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A Tale of Two Scandals

Those members of the chattering class (Division Two) with enough time on their hands to addle their brains on social media are abuzz with speculation about the name of a ‘celebrity’ who allegedly indulged in a sexual threesome.  His (there’s a broad clue) identity is known, or knowable, everywhere in the world except the British Isles (though not Scotland, which has a separate legal system).  British readers must remain in the dark because a British judge awarded an injunction against publishing the story brought by the celebrity.

I understand that the injunction will be lifted tomorrow, subject to a ruling on whether to uphold an appeal against it.  If the ban is lifted, as I’m sure it will be, whatever orgy the celebrity participated in will be nothing against the outpouring of twitter frenzy – the smutty references, the raucous jokes, the endless on-line banter that passes for humour – that will ensue.

I happen to know who it is – or at any rate I think I do, based on the testimony of the normally reliable sources who revealed it to me over lunch yesterday.  I failed to ask what their sources were, not only because I didn’t care, but because I wished to change the subject to something more substantial than celebrity gossip.

Even so, reluctantly armed with such knowledge, I venture to guess that millions of tweeters will be disappointed.  The person in question is no stranger to sexual controversy, indeed is someone who would be expected, based on reputation if not precedent, to engage in such activities.  In more fertile imaginations than mine, there are no doubt some stars of stage and screen that would probably be marked down as ‘up for it’.  Who is not, it’s fair to ask?  But I’m not saying a dicky-bird.  And let me at once steer you away from looking for clues in ‘dicky bird’.

British newsmen – presumably even more fearful of kicking over the legal traces since the Leveson Enquiry into press intrusion into private lives – have been as quiet as church mice: no oblique hints, no nods or winks, not even expressions of outrage over the curtailment of press freedom.

Meanwhile, though, and strangely, most news media didn’t even bother, except when pushed, to report a parallel scandal.  This was that a certain cabinet minister was known to have been in a relationship with a professional dominatrix (he claimed he didn’t know about her work at the time).  It emerged into the light of print only after he was approached by the BBC, which covered the scandal on a news programme.  Even then, four newspapers at first declined to cover the story, citing lack of ‘public interest’.  The story is out now.

Curiously, one might say bizarrely, Hacked Off, the celebrity-backed pressure group formed to encourage state control of the press (sparked, you may recall, by alleged media intrusions into the private lives of public figures) was furious. Hacked Off became Hacked On, immediately demanding to know why Fleet Street editors were ‘violating’ the public’s right to know about the scandal.  Now there is an odd change of tack: an organisation set up to represent victims campaigning to have a particular victim named and shamed.

Put it all down to politics.

As it happens, John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, and the man enmeshed in the ‘dominatrix scandal’, is also the man responsible for issues of press regulation.  Hacked Off’s claim is that the press went easy on Whittingdale as part of some kind of blackmail plot: withhold the story in order to hold a sword of Damocles (as one newspaper unwittingly put it) over the minister’s head.  The BBC broke ranks, it has also been claimed, because Whittingdale is trying, literally, to cut the broadcaster down to size.

What a sorry, if entertaining, mare’s nest this all is.  The press strains at the leash to name the ‘threesome’ celebrity, but at the same time shows reluctance to name a minister with a girlfriend in the sex industry, while the group formed to keep the lid on the ‘feral beasts’ of the press (Tony Blair’s phrase) demands that it be blown off.

Blame Leveson, I suppose.  Or blame, if you will, the queered pitch of the British legal system.

Squeezed between the hectoring strictures of Leveson’s apologists and rulings from the courts, the press is, increasingly and relentlessly reduced to a helpless can’t-win-for-losing target of abuse; or worse, to the status of an irrelevant onlooker.

But why get hot and bothered about the press, anyway?

Newspapers the world over are being deserted in droves in favour of juvenile on-line information outlets which doddery enquiry chairmen and interfering judges can’t reach.  Sadly, though, these are also outlets that have no obligations to truth, balance, judgement, or even literary merit.  Which makes them all the more suspect in the eyes of former hacks like me, whose strictures were delivered by editors whose addiction to the truth was proud and resolute.

And suspect they will remain for anyone who values such old-fashioned virtues.

The Fourth Estate will soon be moribund at this rate.  A Fifth Estate already beckons, unfettered, inviolable and indefinable.  From this state of affairs may the Gods protect us!

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