodgy types you have to seat as far away from granny as possible.

One of the rules is that those who have survived the institution reminisce about their own nuptials and feed unwanted advice to the happy couple. But the one thing they don't tell you is the most important - that the wedding doesn't matter a damn.

It's once the ring goes on that the hard work starts. A wonderful wedding doesn't mean you don't get a miserable marriage, and when I was the same age Kate is now I was starting a divorce.

While I admit that I don't know the first thing about how to have a happy relationship, I do know exactly how to screw it up. So for what it's worth, here is my twopenn'orth:

1. Marriage is a 50-year project. Don't sweat the small stuff.

2. Always check his pockets; do not let him know you do this.
(Men will not like this advice, but if something bad happens at least you're not surprised. Being surprised in a bad way is, believe me, the worst kind. All men reading this will now ask their partners if they check their pockets/phone/email and she will say "of course not". She is lying. And if she didn't check before, now that you've asked her she will.)

3. You will never be this thin again unless you develop an eating disorder or get divorced. Enjoy and accept it, because you really don't want either of them.

4. Get rid of the dress. You'll never wear it again, whatever anyone says, and it will hang in a wardrobe wrapped in plastic "in case it loses the magic". My groom spilt beer all down mine, something I still haven't forgiven him for, and yet I refused to get it dry-cleaned in case it was "ruined".

5. It's called love-making for a reason. If you stop doing it, you stop feeling it and the whole wall comes tumbling down without that cement to hold it up.

6. Be quick to say sorry, and slow to blame. Be nice to each other.

7. Do your own thing. You've got two feet, so stand on them, and let him stand on his. You're not a doormat or leaning-post and nor is he. You walk side-by-side down that aisle; no-one gives anyone else a piggyback.

8. Never tell a lie, even a white one. You always get found out in the end and it only leads to more lies. Frankly it's too much effort.

9. Love is like a tide. It comes in and goes out, and just because it doesn't always feel like it did on your wedding day doesn't mean it's gone. The best advice I ever heard was this: "Marriage is like a stick and you each hold one end. Sometimes the stick is short and you're close together, and other times it's longer and you can't even see the other person. You just have to hope they're still holding their end of the stick."

9. a) Don't drop the stick.

10. There has never been a Prince of Wales in history who didn't have a mistress, as your future father-in-law so famously said to his first wife. Think about that before you put the ring on.


And lastly, if his brother's more fun than he is...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Well said that man.

IT'S an interesting time to be a journalist, what with the phone-hacking scandal and public debate over the value of the traditional kiss-and-tell.

But political blogger Guido Fawkes - who busted the Marr injunction several years ago - has hit the nail on the head with this post: "Muzzle the Press by protecting the privacy of public figures and public life will be even more dominated by unreported scoundrels."

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.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Twitching the burqa.

IF I stood on a street corner shouting my thoughts I'd never know what bits people noticed; at least, not until a policeman spoke to me about it.

But after just one week of writing this blog I can see, via the Blogger statistics, that so far 11,000 different people have read my ramblings. Presumably just to see if I was going to break one or all of the 30-odd celebrity injunctions currently in force, but you're all very welcome just the same.

I can see some people found me by Googling "who is fleet street fox?", others via my Twitter and Facebook pages or other websites (all linked on the right), and that two people came across me by doing a search for "Kate Middleton bland" which at least shows I'm not the only one bored by our future queen.

Readers are generally from the UK, but there are a lot in the US, Canada and Australia. Hundreds of hits have come from Belgium, Russia, Israel, France and Germany. There seems to be quite a lot of interest from the Philippines (Sex tourists? Gap year students?) and this week, for some reason, 30 hits from Poland.

But by far the most interesting fact is the 212 people who have read me in Iran.

How did they find me? Are they among the rich elite who have enough internet access to browse, is there a Jeremy Clarkson fan base in Tehran, or is there that much worldwide interest about which famous actor used the services of Wayne Rooney's hooker?

Perhaps it's the Savak secret police creeping about behind the national firewall. Maybe the mullahs are looking for evidence of how corrupt and wicked the West can be and think a female tabloid hack represents all that is satanic in the world.

