The media column - Peter Wilby asks: why are we not told more about editor's sordid private lives?

Editors respect each other's privacy. If they didn't, we would learn more of one's cocaine habit and

When he edited the Sunday Times during the turbulent 1970s - which saw a lock-out, a journalists' strike at the Times and repeated threats to shut down the two papers for good - Harold Evans insisted that his reporters should give these dramas full and proper coverage. If readers couldn't trust the press to write about its own affairs fairly and accurately, he argued, they wouldn't trust it on anything else.

So how did the press respond to the tale that Rebekah Wade, editor of the Sun, had been arrested for an alleged assault on her husband, the EastEnders star Ross Kemp? This was a big enough story to lead on ITN and get a slot on Newsnight. Normally, TV soap actors need only sneeze to make news in the red-tops. And Wade, closest of all editors to new Labour's inner circles, had been running a campaign against domestic violence. True, most domestic violence is inflicted by men on women. But even in these days of more assertive females, that makes "woman hits man" all the more newsworthy, just like "man bites dog".

The bare facts cried out for investigation and elaboration. What was the row about? How and when did it start? Were there warning signs at the party Wade and Kemp attended earlier that night? What took place at Wandsworth police station, where Wade was reportedly locked in a cell for several hours before being released without charge? Who called the police? If, as the Daily Telegraph's Roy Greenslade claims, there was no violence and "no suggestion that a crime had taken place", why was their time wasted? And was it pure coincidence that another EastEnders actor was assaulted by a former lover a few hours later, thus giving the Sun and other red-tops another story to focus on?

Predictably, the Sun gave only a few paragraphs on page seven to the Wade-Kemp fracas. All other papers reported the story, the day after it broke, more prominently - but in a jolly, just-fancy-that sort of way. Would they have adopted the same tone if, say, Kate Moss or Clare Short had been involved?

And would the follow-ups have been so sparse? Here, it seemed, the more downmarket the paper, the less the coverage, in defiance of the usual rules for EastEnders stars. None of the weekend red-tops carried a word. On Monday, the Mail's Peter McKay lumbered into action with a few thoughts on "violent women". This merely added to one of the abiding mysteries of the industry: how such a witty, engaging man, who (under the pseudonym Ephraim Hardcastle) writes a brilliant daily diary, manages to produce such an unreadable opinion column every Monday.

The more extensive coverage in the posh papers cast little light. The Independent pondered whether redheads are prone to violent temper, anatomised the Wade-Kemp social circle and ran a profile of Wade. Bizarrely, the Guardian's media section (which, in fairness, goes to press on Friday) referred to a "feeding frenzy in Fleet Street", while Janet Street-Porter in the Independent on Sunday thought the red-tops should have carried even less than they did and splashed instead on human rights in China. Only Mary Riddell in the Observer and Stephen Glover in the Independent got to grips with the issues.

The obvious questions remain unanswered. We all know why. Editors respect each other's privacy. If they didn't, we might learn more, in one case, of a cocaine habit and, in another, of affairs with young reporters.

Did David Blunkett really need to resign again? It was suggested that ministers feared further damaging fallout, with Mail on Sunday sleuths digging deep. On Sunday, however, the paper led its front page with: "Cherie's link to Blunkett scandal family". That word "link" is a sure sign a story has run out of steam. A "link", as used by the press, is what you and I would call happenstance. Nighat Awan, "a wealthy Cheshire business woman", had held a garden party. Cherie Blair was there. Awan is a sister of the men behind DNA Bioscience, the firm in which Blunkett bought the shares he failed to disclose. Er, that was it.

I was surprised to see Denis MacShane, the former Foreign Office minister, coming over so pompous about Sir Christopher Meyer's memoirs, serialised in the Guardian and Daily Mail. Meyer was our ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the Iraq war and, according to the Mail, MacShane was worried "that the frank and intimate discussions I had with many ambassadors . . . are now at risk of being made public". MacShane is a hack by trade and a former president of the National Union of Journalists. He should know that the sort of material in Meyer's book - mostly judgements on the performance of British and American leaders rather than state secrets - is the subject of constant non-attributable briefing to journalists by both politicians and diplomats. That is why the extracts, though enjoyable, contained no real surprises. We should rejoice that, for once, the judgements are openly sourced.

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