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Steve Coogan Slams Celebrity “Fame Game,” Says Tabloids Are “Like the Mafia”

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.

 

 

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