But I hope a few of them are reading from behind a burqa. I hope a 30-something divorcee in London bumbling around and jabbering on about silly things does something for them, although heaven knows what it might be.

It's probably the Top Gear fan club. But, whether it is or not, if anyone's reading in Tehran - salam, welcome. Take off the burqa and sit down with the rest of us.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Alpha fail.

DAVINA McCall, the shouty ex-junkie TV presenter whose opinion I seek on so many topics, has been talking about her wonderful marriage to Matthew Robertson off Pet Rescue (is that still on?).

She says: "Matthew is very alpha male. For example if I am watching something I like on the telly he might come in, take the remote control and change the channel without even asking. But in a way it is quite manly."

Well, that's odd, because I think it's quite wanky. If Mr Robertson did that to me I'd explain I was in the middle of The Only Way Is Essex, that he hadn't worked since 2001, and that if he didn't like it he could kiss my bum.

But then I've got a brain and from everything I have seen of Davina she has not.

Idiot.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

It's time to put a ferret up them.

WITH another injunction ruling yesterday - this one about "office banter" which led to a newspaper hearing about a high-profile affair - it's surely time for Fleet Street to pull its finger out.

If anyone Googled the publicly-reported facts of the latest case it would not take long to figure out the identities of those involved. They arguably should be named because the married male star managed to get his female co-star sacked after their affair was over. A cad twice over, and how many office flings end the same way?

Despite that three appeal court judges say identities of ill-doers can be kept secret to stop their children being bullied, a precedent which leads in the end to the same protection being afforded to criminals, the corrupt, and all sorts of wrong-uns.

As Lord Justice Ward himself said in his ruling: "To restrict publication simply to save the blushes of the famous could have a wholly undesirable, chilling effect on the necessary ability of publishers to sell their newspapers. We have to enable sales if we want to keep our newspapers. Unduly to fetter their freedom... is to undermine the pre-eminence of the deserved place of the Press as a powerful pillar of democracy."

Fleet Street exists today only as an idea, but if the industry is to have a future it must uphold the principles on which it relies.

All the editors should get together and publish the full list of current injunctions and who's done what to whom. The courts can't send all of us to jail, it just takes a united front and a bit of gumption. Put a ferret up them, as Kelvin would say.

Bring on the machines.

THIS is the week in which, if you believe the Terminator films, machines take over the world.

Tuesday, according to the script, was when the computer network 'Skynet' became sentient and on Thursday it's supposed to launch synchronised nuclear weapon strikes, scorch the sky and send the surviving remnants of humanity scurrying underground.

It won't, of course. All that will happen is the screen will show 'Error 404: humanity was not found' when you try to log in, and play that annoying 'donk' noise which computers use to tell you you're an idiot.

Because Skynet is already with us, in the shape of Microsoft and Apple and 18-month broadband contracts and the grid which only Matt Bourne is able to escape.

My first car was an A-reg Ford Fiesta and if it started making a funny noise my dad could put his head under the bonnet, hit things with a hammer, clean the sparks or squirt some WD40 and it would be fixed. If something goes wrong with my car now it has to go to the garage, be plugged into the wall and the mechanic looks at a computer to tell him which circuit's gone phut.

Computers run our entire lives. Mums conceive with help of an app on their iPhone, babies are born with everything monitored, and it's almost impossible to earn, spend or work without internet access. If a 14th century peasant saw a modern computer he'd swear it was witchcraft, and it pretty much is - it works with a wave of your hand, these days, and none of us understand it. Even the people who invented them seem dumbfounded when they don't do as expected, and let's face it, Arnie's already running California.

And thanks to computers we can do wonderful things. Save lives, bring about a democratic uprising in the Middle East, avoid traffic congestion on the M25. Frankly if Skynet takes over I'd not have much of a problem with it.

Look at it this way: the obesity epidemic would end pretty quick, because the fat would die first. Cancer and AIDS would no longer bother us because no-one would live long enough to get either of them, and hey, relationships would be a lot simpler because the only thing you'd expect of him would be to act as a futile human shield when Arnie's coming after you.

