The Apprentice
Thursday 31st May 2007
I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by Katie Hopkins, the contestant on The Apprentice who has emerged as a national hate figure. (See Richard Curtis’s aside during his Bafta Fellowship speech.)

On last night’s show, in which the six remaining contestants had to sell merchandise on a home shopping channel, Katie was so outrageously snobbish about the channel’s typical customer — whom she dubbed “Mavis” — it seems clear that her whole appearance on the show is some kind of publicity stunt. Another reason for thinking this is that she seems too intelligent — too essentially competent — to be bothering to jump through all these hoops merely to secure a job with Alan Sugar. The question is, what kind of publicity stunt?

Option one is that she’s just a freelance publicity-seeker. This was the verdict of Heat editor Mark Frith on The Apprentice after-show yesterday. According to this theory, she isn’t aiming to win the show, but to attract as much attention to herself as possible in order to generate other job offers — probably as a professional reality show contestant — after she’s been eliminated. A kind of upmarket version of Jade Goody.

The problem with this theory is that, again, she seems too … respectable, somehow. She’s an educated, middle-class girl, not to mention a mother-of-two, and — apart from when she’s doing her Lady Muck routine — seems fairly sane. I could believe this of someone like Chantal — the winner of the penultimate series of Celebrity Big Brother — but it seems less likely in Katie’s case. (Christ, I’m beginning to sound as snobbish as “that posh bird from The Apprentice”, to use the phrase of Harrow-educated Richard Curtis.)

Option two, then, is that she’s a sponsored publicity-seeker, ie, she has the backing of some kind of media organisation which has helped her to organise her stunt. Additional evidence for this — apart from my being impressed by the cut of her jib — is that earlier this week she was papped having a romp with a married man. Now these pictures are so obviously staged that it’s clear Katie’s up to something — and I’m not convinced a freelance publicity-seeker could have pulled this off. Indeed, to my jaundiced eye, the pictures have the fingerprints of Alison Jackson all over them — which suggests that Katie is actually making an undercover documentary with Alison called something like, “How to Become a D-List Celebrity.” (For reasons of synergy — and to avoid pesky lawsuits — I wouldn’t be surprised if this documntary is being made by Talkback, the same company that makes The Apprentice.)

Option three is that she’s an undercover reporter writing a piece about sticking her nose in the D-list celebrity trough for The Guardian (or the Mail who, in spite of reporting on Katie’s escapades in a typically disapproving way, may be simply trying to throw us off the scent). In this scenario, she’ll publish a blockbuster piece to coincide with the broadcasting of the episode in which she’s eliminated and then wait for the publishing offers to come flooding in. I would have thought she’d easily get an advance of £250,000 — possibly as much as £500,000, depending on how good her article is. (More if it’s in the Guardian than the Mail, but then the Mail will pay her much more for the story.) In any event, enough to put the £100,000 salary on offer from Alan Sugar in the shade.

Of course, there’s a fourth option, which is that Katie is simply trying to win the show — incredible as it may seem, she actually does want a job with Sir Alan — and isn’t nearly as shrewd as she appears.

At the end of last night’s show it was announced that three people would be fired next week, leaving just two contestants to battle it out. I predict Katie will be one of those contestants and that in the final show — before Sir Alan makes his decision — she’ll reveal what she’s really up to.


Jaredgate Revisited
Monday 21st May 2007
I was intrigued to see that Richard Johnson, the editor of Page Six, the New York Post’s gossip column, has been accused of accepting a $1,000 pay-off from a restaurant in return for name-checking them. This revelation backs up the defence I made of Jared Paul Stern, a Page Six reporter (and my friend) who was accused of trying to shake down Ron Burkle about 13 months ago (see below). Needless to say, the federal government has declined to press charges against Jared and he is now considering bringing a law suit against the New York Post demanding they reinstate him.

For the New York Post to excommunicate Jared following that scandal was lucrously hypocritical, but if Rupert Murdoch now gets rid of Richard Johnson — as he almost certainly will — he will seem like a caricature of a double-dealing press baron. Can there be a single person left in the world who imagines that Murdoch doesn’t use his media empire to further his business interests? Is anyone really naive enough to think there’s a strict separation of church and state at News Corps? Just who is he trying to fool?

JAREDGATE (Posted on 11th April, 2006)

Am I missing something? Why has the New York media got itself into such a tizzy about the Page Six story? For those of who who’ve been on Mars for the past 48 hours, this is the so-called scandal whereby Jared Paul Stern, a reporter for the New York Post’s most prominent gossip column, supposedly tried to shake down some seedy billionaire named Ron Burkle. According to the Daily News — the rival New York tabloid that broke the story last week — Stern attempted to extort $220,000 from the billionaire in return for “protecting” him from negative coverage in Page Six. The FBI is reported to be investigating Stern, but so far hasn’t announced whether it intends to bring any criminal charges against him.

