Some of those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet are able to restrain their urge to kick anyone who has expressed an interest in properly independent press regulation when the target is engaged in genuinely worthwhile or charitable work elsewhere. Sadly, this restraint does not extend to the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, for whom nothing is off limits.
Who says I can't f***ing kick Coogan, c***?!?
So it was when actor and writer Steve Coogan, who, like Hugh Grant, makes no secret of his support for Hacked Off, an organisation which has been accused of indulging in such crimes as ordering takeaway pizza with malice aforethought – for Dacre, worse than walking on the cracks in the pavement – took time out from his busy work schedule to help promote the Philomena Project.
This group was formed to campaign on issues covered by the film Philomena, and seeks to raise awareness of forced and illegal adoptions, a practice widespread in Ireland in the past. The Magdalene Laundries, where many young women who had fallen pregnant were forcibly separated from their babies, were recently described by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, as “the nation’s shame”.
Coogan played journalist Martin Sixsmith in the film, opposite Judy Dench, and is promoting it in Los Angeles and London prior to the Oscars and Baftas. His journey to Rome with Philomena Lee, on whose experiences the film is based, was not part of this. Much of the press understood: the Maily Telegraph report, focusing on giving women the closure of knowing what happened to their children, was typical.
The Guardian went further, stressing that actor and film inspiration were not in Rome, where they met Pope Francis, as any kind of film spin-off or promotion. Not the Mail. In a typically mean-spirited and judgmental hatchet job, Dacre’s obedient doggies raked over Coogan’s past in the usual style, sparing not even family and friends (although the few comments to get through are hostile to the Mail).
The piece asserts he “travelled to the Vatican to promote his new film”, then calls him a “celebrity sinner”, before introducing a note of unintentional hilarity by telling “how a man of the cloth once helped [Coogan] overcome his daemons”. Serves the Mail right for hiring former Unix programmers. But this is small respite from the smearing and righteous tone. And there’s only one reason for that.
That reason is Leveson. As with the grotesque smearing of David Bell, anyone who ventures near the subject of press regulation is, for Dacre, fair game. Hugh Grant was given the treatment recently, and anyone suspected of sympathising with Hacked Off gets the same kicking. It is dishonest, it is deliberate, it is plainly malicious, but in Paul Dacre’s twisted world, it is somehow legitimate.
But there is, ultimately, a problem with this approach: it won’t work.