Plus of course there's a chance the trains would run on time and computers could fix themselves. If the price of that is homicidal self-repairing cyborgs going after women with terrible hair in the USA then hell, I'm in.

Arnie: bring it.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Welcome to the Middle Ages.

SO Kate and Wills' wedding is to be screened live on YouTube - how very 21st century.

Except it is the very definition of "pissing in the wind" when you consider that the Royal Family is so old-fashioned it is only just aware of the invention of the wheel, much less t'internet.

I'm fed up with people saying how modern and lovely the wedding is. It's not. It's about as modern as Midsomer Murders is multi-cultural.

The "we're all in it together, austerity doncherknow" wedding is costing the taxpayer, at the last count, £20m. The wealthy bride has been bred from birth to marry into the upper classes and never lift a finger, and us peasants are expected to gather outside in our smelly masses and be happy for them. I'm not unhappy for them, I just couldn't give much of a toss, and from what I can gather most people feel the same.

Meanwhile the bride, who like the rest of the country barely sets foot in a church except for social occasions, has suddenly had to experience something a Palace spokesman has called "a journey into faith" and be confirmed into the Church of England because hubby will eventually be head of it. Were she a Roman Catholic she'd be banned by law from marrying him at all.

Afterwards there will be some light charity work for her and some undangerous military service for him before they embark on a privileged lifetime of breeding while the nation looks on and checks its calendar.

It must be a boy, of course, even if they do change the laws on primogeniture, which they won't. They've been around for a thousand years despite several really quite good queens and a succession of terrible kings, and there's no way every Commonwealth country's going to sign off on a change to their constitutions within nine months. So a boy it will have to be.

And just to add to the fun the bride will be fully aware that while this was once the one family that would never divorce that horse has rather bolted now, so if in the years to come she's found to be wanting she'll be out on her bum quicker than you can say 'Queen Camilla'. Should that happen there is no way she will ever be allowed to work, bitch about her ex, or see her own children on Christmas Day.

Now if anyone can tell me in what way any of that is modern, I'll be thrilled. Because it sounds to me more like the 14th century than the 21st.

If this was a modern wedding, they'd say "sod it" and get married in Dorking register office. Kate could work, and pay taxes, and have a point to her life beyond procreation. Her religion wouldn't matter: she could be an atheist, or Catholic, and no-one would care. She could even be a Muslim or a Jew, although I imagine both the Daily Wail and Prince Philip would have something to say about that. She could have a child and whether it is a girl or boy it would be equally entitled to grow up and do nothing very much just like its parents.

She also wouldn't need to have the rather pointless coat of arms which has been drawn up for the Middleton family, depicting acorn sprigs and some pointy triangles representing - I'm not kidding - the family's enjoyment of skiing, for the love of Mike.

Well there's nothing I like more than subverting things that aren't intended for plebs like me, so I've made my own coat of arms.

The motto of "file by three, home for tea" is very handy when you've forgotten your deadline. The family name is of course Vulpes, the Latin term for foxy types, the chevron is for victory in battle, apparently, and the colours indicate the family traits of ambition and guile. I couldn't find anything which shows an ability to drink the bar dry, snaffle the receipt and still write beautiful copy the next day, but not for want of trying.

Seeing as I come from a long line of hardworking labourers, I suppose I'm not very modern either. But at least I don't try to pretend otherwise.


Monday, 18 April 2011

My phone hack hell.

LET me be clear from the start - I'm a phone hacker.

My editor has never asked me to hack a phone. I've never thought any story I've been working on was worth the risk involved. But I've done it and what's more I'd do it again.

When the opportunity presented itself I knew exactly how it worked. Not because a colleague had told me or because it was 'an open Fleet Street secret' in quite the way people believe, but because when I'd been abroad and wanted to access my voicemails I'd had to dial my own number and put my PIN code in to hear them, like every other customer. So it was T-Mobile that taught me how to do it.

The situation was this: I was married, my husband had cheated, and I'd chucked him out. He was talking about giving it another go and promised he hadn't had sex with her, so when I rang him one day and it went to voicemail I thought 'well, why not see if he's telling the truth?'

