Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tabloid Tales: how Micah got 'Screwed'

I suppose the full headline should read: ‘how Micah got Screwed by a 77-year-old Australian man', as that seems the most appropriate way of describing the player’s recent dealings with Rupert Murdoch's News of the World.

For those of you that don't subscribe to Britain's most popular newspaper, Micah recently poured his heart out to the Screws, in a bid to salvage his reputation following the paper's Micah 'sex roast shame' story on December 23.

That story branded Micah a 'vile animal', describing his behaviour as 'sick', 'depraved', 'vile' and 'debauched'. It's worth noting that, on the NOTW website, the story nestled among a video of Paris Hilton getting 'wet and wild', a story about actress Lindsay Lohan's 'manic addiction to sex', news that glamour model Beyonce has stripped for a new jeans ad, pictures of Gary Lineker's new girlfriend in her bikini, a video of Girls Aloud dressed as schoolgirls, a video of glamour model Jodie Marsh and the 'topless top 10' slideshow, which features 'Beck's lover' Rebecca Loos and others.

But more noteworthy was the timing of the story, which was published just three days after Micah split with his agents, SEM.

Now I’m not suggesting that SEM had anything to do with its publication, but I do believe Micah’s decision to part company with them is likely to have shaped subsequent events.

According to The Times, SEM's role was then taken over by Micah's father, Lincoln Richards. And having a family member as your agent can land you in deep water with this paper. Nicolas Anelka for instance, who is represented by his brother Claude, was recently accused of being a 'text cheat' by the NOTW, in a story that has now disappeared from its website.

To understand why certain players get exposed in papers like the NOTW, it helps to examine the economic forces at work. Celebrity stories are essentially commodities, and the big agencies commodity brokers, trading their assets for financial gain. Not only do agents and publicists push to get positive coverage for their clients, but the financial influence they have over papers is often enough to get negative stories pulled. SEM, for instance, regularly supply stories to the NOTW, with features even marked 'courtesy' of SEM' (examples here and here).

According to Micah, the original ‘sex roast’ incident took place in early 2007, and it's likely that the NOTW had been in possession of the video for some time. However, with such big money at stake for SEM (as well as the fee for renegotiating his contract and the millions in potential sponsorship deals, SEM chairman Jerome Anderson made an estimated £8m from City in the summer) a few story trades would have been enough to keep Micah’s private life out of the paper. But as soon as SEM parted company with Micah (and City according to this Daily Mail story ) all obstacles to running the story would have immediately vanished.

Micah is now represented by Chris Nathaniel's NVA Entertainment Group, whose clients include Rio Ferdinand and John Terry as well as glamour model Jordan and pop group Mist-Teeq.

Nathaniel is probably a sensible choice for a player in need of image repair (see how Drunken Terry urinates on floor can quickly become Terry honours war heroes) and his 'confession' to the NOTW represented an important part of his tabloid rehabilitation. That story had the feel of a press release, with Micah revealing that his new role models were, coincidentally, fellow NVA clients Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.

It’s a shame because Micah has an interesting story to tell. In December he talked to the The Times about his upbringing in Leeds and how he was affected by the the suicide of a boyhood friend, but I suspect we'll be hearing little more of that from now on.

Instead, we now only have the bland offerings of his BBC column, where he recently stressed his respect for referees and praised the return of David Beckham.

And frankly, who can blame him? No doubt it made a lot of sense to use his father as his advisor, particularly as it would have saved him a hefty agent's fee on his new contract. But with the damage to his image caused by the NOTW revelations likely to have cost him millions in potential advertising and sponsorship deals, this has been a hard lesson learned.

And the most important lesson appears to be this: if you’re going to film yourself having sex in a bathroom, make sure you’ve got protection.

~ Back in December The Times's Janice Turner wrote an interesting article on the economic forces at work in the tabloid glamour industry, which she termed 'boobonomics', while the Guardian published this piece about footballers and sex.

