One ex-tabloid reporter’s entertaining and insightful satire of tabloid journalism’s ethics – or lack of them – through provocative Michael Moore-style stunts and set-ups, with clever use of archive footage.
The Paper Boy by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Ex-Daily Star journalist Rich Peppiatt’s public resignation letter to its owner, Rupert Murdoch, became a viral sensation. Unable any longer to stomach the tabloid’s sensationalism and titillation, and the scams he was forced to perform, Peppiatt also spoke out at the Leveson Inquiry into the hacking scandal and journalistic ethics. He’s now a stand-up comedian, still performing, but this time on stage lambasting the red tops’ propensitity for making the ‘facts’ fit the story they want. And now, with producer/director Tom Jenkinson, he’s turned his talents to Michael Moore-esque filmmaking in his entertaining first feature film. It’s a scathing satire of the job he once did and the hypocrisy peddled by his former masters and media bigwigs.
Each section of the six-part film is introduced by a very cleverly selected compilation of archive footage that must have been the product of extensive film research, from well-known black and white movies such as His Girl Friday (1940) and many others not so well known now, such as Humphrey Bogart’s 1952 Deadline, to illustrate the days when journalism – on screen at least – was still viewed as an honourable and even a crusading profession. A stark contrast is intended with the contemporary unethical excesses – “the concept of truth is hard for tabloid editors” – that he goes on to deplore and mock.
Dressed as a caricature cartoon hack in grubby raincoat, a trilby with a press card stuck askew in the hatband and a knowing leer, he pranks the editors who are his victims. He plasters front pages all over the car of the editor responsible for the most outrageous Madeleine McCann coverage and plants a dildo on the doorstep of the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, who he sees as the devil incarnate, trying unsuccessfully to get an interview with him about his sex life (he’s removed by a minder). His most successful stunt is setting up a spoof television interview with former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, in his opinion the person most responsible for the deterioration in press standards (the Hillsborough disaster coverage). In the guise of a Canadian TV reporter, as the interview with him progresses he quotes more and more of (allegedly) MacKenzie’s own private texts to an unnamed woman back at him to give him a taste of his own medicine – until the penny drops, MacKenzie twigs what he’s up to and makes an excuse and leaves (rather hurriedly).
He exposes some of the set-ups perpetrated by now-jailed, apparently weasly reporter Neville Thurlbeck (“an operator”), who embodies for him all that’s wrong with tabloid journalism. There’s a gallery of insightful interviews with high-profile victims of tabloid stings such as Hugh Grant, Max Moseley, Steve Coogan and John Prescott, as well as non-celebrities, and comments from media pundits and respected journalists Roy Greenslade, Owen Jones, Nick Davies and Joan Smith. Well-known media lawyer Charlotte Harris provides a legal opinion and philospher AC Grayling gives his analysis.
Peppiatt’s thesis is that the press, which should be a pillar of democratic society, is abusing its power. It is not a free press, it is politically motivated. Its fundamental failing is to forget that people are human beings. It has become just a commercial enterprise that will print whatever sells and it is hard for the average reader to push back.
The ironically titled One Rogue Reporter (the hacking excuse) is a well-made, episodic one-hour-long film. It’s well written, amusing, at times trenchant, and Peppiatt is an engagingly cheeky front man. Mostly the spoofs make their point well, but some, though they start off well, don’t really exploit their potential to the full. Whether this was for legal reasons or humane reasons because of the risk of harassment or just running out of steam is hard to tell. Rich Peppiatt may well have some good future television series on the media in him.
One Rogue Reporter is released on 7th November 2014 in the UK