THE DIARY

<em>Illustration: John Shakespeare</em>

Illustration: John Shakespeare

PUTTING a foot in it takes on an entirely different meaning when Tim Mathieson is concerned. The beleaguered first bloke gave digital rectal examinations (or DRE, as they are dubbed in the trade) their moment in the sun by joking about his preference for ''a small female Asian doctor'', presumably with teeny hands.

A predictable spew of protest prompted the Prime Minister's partner to apologise for his ''bad taste'' when addressing the West Indian cricket team about the importance of regular prostate checks on Monday night. ''It was meant as a joke and on reflection I accept it was in poor taste.

I apologise for any offence caused,'' he said on Tuesday. Everyone from Julia Gillard down also had their say on ''backdoor-gate''. ''Tim's apologised for a joke that was in poor taste ... I think that was the right thing to do,'' Ms Gillard said.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, called on the Prime Minister to ''deal'' with her partner. But for once we agree with the shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, who cautioned against ''a culture of finger-wagging'' on Sky News.

The chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Foundation,  Anthony Lowe, said the publicity was welcome but that the joke was in poor taste. ''Prostate cancer certainly isn't a laughing matter,'' he said. Close to 3300 men in Australia die of prostate cancer each year.

A regular DRE could help save lives.'' But the size of the doctor's hands makes little difference, Dr Lowe said. ''If a doctor has got very small hands it can be a problem feeling far enough up, but usually no,'' he said. ''Bear in mind we're only inserting one finger.''

Coalition into damage control

The federal opposition's latest attempt to parade its economic credentials to the online masses has been horridly lost in translation. Coalition leader Tony Abbott proudly trumpets his ''real solutions'' plan in a new one-minute video on YouTube, promising ''to build a world-class five-pillar economy'' (whatever that means) and to deliver lower taxes and lower debt. ''With your support we will deliver a strong, diverse economy,'' he tells viewers. Unfortunately, the auto-captioning system on YouTube was not convinced. Perhaps it's the fact the economy is chugging along nicely and unemployment is low. But the captioning system, which uses voice recognition technology to translate videos for the visually impaired, rudely translated a line in the 60-second video telling people to ''download their copy today'' of the plan into the slogan: ''damage your company that time today.'' The apparent Freudian slip was picked up by B&T magazine but Liberal Party HQ soon sought to limit the damage by disabling the auto-captions. ''The captions were not accurate,'' a stern-faced Coalition hack said. B&T reported the auto-captions recently also made mischief with a brand video for Telstra. ''I don't have to settle on my smartphone for all my internet needs when I'm out and about,'' the telco said. But the captions read: ''Like talking to settle my small sexually intimate me time.''

ANXIOUS TIME FOR ALL

It's nice to know the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has a bipartisan approach when it comes to copying. On Tuesday we noted the striking similarities between the minister's recent pronouncements about the Department of Education's back-to-school website, and a department media release from January 2012 about a back-to-school helpline. ''This can be an anxious time, particularly for parents sending their children to school for the first time, or who have children starting high school,'' Mr Piccoli said this month, echoing exactly the words of the deputy director-general of schools, Greg Prior, from a year earlier. But we underestimated Mr Piccoli's diligence when it comes to knocking off someone else's homework, which the back-to-school website warns students can attract severe penalties. In a department media release dated January 28, 2011, former Labor education minister Verity Firth declared the back-to-school helpline open. ''This can be an anxious time, particularly for those parents who are sending their children to school for the first time, or who have children starting high school,'' she said then. It's such an important point that perhaps Mr Piccoli was justified in making it for the third time, though he might at least have fudged the copy.

