Call me an irrepressible optimist, or a deluded fool, but each Sunday I approach the papers with hope - that maybe the depths of journalistic integrity were eventually plumbed in the previous week's editions, and that the only way is up. And every week I am wrong. The ethical standards of our papers continue to descend, week by week, into the lair of the Gigantic Squid.
Last week's exemplar of amoral conscience, the paper which outbid all the others in the weekly auction of values, was the Sunday News. Now, I think I need to add a note of explanation here, before we go on. People Like Us do not read the Sunday News. It is a tabloid, produced for the lower orders; We read full-size papers, ones with book sections, over coffee (I only came across yesterday's paper because I popped into Magazzino to browse the latest Artforum, pretentious git that I am). The Sunday News has always been quite decent, ethically, nothing like the Red Tops in dear old Blighty. Not so this week.
Its sole front page story is about the former Minister for Indian Affairs, Captain Richard Worth. The Sunday News has achieved the scoop of an interview with the Captain's daughter, who wore a slinky evening dress for the occasion. And this is what Virginia Worth has to say about the Captain's accuser: "It's a pity [the complainant] has problems and needs help. I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs."
Correct me if I am wrong, but is this not the sort of thing that 14 year-old girls say about their classroom enemies? They think it cunning, smarter than saying "that Bournvita is such as slut, she would go with anyone; and she has thick ankles;" rather, they say "it's a pity Bournvita has problems and I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs." See, it makes them appear both grown-up and good-hearted, except it does nothing of the kind – anyone can see it is a juvenile ruse; anyone except the Editor of the Sunday News, it would seem.
But now read on, because also coming to the Captain's aid is none other than Ms Bridget Saunders, former gossip columnist and star of last week's Media7. She turns up all other the place. And what she has to say is that the rumours of her having a sexual relationship with the Captain are quite untrue.
No, me neither. Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever suggested that the Captain and the woman of letters were entangled; in fact, we all thought he was a pederast.
Anyway, it seems she is blaming the Labour Party for this scandalous gossip which no-one has heard before. She has no evidence for this claim, but why should we care? Of course, the cynics amongst us might think that it is a bit rich of her to complain about gossip, given her former profession. We might also recall those stories about various unnamed celebrities doing named activities with each other. And we might remember fondly those puff-pieces about Nikki Kaye she put in her column on behalf of her friend Mr Slater. Finally, we might consider that the Labour Party probably would rather have had Captain Worth stay around for a bit longer before he was caught, given the value he was giving. Finally again, we might bear in mind that Mr Goff wanted this matter dealt with discreetly and that it was that nice Mr Key who made it all public (after pretending, of course, that the Captain was leaving for personal reasons and doubtless hoping that nobody would notice he had gone).
Anyway, back to the chase. It was, of course, the Sunday News which brought us the news that the Captain would be a witness in the long-awaited cause celebre of Glucina vs Saunders. Nobody knows quite why Rachel Glucina's ghastly mother wants to squander the family fortune on suing Ms Saunders; fewer still care. It has been going on for years now and still it has not reached court. But what we all want to know is what part the Captain will play in this legal drama, and whether he still is in a position to appear as a character witness.
Anyway, that is besides the point. The point is that all this is very grubby, as are most of these people. And once again, it is the victim wot gets the blame. She needs help, in the considered opinion of the Captain's daughter. Whether the Captain's other accuser also needs help is not made clear. It rather puts me in mind of a sex predator formerly of my acquaintance, who on one occasion shrugged his shoulders and wondered aloud why he attracted women who turned out to be mad, women who became all emotional when he ended their brief relationships. Of course, the truth was that he went out of his way to find vulnerable young women whom he could manipulate into bed and then betray. But an important part of his pretence was to blame the victim, to portray her as disturbed and himself as the innocent party. The Worths, Mr Key and others involved have learned the same tactic.
But why did the women in the Captain's life choose the Sunday News for their revelations? Perhaps because the Herald on Sunday usually leads with a tragic car crash, perhaps because all the other weekend papers are besotted with David Bain, the man who did not murder his family beyond reasonable doubt. It is not really a good time to go plugging your story, because Bain's media circus has come to down and it has all the best acrobats. And then there is Susan Boyle and New Zealand's Next Top Model. In fact, with all this going on, there was hardly any room to print any news stories, so both the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star Times wisely decided not to.
Perhaps I am being rather harsh on the Sunday News. It is the last of the Sunday papers to run news stories. The other two compete with each other to run the most asinine and irrelevant celebrity tragedies. The SST stories suffer further humiliation by being posted on the Stuff website as "Editor's picks," in turn suggesting that the Editor is a cretin.
But it is funny I mentioned the Editor, one Mitchell Murphy, because he was on Mediawatch yesterday. And here's a funny thing: he is also Editor of the Sunday News. Which is another first for New Zealand: two papers, one Editor, who happens to be a recent arrival from Australia. Maybe there is a story in that.