Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Press tactics shock but stories appeal
A rash of scandals has been revealed - but not everyone approves
We love them and we loathe them. British newspapers evoke a range of emotions in us from fascination to fury.
The tactics used by News of the World reporters which led to rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio saying he took drugs sparked another row over where the boundaries of press behaviour should lie.
After years of apparent excesses in an era of bitter fighting for readers, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales ushered in a period of press self-restraint.
Newspaper chiefs even promised not to overstep the limits of intruding into other people's lives.
They were praised by the Press Complaints Commission for their stance.
Indeed, in the past year, the tabloids have kept the exposes coming thick and fast.
Last year The News of the World, in classic fashion, revealed that Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown was homosexual. The newspaper defended its action by arguing the information was in the public interest, but in the wake of a furore, the Sun pledged to stop "outing" gay ministers.
Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without the love lives of celebrities such as Anthea Turner, Paul Gascoigne, Will or Julia Carling and Paula Yates being examined in the papers.
In the same week as the Dallaglio allegations hit the front pages, the Sun turned its attention to comedian Lenny Henry and cricketer Ian Botham.
Broadsheets v tabloids
Broadsheet journalists and columnists have lined up to condemn any tactics involving set-ups by tabloid newspapers.
And the News of the World was criticised by the Daily Telegraph for its methods: "No conceivable public interest has been served by his entrapment... How long would a Nelson have been allowed to serve his country if Phil Hall, the editor of the News of the World, had been around at the time, exposing secrets and demanding exemplary virtue of the great?"
But News of the World managing editor Stuart Kuttner denied that Dallaglio was the victim of a classic honeytrap operation and that he had been entrapped by a "beautiful young blonde".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The beautiful young blonde was accompanied throughout by, if I may say so without being too sexist, a less than beautiful male reporter, somewhat older. This was not, if you like, a classic honeytrap."
Ironically, the set-up had been praised by the Daily Mail as exactly that, a "classic tabloid honeytrap".
Secrets and envy
One reason the tabloids sell so well - particularly when they splash stories about celebrities' private lives - is that we envy them, according to psychologist Dr Sheila Rossan.
"There's also a lot of envy there - it shows they have clay feet, and are fallible just like us. We prefer people who are fallible as we can identify with them.
"So you can see it in a positive way or a negative way - enjoying seeing them brought down a level. It's a mixture of both.
"It's also very much finding out things we didn't know. Secrets seem to give us a thrill, like gossip."
Lying on a date
And if, as he insists, Dallaglio lied to the undercover reporter about taking drugs in order to impress her, he was doing no more than most men who fancy a woman.
"It's a very common tactic," says Dr Rossan.
"Talk to anyone who's dating. Men try to make out they're macho. A substantial proportion at one point or another say things that aren't true, while women who are dating tend to play down their academic knowledge in case they frighten men. They are living gender stereotypes.
"What's interesting is what he [Dallaglio] thought would impress this woman - not his rugby skills, but something else he thought would be macho."