May 25, 2010
A Wolf in Sheik's Clothing: Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York Snared in a Strange Media Sting
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York — known familiarly as Fergie — apologized Sunday for trying to sell access to her (unknowing) ex-husband, Prince Andrew. It looks like there's one unusual character responsible for her royal embarrassment.
"It is true that my financial situation is under stress; however, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment, and I am very sorry that this has happened," Ferguson said in a statement. You can watch negotiations between Ferguson and a supposed sheik — really an undercover reporter — To read more and see video click here (video courtesy of Fox News):
I'm so very sorry: Shamed Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson sobs as she apologises for letting people down. (Click below)
Who is the investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood???
A Wolf in Sheik's Clothing written By AISHA LABI in 2002
Aspiring actors can hone their talents in school plays. Would-be scientists can tinker with a home chemistry set. But for a kid intent on a career in investigative journalism, the path is trickier. As a teenager who failed to get an internship at the local paper in his hometown of Birmingham, England, two summers in a row, Mazher Mahmood took matters into his own precocious hands. It was the early '80s and the VCR was the hot new home appliance. "There were some family friends involved in video piracy, so I picked up the phone and rang my local T.V. station and the News of the World," he says of his first-ever scoop. "I didn't tell my parents, I just did it." The reason I'm alive is because I'm Asian. Nobody would think I'm a reporter
You didn't go to the police when you first learned about the Posh Spice kidnapping plot?
We didn't know what stage they were at. We didn't know if they were serious, and if I went to the police, they might arrest these guys, the few people I knew, but what about the rest? They could carry out the threat and it wouldn't solve the crime.
And it wouldn't be as good a story?
Sure, it's a fine balance. Obviously, we're interested in the story. But we're worried about the welfare of the target as well. I've done jobs, for instance with pedophiles, where children's welfare was at stake, and we go straight to the police. Here, we knew that it wasn't going to happen yet so there was no risk to [Victoria Beckham].
How did the sheik disguise come about?
Back in 1984. It was a vice story, about a hotel in Birmingham that was providing prostitutes for guests. I said, why don't I pretend to be an Arab, get them in, find out if they're prostitutes, then I get a headache and we throw them out. It worked.
You were born in Britain but your parents are from Pakistan. Don't you hesitate to exploit stereotypes of Arabs and Asians?
That's why it works. The only reason I'm alive is because I'm Asian, because I can be a Pakistani market trader, a minicab driver — because of my color. If I don't speak English properly, nobody would ever think that I'm a reporter. That's how you gain people's trust.
Mahmood, has been doing it ever since, adding drug-taking peers, pedophiles and even indiscreet royals to his roster of targets. Last week his most recent undercover sting — which netted the gang allegedly plotting to kidnap pop star Posh Spice, a.k.a. Victoria Beckham, the wife of England football captain David Beckham — was front-page news not just in his, but in almost every other British paper as well. With half of Britain's highest-profile couple as the intended target, the case was certainly unique. But the investigation, which resulted in a police raid and several arrests — captured exclusively, of course, by News of the World cameras — also bore the hallmarks of a classic Mahmood sting.
When a reliable source phoned him in early September with a tip about goods stolen from Sotheby's, Mahmood wasn't very interested. Purloined art, he says, "isn't sensational." But the plot soon escalated. After an initial meeting, with Mahmood disguised "as a sort of Middle Eastern dodgy character," his new associates were so impressed that they invited him to take part in a kidnapping. When the gang chose Beckham, Mahmood had his sensational scoop.
Like the most celebrated investigative journalists, Mahmood relies heavily on informants. But instead of tales of government malfeasance, his deep throats are more apt to cough up stories of cocaine-snorting celebrities. He is not averse to paying for information, but he must be one of the few tabloid reporters who can get away with expensing cocaine. "I don't think there's anything wrong with us buying drugs," he says, insisting he's performing a legitimate service by exposing the foibles of those in the public eye. Others aren't so sure. "The only purpose is the greater good of the circulation of the News of the World," says Alun Jones, the lawyer who represented the Earl of Hardwicke at his 1999 trial for cocaine dealing, the result of a Mahmood sting. Sophie Wessex, Prince Edward's wife and another Mahmood target, would probably agree. But since Mahmood, disguised as a fake Arab sheik, taped her chatting unguardedly about other members of the royal family last year — "it was hard to shut her up, it was embarrassing," he says — Sophie has maintained a more regal reserve.
Mahmood conducts most of his investigations undercover and the shady Middle Easterner is his most reliable incarnation. Of Pakistani parentage, he speaks almost no Arabic, but this hasn't impeded the success of his sheik persona. But for a tabloid legend so fond of flamboyant disguises and the "James Bond-like aspect, the undercover stuff," Mahmood in person is surprisingly low-key. With his boyish face, soft-spoken demeanor and sober pin-striped suit, the loudest thing about him is his tie. But there are hints of his 007-like alter egos. He won't be photographed. And his constant companion, a hulking bodyguard, is an unobtrusive but quietly menacing presence. His name: Jaws.