He wasn't, of course. It was the proof I needed to know my cynical tabloid instincts were right, and off I trotted to find a lawyer and my self-esteem.*

I don't believe, were anyone to present the above information to a police officer, he'd want to bother with the paperwork. I also don't think that should a jury be asked to consider my dreadful deed they'd convict, or if they did that a judge would do much more than shrug. Yes it's phone-hacking and yes it's a crime, but so is looking at a loved one's text messages or emails and how many of you have done that?

Now to Hackgate, the scandal gripping the Fourth Estate since 2005 when The Screws of the World's royal reporter Clive Goodman was nicked, along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, for illegally accessing the phones of Royal staff on which they tapped into voicemails both about and left by Prince William and Prince Harry.

Only Clive and Glenn went down, and The Screws swore blind no-one else was involved. Clive's editor Andy Coulson swore just as blind at a House of Commons Select Committee and to a court under oath. A variety of the paper's executives went on the record as being completely surprised.

All of which was very convenient considering that Coulson was by that point the personal spin doctor for Prime Minister Dishface, whose 'man of the people' PR had helped the electorate forget its traditional antipathy towards posh people with foreheads larger than their gene pool. Dishface in turn was chums with those same surprised newspaper executives, and their newspapers came out in favour of Dishface at election time.

But after those first two foot-soldiers were jailed the story did not go away. Police had to admit a handful of other phones were 'probably' hacked - about two dozen - and that there were a couple of hundred names and details of high-profile people found in Mulcaire's office, which indicated they were 'of interest' to him but for which there was no evidence of hacking. Hacking needs proof from the phone companies of voicemails being accessed - and they don't keep the data for long. It was also in those firms' interests for the inquiry to fade because otherwise people like Sienna Miller might ask why their operatives were handing out her PIN codes to a gruff-voiced private 'tec claiming to be Sienna Miller. Perhaps Glenn Mulcaire is a better actress than she is.

At this point a number of other people got involved, not least lawyers who rang around some of the celebrities and offered to act for them and seek damages, no-win no-fee. These legal cases got further than either the Select Committee or the initial police inquiry, which was run by the counter-terrorism unit whose officers had a lot of other far more important police work to be doing than linking a p35 lead in The Screws about someone shagging someone they shouldn't have to a three-year-old phone bill.

The Screws had to hand over some emails they thought they'd lost, and several reporters and former members of staff have since been arrested and questioned. That's the end of the facts, and the start of what we in tabloid-land like to call "crystal bollocksing".

What happens next is known only to the police, but personally I'd expect those emails to contain more dirt than than they should and I'd put money on everyone involved turning to point their inky fingers at Mr Coulson, who I hope will have a lovely summer because come Christmas I reckon he'll be talking to lawyers about a perjury charge.

The Groaner, which has pursued the story relentlessly on behalf of its 260,000-and-dropping circulation since the start, claims there are 6,000-odd victims. The police say they don't have that kind of number, and seeing as there are many legitimate reasons for Mulcaire to have information about those in the news - address searches, finding family members, tracking down public information - I'd be surprised if that figure stands up. Added to which, I can't think of 6,000 different people of interest to newspapers. If Mulcaire really was doing work on that many stories then the real scandal is that Screws reporters can't be bothered to Google for themselves.

The main aim of the story is to get Coulson. If he had gone to work as a corporate spin doctor or for the Labour Party the story would have been allowed to drop - and that makes the people pursuing him just as immoral as those they claim to be rooting out. Every newspaper has a pet hate and when it's an individual there's little chance of escape, unless you've the hide of a rhino or you're Jade Goody, who as I recall is the only national hate figure to turn it round. Twice. If she were still with us Nick Clegg would be on the phone in a flash.

But until the net closes on Coulson there's lots of fun to be had with tabloid reporters like me, which is why Groaner columnist Charlie Brooker let fly today (and no I'm not linking to it) about how tabloids are "actively making the world worse". I wrote last week about celebrity shagging injunctions so I won't repeat those arguments here, but Charlie had abuse heaped upon him for turning on his own and in reply said he was surprised such hard-bitten types were so thin-skinned.

