If Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant aren’t already pals, they should be—because judging by their back-to-back testimony in the ongoing British inquiry into the tabloid press’s journalistic ethics (or lack thereof) this week, the two actors certainly seemed to have a lot in common.
Chief among them, their utter disdain for the muckraking, phone-hacking segment of the media. But while Grant’s testimony was equal parts methodical retelling and charm offensive, Coogan seemed to take a different tack when he hit the witness stand this morning: straight-up revulsion.
The Tropic Thunder funnyman, who forged quite the reputation across the pond in the early days of his career as a hard-partying playboy, told those assembled for the so-dubbed Leveson inquiry this morning that he had been targeted by the tabloid press for the better part of 10 years, with the narrative of most of those stories being about his stream of female companionship.
“I have never set myself up as a paragon of virtue,” he said. “I do what I do and that’s what I like to be judged on, my work.”
He then took aim not only at the tabloids, journalists from which have readily admitted to the actor over the years to having slept outside his home, but to those fellow celebrities who court attention and who are famous simply for fame’s sake.
“One could argue that there are those who make their career out of being famous and those people do enter into a Faustian pact, where they use the press to raise their profile. They exploit the press for their own ends. They are in the fame game.”
He, however, is not now and never has been one of those people.
But that didn’t stop the press from victimizing him and those close to him. In addition to being stationed outside him home, Coogan said that over the years, reporters had regularly sifted through his trash and often phoned up family members pretending to be someone else in order to get information about the actor.
He also recounted how he was backstabbed by an editor from the News of the World, who agreed to omit some lurid details about an affair Coogan had if the actor would confirm the basic facts of the incident—a fairly common practice. He did, but the details were published regardless.
“It’s like the mafia, it’s just business,” Coogan said.
Like Grant before him, Coogan isn’t looking to stop the freedom of the press, but thinks a line should be drawn between information that’s in the public interest and that used simply to sell papers.
“There needs to be a privacy law so genuinely investigative journalism isn’t besmirched by tawdry muckraking. None of these stories about me can be described as being in the public interest.
“If the press suddenly have a Damascene conversion and started to behave themselves that would be great…but that would perhaps be me being naive again. Whatever is in place needs to be wieldy and people should be able to use it whether they have money or not.”
Earlier today, Elle MacPherson‘s former business adviser, Mary-Ellen Field, took the stand as a way of putting a face to the human cost of the tabloid practices.
Field said that she was fired by the supermodel after she was wrongly suspected of leaking details about her employer’s personal life to the press. In actuality, she had done no such thing—the paper had gotten the stories by hacking into MacPherson’s voice mail.
Several more British celebrities are expected to take the stand in the coming days to speak to their targeting by the tabloids, most notably among them Sienna Miller.
by Gina Serpe