Why are hacks scared to state the obvious? In Britain the excuse is the strict libel laws. But in America? To win a libel case over there one has to prove malice aforethought, and I don’t know many journalists who would admit it and go down the Swanee. Take the case that has been hogging the headlines lately, that of the 2022 World Cup and its Qatar venue. Qatar gets rather hot in the summer, hot enough to kill an athlete exerting himself for glory and the root of all envy. Rob Hughes, a respected football commentator, calls it ‘not a responsible thing to do’. He writes that a small group of men got together and decided that Qatar was the best place to hold the tournament.
What I’d like to know is why doesn’t he indulge in some interesting speculation about the more sinister reasons the vote may have gone in Qatar’s favour? To choose the sweaty hellhole of Qatar over bids by Australia, the US, Japan and South Korea is like choosing Mary Beard over Keira Knightley. Why would anyone do such a thing? Although Qatar promised air-conditioned stadiums and other such chimera — it has yet to deliver the few million it promised the concentration camp of Gaza — 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) means more players will damage their tickers for good than there are name-droppers in the Hilton family. Fortunately, there is always a funny side to such matters, such as Greg Dyke announcing that England can win the World Cup in 2022. As of writing, England has beaten only Moldova and San Marino, two of the greatest football powers ever, and tied with Ukraine. If England wins in nine years’ time, I will qualify for and win Wimbledon the same year, and Speccie readers would do better betting on my chances than on those of the poor old English team.
Nope, hacks would rather play it safe and not run the risk of getting sued. Compare Michael Wolff. Wolff is an American media analyst and writer — and also has a very pretty girlfriend — and I had a chat with him during our summer party last July. I asked him about Tina Brown, and Wolff, who is not known for pulling his punches (his biography of Rupert Murdoch had Rupee baby pissing bullets), threw his hands up in the air and made bubbling noises. In other words, no one can understand how the broad gets away with it. (Well, no longer.) The fact is that not too many hacks have gone out of their way to point out that Tina, who is always referred to as a legendary editor in America, has lost a vast mass of money for the owners of the magazines she has edited. She almost broke Harvey Weinstein with Talk magazine — 50 million big ones in two years — ditto with the New Yorker and Vanity Fair before that, and has cost another sugar daddy, Barry Diller, at least 100 million since 2008 with the Daily Beast and Newsweek. He finally pulled the plug on her, but what the hell, what’s a hundred million big ones anyway? She’s a legend, as they say in Hollywood.
Which brings me to Graydon Carter and the preening Gwyneth Paltrow. Graydon has been a friend of mine for 30 years, and I can’t stand la Paltrow, but here it goes anyway. ‘Vanity Fair is threatening to put me on the cover,’ cries the one I can’t stand, as if going on the cover of a bestselling monthly is an unacceptable chore. She’s an actress, for God’s sake, and publicity is her lifeline. What Paltrow wants and Carter won’t give is an assurance that the piece on her will be a grovelling asskiss job worthy of Hello! or other such celebrity lickers. VF used to do such soft-focus celebrity coverage, and Graydon has been trying to change that and rightly so. Who started the trend of asskissing? Step forward Tina Brown, or, as we well brought up Englishmen call her, Lady Evans. In my view, Tina signed a Faustian pact with Hollywood agents long ago: she would have access to the stars, and the articles would be bootlickers. It was as simple as that. But readers smelled a rat right away. After all, how does one out-Hello! Hello!? Graydon Carter is doing the right thing, and I think most of us can live without seeing Paltrow on a VF cover.
So, the next time you read a story that makes some celebrity sound like our Lord Jesus, or hear that a future Olympics will take place in Dubai, rest assured that the fix is on. I’m not advocating hatchet jobs, that’s for cheap, anti-free-enterprise sheets such as the Guardian — whose Brazilian correspondent was caught using his boyfriend as a mule — but hacks should tell it as it is, as our very own Rod Liddle does week in and out. Yippee!