Leaving aside his shorthand abuse of an entire industry on the basis of the behaviour of its worst members - like saying all priests are paedophiles or all bankers are bastards - he was partially right. We are thin-skinned, not least because as life-forms we are rated slightly lower than estate agents and lawyers, and all of us are seen as being dirty Mackintosh-clad slimeballs with scales for skin and the morals of a WAG.

I got used to that years ago. A journalist is not a public figure in the same way as a politician or film star but we put our heads above the parapet on a regular basis and have to take our share of the flak.

The fact remains - as The Groaner's editor himself admitted a couple of weeks ago - that phone-hacking can be justified in some cases, along with a range of other minor crimes. Trespass, theft, speeding offences, impersonating people I shouldn't - I have done and will do any and all of these things, and a few more, if the story justifies it. I'd hack a phone, too, and I'll happily stand in front of a jury and tell them why. The problem for the journalists involved in Hackgate is that they can't justify it for a C-list shagging story.

If convicted, it's such a minor offence they'd get a few months. Coulson on a perjury charge wouldn't get much more than a year. No-one's been killed, injured or, for example, sent to war on the strength of a dodgy dossier. Hackgate is hardly Nazi-hunting.

Leaving the possible criminal cases aside, the main reason Sienna and her pals are instructing lawyers is civil claims for damages. She's already been offered £100,000, and turned it down. If The Screws gave me that much money they could have my mobile, my knicker drawer and write what they like about them. Miss Miller is apparently holding out for more, but she's probably not going to get it.

To prove voicemail interception, first off, is tricky in a criminal court. It's easier in a civil hearing because you just have to show it was likely, but you also need to prove your reputation was damaged to make it worth your lawyer's while. And without knowing which stories in particular are involved, arguably the celebrity claimants so far haven't been hurt by tabloid interest in their lives - but if at all, by their own actions. How can shamed chauvinist, love rat and ex-Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray claim defamation? And would Sienna Miller be in any films at all if it weren't for the tabloid interest in her relationships with famous men? Of the stories about them that are truly damaging, the source is more likely to be a disgruntled friend, employee or lover than their voicemails.

It's entirely possible the eight 'victims' so far allowed to go to court are not going to get anything more than a few pounds for all this legal trouble. Perhaps then they will learn the same thing I did - that sometimes phone hacking is damn useful.


* Full details of what happened after I hacked my husband's phone are available as a manuscript, should any publishers be reading and feel like the world needs another bonkbuster.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Fox on BBC R4 Woman's Hour.

Here's the iPlayer link for my radio appearance. The segment on Fleet Street's women starts at 13mins and I'm on at about 22mins: http://bbc.in/dNqIOb

Lawyers agree with The Fox shock.

ON the topic of injunctions here's a grab from today's Daily Wail which says exactly the same as me, only more succinctly:


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Oh, put it away.


IT'S hardly surprising that Beyonce Knowles' latest video involves a chorus line of dancers clad in suspenders, and the diva herself wearing little more.

If it weren't for Adele I'd swear it must be impossible for women to sell any records without dressing up like prostitutes. But she seems to have done quite well without thrusting her gusset at fans - perhaps for the sake of my eyesight Cheryl Tweedy might like to do the same?


Injunct and be damned.

ANOTHER week, another injunction. This time a world-famous actor who employed the services of a £195-a-pop hooker who, as is so often the way with hookers, turned out not only to sell her story but also to have bedded Wayne Rooney.

Now, none of us really give a damn who Mr Actor Man had sex with. The only reason the public are interested in such shenanigans is a prurient and very human fascination with the love lives of the others, just in case they are doing something we're not, or worse, doing it better than us. That's the way of the world and it's not going to change unless someone finds a way to rewrite our DNA or explain the sexual attraction of Jeremy Clarkson.

So why do newspapers, which are rarely safe on the moral high ground, offer up this very common denominator? Well, three reasons. First because news is a business, with shareholders and profit margins like every other industry, and they'll print whatever sells. Sex, crime, gossip, marriage break-ups, and people off the telly are all grist for the mill. If it goes on, it goes in.

Secondly, Fleet Street takes a mischievous approach to the great and the good. If they deserve the pedestal let them climb up and stand on it - but never, under any circumstances, should they feel safe up there. They're going to get the odd poke just to see if they wobble and that's as it should be in a free and fair society.

