Crikey believes Private Eye is the greatest magazine in the world and we model ourselves on them, but are still just a pale imitation. We urge you all to subscribe to Private Eye for a belly laugh every fortnight. The following material sums up why we love them so much.

Private Eye is the model for Crikey but it does about 10 times as good a job. I urge you all to subscribe like we do for just 35 quid a year. Email [email protected] and do yourself a favour. And check out their website here

For instance, these are some of the winners from the Private Eye “Hackwatch Awards For 2001” in the latest edition which are their equivalent of The Crikey awards.

LUNCHTIME O’BOOZE AWARDS

This valuable trophy is awarded to the Daily Telegraph’s racing editor Adrian Hunt, who, at a beano in the Telegraph hospitality box at Royal Ascot, congratulated the paper’s star columnist Lord (Sebastian) Coe on his success at the 1980 Olympics. Unfortunately, Hunt seemed to think that he was talking to Coe’s old rival Steve Ovett. “It was great when you beat that tosser Coe,” he roared, before being led away by sports editor David Welch.

SPECIAL AUTO-ARSLIKHAN AWARD

“What England would not give for a Barrington or a Boycott who would bat all day.”

— Geoffrey Boycott, Daily Telegraph, 6 August.

ARSLIKHAN OF THE YEAR

Interviewed by Simon Mayo on Radio 5 Live, the Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh was asked who he’d put postage stamps if he ran the country.

“Rupert Murdoch,” the Sun man replied without hesitation. “He’s a hero of mine.”

CORRECTION OF THE YEAR

Winner: “Last week, ‘The Lawyer’ incorrectly stated that Maurice Millen, who was leaving DAC to join Macfarlanes, was a senior lawyer. Millen was DAC’s head of IT. We apologise to the two firms for any inconvenience this may have caused. We would also like to apologise to Millen for any embarrassment caused by calling him a lawyer.”

— The Lawyer

Runner up: “Sport Focus apologises for getting its wires crossed last week, and would like to make the following correction to ‘Quote of the week’. Saddam Hussein is not the England cricket captain, 05We meant to say Nasser Hussain.”

— Sport Focus

KAMIKAZE CHAMPION

Winner: Stephen Pollard, who, on his last day at the Grey Lubyanka before taking up a post on the Times, wrote a Daily Express editorial on organic farming which was carefully crafted so that the first letter of every sentence spelt out F*CK YOU DESMOND. Alas! Pollard’s new employer, Times editor Peter Stothard, was unamused – and sacked the wretched hack before he had even started.

CRIKEY: My last story in the Herald Sun when departing the Akerman regime in 1991 was crafted to read GOODBYE HERALD SUN if you took the first letter of each paragraph analysing some Normandy Mining merger at the time but sub-editor David Trounce broke up the third par to make GOOIDBYE HERALD SUN. Oh well.

CRITIC OF THE YEAR

The undisputed winner is Mr Giles Foden, deputy literary editor of the Grauniad (Guardian), for his epic G2 cover story on Eminem. Foden likened the rapper’s lyrics (sample: “B**ch, I’ma kill you! You don’t wanna f**k with me/Girls neither – you ain’t nuttin but a sl*t to me”) to the verse of Tennyson, Hardy, Kipling, Frost, Pound and, above all, Browning. “But who is he, really?” Foden mused. “Like the Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa, with his quiverful of pseudonyms, like the coy Eliot of Prufrock, or Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ – ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)’. Eminem is a multiple, elusive experience, one that folds itself like his near palindromic name, 05”

A great legal policy

Crikey also takes great heart from the Private Eye approach to defamation which is to fight and bollock litigants along the way. Anyone who sue gets the Curse of the Gnome and eventually have some terrible misfortune rain down upon them.

For instance, check out this small item in the latest edition:

Veteran left-wing lawyer Geoffrey Bindman has been fined 12000 pounds (plus 7000 pounds in costs) by the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal for “sever conflicts of interest” and “improperly passing on confidential information”. The charges relate to a successful libel suit brought against the Eye by Bindman a few years ago on behalf of Sam Yeboah, the former head of personnel at Hackney council.

“Geoffrey Bindman has contributed greatly to the profession for many years, a spokesman for the Office of the Supervision of Solicitors told the Law Society’s Gazette, “and it is sad that someone of his eminence should not only appear before a tribunal, but have the allegations against him proven.”

Sad, but not surprising: The Curse of Gnome always its man in the end.

ends

Now, let’s check out this recent profile on the magazine in the New York Times.

Under Fire, Private Eye Turns 40

By SARAH LYALL of The New York Times

LONDON, Nov. 11 In its first post-Sept. 11 issue, the satirical magazine Private Eye included a clip-out cancellation form for infuriated readers. This was a wise move.

