AJP sent me a link to this Guardian story by Alan Rusbridger and said he had been unfamiliar with the phrase that leaps out at the reader from the first sentence: “The Rt Rev Richard John Carew Chartres exuded an aura of benign ecclesiastical calm having performed the most dramatic reverse ferret in modern church history.” He pointed me to this Wikipedia article for an explanation; since it’s short and pungently written (and since I’m afraid some power-crazed administrator will edit it into blandness or simply delete it for “non-notability”), I’ll just quote the whole thing:
Reverse ferret is a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden volte-face in an organisation’s editorial line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position.
The term originates from Kelvin MacKenzie’s time at the The Sun. His preferred description of the role of journalists when it came to public figures was to “stick a ferret up their trousers”. This meant making their lives uncomfortable, and was based on the northern sport of ferret legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). However, when it became clear that the tide of public opinion had turned against the paper’s line, MacKenzie would burst from his office shouting “Reverse Ferret!”
There’s so much concentrated goodness there I couldn’t withhold it from my loyal readers. (Naturally, the assertions are properly footnoted in the original article, to which I refer interested parties for references should they wish them.)