So if a politician tells us how to live our lives then we get to keep an eye on theirs, too. John Major's ill-fated Back to Basics campaign in the early 1990s would have collapsed a lot sooner - taking his government with it - if we'd known at the time he'd been cheating on his wife with Edwina Currie. Someone who makes the laws and then breaks them should be exposed for it, however minor and yes, former Solicitor General Harriet Harman who chats on her mobile while driving and then has an accident, that does mean you.

Celebrities who supplement their fortunes by selling their privacy to glossy magazines in return for a good write-up and a big cheque will have that family life scrutinised by others too, however much Katie Price hates the idea. An athlete who wants to represent their country and captain the national football team doesn't have to be an angel, John Terry, but most of us expect him to keep his pants up while he's doing it. If an average man gets named in the local paper when he's arrested with a prostitute then so does Hugh Grant, although he got a little more space devoted to his story.

In such ways the Press promotes a pleasing kind of equality - everyone's fair game, and we're all the same kind of fallible idiot, no matter how rich or pretty or clever. There is no 'them and us', there's just 'us'.

The third reason is by far the best. We do it because we can.

Because can you imagine what would happen if we couldn't?

If we stopped poking, and pushing, and prodding at everyone and everything, it would not be long before someone on a pedestal realised that not only could they abuse their position, but more importantly they could get away with it. The rich, the powerful, those with something to hide. I like living in a free country. I don't want that to change.

So how does Mr Actor Man and his wandering willy affect our freedoms? Well, I'll tell you. Newspapers have a finite budget for legal bills. That pot - bigger at some papers than others - goes to pay lawyers, court fees, and settle disputes. The legal firms who take on newspapers often do so on a no-win, no-fee basis to the client and charge very high fees to the paper if they win. The potential cost can be so high that often Editors have to be pragmatic and settle a claim, even one they think they can win, simply so their budgets can live to fight another day. For example I would not be surprised to learn Sienna Miller earns more from writing letters to newspapers than she does from acting.

So if someone famous gets targeted by a newspaper - and the famous are pretty rich to begin with - and they don't fancy being on the front page, they can afford to really go to town. If they want an injunction it's often granted temporarily, blocking publication until a newspaper can prove the story is true and argue the subjects should be named, which can be an expensive and drawn-out process. Then they can have super-injunctions, which bans the subjects from even saying they have been injuncted.

Breaking those injunctions carries the risk of massive fines, jail time, and confiscation of personal property. Of late, lawyers have begun to demand that not only newspapers can be injuncted like this but also the source of the story - so a member of the public is banned, under threat of financial and personal ruin, from speaking to anyone about their own personal life, or even saying they have been banned at all.

And where celebrities successfully blunder in, the corrupt soon follow. The same type of injunctions have been issued against those trying to expose political and corporate wrongdoing, with the added weight of hyper-injunctions which ban the source from discussing the story with their MP and gagging its discussion in Parliament - supposedly the last bastion of free speech in the country.

There are more than 30 celebrity-based injunctions around at the moment, by the last count. A lot of them are very silly, like Mr Actor Man who apparently "kisses like a virgin", enjoys unspeakable things being done to him with a sex toy, and whose identity I know but can't tell you under threat of everything outlined above.

He's got the injunction because he doesn't want his wife to find out, or their friends, or to have his employment prospects ruined or to be publicly embarrassed. He's taken the kind of court action available only to the privileged few and perhaps believes he is fighting to protect the privacy of the common man, as well as that of his dirty linen. But every time a person of wealth or power, or simply ego, gets to bend the law around themselves I feel a little more uneasy.

It sets an unpleasant precedent. A rich man caught with his trousers down demands the courts treat him as though he's better than everyone else in the country, and a week later a rich man whose company's done something dreadful will gag an MP. If the Press stopped testing the boundary between privacy and secrecy the two would soon become blurred. And a hooker has as much right to speak freely as a corporate whistleblower.

