Saturday 17 February 2018

Celebs had a symbiotic relationship with press

The tabloids are once again feasting on showbiz secrets as the hacking case rolls on, writes Donal Lynch

Sienna Miller
Sienna Miller
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

'With all due respect to the great British public they went out and bought these papers. Week after week. Year after year." That was novelist Will Self's response when he was asked in the wake of the hacking scandal two years ago why such a culture of invasiveness was ever tolerated in Britain's print media. At the time there were many people to blame: Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron (for being friends with too many NewsCorp editors), rogue journalists. But as with the banking scandals, which were exploding at the same time, nobody was really allowed to point the finger at the public. Coverage is driven by demand and journalism, as a former colleague of mine once pointed out, is sometimes like a sausage factory. The readers may not especially like to see how the product gets made but they sure as hell know how to eat it up.

The sausage contradiction was laid bare once again this week as the details of the trial of Andy Coulson and others on charges of phone hacking were splashed all over the front pages of the British papers. Except of course it wasn't Coulson's pallid mien that they used to illustrate the story – that would have been far too boring – but a still of Miller acting out a love scene with Craig accompanied by quotes from Jude Law emblazoned on either side above it. Miller herself seemed to appreciate the irony of this.

Appearing for the prosecution via webcam she said that she deplored that "titillating" information about her private life had once again been made public during the case. "This has been a really difficult and uncomfortable period of my life to discuss," she said.

We learned that in 2005 the three actors had been involved in a love triangle. Miller, a minxy starlet who had embarked on a relationship with Law after being in Alfie with him, left a fateful voicemail for Craig telling him: 'Hi it's me. Cannot speak. I'm at the Groucho (club) with Jude. I love you."

In her evidence Miller seemed to play down the importance of these last words but she did not deny a 'brief encounter' with Craig.

The public knew nothing of this and at that time considered Miller to be the wronged woman – Law had famously cheated on her with the nanny of his children. Upon learning of the affair between Craig and Miller, Law confronted his old friend Craig on the phone.

The thrust of each of these communications was emblazoned all over the front pages of Newscorp titles and Law was left scratching his head as to how that could have happened. Two years ago Law received £130,000 (€158,439) plus legal costs in a settlement with Newscorp. His assistant, Ben Jackson, received £40,000 and former PR advisor, Ciara Parkes, received £35,000.

As with most of the celebrities named in the Leveson Inquiry, Law also had a symbiotic – if not occasionally cosy – relationship with the press. The tabloids which pursued him were also, on occasion, a handy mouthpiece and willing accomplices in PR campaigns that never had to carry his fingerprints. Law confirmed this week an "employee in service" had been providing his "side of the story" to the News of the World. He said he knew his PR had been in contact with the paper as that was his job and during that period of his life, his publicist was practically "on speed dial" because there was so much about him in the press. Another person in Law's retinue had also been involved in the stories: A unidentified relative – Law ruefully nodded when he was handed the name on a piece of paper in the dock – had been selling stories to the press.

It hardly bears mentioning that this person could only have been profiting to a tiny fraction of the degree that Law himself was profiting from press coverage. And at the same time as all of this was happening The Talented Mr. Ripley star was one of the hottest film properties in the world and growing immensely wealthy on the back of rabid public interest in his life and work. He had product endorsements for Dior and Dunhill. He walked the red carpet and smiled and gave interviews when he had a movie to flog. But, like many celebrities, he expected to be able to turn public interest on and off, for punters to buy tickets to his films in their millions but not to purchase a magazine that carried details of his personal life.

The charges in this case are all hacking related but the evil, from the perspective of Law and stars like him, is actually intrusion. Hacking was but one of a litany of dodgy expedients that the NOTW used to get stories. In his memoir The Insider Piers Morgan, who once edited the newspaper, writes of a man who used to go through the dustbins of the rich and famous, scavenging for something that could make its way into a headline. Other stars would be terrorised with revelations and in return for an easier go of it in the paper would co-operate with journalists. Long-lense photography was and is standard for English tabloids.

The hacking trials will continue – the feature presentation of Rebekah Brooks is still to come – and with each passing day the mock-aghast press will get to serve up the entrails of old NOTW stories to the buying public.

Sienna Miller said this week that she once again felt "gossiped about and analysed and vilified" but it was never going to be any other way.

The sausages may be recycled but we still continue to eat them up.

Irish Independent

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