Max Clifford has been trying his hardest to re-invent himself by becoming a father figure for the terminally-ill reality television star Jade Goody but while he might be hoping to salve his conscience he cannot undo all the damage he has inflicted over the years by helping to legitimise cheque-book journalism.
Not only has he stoked up the public's appetite for the seedier side of paid-for journalism - through what he calls "a game...my way of life" - but he has also encouraged and sustained the often pitiful ingenuity of those who seek to exploit it.
By advising his clients on how to make "a financial killing" from newspapers and television for stories such as kiss-and-tells, Clifford has inspired and empowered countless other individuals who have the imagination and cunning to take advantage of the un-controlled competitive forces which are currently at play within the news and entertainment media.
What linked Jade Goody with the parents of both the thirteen-year-old father Alfie and the kidnapped schoolgirl Shannon Matthews was their innate understanding of the media mindset.
When it came to knowing what excited the tabloids Jade's sixth sense was legendary but she was not alone in her knowledge of how to do deals in the market place for sensation.
Police said that Shannon Matthews was the child chosen for the fake kidnapping because "she was a girl and she was more photogenic". Therefore there was a greater chance she would attract the kind of reward money offered to find the missing Madeleine McCann. An original offer from the Sun of a £20,000 reward for finding Shannon was later increased to £50,000.
Likewise press reports suggested that Alfie -- who interested, like those of Jade Goody, were represented by Clifford -- was chosen to be presented as the father of baby Maisie because he was the most child-like of the potential fathers and looked eight rather than thirteen.
Two other boys, who is was reported had offered to take DNA tests to settle the baby's paternity, were apparently told initially (before Clifford had been enlisted) to keep quiet because was thought the "baby-faced" Alfie had the best chance of making the most money.
As a result of an order issued by the family division of the High Court (18.2.2009) restrictions have now been imposed on reporting any new details about baby Maisie and her fifteen-year-old mother Chantelle. DNA tests to determine if Alfie is the father cannot be made public.
Clifford is quite open about defending his skill in helping clients to make a killing out of the media. He argues that if newspapers are gaining financially from disclosures about people's private lives then those who are being exploited have every right to claim their share of the money that if being made and, for his twenty per cent of any earnings, Clifford will negotiate the best possible deal.
But Clifford is not just a player when it comes to what he acknowledges is his trade in sensation; he has also become a pundit. He is regularly paraded on television and radio and allowed to present himself as an independent commentator, an insider but still impartial.
Why do the broadcasters interviewing Clifford never give a health warning? Why do they fail to altert their viewers and listeners to the fact that Clifford has probably engineered the very story that is making the news and about which he is commentating? Clifford has pulled off a trick that few spin doctors have achieved; he is a poacher turned gamekeeper whose financial interests are rarely if ever revealed thanks to the complicity of the news media.
Clifford goes to great lengths to protect his public persona as the patron saint of victims of media mistreatment, the publicist with the Midas touch who can turn their misfortune to advantage. When asked by the Independent (21.2.2009) about the lead-up to Jade Goody's wedding, he was ecstatic about the attention he was already receiving.
"I love what I do. I'm very lucky, but because of the Jade and Alfie stories I have done 32 television interviews, 59 radio interviews and dozens of press interviews with people from around the world".
What the interviews and profiles usually omit is any examination or word of warning about the ethics of Clifford's trade. His proudest boast is that he is paid more to keep stories out of the papers and, when it comes to lying to the news media, he says he is no more devious than journalists themselves.
"It's a game and they understand the game". (Guardian, 21.2.2009). Clifford enlarged on that game when interviewed by Channel 4 for the programmes, 100 Worst Britons (10.5.2003): "I have been as creative and as economical with the truth as most journalists and politicians are...I have been lucky and I intend to get away with it for as long as I can".
In his autobiography Max Clifford Read All About It, he gave a graphic illustration of his modus operandi. When Rebecca Loos sold the story of her "affair" with the footballer David Beckham to the News of the World for £300,000, Clifford said that if Beckham rather than Loos has been his client he would have kept the story out of the papers.
It was text messages from Beckham to Loos which stood up the story. What Clifford would have done was to have "arranged for David either to lose his mobile or lend it to a mate. The friend, who would have been single, would have owned up to having used the phone to send sexy text messages for a laugh. And been paid handsomely to keep his mouth shut".
Clifford's lasting legacy to journalism is that he can claim, together with Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun, to have paved the way for a generation of journalists who have made their names fabricating the manufactured yet sensational stories which have come to dominate the tabloid press.
The Sun's forgettable front-page headline "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster" is a testament to Clifford's opportunism. He was ony too happy to give credence to a concocted story line: "I was pulling off all kinds of nonsense but that was the first one that publicly put me apart from other PRs".
Nicholas Jones 23.2.2009