Jared Paul Stern is a friend of mine so you may regard my opinion as hopelessly tainted, but I can’t see why anyone’s getting their knickers in a twist about this. Even if Stern is guilty as charged — and he maintains he’s guilty of nothing more serious than “an error of judgment” — this is surely exactly the behaviour you’d expect of a Page Six reporter. Okay, maybe soliciting a cash bribe is a little over the top, but only the most naïve New York Post reader could possibly be under the impression that the paper’s gossip columnists are subject to the same code of ethics as New York Times reporters. For any American journalist to feign surprise that gossip columnists are occasionally bought off by the people they write about is the equivalent of Captain Renault claiming he’s “shocked — shocked!” to discover that there’s gambling going on at Rick’s Place.

In fact, it’s precisely because columns like Page Six give off such a pungent whiff of old-fashioned corruption that they’re read so avidly by media insiders. Page Six is a throwback to an earlier journalistic era — the era so seductively conjured up in ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’. I know that we’re supposed to disapprove of people like Walter Winchel, but the aura of power that surrounded him — particularly power over press agents — is almost irresistible to journalists working today. This is particularly true of men. Who amongst us wouldn’t like to conduct our business from a back table in the Stork Club, occasionally taking breaks from blackmailing the rich and famous in order to receive a blowjob from a cigarette girl in the loo?

Surely, most people who read Page Six are aware that the reporters who contribute to it operate according to their own set of rules? They know that if someone receives a flattering mention — such as Donald Trump or Ron Perelman — it’s probably because they enjoy some sort of “protection”. Being able to “read” Page Six — knowing how to interpret the coded information it contains — is an integral part of its appeal. When I see a negative item about Michael Eisner, the fact that I know that he’s an enemy of Harvey Weinstein’s, and I know that Harvey has, in effect, bought off the editor of Page Six and several of his minions, makes me feel like an insider. I’m no longer a “civilian”; I’m in the loop.

Indeed, I’ve always admired the fact that the people who compile Page Six can scarcely be bothered to conceal their corruption. I interviewed Richard Johnson, its long-standing editor, for a Tatler profile in 2001, and, far from denying that attempts were constantly being made to buy him off, he merely complained that they were usually so inept. He cited the example of Playboy setting him up on a “date” with a Playmate at a New York restaurant. He was quite excited about this until the girl in question turned up with a retinue that included her mother and two publicists. “It’s tough trying to take advantage of someone if they show up with their mother,” he laughed. (To read the profile, click here.)

In this respect, New York’s gossip columnists are very different from those higher up the professional status ladder who operate in exactly the same way, but maintain a much more “ethical” façade. I’ll give just one example here, though I could give dozens. Anthony Lane, the New Yorker’s film critic, told me of an incident in 1997 in which his unfavourable review of ‘Amistad’ was killed because of Tina Brown’s “relationship” with Steven Spielberg. From an ethical point of view, then, the editor of the New Yorker (as Tina then was) is clearly no different from Jared Paul Stern. Spielberg may not have been wiring money into Tina Brown’s bank account, but I’m sure he’d “paid” for his “protection” –by agreeing to attend Tina Brown’s dinner parties, speak at New Yorker-sponsored events, invite her and her husband to his house in the Hamptons, etc — just as surely as Ron Burkle was being asked to pay for his.

If the New York media really wants to clean up its act, it should introduce the journalistic equivalent of Section 17(b) of the 1933 Securities Act whereby it would become unlawful for reporters to receive any form of payola from the people or organisations they’re covering — whether payments in cash or in kind. (I made a proposal along these lines in a ‘Wall St Journal’ piece in 2003. Click here to read it.) But in the meantime, the sanctimonious moralists of the profession who are calling for Jared’s head should look for the beams in their own eyes. His only crime — if indeed he committed a crime — was getting caught.


Casting News
Friday 18th May 2007
Click here to find out who has been cast as the Graydon Carter character in the film version of How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.


Wednesday 16th May 2007
You can link to an interview with me that’s just appeared in a new magazine called Leisure Pirate here.


Simon Pegg
Saturday 12th May 2007
There’s a good interview with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in today’s Telegraph. Filming is due to start on How to Lose Friends & Alienate People — with Pegg taking up the lead role opposite Kirsten Dunst — on June 4.

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