Grey Cardigan
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Why should we defend the tabloids when they publish such blatant bollocks?

WHILE I deeply regret the damage inflicted upon our trade by the pointless Leveson Inquiry, you have to say that sometimes our national tabloids don’t exactly help themselves. Take Wednesday’s editions, when the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, the Metro, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express all used their front pages – traditionally home of the most important story of the day – to report an alleged affair between model Elizabeth Hurley and former US President Bill Clinton. 

The basis for this ‘story’ was a website report of the existence of a old videotape of American actor Tom Sizemore telling friends that Clinton initiated a year-long affair after sending a private jet to fetch Ms Hurley from Los Angeles to Washington. It should be noted at this point that Mr Sizemore has a long history of alcohol and drug abuse and was recently photographed smoking crystal meth in the carefree manner of a Methodist Co-operative Bank chairman.

This fantasy didn’t last long, with an abrupt denial tweeted, as is the manner these days, by the pulchritudinous Liz: “ Ludicrously silly stories about me & Bill Clinton. Totally untrue. In the hands of my lawyers. Yawn.”

Indeed, the befuddled Sizemore has since announced that he didn’t say it; he can’t remember saying it; and if he did say it, it wasn’t true anyway and be a good chap and pass that crack pipe will you?

The point is that if, during my time on a modest regional daily, I’d sat down to conference and one of my news editors had offered up a splash based on such flimsy, risible evidence, I’d have ripped off his fucking head and spat down the hole. And they knew it. But that was because we cared about honesty and accuracy. We jealously guarded our credibility.

The nationals? I really don’t think that they cared. Liz Hurley and Bill Clinton? Two great names that will sell papers. Whack it on the front. Sure beats Wendy Deng and Tony Blair.

Just something to remember the next time we have to go in to bat on behalf of our national colleagues.

CULPABILITY of a different kind comes in the way in which the tabloids have played both sides of the field during the increasingly doomed Operation Yewtree. It begins with the arrest of an un-named entertainer who’s been a “national treasure” for decades. Gradually the name slips out (after being in general circulation on the internet for days ) or, more probably, is leaked by the police who are on a blatant fishing expedition.

Fired up by the coverage, women of a certain age suddenly recall a catalogue of sexual assaults from 40 years ago and the CPS gradually gather enough allegations for them to consider prosecution a decent bet. The case goes to court with weeks of lurid coverage, ending in a swift acquittal once the eminently sensible jury has been asked for a verdict. Cue columnists on those same papers arguing that the case should never have come to court in the first place and it’s all been a reputation-destroying waste of money.

Now obviously I have to tread carefully here with other proceedings currently active, but you do have to wonder what the CPS is playing at. I seem to recall that they were very quick to announce in the wake of the Savile scandal that other celebrities would be pursued with vigour should allegations surface, but are they not being a bit too vigorous? Can they honestly expect to secure a conviction based on evidence from decades ago; on memories eroded by time and attitudes distorted by the defendants’ fame?

I’m checking out now before I end up in the dock myself, but I’ll leave you with this. One charge of indecent assault against William Roache was dropped by the prosecution when the complainant appeared in court only to announce that she had “no actual memory of the episode”. If that’s the quality of evidence the CPS is relying on, you do wonder whether the quest for justice has become a wasteful witch hunt.

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Grey Cardigan

Written by Grey Cardigan

The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan

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