Have Britain's MPs really been that much in awe of the power of the Press? The New York Times tells the stories of Clare's remark about Page 3 girls, Neil Kinnock , David Mellor and Chris Bryant
Yet that is where she is this weekend, under the heading, "For Years, the Tabloid's Sting Kept British politicians in Line."
The Sunday NYT reports how the Sun responded to the MP's remarks in a story headlined, “ ‘Fat, Jealous’ Clare Brands Page 3 Porn”. The paper's editor, Rebekah Wade (now Rebekah Brooks, much in the news this week) sent a busload of semi-dressed models to jeer at Ms. Short at her house in Birmingham.
The paper stuck a photograph of Ms. Short’s head on the body of a topless woman and reported a number of people saying they thoroughly enjoyed the sexy photographs.
Said the NYT , "It is the fear of incidents like this that has long underpinned the uneasy collusion between British politicians and even the lowest-end tabloids.
"However much they might deplore tabloid methods and articles — politicians have often been afraid to say so publicly, for fear of losing the papers’ support or finding themselves the target of the papers’ wrath."
The power to harass and intimidate is hardly limited to the Murdoch newspapers, the article declares. British tabloids have all to some extent used their power to discredit those who cross them, politicians and analysts told the writers.
Neil Kinnock was leading the Conservative Party’s John Major in the 1992 election when The Sun mounted a sustained attack on him. "A barrage of articles depicted Kinnock as inept, long-winded, strange looking, and even mentally unstable."
The day before the election, the paper printed anti-Kinnock articles under the headline “Nightmare on Kinnock Street.”
It printed a picture of a fat topless woman and a warning that “Here’s How Page 3 Will Look Under Kinnock!” Yes, you've got to laugh.
But, in an image he would never live down, the paper printed a large front-page photograph of a crazy-looking Mr. Kinnock’s head inside a light bulb, under the headline: “If Kinnock Wins Today Will the Last Person to Leave Britain Please Turn Out the Lights.”
In 1989,said theTimes, Tory MP David Mellor declared that the tabloids were reckless, too powerful and in need of more regulation; they were, he warned, “drinking at the last-chance saloon.”
The News of the World was later to pay about £30,000 for his mistress’s account of their affair, complete with secret recordings and the claim that Mr. Mellor had made love to her while wearing only a Chelsea soccer jersey (he always said that part was not true).
Sometimes it is just the threat of harassment that frightens politicians, said the Times report.
“I can think of at least two members of Parliament who could have been criticising Murdoch five years ago, and said nothing because they were afraid,” said Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is gay.
Mr. Bryant , at a hearing on press standards in 2003, asked Ms. Brooks, then editor of The Sun, whether she had ever paid the police for information. She, along with other editors, was seriously displeased with the tough tone of his questions, said the NYT.
After the MP spoke last year in Parliament on tabloid tactics, he told the NYT a friend received two telephone calls asking that a warning be passed on," Just let him know that this will not be forgotten."
A spokeswoman for News International told the New York Times the company had no comment on the article.
Mr. Bryant told the American paper that he once ran into Ms. Brooks at a News International party at a Labour Party conference.
“She said, ‘Oh, Mr. Bryant, it’s after dark — surely you should be on Clapham Common,’ ” a notorious gay cruising spot, Mr. Bryant told the Times. He said she was not trying to be funny.
Last week, Mr. Bryant, in the debate in Parliament about phone hacking, criticised his fellow politicians’ cosy relationship with the news media.
“We politicians, I believe, have colluded far too long with the media,” he said. “We rely on them. We seek their favour. We live, we die politically because of what they write and what they show, and sometimes that means we are not courageous or spineful enough to stand up when wrong has occurred.”
Roy Greenslade, ex-Mirror editor, journalism professor and Guardian columnist, told the NYT there had been a remarkable turn around in attitudes toward Mr. Murdoch. “All these years, he’s been a tycoon, a media mogul — and now it’s as if he’s suddenly become Citizen Kane.”