Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Public Interest

I still remember the moment I heard the news. Some stories do that to you. The second plane hitting the South Tower on 9/11. The death of Osama bin Laden. That time Gordon Brown said some woman was kind of a bit racist or something. These are stories that shape your understanding of the world, news events that you know instantly are going to change everything, define whole eras with their magnitude.

I felt this way the day I logged onto the internet and heard that David Beckham might have had sex with someone who wasn't his wife. The day started like any other; coffee, eye-rubbing, the mysterious emergence of an unprompted but not unpleasant morning erection. But once I went online, BAM! It was everywhere; the crushing, almost incomprehensible news of Beckham's allegedly misdirected penis.

At first I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't. David Beckham was a footballer, not for nothing known as the world's noblest profession. Killers, sex offenders, violent thugs, racists, homophobes, all these people are lightly frowned upon in the footballing community (albeit allowed to continue playing if they're vaguely any good at kicking). For years, heck, for all my life that I can remember, I thought that being a footballer gave a man a certain sense of moral superiority. I simply couldn't conceive that a footballer, especially one with as cultured a right foot as David Beckham, would behave in the lascivious, lustful, caddish manner one associates more readily with politicians or tabloid journalists. "Say it ain't so!", I cried. My mind rejected the notion. I needed the tabloids to go on and on and forever fucking on about it, just so I could understand that it was real. That my hero had done this.

I mention this because the former News Of The World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has been defending his pursuit of the David Beckham/Rebecca Loos story in 2004 at the Leveson inquiry as having been squarely in the public interest.

"We decided there was huge public interest in that matter because the Beckhams had been using their marriage in order to endorse products," he said.
They were making "millions of pounds on the back of that image. It was a wholesome image that the family cultivated and the public bought into on a massive scale and we exposed that to be a sham," Thurlbeck told the inquiry.
A sham, exposed. This is what journalists are for. Journalists are often maligned, frequently by me, but when Thurlbeck said that, I realised he wasn't an unprincipled, devious shitbag desperately scrabbling around for unconvincing mealy-mouthed justifications for the most voyeuristic kind of grubby tabloid 'reporting', like I had previously assumed. No, Thurlbeck is a hero. He's a hero of the kind David Beckham once was, before his capricious wang prompted his philandering fall from grace.

You see, some people will claim that David Beckham became famous, at least partly, for his footballing talent. They'll talk about his goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon or That Goal Against Greece, his dazzling free-kicks or his array of trophies. Others will claim that Beckham's fame is also in part due to his dashing good looks, which saw him famously modelling the underpants which coquettishly housed the genitalia that would one day betray a nation. Poppycock, I say! For me, and millions like me, Beckham was meant to be a monogamist first, a footballer a distant second. I prized his marital fidelity above all else. Beckham had always, repeatedly, constantly told us that he would never, ever, ever shag anyone who wasn't his wife, scout's honour. Not in words, exactly. It was sort of just kind of implied. Yet it defined him. His faithfulness was pivotal to his fame, it was his very essence. As Sinatra was defined by his voice, as Hendrix was synonymous with his guitar, as Cat Bin Lady was forever entwined in the public consciousness with the image of that cat and that bin, so was Beckham's spirit manifested in his sexual purity, forever the unspoiled poster child for not shagging around.

Sometimes you'll hear idiots saying things like "But Beckham was just really a good footballer who married someone famous and who people liked to look at! He no more claimed to be pure of virtue than you or I, Mr Thurlbeck!". Other morons might say things like "Call me a flipping cynic, but I suspect the News Of The World was driven primarily by a profit-hungry desire to sell papers off the back of one of Britain's most famous celebrities, rather than motivated by a lionhearted determination to expose the corrupt lie at the heart of the Beckhams' marriage!". Others might point out that the Beckhams remain married 7 years on, and have had two subsequent children, and that this might suggest that their claim to have been married to each other (which is really all they ever promised) remains fundamentally true. Still others will say to Thurlbeck, "Hey, man, if you're so comfortable up there on your moral pedestal, how come your paper paid Rebecca Loos over £100,000 for her shabby kiss-and-tell story? Does this not suggest that you're actually just opportunistic gossip-mongers selling the worst kind of gratuitous tat to satisfy your readers' baser appetites?".

All those people miss the point. The fundamental, undeniable point remains that David Beckham only ever sold himself or ever made any money on the explicitly-stated promise never to fuck his PA.

I understand this. I understand this because I, too, once worshipped David Beckham. I bought everything he endorsed. And the day I found out he'd erroneously put his penis in a woman other than that Spice Girl, my world came crashing down. Overnight, all those products I'd bought became tainted with betrayal. No longer did I feel I could recline seductively in my tight white Armani briefs. Every word I'd ever written with a Beckham-endorsed Sharpie felt like lies, horrible lies. Whenever I see that goal he scored from the halfway line now, a little bit more of my soul dies. It was once a great goal. Now it is the goal of a philanderer. I hate it. It makes me sick to my gut. I've tried to put on my expensive Police brand sunglasses, but I can't see anything through them now. All I can see now is Beckham's wayward, sinful penis, sliding grotesquely into the various orifices of that...that iniquitous harlot. But with each one of these tragic moments I become a little more grateful to the dogged truth-warriors of the News Of The World, for exposing Beckham's disgusting LIES before I fell any deeper into his indecent web. Thank you, a million times thank you, Rupert Murdoch.

A thought occurs...did they ever decide on a permanent statue for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square? Because it might be time your brave, brave decision to pursue a story that would obviously sell a metric fuckload of papers was recognised, Neville Thurlbeck. We love you. And we always will. Unless you cheat on your wife.