Banks' Notes 02.12.05

WHEN IT comes to Iraq, journalists are occupying the least enviable
position of all: these men and women have become the meat in the
sandwich between the crazies of al-Qaeda on one side and the crackpot
leader of the self-styled coalition on the other.

The reported
threat by President Bush to bomb the headquarters of the media
organisation Al Jazeera – centred in Qatar, a friendly nation – is the
exact equivalent of the evil beheadings and suicide bomb assassinations
that have already claimed the lives of more than 100 journalists since
hostilities began in March 2003.

No one comes out of this
puerile, pathetic plot well. President Bush’s people claimed it was “a
humorous remark, not serious”. Sick, more like; a “joke” just as likely
to call down a pre-emptive strike on the heads of the Western media as
the real thing.

And the clumsy attempt by the British Government
to gag further revelations from a leaked memo – which must be the Daily
Mirror’s Scoop of the Year entry – by threatening prosecutions under
the Official Secrets Act is a shameful misuse of parliamentary power.

At
least Prime Minister Blair deserves some credit for talking the
numbskull president out of the equivalent of an al-Qaeda attack on Sky
News or Broadcasting House.

SURELY THE least comforting feature
of any media gathering for a Daily Mirror editor must be the disturbing
number of former Mirror editors he will bump into. There are, frankly,
a lot of us about. So it was good to see Richard Wallace, the present
incumbent, washing down his lobster and chips with a celebratory glass
of champagne amid the sea of smug mugs at the Press Gazette Hall of
Fame bash.

“It’s good to get a big one under your belt,” he told
me, referring not to the crustacean he was busy consigning to his
spreading tum, but to the Mirror’s recent Kate Moss cocaine exclusive.
But he could just as easily have been talking about that memo… TALK
ABOUT big phoneys… Anil Bhoyrul the City Slickster has become Ali
Bhoyrul the Arab Trickster, if the impeccably truthful Sir Richard
Branson (pictured) is to be believed.

Bhoyrul, now editor of
Dubaibased Arabian Business, was accused of making dodgy calls to the
Virgin boss, cancelling an interview Branson was to have with rival
magazine 7Days, and later calling the unsuspecting interviewer telling
him the interview would take place at a different hotel.

I confess a sneaking admiration for such commercial sabotage.

When
I night-edited MacKenzie’s Sun in the mid-Eighties, I regularly phoned
the Daily Mirror circulation department and offered them the splash
wording “for tomorrow’s bill posters”, to be told invariably that the
ever-efficient Mirror night editor had already delivered details of the
splash. Naturally, I would insist on checking they had the right
wording. And, naturally, the unsuspecting night circulation man would
tell me what was leading “our” paper the next morning.

But my
favourite phone story comes from the days before mobiles when I edited
the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. One of my veteran reporters, persuaded
to give a talk to media students at New South Wales University,
concluded a lecture on handling a big, breakingdisaster story by asking
them: “So when you’ve bought up the best witnesses, paid off the
coppers and phoned your copy over from the only phone box in the
village, what do you do then?”

“Drive home?” ventured one. “Crap!” roared the old-timer, contemptuously flicking his full-strength fag-end at the blackboard.

“Phone the subs and check spellings?” asked a second, nervously.

“BOLLOCKS!”
screamed the purple-faced hack. Then, dramatically tearing the ringpull
off his third can of Foster’s as if to demonstrate the correct answer,
he growled: “You rip the fucking phone out!”

The Grey Cardigan
would have wept with pride… PET HATES: Scribblers who call themselves
“journalists” and can’t resist delivering pompous lessons to subs (i.e.
the drudges who make their stuff shine), such as the
get-your-facts-straight “tip” served up in this week’s Independent by
media diarist John Walsh.

Walshy, spotted wearing his snakeskin
winklepickers to freebie bashes at Stringfellow’s and the National
Portrait Gallery on successive nights, moaned that the sub should have
known the PM doesn’t occupy Number 10 but Number 11 Downing Street.

Scribbler’s quibble! Presumably Walsh doesn’t mind being called part of Fleet Street?

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