A good day to bury bad news
Saturday 5 July, 2014
And so off he goes to the cells to pay his debt to society. But who is in the van?
Is it Andy Coulson, master of the editorial dark arts, part-time lover of Rebekah Brooks and David Cameron's professional bit of rough?
Or is it Rolf Harris, welcome guest in living rooms decorated in tangerine and purple, in brown and gold, in colourwash; rooms with picture rails and wooden pelmets, with feature walls and Swish plastic, with swags and tails and dado rails?
They both took in their last breaths of free air for a while before their brief court appearances yesterday morning, and now both are locked up. Which matters more? The man everyone knew and who committed the greater crimes - or the man at the heart of government that most could not name?
For most of this morning's papers it was no contest. Harris was the one people were interested in and, for some reason, it was regarded as a particular affront to his victims that he should choose to make his journey to court by river boat. It was equally no surprise that the Guardian should choose to put Andy Coulson's photograph on its front. More surprising was the Independent, which had all five men up for sentencing for phone hacking across the top of page one.
Inside, the Mail gave Harris the most space with two spreads and a piece by Amanda Platell, the Sun ran a rather elegant righthand 'cover' leading into a spread, and there were spreads too in the Mirror, Express and Independent. The Times gave it the least coverage, with a double-column page 5 lead alongside the ubiquitous ballet dancers and above another sex abuse story - some rather odd judgments there.
One other feature of the presentation of this story troubles me - the use of the way papers are calling him "Rolf". It's instantly recognisable, but this man isn't the man we know. He isn't "our" Rolf. Take that Mail spread at the top of the collage above: there's plenty of room to call him Harris or Rolf Harris, the picture is enough to clear up any doubt.
When it came to Coulson, the Independent followed up its front page pictures with a 12-13 spread, the Guardian put him on page 9 and most managed a page lead. The Star led page 2 with it, producing a straight heading, five pictures and some good clean copy. The i put it at the foot of its Rolf Harris page. So far so predictable.
The News UK papers' coverage, however, is nothing short of a disgrace. Coulson makes page 2 in the Sun, as he does in the Daily Star - except that here the entire heading, story and picture takes about the same space as the heading on its redtop rival.
Coulson is at least the page 2 lead in the Times - but in a 'he's a good chap really' story about Lord Ashcroft offering him something under a million pounds to spill the beans on the Cameron administration. The Times must have savoured this opportunity, not only to paint Coulson in a more favourable light, but also to cast a shade over Ashcroft, with whom it has history.
The court case could easily have been covered in this slot, but no, best to bury bad news. And so the reader is sent to page 31, way back behind the comment section and the Saturday jollies, to find the miscreant editor sitting atop a mermaid, with ne'er so much as a mugshot to keep the text company.
Throughout the dark days of July 2011 when the world was crashing down on News International, James Harding did his utmost to report the hacking story developments honestly and fairly. Much good did it do him. Now the paper is showing its loyalty to the big boss rather than to its readers.
This isn't a case of a junior reporter being told off for being naughty; Coulson was successively editor of the country's biggest selling paper and spokesman for the Prime Minister. The activities on his watch and under his instruction led to the closure of that paper and have raised huge questions over David Cameron's judgment.
Suppose, just suppose, Alastair Campbell was sent to prison for some misdeed during his time as the Mirror's political editor. Where do we think the Times might put the story? Page 31? I think not.
*It is Harris in the prison van
The hacking trial
Eighteen pages of comment, analysis, background,
press reviews and links
to the best writing
online and in print
under a cloud
Sex scandals in Parliament, corruption
at Scotland Yard
- how did journalists
end up the arch-villains?
The default position of the electorate is to believe the worst of our politicians – to damn us all as corrupt, self-serving sexual perverts...
It is vital that the public feel able to trust their leaders again.
- Norman Tebbit
in the Daily Telegraph
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