Thursday 30 October 2008

What is the difference between Russell Brand and Barnet Council Leader Mike Freer?

What is going on? The BBC is creaking under a torrent of criticism. The boss has cut short his holiday. The papers are filled with wall to wall coverage of the "Russell Brand Scandal". Mr Brand is vilified in every tabloid paper, almost from cover to cover. Commentators such as Kelvin MacKenzie pen articles slating his disgusting behaviour and criticising him for upsetting a national treasure, actor Andrew Sachs (aka Manuel from Fawlty Towers). The Daily Mail (unsurprisingly) kicked it all off a few days after the original broadcast. The end game has been played out for Mr Brand and he's left the BBC, tail between his legs.

The story has got my goat up, but not in the way it seems to have affected the other 99.999% of the British public. First, lets get it into perspective. Andrew Sachs is not the archbishop of Canterbury and his granddaughter is certainly not Mother Theresa. Whilst having stupid messages left on your answerphone by a pair of buffoons is not very nice, I'm sure Mr Sachs saw it exactly for what it was. I wouldn't be surprised if he thought maybe it might be a bit of a wake up call for his Granddaughter as to what happens if you let yourself be seduced by a self obsessed plonker. She wasn't coerced into bed and maybe she'll learn something from the escapade (although I suspect the main lesson will be if you sleep with Russell Brand you get on the front page of The Sun). So we have two middle aged men acting like 14 year olds. Big deal.

What about the tabloids? Well the Sun and The Mail scream indignantly about the hurt Mr Sachs has been caused. What a bunch of hypocrites. They run nasty little exposes all of the time about all sorts of people. Every young girl they write about being roasted by footballers, every singer with powder up their nose, every starlet who had too much to drink, every model who goes home with David Walliams, they all have family. Many have Grandma's and Grandad's who find out all manner of nasty things about their grandchildren from the morning rag. Does Paul Dacre ever pull a juicy story because someone has a 78 year old Grandfather? Whatever you may think about Jonathan Ross's comment about brand sleeping with the girl, it was true, and has been confirmed by her. In the world of the Sun and the Mail, they can do what they like "in the public interest", but woe betide anyone else. Does it ever occur to Mr Dacre and Ms Wade et all that when they write these stories, they hurt people.

Hank Marvin's son used to play drums for our band. His elder brother fell on hard times and ended up dishing the dirt on Hank for one of the tabloids for £600, which doubtless went on booze. He died aged 33 estranged from his father, in a hostel for the homeless. I'm not saying it was the paper's fault, but they certainly didn't help a very vulnerable young man. A girl I know well was injured in the Victoria Station IRA bomb blast. In response to a comment she made to the ambulance crew about not amputating her leg, as she wanted to walk down the aisle on her wedding day, she was persued relentlessly by the press. She ended up having her wedding at a secret location to avoid the press. They don't care who they upset or who's life they ruin. They don't care how much damage they do. The Mail calls brand "Russell Brand: The lewd braggart with no sense of self control", yet when do they ever care about the impact of their stories? Where is the self control at the Mail when they ruin lives.

I recently wrote a blog regarding the coverage of Kate Nash by the Mail, and how they drew attention to a spot on her face. Doesn't it occur to them that this could really have upset her. On the same page as the story about Brand today, their is the following Link story - Make-up-free Katie Holmes' Hallowe'en horror show - how do they think this will make Holmes feel. They don't care about any insecurity they may cause her. She's a beautiful woman, who doesn't need make up, but the Mail twist a bad picture into an extremely nasty story, designed to undermine her.

As I assess the fallout from this story, on thing strikes me. Russell Brand was taken on by the BBC to be edgy and funny. His brief was to push at the boundaries of taste and decency. The job of the producer of the show was to keep him on the right side of the line. Brand overstepped the mark. Did he blame the producer and try and shift the blame, no he took it like a man. He acknowledged the mistake and resigned.

At Barnet Council, the leader Mike Freer has presided over a regime which lost £27.5 million pounds in Icelandic banks. He is a banker, he is the Council leader but unlike Russell Brand who has been pulverised by the Mail, he just won't go . The Mail says of Brand "he never lost his 'talent' for spectacular misjudgment" - what about Freer? Well unlike Brand, Freer's misjudgments will cost Barnet Council Taxpayers dear, Barnet Council worker Pensioners dear, Barnet council home residents dear (unless Gordon Brown rides to the rescue). What should he do? He should be like Russell Brand and take personal responsibility, rather than squirming to blame everyone else. He should follow Russell Brand's fine example and put his hands up and resign.

In answer to the question I posed in the headline - The difference between Russell Brand and Mike Freer is that when Russell Brand realised he'd made a mistake he did the decent thing.

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