Alex Massie

Pulitzer Bait

Text settings

This post reminded me of a terrific piece Sarah Lyall (one of the NYT's under-appreciated stars) wrote for Slate a couple of years ago. She made the mistake of attending the British Press Awards dinner. The Pulitzers these are not. Most papers crow about their own successes while failing to even report the existence of winners from other titles. Happily, however, there are enough award ceremonies for almost everyone to claim the title "Newspaper of the Year". In their own way, the hacks treat these awards with the proper level of contempt and, since no-one spends all year dreaming of ways to win them we are at least spared the epic, 17-part thumb-sucking series on "Life" or "Death" or "Being a Deaf Quadraplegic" the American papers publish in a bid to win Pulitzers...

More than 900 journalists, all in black-tie, were crammed into a ballroom at the Hilton; they represented everything from the scrappiest, most sex-obsessed tabloid to the snootiest, worthiest broadsheet. So little did they have in common that it was like holding an awards ceremony for the entire animal kingdom, pitting carnivores against herbivores, fish against amoebas.

The British Press Awards have been called "the Academy Awards of British journalism," Britain's answer to the Pulitzers. But last night's ceremony—a mind-numbing parade of awards in 28 categories—was not a mutually respectful celebration of the British newspaper industry fueled by camaraderie and bonhomie. It was more like a soccer match attended by a club of misanthropic inebriates.

The losers were not happy for the winners. "What's he ever fucking reported, except what fucking Alastair Campbell told him?" a man sitting at a nearby table muttered when Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun was named Reporter of the Year (Campbell is Tony Blair's former chief spokesman). The rule seemed to be that you were allowed to cheer only for awards won by a) someone at your own paper; or b) someone at a paper owned by your proprietor (e.g., Rupert Murdoch). Otherwise, the etiquette was either to mutter disapprovingly or to drown out the winner's acceptance speech by chattering as raucously as possible.

The winners were not gracious in victory. Early in the evening, Sir Bob Geldof came to the stage to praise the Sun, which won a prize for its campaign to raise money for Africa. First he bragged inappropriately about the size of his penis. "I've just been down at the bog," he said ("bog" being "bathroom"), "and it's true that rock stars do have bigger knobs than journalists." He then called a recent Daily Mail story "a disgrace" and began a disastrously misjudged—given that he was speaking to British journalists—discussion of the forthcoming G-8 meeting.

Someone heckled him. "Do you even know what it is, you twat?" Geldof responded, referring to the G-8. "You'll have a Clarkson moment in a fucking minute." (Jeremy Clarkson, a TV celebrity and perennial Motoring Writer of the Year nominee, meaning that he writes about cars, is known for an incident at the last year's awards in which he is said to have called Piers Morgan, then editor of the Daily Mirror, a "fucking cunt" and then physically attacked him.)

...In a surprising break with tradition, Jeremy Clarkson won the motoring award. His acceptance speech was short: "Piers Morgan is an arsehole," he said, and then went away. When Simon Walters of the Mail on Sunday won the prize for Political Journalist of the Year, he used the occasion to rehearse an old grievance against Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor and the evening's thankless master of ceremonies...

And so on and so on. The bottom line, of course, is this:

"It's all shite," a woman at my table informed me, "until you win something, and then it's just a well-deserved recognition of talent."

And there you have it: the British press pack - marvellous, yet monstrous.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleArts Reviews