GOOD, BETTER, BEST

Triumph of the twitterverse: the social media site has easily trumped the best efforts of the state's corruption-busting agency. Counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Geoffrey Watson, SC, bragged on Tuesday that no effort had been spared in trying to track down a potential witness. ''We've moved heaven and earth to try and find Toni Best,'' he said. Ms Best is a geologist who once did drilling in the Bylong Valley, which is now the featured location of a corruption inquiry. But Twitter soon put the learned counsel to shame. The Herald's corruption correspondent, Kate McClymont, tweeted ICAC's plea for help in finding Ms Best and she was tracked down in less than five minutes at a resources company in Canada. Of course, you might forgive her if she declines to appear in person. Normally, the only dangerous place at the commission is in the witness box but there were hazards aplenty for the reptiles of the press. A ceiling tile fell on The Daily Telegraph's Janet Fife-Yeomans, who was uninjured. But the ABC's Jamelle Wells needed first aid and an ice pack from commission staff after she slammed into a glass door in pursuit of a witness. Everyone's a critic.

STAY IN TOUCH...

WITH THE WORST FILM EVER MADE

MAKING the ''Citizen Kane of awful'' is no mean feat. Indeed, posters for Movie 43 boasted it had the biggest gang of celebrities ''ever assembled'', including Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet and Halle Berry. But the star cast has not saved the gross-out comedy from a critical savaging. ''Worst film ever,'' was the verdict of the Toronto Star. Vulture's movie critic queried whether the actors had been coerced into taking part. ''Was someone holding Kate Winslet's children hostage? Threatening to release compromising pictures of Emma Stone? Did Richard Gere or Hugh Jackman have gambling debts?'' The film follows 12 stories, each with a different director. Jackman plays a man on a blind date who removes his scarf to reveal a pair of shaved testicles hanging below his chin. Other skits include a woman begging her fiance to poo on her, and two characters who fight a leprechaun. ''Movie 43 beats already tired scatalogical humour to death before taking another piss on the remains. It's really that bad,'' one critic wrote. Hollywood filmmaker Peter Farrelly, who wrote and directed There's Something About Mary with his brother Bobby, took to Twitter to defend his project. ''To the critics: You Always complain that hollywood never gives you new stuff, and then when you get it, you flip out. Lighten up.'' For once, though, audiences are at one with the critics. The film, which is scheduled to open in Australia on February 7, tanked after taking $US5million ($4.78 million) at the box office on its opening weekend in the United States.

WITH PARTIES CHEZ MURDOCH 

RUPERT MURDOCH is fast resuming his role as one of London’s greatest dinner party hosts in an attempt to scrape back onto the A list, just don’t mention that nasty phone-hacking palaver over dessert. Accepting such an invitation from the billionaire is fraught with danger, especially when the London press gets wind of it (or at least the  media outlets Murdoch does not own). London’s mayor, Boris Johnson,   landed in hot water for his  ties with Murdoch after it was revealed he dined at his home in Mayfair last week. City Hall, the headquarters of the Greater London Authority, declined to comment, saying it was a ‘‘private engagement’’.  A spokesman for protest group Hacked Off said it ‘‘beggars belief’’  to describe a meeting between the head of News Corp and ‘‘the most powerful politician in London’’ – which was also attended by Murdoch editors and guests including Homeland actor Damian Lewis – as a ‘‘private arrangement’’. The dinner was the ‘‘latest sign of the growing intimacy’’ between the media mogul and Johnson, who is considered  a future Conservative Party leadership contender,  The Observer reported.  Murdoch is ‘‘as keen as ever on nurturing his political contacts in the UK’’  despite  criticism for his close ties with politicians during the Leveson Inquiry into  phone hacking, the newspaper said.  Perhaps Murdoch and wife No.3 Wendi were just returning a favour? Johnson invited the couple as his  pool-side guests  for the 800-metre women’s swimming final at the London Olympics. 

WITH SUNBURN CRISIS DODGED

THERE was at least one man grateful for the wet and dreary long weekend: publicist Bruce Pollack. A troupe of 60 dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet arrived in Sydney on the weekend and high on their itinerary was a sun-drenched trip to Bondi Beach. ''It is always the way as it is with most Europeans, they hit the beach and try to get a tan,'' Pollack said. ''If there were blue skies on Sunday they would have burned and we would have had opening night with dancers looking like ripe tomatoes no matter how much powder we put on them.'' Not that the dancers will be getting much down time, rehearsing for three hours each day before their performance of Giselle at the Capitol Theatre. ''This is not a holiday for them,'' Pollack said.

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Contact diary@smh.com.au or 9282 2029