I'm not trying to claim that every newspaper editor who publishes a kiss and tell, or tries to overturn an injunction about a footballer and a Big Brother contestant, does so in the interests of freedom of speech rather than getting a good yarn in the paper. But this is the back story journalists all know and which perhaps you don't, and goes some way to explaining the impish attitude Fleet Street takes to certain people and situations.

So I hope you understand when I say, despite how his wife might feel, I hope Mr Actor Man's identity is revealed. I'm glad Jeremy Clarkson's hotel room trysts with a 6ft blonde have been published. I'm thrilled the super-injunction about oil firm Trafigura dumping chemical waste failed, that we know what a dirty dog John Terry is, and that I think Sienna Miller ought to accept when she's in a public place the public has every right to take her picture.

Injunctions are often granted under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which outlines a respect for private and family life. The law was not designed to protect a secret life, and the two are very different. If Mr Actor Man wants to protect his family he should stop putting his winky in hookers, and if he wants my respect he'll have to start by decrying the inequality of a justice system which this week named the fallen woman but not the dirty dog who paid for her.

And next time you hear a celebrity talk about their privacy, remember the advice which Paul McCartney's former PR man Geoff Baker used to give: "If you don't want to get caught doing it - don't do it."

Fox in a frock.

THE papers are full of how amazing ex-model Christie Brinkley looks at the grand old age of 57.

She does look great. But then if I had millions of dollars, never had to work and could afford a £1,000 Herve Leger dress with internal scaffolding I'd look pretty perky too.

News has to be new, Hugh.

DEAR Hugh Grant: Very funny, but getting someone to say something they've already said to The Groaner doesn't move the phone hacking scandal on very much. Sorry.

Good start though, excellent duplicity levels for a celebrity who usually just chucks tubs of baked beans at photographers and tells them he hopes their "kids die of cancer". Six out of ten.


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Royal Wedding: the bland marrying the blah.

KATE Middleton's lovely hair. Kate's lovely smile. Kate's worrying weight loss. Her clothes, her make-up, her choice of tights, those ever-present knee-high boots.

Everything written about this 29-year-old is the kind of unquestioningly fawning PR which Nick Clegg would kill for, yet despite being hit over the head every single day with tales of how lovely Kate Middleton is I don't know a single person who gives a flying goddamn about her or her £20m 'austerity' wedding.

That's not to say we don't like Kate, or Catherine as she prefers to be known (annoyingly for the tabloids, as we prefer names short and sweet). She seems very nice, very pretty, very sensible. There is nothing that can be disliked. But at the same time it seems not many of us have fallen in love with love in quite the same way we did when Dear Old Di married Charles.

Prime Minister Dishface has urged us to party like it's 1661 but there are only 5,000 street celebrations planned, mainly in the richer parts of the country where they don't mind buying vol-au-vents for the neighbours. A group of impish republicans who applied for a party of their own in Camden were banned by the local council, whose members obviously understand neither democracy or satire.

We'll all tune in and watch, of course, but this time we'll be bitching about William's hairline and whatever Camilla's got on her head, not oohing over the dress or thinking how sweet it is when they kiss on the balcony. Instead it'll be "does she look bulimic to you?" and "they're only kissing because they have to". It's the bland marrying the blah.

William and Kate, however nice and in love they may be, are just dull. The stag do was dull. Their wedding, to which the Royal Family are going to be ferried in a fleet of minibuses like the cast of Shameless going to Ramsgate, will be dull. The dress will be boring and the kiss will be boring and we will probably never get to read stories about Princess Catherine's affair with a rugby player or Prince William telling an old girlfriend he wants to be her tampon.

And I for one will miss that. The Royal Family, whether you like it or not, is just a richer version of all our families; dysfunctional, fascinating, with a slightly racist grandad. The only reason it's still with us is because it's a soap opera and we decided in 1660 that it was more interesting having them around.

Maybe we're not getting excited about the wedding because as a nation we've lost our innocence, or maybe it's because, like a once-burned divorcee, the idea of another marriage leaves us cynically wondering how long this one's going to last.

Or perhaps it's more to do with the fundamental fact that this is a union between a millionaire's workshy daughter who dresses like a 40-year-old and a soon-to-be-unemployed hooray who looks like a slightly dense carthorse with a bald spot.