The kind of exclusives we could do without

 The first casualty of this war was patience. Hour after hour, the only hostile movement seemed to be the clock advancing upon edition time.

When, oh when, would the press be able to go to town with the colossal vengeance which, on that terrible Tuesday, looked like starting that Thursday?

Newsroom poised before screens, like computer game players itching to zap baddies. There was little sympathy for generals concerned to strike only when men and material were in position, targets marked and exit strategies known. And even less for politicians with a duty to allow time to discover whether the build-up alone might get a result.

The Daily Express ("First for breaking news and pictures") filled page 1 with an archive pic of a plane-load of parachute troops. Superimposed was the headline, "WE’RE GOING IN". Not yet we weren’t. Nor was there justification for its next splash, "BRITAIN IN GERM TERROR ALERT". Only the exclusive tag was accurate.

Ludgate House was soon somewhat readier to appreciate the need for special care in times of conflict. With Sunday Express chief reporter Yvonne Ridley in Taliban captivity, having crossed the border to report the plight of Afghan refugees, the paper worried that the Daily Mail was carrying a picture of her handling guns at a Pakistan weapons factory.

But since this was indeed a moment for the press to rally round to secure Ridley’s safety, it would also have been wiser for her own paper not to trumpet as exclusive a poignant plea by nine-year-old daughter Daisy.

All in all, World War Two was a much simpler exercise for the press. Fleet Street was never in danger of announcing on 5 June 1944 that D-Day was tomorrow and Normandy the planned beach-head.

And our predecessors dismissed enemy propaganda as readily as they accepted our own. Whose side were we on, for heaven’s sake? Our Boys were our brothers, our sons, our husbands, our fathers. And often ourselves.

This time round, William Hill might be tempted to lay odds on the first paper to splash, "END OF THE WORLD". Well, first this century. The Sun did it in when England was knocked out of the World Cup in 1972. A chief sub fretting about readers of a nervous disposition (there might have been a couple still left) was placated by the addition of an exclamation mark. Nowadays, the word exclusive can have the same effect.

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