I want to start this by looking at the justification for the latest Wayne Rooney stories. It's pretty much the same justification that we all remember from the Tiger Woods tales about what he'd been up to and what he'd been doing with his dick.
News about dicks - the same old story. Except we're meant to believe that there's a reason for all this, beyond the giggling prurience and the intrusion into someone's private life. You can see the figleaf over at the News of the World's original story:
Rooney's earlier brush with scandal came in 2004 when he confessed to visiting a seedy massage parlour in a rundown area of Liverpool for £45-a-time sex, including a romp with a 48-year-old grandmother nicknamed Auld Slapper - the first time he was caught cheating on devastated childhood sweetheart Coleen.
Since then Rooney, who played for England on Friday night at Wembley, has crafted a brand of happy family life that's helped win big-money sponsorships and endorsements.
But the tawdry truth is just a year ago he was at it again.
But interestingly enough, that defence is torpedoed by Max Clifford in today's Sun:
Publicist Max Clifford believes football fans won't be bothered by the allegations surrounding Rooney's private life — as long as he keeps on scoring goals.
Mr Clifford said: "The only thing Wayne Rooney has to worry about is his wife, whether she, like all the others, is prepared to accept her husband's alleged infidelities.
"Nobody in football gives a monkey's as long as he's winning on the pitch. Will it stop people drinking Tiger Beer? No. Will it stop people buying Coca Cola? No. Will it stop parents buying Nike for their children? No."
Well, of course it won't. But the gleeful press attempted to scramble up to the moral high ground during the Tiger Woods revelation by claiming that it was Tiger Woods's family-friendly image - and not the fact he's one of the most spectacular golfers in history - that was responsible for his ever-growing list of endorsements. Some of them are doing the same, this time - but others are being a little more honest.
Because this isn't about exposing the hypocrisy between a person's public image and private life - this is pure and simple about digging dirt. Rooney's past transgressions didn't stop him from getting endorsements, and nor will this, so long as the goals keep going in. I don't remember Avram Grant having a load of picture spreads in Hello! magazine with his wife, but that didn't stop the papers ferreting around in his private business last year.
Perhaps the most telling paragraph in all of this business is to be found in the Sun's coverage today:
Wannabe glamour model Natalie, whose dad is Wayne's uncle John, also said: "Other footballers have girls begging to have sex with them. He pays for it. Lost all my respect for him now! He's obviously got more money than sense."
I'm no prude, but there are times when even I start yearning for a gentler time before all of this stuff was considered fair game. I don't think there should be rules preventing it from being published; I just wish people, no matter how famous, could be allowed to have private lives, and there wasn't a market for this grubby kind of story. I don't have a huge amount of sympathy for Rooney at all, of course, given what he's done. But that doesn't mean I think it's a worthwhile story for the papers to be covering. But cover it they have, and not just the red-tops:
I don't care what Wayne Rooney does with his dick, just as I don't care what William Hague does or doesn't do or did or didn't do with his. Maybe that puts me in the minority, but so be it. It's always a different justification... it's about the taxpayers' money, it's about the endorsements, it's about the hypocrisy... no. No it isn't. It's about digging up sleaze, that benefits no-one, but titillates a few. That is all it has ever been about.