THE ding-dong battle be tween high-brow and lowbrow papers about the ethics of full-scale coverage for the Ward case goes on. Last week Cecil King, Chairman of the International Publishing Corporation (better known as the Mirror group) was stung by a Guardian editorial on " The Good Life " into massive retaliation.
His reply took the form of a 1.000 word letter attacking the Guardian's "self-righteouSness and pomposity ", which the Guardian courteously printed in its entirety, even though it meant spoiling the look of their back page.
Mr. King defended himself by pointing out that the number of words in the Mirror account of the trial was approximately half that in the Guardian, by refuting the suggestion that the Mirror papers had paid money to prostitutes, and denying that their coverage of the case amounted to " acclaim " for members of the Ward set. It had, said Mr. King testily, the same object as the recital of Judas' misdeeds to chil dren in Sunday school. The Mirror newspapers were no more devoted to advocating immorality than was the Bible to advocating treachery.
Well, it all depends on your point of view. If a photograph of Stephen Ward in his pyjamas is not calculated to appeal to the baser instincts of some four and three-quarter million people. then Mr. King is right and the Guardian wrong. The argument that Mr. King uses to bolster up his case is that tkis picture was " certainly more interesting" than the Guardian's photograph of a Beefeater on strike. Hm, yes. As usual. sonic people were most noticeable by their absence. The News of the World, which had shared the Guardian's ire, was either unable or unwilling to reply to the charges that it had " competed for the privilege of purveying pornography."
On the side-lines. the scraps were being gathered up. The People printed an article claiming to give the truth about Christine Keeler, and got slapped with a libel writ for its pains.
On the other hand. the Observer's almost off-hand remark on Sunday, to the effect that the Press, in reporting the Ward Case. " probably went no further than their readers wished." was an ill-advised attempt to shrug off some of the responsibility for glamourising matters onto the shoulders of the public.
This statement is true only insofar as the public, given a choice of' two papers. one with and the other without coverage, would have probably chosen the one with. But it does not absolve the Press as a whole from their task of undertaking a radical reexamination of their attitude towards sensationalism.
The Fourth Estate's duty to educate and inform public opinion is at least as pressing as its duty to reflect it.
But there were pleasant things in the papers, too, this week. One of the pleasantest of these was Philip Toynbee's warm tribute (in the Observer) to Sir Harold Nicholson the doyen of book critics, who was retiring after 17 years with the paper.
What was particularly revealing was Toynbee's description of Sir Harold's accuracy. Every week, we were told, he knew that he had to bring his review to an end after 13 lines on page three of his type script. The image of the flowing-haired intellectual. penning furiously until inspiration wanes. has seldom been more convincingly deflated.
A little old lady was once reported to have said " How clever of you journalists to be able to write all the news to fit the page exactly." It seems now as if the laugh is on us.
Another worthwhile effort was the full-scale report. in Monday's Times, of Fr. Eamonn Casey's pioneer housing experiments in Slough. Monday is, admittedly. seldom a very heavy news day. but the fact that the story was the second most important one on the Home news page showed that news of the right kind is always there for the reporting. The story was splashed about in Tuesday's Daily Express, too.
It is pleasant to record that the
same story appeared exclusively in the CATHOLIC HERALD twelve months ago. It isn't often that we "scoop" both The Times and tlee Express: not, at any rate, by quite such a margin.
In Fleet Street one day last week two posters were seen side by side that provided food for thought. The first poster — an Eveninq Standard one — announced : " £1,000,000 MAIL ROBBERY! AERIAL PICTURE." The second — a City Press poster—announced no less succinctly : " MAKING MONEY DOES NOT MEAN HARD WORK."
Private Eye. the bane of the Establishment. seems to have changed its tune. This has coincided with the arrival of Mr.
Claud Cockburn as " guest editor." and I think that many people will agree that this denotes a turn for the better (the word " better " can be understood in a relative. sense by agyone who does not agree).
Duringthe last few months, the jokes in Private Eye have been falling off in quantity as well as in quality, and the cheerful nihilism of its first few issues seemed to have given way to a sore of gangrenous anarchism. Paul Johnson, in the New Staterman lamented not so long ago that the magazine was devoid of the inside information of the kind that makes Le Canard Enchain(' so widely read (and banned. and prosecuted) in France.
Even before Mr. Cockburn left his rural retreat in Co. Cork to take hold of the reins he was heard to rub his hands together in some anticipation and remark that hethought Private Eve needed a little more " bite." He is well qualified for this. Before the war he organised (" edited " is too narrow a word) an awesome miscellany of misprints. revelations and potentially libellous remarks which was regarded with terror by almost everyone in the public eye. It was known as The Week — a title that may have inspired TW3 Mr. Cockburn's views on the lase are well known. They are. roughly. " bad lawyers are no good. and good lawyer's won't print anything, so why bother with them at all!'
What sort ot a magazine has this philosophy bred? In his very first week as editor he has printed, in characteristically abusive terms, an exclusive and disturbing story about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Herman Woof, a society artist. This has been followed up (with acknowledgment in only one case) by every national daily paper and several Sunday ones. Here is one of the little •uns showing the big 'tins the way.