What the media least likes is the feeling that someone’s trying to get one over on them – as Sir Richard Mottram, Martin Sixsmith, Jo Moore and Stephen Byers now know to their cost.
The finer points – who said what to whom and when – are getting murkier by the minute, but in essence, the story goes like this: “You are a bunch of hamfisted incompetents. If you seriously think that you have the power to control us, you are deluded. We have the power to discredit you, or re-habilitate you, at will”. Oh, and don’t forget, there’s an extra twist to this tale because Martin Sixsmith is an ex-journalist, who took the £100,000 government shilling.
In the political and industrial arenas, the media distrust PRs, and PRs distrust the media. As a result, politicians and industrialists require more and more consultants, advisers, damage limitation artistes, media trainers, lobbyists and publicists. This inspires a fantastic, self-perpetuating circle of lucrative employment for PRs who are commissioned to keep the rottweilers at bay.
There’s something particularly savage in the press’s attack on Byers et al. Editors are flexing their muscles, and setting out to show that they simply won’t stand for being bullied. Forget the minutiae: the substantive issue is that Stephen Byers should be removed from office immediately. Or maybe not. His failures as a manager mark him out as a top-flight rail executive in the making.
This week also saw some titanic struggles for power that only proved to underline this point all the more: don’t mess with the media.
Bernard Doherty, spinner to the stars, is PR for the Brits. His spat with the Mirror disinclined him to favour Morgan’s organ with any exclusive pre-Brit opportunities. But in the celeb sector, such is the need for profile, and the thirst for copy, that Doherty dropped any pretence to principle (as did the Mirror), and it was business as usual with the 3AM girls and all the rest of the twittering crew firmly installed on the night.
It only goes to show that the media get what they want, whatever. Consider Naomi Campbell: depending on this month’s preferred flavour, she is either a gorgeous superstar who warms the cockles of the heart, or she is the most overpaid clothes horse in history.
Over the past week, when she arguably deserved some basic human sympathy, the media portrayed her as the bitch witch from hell. It was her fault: if you go to court to tell the press they’re acting out of order, they give you a sanctimonious routine about the public’s right to know, and exultantly tear you into tiny pieces.
If the Mirror loses the case, it will shrug its shoulders and write off the cost as part of its marketing budget.
The media hold all the cards. They can make you, and they can break you, and when you’re down and out and you’ve caved in under the angst of it all, they’re there to weep crocodile tears over the price and pressures of fame: the price they extracted, and the pressures they exerted.
Celebrity is a contract weighted in the media’s favour, based on raw, ruthless economics. There’s no scarcity of candidates striving for fame, there’s no scarcity of human failings to expose, and there’s a constant need for copy.
There’s copy out of the media’s temporary infatuation with a star, and there’s copy out of the collapse of the press’s one-time loving relationship with a celebrity. Content is king, and the stars are fodder.
But at least with celebs, there’s a chance to re-kindle the love affair, and to let the rollercoaster ride recommence. It’s enough to make Jo Moore wish she’d been caught coming out of an AA meeting.