Watching Brief: The Pro-War Newspapers Have Almost Ten Million Buyers, While the Anti-War Ones Have Fewer Than Three Million. So Can We Really Say That the Press Leads Public Opinion? (Columns)

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Ever since the Sun placed Neil Kinnock's head inside a light bulb, there has been a myth that the newspapers, especially the red tops, determine public opinion. The belief that it was the Sun wot won the 1992 election for the Tories is partly responsible for the intellectual left's hatred of the tabloids and wholly responsible for new Labour's fear of them.

Yet most of us who have worked within the tabloid market know that successful newspapers reflect the views of their readers; they do not form them.

If proof were required, it comes with the latest polls on war with Iraq. An ICM poll for the Guardian reflects those conducted on an almost daily basis on talk radio and television. Support for war is falling. Outright opposition has risen to 47 per cent, and 81 percent demand a fresh United Nations mandate before they would support any military attack.

If the papers were, in fact, leading public opinion, these figures would be the other way around, as only the Daily Mirror, Guardian and Independent could really be described as anti-war newspapers. Their combined sales, at around 2.7 million, are eclipsed by the 3.4 million circulation of the Sun alone. The total sale of what can be described as the prowar newspapers totals almost ten million. Mass public opinion is creating a real commercial dilemma for many papers that are largely right-wing and pro-war. Their readers may be the former but, increasingly, they are not the latter.

Sunday nights are complete again with the return of Bremner, Bird and Fortune on Channel 4. Finally, someone has had the courage to take on David Blunkett, even if it was the Archbishop of Canterbury in a boxing ring.

The sketch with the Home Secretary and the archbishop left Rory Bremner's many admirers wondering who he had used as a body double for the rather flabby-chested Rowan Williams -- Blunkett's taut naked torso was clearly all Bremner. Alas, I have learnt that the preacher was also Rory, though I am assured he slouched and pushed out his stomach to create the effect. I must admit that I was rather hoping to discover a prosthetic paunch by way of explanation.

And they say she never talks. The Sun's new editor, Rebekah Wade, had a swift answer to the "will she or won't she drop page three" debate raging over her appointment this month. The first page three of her new editorship was a full-length, naked-except-for-a-pair-of-snakeskin-boots picture of Rebekah of Wapping (no, no, another Rebekah). …