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Thursday 18 August 2011

Mail Sal Sums Fail

The legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has clearly decreed that Commons Speaker John Bercow, along with wife Sally, are not “our kind of people”: both are regularly pilloried by the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not go there), and otherwise attract adverse comment from whoever is duty hack at the front of the Dacre cab rank. So knocking copy aimed at the Bercows is not a surprise.

You lookin' at me?!?

But one might have expected that the Daily Mail would at least bother to get its sums right, even when putting the boot in. That, though, misses the point, which is that if the purpose of the article is to kick the subject, the subject will be kicked: as one former Mail news reporter put it to Nick Davies, “on touchstone issues, you knew that the headline had been written before the story came in and your job was to make the facts fit” [Flat Earth News, page 383]

And so we come to Sally Bercow’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. This is, for Dacre, A Doubly Bad Thing: not only is she not “one of our people”, but the programme airs on Channel 5, part of the empire of Richard “Dirty” Desmond, whom Dacre despises with a vengeance.

The main headline “Mrs Speaker will pocket [my emphasis] £40,000 for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother” suggests personal gain. So let’s do the math, and see just how much Sal is actually going to “pocket”. We are told “It has emerged [that’s Mail-speak for “best guess”] that Mrs Bercow ... will be paid £60,000”. She will allegedly pay £20,000 of this to the great Cliffus Maximus to act as publicist.

So that sounds like she does indeed make £40,000 out of the deal, except that the piece concedes that she will make a £100,000 charitable donation. Now, forgive my potentially shaky sums here, but that looks very much like Sal comes out not £40,000 up, but £60,000 down. So she isn’t “pocketing” anything.

That is backed up by the great Cliffus Maximus himself, who has said “I can confirm [she] is giving a £100,000 fee to her chosen charity. She’s also being paid a fee a lot less than that and is paying me out of that”. But this revelation comes well down the copy, and by the time readers have got this far, they are more than likely to have already made up their minds that she’s only in it for the money.

That decision is suitably reinforced by Tory MP Rob Wilson, who suggests that Sal is using Parliament “for her own financial gain”. The Mail using Wilson as its talking head is not an accident: his antipathy towards John Bercow is well known. His presence confirms that this is knocking copy written to order.

Little changes in the miserable, spiteful and vindictive world of Paul Dacre.

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