Taking it to the Max

If agents and publicists are commodity brokers then Britain's most famous spin-meister, Max Clifford, is a one-man Wall Street.

I only had one encounter with Clifford, back in the 1990s when I was working for a national daily newspaper, but I think it offers a good insight into the forces at work.

My feature editor called me over one morning and asked me to write a piece on an 'economic guru' who had just published a book about the housing market. "Oh, and treat this one carefully. He's one of Max Clifford's and Max is calling in a couple of favours," I was advised.

So off I went to Clifford's headquarters, an anonymous office above a hairdressers in London's West End. Clifford arrived shortly after I got there, gleefully announcing to his staff that he had just had lunch with a director of Talk Radio (which later became TalkSport), who told him that more than 40% of the station's audience were either prison inmates or people in mental institutions. I introduced myself and shook his hand, while he looked at me as though I was something he had trodden in.

I took my 'guru' for a spot of lunch at a nearby restaurant, where I listened to some of his thoughts. I’d discovered from the cuttings library that the guy had published two previous books. His first had predicted a crash in the housing market shortly before it boomed, while his second predicted a property boom – just before the crash that left the developers of Canary Wharf, and many others, facing bankruptcy.

Steering the conversation away from financial matters I remarked that he looked a lot younger than his years. "Do you know what the secret of staying young is?” he asked, leaning towards me as he delivered his secret: "Regular onanism".

Sensing it was a good time to take the conversation elsewhere I asked him about Clifford. "It’s amazing," he said. "I never really had any publicity before, but as soon as Max became my publicist the phone never stopped ringing."

Returning to the office, I set a about the task of navigating political waters. I should point out that the story I ended up writing was 100% factually accurate, but by selecting certain facts and omitting others (I’ll show you how this is done in a later Tabloid Tales) it wasn't exactly the most rigorous book review ever written.

I’m not sure what happened to our 'guru'. Needless to say his book predicted a property crash, and uncannily, was followed by almost a decade of boom.

But somehow I have a hunch he ended up a big stockholder in Northern Rock.

~ One man who didn’t grasp the workings of tabloid newspapers was former FA press officer Colin Gibson, when he attempted to dish the dirt on Sven to the NOTW back in 2004.

Gibson was previously the Daily Mail's sports editor, and in an attempt to keep a damaging story about the then FA chief executive, Mark Palios, out of the paper, followed what was common practice by offering a better story in exchange. Unfortunately for him, not only was that the only story he had to bargain with, but he had unwittingly created a third, and even juicer story.

For the paper it was a simple choice. They opted for the much more sensational story No.3, and published this transcript of the damning phone conversation.


Anonymous said...

Publications like the NOTW basically black-mail 'celebrities', perpetuating the soap-opera that is our current culture. It really is an abomination and makes me wonder why anyone would want to be famous or publicly successful..?
I know an actor/comedian who has been held to 'ransom' by the NOTW as they had pictures and a story about him with another woman while his was away filming, which blew everything out of proportion (obviously), and was told if he gave them regular tit-bits and updates they'd bury it or publish if not. I mean, is this legal?
What sort of culture do we live in where people think that this is ok...?

Anyway, great article again Andrew... Keep em coming!


Anonymous said...

Great article.

Andrew said...

Hi Stewart,

I agree, I think it is a form of blackmail.

It's interesting that Ashley Timms is now facing criminal charges for alleged actions that pretty much mimic some newspapers.

Wigan Blue said...

I remember the News of the World printing an 'enticement' advertisement for group sex. Some poor devil replied, and thay sent out a male and female team of reporters to wind the guy up. Obviously nothing happened, as the the girl reporter wasn't being paid enough, but true to form, they published the guys details, including his name. And the chap read the report and topped himself.

Now I'm not saying that I would have responded to an advertisement like that (in fact I wouldn't), but the fact is that I COULD have. And that guy didn't deserve that. So I've never bought a News of the World, or a Sun, ever since.


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