Top critical review
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Extremely well researched and written, if slightly too self-important and opinionated
on 29 March 2009
This book impresses with the quality of research and the depth of insight into many of the stories that are celebrated as huge scoops for the News of The World. It tries to illustrate that many of the shocking exposes run by the News of the World and some other tabloids are often distorted views of reality, serving to only damage the reputation of their targets in the name of shifting more copy.
A major target of this accusation is "fake sheik" Mazher Mahmood, who in a perverse role-reversal happens to be the subject of an act of reputation bashing on behalf of the author. He claims that Mahmood was fired from The Sunday Times after trying to change information on the paper's mainframe to save face. True or not, it is hardly the major issue that is portrayed and underplays the fact that journalism, particularly tabloid,is about finding stories that interest the public.
He does acknowledge that Mahmood has had some major coups in bringing down major criminals, but reckons that he has lost his touch and has not had a significant story in years. This is rather harsh, given that Mahmood himself admits that he cannot keep carrying off the fake sheik guise due to familiarity.
The rest of the book feels like it was written by a man on the outside looking in, which is fair enough, as the author is indeed by his own admission, not a journalist. Some of his arguments make for strong opinion, but opinion is a weaker weapon than hard fact and that makes it unconvincing in places. In particular, his personal link to Guy Pelly via his daughter, is written from the angle that he is a nice young man who got coaxed into a sleazy nightclub by a naughty tabloid. He claims there was no public interest, although in my opinion, having read the events, I would take issue with our second-in-line hanging around with someone who even in this flattering portrait, seems a bit of a lounge lizard.
The early chapters still keep this in good read territory, if by virtue that they are concise and fairly entertaining profiles of how the News of the World functions. It takes issue at the "dark-arts" and many of the examples exposed are very well explained. The Lawrence Dallagio sting and other drug related exposes give an angle to the stories that has never been debated, in that many rely on entrapment. The use of drugs to snare celebs is a theme running through many of the stings and is one of the more convincing arguments for evidence of foul play within the book.
I feel sorry for the celebs rather more after reading this book, but to be fair many of the celebs who claim to have been unfairly stung can only have themselves to blame for their actions and to morally slam tabloids for coercing the scoop due to their impulses is a feeble criticism.
If we had a press as desired by the author of this book, all kinds of sleaze would go undetected within society. This point is overlooked to argue of tabloids with too slack a leash. Do I agree with this argument..no, but I do feel it makes a fair stab at it and it is very well written.