Friday’s evidence session with Rebekah Brooks at the Leveson Inquiry will be essential viewing for all future students of journalism.
This is not because of any revelations about her relationship with politicians, nor even because of the startling information that Rupert Murdoch was fond of the X Factor .(I can picture the two of them now, in their jammies, brushing each other’s hair and swooning over Simon.)
No, the fascinating fact to emerge today was that, the way Ms Brooks tells it, there appear to be striking similarities between being editor of the country’s largest newspaper and taking the veil; the general thrust of her evidence being that newspaper editors have about as much influence on key national issues as the mother superior of a closed order.
I can picture her now, some years into the future, chewing on her pencil with the gonk on the end, as she pens her autobiography;
“And as for fortune, and as for fame, I never invited them in, though it seemed to the world they were all I desired. (Note to self; that sounds familiar, perhaps should check it.) I wanted nothing more than a quiet life, far from the hurly burly, where I could devote myself to the concept of a readership and indulge my love of horses.
“I considered becoming the Parson of a quiet country parish, or a school teacher in the Outer Hebrides. They are fine choices but, they are also high profile positions in the community and so, fearing the spotlight as I did, I chose instead to become editor of two of the nation’s most popular tabloids.
“It was the ideal choice. During my tenure it was possible to wield almost no influence whatsoever on matters such as general elections and whether young Royals should wear American tan tights.
“What little power I enjoyed as I rubbed shoulders with Prime Ministers and international media moguls, I enjoyed reluctantly. I drew strength from the locks of hair of Sun readers which I collected on our annual caravan park trip (£9.50! Bargain.) I did not lead, I did not cajole, I did not influence. I merely reflected the views of our readers. Albeit with a little attitude.”
Of course, the politically astute among you will realise that I made all that up. Of course Rebekah Brooks is right when she states that a newspaper draws its strength from the support of its readers, but her reluctance to be direct about the power wielded by newspaper editors is disingenuous to say the least.
Witnesses to the Leveson inquiry, including Ms Brooks, would do well to remember that the readers are watching and we know the difference between self-effacement and false modesty.