I bought the Sunday Times for the first time in ages yesterday, thinking I might find contrition over Hackgate on every page. And how wrong I was! Chortles, chortles everywhere. The diktat from on high is plainly to laugh off the scandal, to treat it with amused patience. News International's many critics are not the enemy: they are source material for knowing giggles. Which brings us straight to AA Gill.
Dispatching him to review the parliamentary select committee's bungled inquisition of the Murdochs was a clever move. Such is Adrian's unstoppable eye for physical imperfection, he could mirth up Treblinka. Tom Watson, we are reminded, claimed £4,800-worth of food exes in one year (cue fattist joke); and the committee chairman's reaction to the pie splat was the 'horrified demeanour of a dowager duchess who has discovered a naked Zulu in her bath.' Ah yes, a naked Zulu. Foreign.
None of this gentle knockabout will have exacerbated reader-hernias, but the branded (ie Gill-ish) comic intention, harnessed to a practised prose power, was sufficient to maintain a virtual smirk. More to the point, this souffle propaganda posed no threat to Gill's long-term contract with the paper.
Close by was Adrian's pal Jeremy Clarkson who has already told readers that one of his best friends is Rebekah Brooks. Buried in his usual auto-throwaway shtick was his take on Hackgate: 'The people who knew the person who once met someone at a party who may or may not have illegally listened to Sienna Miller making a hair appointment.' Giggles! Renew that man's contract!
Over on the next page, an interview with Chipping Norton resident Alex James by Giles Hattersley lay in wait. Young Giles kicked off about Hackgate's Chipping Norton set - 'The Camerons, Rebekah Brooks and the junior Murdochs, all hanging out in the Cotswolds, being fabulous and powerful in... honey-coloured homes.' Y'know, bit like Dallas, but with the oil flowing copiously at Wapping. This was mild court foolery, licensed, liveried impudence. Yet the Sun would never have permitted it.
Boldest of all the gigglers was the anonymous author of the Wendi Deng profile, the 'Crouching tiger, hidden big hitter'. She was described as the 'quietly dutiful wife of Rupert Murdoch'; and readers of Private Eye's latest Murdoch pisstake, featuring Wendi and her reputed Anglo-Chinese joke pronunciation, will be interested to learn that she does indeed call Rupert 'Lupert'. Irksome pre-marital gossip was rehashed; even Murdoch's hostile biographer Michael Wolff got quoted without insulting epithet. We were told that the old man's habit of banging the table as he talks 'must get on [Wendi's] nerves at the breakfast table'. I don't doubt it.
Certainly the ST's Hackgate damage limitation strategy is cleverer than the Sun's, but then the market's different. A well-informed readership wouldn't tolerate express attempts to justify, extenuate or downplay journalistic illegalities. Instead, we get the worldly yawn veiled in toothless irreverence, the 'Oh yah, yah. Next!' treatment. The emperor's nakedness is observed without drama; the sense of a passing fuss about nothing in particular is implied in sundry asides. A case of hoped-for Hackgate death by wisecrack.
Put another way, the gigglers made their own case for the abandonment of press self-regulation. Pronto.