For starters, the cover that week showed the now-famous photograph of President Bush learning about the World Trade Center attack. Under the headline “Bush Takes Charge,” the president and his aide were having a little annotated exchange, sotto voce.

Aide: “It’s Armageddon, sir.”

Bush: “Armageddon outahere!”

Hundreds of cancellations duly ensued, along with the by-now-familiar complement of outraged letters, one of which denounced Private Eye as a “silly, misinformed, poisonous little rag.” Be that as it may, such outrage does not remotely discomfit Private Eye’s unapologetic editor, Ian Hislop, who feels that at times of unified national piety, Britain needs his magazine’s brand of irreverence more than ever.

Private Eye turned 40 this fall, and it is fitting that, once again, it is embroiled in a furor about the limits of taste in times of tragedy. It has been here before.

In 1991, when the unscrupulous media magnate Robert Maxwell drowned, the magazine devoted its cover to his funeral, with the headline “Here lies Robert Maxwell.” Down below, it wrote: “He lied everywhere else.”

Six years later, when the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales, provoked a spontaneous effusion of rage at the news media even as Britons bought more newspapers than ever the cover showed a photograph of grieving crowds descending on Buckingham Palace.

“The papers are a disgrace,” one mourner was saying.

“Yes, I couldn’t get one anywhere,” answered another.

In many respects, the magazine has changed little in the last four decades. It still resembles a college gossip sheet. It still defines its mission as taking on the powerful and the influential, the famous and the puffed- up, and it still seeks to wrestle to the ground things it finds hypocritical, ridiculous and sycophantic, particularly in the government and the news media.

At a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor government has virtually neutered its political opposition, Private Eye often has an important, if mischievous and sometimes borderline, role in taking on Mr. Blair.

“I’m all for bad taste if you can justify its making a point,” said Mr. Hislop cheerfully. “Merely saying, `Guess what, some people have died,’ is not funny. But jokes arising, for instance, from the lunacy of what’s happened since Sept. 11, are.”

Britain has had publications of this sort for a long time. “Private Eye is in a long English tradition of satirical journalism,” Mr. Hislop said. “The 18th-century journals exposed vice, folly and humbug, and we’re in that tradition, to tell the truth smilingly, to question the official view. It’s fantastically useful in democracies to have someone saying No.”

It often works, said Roy Greenslade, who writes a column about the news media for the liberal-leaning Guardian.

“I always think of it as the court jester, and the great thing the court jester was able to do was to dress up serious things in such an amusing fashion that the king laughed rather than cried,” Mr. Greenslade said. “But the king also received messages from the jester that no one else dared tell him.” Private Eye’s humor is very English and very public school, meaning that it is full of puns, unkind nicknames and relentless parody, and it can veer dizzyingly between the funny and the puerile. The magazine, put out every other week in a cramped Soho office by a ragtag group of staff members and hangers- on, is an equal-opportunity criticizer, carpet-bombing the British establishment and sometimes causing collateral damage.

Its targets range from Mr. Blair, who has been recast as a more-pious- than-thou vicar, to the London police force, whose officers last year shot and killed several unarmed people. Other targets are media figures like Piers Morgan, the editor of The Daily Mirror, a scrappy tabloid. Even Mr Greenslade, the media commentator, has a Private Eye nickname, Roy Greenslime.

Mr Morgan declined to comment about Private Eye’s tendency to call him Piers Moron.

Along the way, the magazine sends up newspapers’ habit of printing space-filling features unlike this one about practically nothing; the tendency of important novelists to think very highly of their own glaringly obvious opinions; the tendency of doctors to make mistakes and then try to cover them up; and the tendency of public officials to say stupid things.

The Eye’s regular news columns, written anonymously by aggrieved whistle-blowers in medicine, farming, business and the like, occasionally break new ground. The magazine was the first to print allegations about what became a full-fledged malpractice scandal in the pediatric cardiac department at a hospital in Bristol.

Printed on cheap paper and with production standards it keeps low because of the $360,000 a year it spends to defend itself against frequent libel suits, the magazine manages to sell a healthy 180,000 copies or so an issue. But it is no Economist, caring particularly for accuracy. Its biggest fault, perhaps, is its reliance on that legendary British journalistic staple: the fact too good to check.

While acknowledging that the Eye is not as strict as it might be “The American system, where you have fact checkers ringing up and saying, `Is Paris really in France?’ is completely alien to us,” Mr. Hislop said the editor added that when it counts, the magazine gets it right.

“If you put the boot into someone and they were innocent and we were wrong, then I do feel bad, rightly,” he said. “But I never regret going after the big guys.”

Peter Fray

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