It’s our job to expose hypocrites, liars and cheats in any way we can

First published in The Times, September 27, 2011

When I’m not writing high-minded articles, it is the tabloid-style political gossip blog that I edit that pays the bills. Just like newspaper tabloids we face editorial dilemmas almost daily.

Can we risk cracking a joke at the expense of a supposedly suicidal politician? Is it in bad taste to run a picture of the empty booze bottles overflowing from the dustbin of an alcoholic MP who claims he is on the wagon? Is it fair to use an old Facebook picture of a young girl in a bikini who is now a parliamentary researcher and said to be carnally linked to a politician? More importantly, was she over 16 in that downloaded picture? Those are much tougher dilemmas than worries about classified e-mails from Downing Street advisers, stolen ministerial documents and purloined computer-disk evidence of expenses fraud.

There is no doubt in my mind that my readers are as interested in the former type of story as the latter. If the blog were subject to the rules of the Press Complaints Commission, I wouldn’t be able to run many of those stories on privacy grounds, because despite the widespread interest of the reading public they would not pass a public interest test.

My experience tells me that the old adage that a politician who lies to his wife is more likely to lie to the voters is as true today as it has always been: it tells us something worth knowing about his trustworthiness. But does it tell us anything about a footballer? Judges seem to believe that we should not be told the embarrassing marital secrets of the football stars so admired as role models by team-strip-wearing young boys. That is a dangerous extension of judicial press censorship.

Our blog is deliberately published offshore to make it more difficult for lawyers to enforce judge-granted superinjunctions; it also protects us from any media regulator planned for the post-News of the World future. Every year our readership grows, partly because we are happy still to use entrapment and agents provocateurs, as well as trample on the undeserved privacy of wrong ’uns, grab camera-phone paparazzi pictures of MPs with their mistresses and generally play merry havoc with people in public life who misbehave, lie, cheat or act hypocritically.

I do not claim to be philosopher king. I know that my moral code is not to the taste of everyone. When the blog has overstepped the mark, our readers have let us know; in that sense they are our true regulators. When on rare occasions we face sensitive judgment calls about the most difficult ethical editorial dilemmas we call on a higher authority — a former editor of The Sun. We ask ourselves: “What would Kelvin MacKenzie do?”

Kelvin On Way Out

The FT is claiming to be ‘exclusively’ reporting the departure of Kelvin Mackenzie from The Sun. They quote former Sun editor David Yelland:

“He is part of the family, for this to happen shows cultural change that should not be underestimated. It will have saddened Rupert a great deal.”

Bit of an odd exclusive, considering everyone read the news in last week’s Popbitch. They revealed:

“Kelvin has already been fired. He has been for almost two weeks now. The Sun are keeping a lid on it until the commotion calms.”

As MediaGuido has previously reported, this is really all about a Game of Thrones power battle being played out. The legendary Old King forced out in more than slightly tenuous circumstances as The Sun seeks to modernise…

Game of Thrones Power Battle at The Sun

Fleet Street elders are looking on with horror and glee as a slow motion Game of Thrones power battle is played out at The Sun. Anyone who thinks this saga is really about a provocative Kelvin Mackenzie column criticising an Everton footballer is naive. “The New King”, “Joffrey” Gallagher, is caught in the midst of all out war between “The Old King of the North” Kelvin and the fiery “Mother of Dragons”, Queen Rebekah.

The decision by News UK to suspend Old King Kelvin is being widely viewed through the prism of Queen Rebekah loathing him. It has been noted in other realms of the Baby Shard that the statement knifing Kelvin came from a News UK spokesman, not a Sun spokesman.

The emerging narrative is that Gallagher kicked back at the decision and, rightly, defended Kelvin, hence why the statement throwing him under the torrent of outrage did not come from The Sun. It came from News UK, where Queen Rebekah reigns. Last Thursday’s Popbitch reported that “Rebekah is aching to bin his £300,000 a year column, cutting costs and helping to detoxify the Sun’s brand in one easy move”. Kelvin’s column was published on Friday.

The New King Gallagher and The Old King Kelvin also go way back. Gallagher has always owed Kelvin after he helped him secure the Sun throne. Before that, at the Telegraph, Gallagher hired Kelvin as a columnist only to be forced to cancel his column when the Scouse hordes protested.

So far, the views of the One True Sun King of Antipodea remain unclear. Though anyone who has watched the hit HBO series (available through all BSkyB-approved outlets) knows this one is going to end in a bloody mess, with a twist or two along the way…

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Kelvin MacKenzie on Indy’s Demise

Was he wrong?

Media Quote of the Day

Kelvin MacKenzie:

“Cops must understand that papers are there to help. At the moment they treat them like the enemy.”

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