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Friday, November 14, 2008 

Land of the rising scum.

Martin Kettle in the Groan notes that none of the media bothered to report some interesting other details from a survey which they did use to show that the public doesn't think much of politicians:

The survey asked the public how much they trusted 17 different professions to tell the truth. Top of the list as usual were family doctors, trusted by 94% of the public, followed by headteachers (83%) and judges (82%). Ministers and MPs indeed trailed far behind, trusted by 27% and 26% respectively - as the red-tops were quick to point out. At the very back of the line, though, came another group, tabloid journalists, who were trusted to tell the truth by a miserable 10% of the population. Yet this particular finding has not been published in any newspaper until now.

Even this, though, only scratches the surface of what this striking survey revealed about public attitudes to the media in general and to the tabloids in particular. Tabloid readers, the survey found, are more likely than the readers of broadsheet papers or of no newspapers at all to believe that standards of conduct in public life are low, are getting worse, and to think that the relevant authorities are not upholding the right rules. Given their exposure to the sort of stories quoted above, perhaps this is not exactly surprising.

What may surprise, though, is the scepticism of readers towards tabloids. The survey asked their opinion of the papers. Do they "do a good job of keeping politicians accountable?" Yes, said 43%. What about "help the public to learn about what is happening in politics?" Not so sure. This time only 31% of readers thought they did.

Then the figures become really dire. "Generally fair in their representation of politicians?" Only 13% thought that applied to the tabloids. "Look for any excuse to tarnish the name of politicians?" A massive 90% agreed with that one. "Focus on negative stories about politics and politicians?" Almost the same, 87%. And finally, "more interested in getting a story than telling the truth?" This time an overwhelming 82% of tabloid readers concurred.

These findings are of course wholly unsurprising and completely accurate. Yet as Kettle goes on to point out, only the likes of the Daily Star defend their coverage on the grounds that it's to give their readers a bit of fun in the morning. The others, as Paul Dacre argued on Sunday, with a straight face claim that their "extensive coverage of public affairs is the glue of democracy". He later went on to say that it was the liberal media and in effect its contempt for the popular press which was affecting its standing:

The problem, I would argue tonight, is that this unrelenting and corrosive drip, drip, drip of criticism of the press does huge harm to our standing in the eyes of the politicians, the regulators, the judges, the public and, most pertinently, I suspect, to newspaper sales.

Unless then we accept that the pernicious liberal media, including the BBC that according to Dacre drips poison about the tabloid press roughly every half-hour, has such a hold on the public imagination, including that of tabloid readers themselves to the extent that they think what they read is nonsense and often inflammatory, it appears that the problem is all Dacre's and his friends' own.

Another example of how the tabloid's extensive coverage of public affairs is the glue of democracy is provided by the Sun's continuing campaign over Baby P. Whether this is today's or tomorrow's leader I'm unsure of, but it really is one of the purest examples of using empty, cynical emotion to in effect demand mob rule that's come along for a while:

HIS bright blue eyes stare out at us beseechingly.

But it’s too late. Nothing can bring back Baby P from the tears and agony that marked his last hours on Earth.

What we CAN do is not rest until those who abandoned him to his fate have paid the price.

What we must also do is demand that Baby P’s killers — his evil mother, her sadistic boyfriend and their paedophile lodger — are locked away for so long that they never see the light of day again.

Perhaps instructive in all of this is that while social services are taking all the blame, the others that were involved in Baby P's case are almost all in the background. While it was mentioned yesterday that the HSS did attempt to take Baby P into care - only for the legal advice to come back saying that the threshold for doing so had not been met - the police also had carried out investigations into his mother and whether there were grounds for her to be charged with abuse. The Crown Prosecution Service also decided that there was not enough evidence for them to do so. This is again despite all the apparent signs with hindsight that now look obvious - the numerous injuries, the two hospital visits, etc etc - all of which is being seized upon to call those involved with him idiots, which is probably around the mildest insults thrown their way.

The Sun complains about the ministers shuffling the letters sent by the whistleblower around, when in fact the concerns raised were directed to the proper channel to consider them, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, who despite being a quango in flux as Mark Easton says, did raise them with HSS, where they were satisfied that the allegations made by Nevres Kemal had either been dealt with or were not as serious as she claimed.

Gordon Brown vows he will do everything in his power to stop another tragedy.

That must mean the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith and every social worker and official involved.

So long as these dangerously complacent people remain in their jobs, no child at risk in Haringey is safe.

Look at the face of Baby P and then — if you haven’t already — please fill in our petition below.

But were these people dangerously complacent or did they simply make terrible mistakes that are going to haunt them from now on? Again we have the appeal to the dead child's face, the plea to sign a petition that will do nothing to stop a similar tragedy from happening, and the whipping up of a storm which is already in danger of causing far more damage than is necessary. Much the same is of the opening of this article with the newly released uncensored version of Baby P's face, so over the top and out of kilter with what it actually shows that it strikes you as unreal:

THIS is Baby P.

A gorgeous, blond-haired, blue-eyed tot with a heart-melting smile.

The Sun is today publishing the first picture ever of the little boy who died in the most tragic circumstances.

In this heart-wrenching photo he gazes up at his photographer in search of the love and affection he was so cruelly denied.

The photo was taken by a childminder as Baby P happily toddled around her kitchen.

Except he isn't smiling, he quite clearly isn't looking at the photographer but off into space and it's only heart-wrenching because the writer wants it to be and because the editor is demanding that this is the line to be taken.

It isn't only the tabloids - I turned off This Week last night because Andrew Neil had abandoned all pretence of impartiality in his summary before introducing of all people, Jon Gaunt, currently blaming the Guardianistas and the metropolitan elite which pays his wages, and politicians and bloggers on all sides are now trying to make hay out of the death of a child - but they're the ones that are acting as they always do without any real regard for the lives of those they're interfering with. Thing is, as circulations decline further, as they surely will, the sensationalism we have now is only likely to get worse. With little else to define them from their competition, their stance on matters like this will grow in importance. The real question has to be though if their readers dislike what the papers do so much, why do they keep buying them? Is it masochism? Is it because they've always bought them, or their parents did? Is it for what else they produce other than their politics? Or do they lie to their interviewers? I as usual don't have an answer. Anne Karpf however provides again what maybe the real target ought to be:

Curiously, most of the frenzied debate this week has not been about the perpetrators of these crimes but about those who supposedly could have prevented them - social workers. Consequently, we know far more about child protection services and their deficiencies than we do about what makes women damage and kill their children or stand by while their partners do so. There is a profound reluctance, it seems, to look beyond the final stages of these children's lives, to try to understand how those who bore ultimate responsibility for their care could have turned into those who ended their lives or were complicit in abusing them.

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