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Sunday 12 September 2010

Coulson faces a red card after scoring with sleaze

The dirty tricks used by the News of the World now haunt its former editor, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

I haven't got much sympathy for Andy Coulson, director of communications at Number 10 Downing Street, as politicians and press call for his blood.

His enemies are alleging that when editor of the News of the World, he knew about the phone-hacking that landed one of his journalists in jail in January 2007.

Coulson resigned then to protect himself and proprietor Rupert Murdoch from embarrassing scrutiny and went to work for David Cameron, who believed he must emulate Tony Blair by having a ruthless bully as media handler.

As Blair explains in A Journey, when he became leader of the Labour Party, he was determined to have "a tabloid person" and lit on Alastair Campbell.

"I wanted a hard nut and had thought he was good; what I got was a genius."

Yes, Campbell was brilliant, but as he and his colleagues slaughtered John Major's government with the help of Max Clifford and sympathetic tabloids, they speeded up the discrediting of political life and left their own government vulnerable in turn.

As Blair puts it: "I came to regret the whole characterisation around the issue of so-called 'sleaze'. It was a media game, and in Opposition we played it.

"The goals were easy but the long-term consequences were disastrous."

In his own memoirs, Cameron may well agree.

It sits uncomfortably that a man so genuinely committed to supporting the family should have hired a representative of a breed that specialises in mercilessly destroying it.

Which leads me to the gifted 24-year-old Wayne Rooney, exposed by Coulson's old newspaper last Sunday as having had a few encounters with hookers; he is a laughing-stock, and in danger of losing his family and his sponsorship deals.

Papers whose readers desperately want Rooney to bring soccer glory to England are making a good attempt to ruin his life.

All last week, the tabloids were in a frenzy over this "football love rat" and his "sleazy vice-girl romps" with "a tarty two-some", who added to the story by being 'posh', thus enabling the press to revel in the heartbreak of their respectable middle-class parents.

The cruelty has been relentless: 'The Shame of Wayne: Day Six', 'Preggers Coleen Drove Me To Tarts', 'Nowhere To Hide' and the contribution from Kelvin MacKenzie, an infamous Sun editor, who named Wayne Rooney the 'Thickest Man On The Planet'.

No one has ever accused Rooney of having much in the way of brains, and since he was on Everton's youth team from the age of 10, there hasn't been much time for education.

He acknowledges this with the tattoo inside his right forearm of the words 'Just Enough Education to Perform' -- the title of an album by his favourite band, Stereophonics.

Although he has a smart wife whom he's been with for eight years and a baby son, like most obscenely wealthy young men involved in the decadent and exploitative world that is modern-day soccer, he finds fidelity beyond him.

The strange mores of the footballing world were illustrated by a baffling tweet from Coleen's cousin Natalie:

"Other footballers have girls begging to have sex with them. He pays for it. Lost all my respect for him now!"

Will Coleen walk, taking baby Kai with her?

Or will she try to save the marriage and Brand Rooney?

These are the questions preoccupying the press. In addition to the £6m (€7.2m) or so he is paid by Manchester United, Wayne makes more than £2.5m (€3m) a year from sponsors.

Coleen isn't far behind: her OK! column alone brings in £42,000 (€50,900) a month. Celebrity couples are where it's all at in branding terms, we're told, and the Rooneys could yet match the Beckhams if they get back together again. Love isn't being mentioned much.

The British tabloid press is a disgrace.

It was Rupert Murdoch who debased what had once been a decent profession. Hugh Cudlipp, a good man about whom I once wrote a book, was the finest tabloid editor ever and a great campaigning journalist.

He wrote in 1988 of what had happened when, in 1969, Murdoch bought the News of the World and the Sun.

"It was the dawn of the Dark Ages of tabloid journalism, the decades, still with us, when the proprietors and editors -- not all, but most -- decided that playing a continuing role in public enlightenment was no longer any business of the popular Press. Information about foreign affairs was relegated to a three-inch yapping editorial insulting foreigners.

"It was the age when investigative journalism in the public interest shed its integrity and became intrusive journalism for the prurient, when nothing, however personal, was any longer secret or sacred and the basic human right to privacy was banished in the interest of publishing profit -- when the daily nipple-count and the sleazy stories about bonking bimbos achieved a dominant influence in the circulation charts."

Andy Coulson has played his part in dragging standards down even further.

I won't weep if he's forced out of his job.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards