No one is more titillated by the tabloids than those who get all righteous describing, in juicy detail, what they write

Recently I have been shocked and appalled by the behaviour of certain sections of the press. The sanctimonious posturing of the broadsheets over the antics of the tabloids really gets on my wick. Is this really in the public interest, I wonder, this continual intrusion into the lives of tabloid readers? Obviously I don't like everything the tabloids do - football on every front page, for example. Is the announcement of a score we all already know journalism? Still, I have no doubt that there isn't a newspaper editor in the land who hasn't been trying to find a front-page story that isn't the war for the past few weeks now. This is where the tabloids are so ingenious. They manufacture the news that their higher-minded rivals can then analyse endlessly. So we can all sing the ballad of Sophie's bosom in the last chance saloon. We can all read about Lenny Henry's or Ian Botham's possible adultery, while droning on about tabloid prurience.

All the familiar lines have been trotted out, and I am not convinced. If an exposed nipple is Murdoch's idea of a republican gesture then he is getting it all wrong. If he really wanted to bring down the monarchy, then he would simply starve them of the oxygen of publicity instead of going along with the charade that Sophie is the people's princess mark two and that any of us really care about the marriage of two deeply uninteresting people.

But then I would say that, wouldn't I, having progressed - or as my friends would say sold out - from the great and good liberal broadsheets to a middle-market tabloid. Actually, what strikes me is the similarity rather than the difference between the two markets - but no one wants to hear that.

Instead everyone gets all concerned about honey-traps, a man who says he doesn't take drugs sounding just like one who does, a bit of showbiz and sporting adultery and a soon-to-be royal breast. We can now talk about entrapment, privacy, morality, royals and sport all in one breath, while collectively slagging off the papers that brought us these stories. I do not for one minute like everything the tabloids do, but then I don't like everything the broadsheets do. The liberal critics of the tabs are working on papers with increasingly tabloid agendas, whose writers, instead of intruding on other lives, merely intrude on their own. The self-intruders, whose job it is to give us more information about their mundane little lives than any of us need to know, pretend a public interest just as much as the worst kind of dirt-digging tabloid hack.

The ideologically pure, still rather dismayed by popular culture, insist that we should all be more involved in current affairs and, if it wasn't for the current affairs of celebs, people would be more "political". The ideologically pure never stoop so low as to talk to these people, for to do so would be to realise that their vision of tabloid morality is incredibly limited and one-dimensional. You couldn't make it up? Well, they do make it up. Tabloid morality is a work in progress.

The public often end up being sympathetic to those the tabloids expose. Basically, you can be a sportsman and an alcoholic or addict. You can be a supermodel who has overdone it. You can be gay-ish. You can have affairs. What you can't be is a politician moaning on about single mothers while impregnating your secretary. You can't live beyond your means while accepting gifts from millionaires. Yet the standard leftie argument - that the media may expose the private lives of politicians and businessmen but leave everyone else alone - no longer makes sense.

The idea that if people weren't reading gossip then they would be studying maps of Kosovo is dumb and dumber. Shall we ban EastEnders and have the Today programme 24 hours a day, then? Both readers and writers of tabloids are discussed as though we are dupes or dopes.

Yet the line between what is properly private and what is properly public is really what is in dispute here. I am suspicious of those who want more to be private and know exactly where the line should be drawn. For this disputed territory is a fruitful one politically. I am not talking about the old divisions between left and right, but about how our popular discourse about family life, identity and bad behaviour often emanates from the tabloid agenda. In some black-and-white and red-all-over world, all tabloid readers are brainwashed thickos who don't have minds of their own. Maybe some of us are, but aren't we then just the sort of people that the left wants to address?

The failure of the left-wing intelligentsia to engage with ordinary people , thus leaving nothing but the consensus of the Bland Way, is not simply due to some right-wing conspiracy. It is because the intellectual class can't and won't. This happens to be something I feel strongly about, as I have been told by various editors that I should be writing for people like me, my peer group, or even the better class of reader that you get at the Guardian. But I got sick of talking to myself. And I am tired of those who want to turn the world into some middle-class debating society. Give me politics, yes. But give me dirt and gossip and celebrity screw-ups, too.

Call that stupid if you like. Or have your cake and eat it and come back for thirds like the broadsheets do. One minute they're shocked old maiden aunts tutting at the behaviour of the red-tops; the next, there they are creaming off the best stories in the name of in-depth analysis. No one, believe me, is more titillated by the tabloids than those who get all righteous describing, in juicy detail, just how naughty they are.

The writer is a columnist on the "Mail on Sunday"

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Europe grows after Kosovo