Friday, May 22, 2009 

Scum-watch: How much more hysterical can the outrage get?

Emotional pornography in today's Sun leader:

But today, when Judge Stephen Kramer sentences the three monsters involved in Baby Peter's death, he will have to consider more than the failings of organisations meant to protect vulnerable children.

He must also send out a message that depraved brutes, like the trio involved in this baby's horrible end, have no place in a civilised society.

It is hard to think of a punishment that fits this particular crime without reducing ourselves to the level of the guilty.

The judge must reflect that even the wildest animals care for their young.

They do not leave them screaming for protection like Baby Peter, as they slowly and sadistically destroy their bodies.

His evil mother, her sadistic child-rapist boyfriend and the paedophile lodger all face 14 years behind bars. The boyfriend faces life in jail for the separate rape conviction.

All of them must now get the maximum sentence possible. With no remission. Not a single day.

The Sun really should get an award for such writing: no other newspaper so successfully dehumanises those convicted of crimes. It doesn't matter that it credits those responsible for Baby Peter's death with intelligence and planning which the evidence the court received hardly backs up, or indeed that even the baby's father detected nothing wrong with him despite seeing him only the weekend before he died, which perhaps provides an insight into the other failings; it really has just gripped hold of the outrage that surrounded this case, for both right and wrong, and is squeezing every drop that it can from it.

Predictably then, it's already launched another petition calling for the sentences handed down to be lengthened, despite all being sentenced to indeterminate sentences, with the paper seizing on how the mother could out within 3 years, the boyfriend within 8 and the lodger within 1, although to call that unlikely would be putting it lightly. It's also reopened the comments for the first time since they got out of hand, and they are also, wholly unsurprising. They also echo the Sun's dehumanisation:


Death penalty should be brought back for these three animals.

they should be locked up for life !!!! and for him bring back the electric chair, save our taxes !!!thats disgusting.If I were in charge they would all get the death penalty.& I would flick the switch or stick the needle in.********.

These 3 individuals are so sick and twisted. As a mother to a baby boy myself, I get so emotional and upset when I hear any of this story. A life sentence is too good for them. Why waste tax payers money? Bring back the death penalty for such evil monsters! We can only hope their lives are made a living hell by fellow inmates.


the person who thinks the sentences were reasonable is obviously no beter than those three who should rot in hell

Can't believe this is happening in Britain in 2009.

The justice system was better 100 years ago.

Protection for the evil, is that what the British justice system is all about.

There is no chance for children born into evil like this, if if this is the punishment they get.

Quite how the Sun's leader tomorrow will go one up on today's sense of fury will be difficult, but it doubtless will.

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Monday, March 09, 2009 

First and last words on the Jade Goody phenomenon.

Part of the reason I've abstained for the most part from commenting on the media/Jade Goody complex is that I've covered very similar examples here in the past ad nauseum. Goody is the latest continuation of what has been building in our media since the death of Diana: the perfect opportunity for the tabloid press to show they care while at the same exploiting the person for all they're worth, even if at the same time the person they're pretending to care about is also exploiting them. The line can be drawn fairly straight from Diana, through to Jill Dando, Sarah Payne, perhaps even Holly and Jessica, Madeleine McCann, Baby P at a stretch and now to Goody. The difference this time round is that Goody is still alive, for now; Madeleine technically is but was being treated as dead from almost as soon as she went missing. The fact that she was missing meant that she and her parents were fair game; to begin with they cooperated, then they were turned on, then they were rehabilitated. Remarkably like Goody, except she went through an initial process of vilification before being rehabilitated before once again being vilified.

The line of defence is that the media is expressing the public will, or the public mood: we too were grieving for Diana, we wanted the murderer of Jill Dando caught, we wanted to string paedophiles up by their testicles, we wanted to find Madeleine, and now we all feel the pain of Goody, of a life unjustly cut short by a disease that strikes us down at random. These moods can sometimes be fleeting, they can sometimes be lengthy, but the media will always be there to milk them to their full potential. Madeleine was only the most extreme example: a press which had lost all sense of its normal journalistic values, reduced to translating gossip in the local Portuguese rags, regardless of how heartless or defamatory, all because they believed that it was what their readers wanted, and that even if it wasn't, it was what they were going to get. Another justification increasingly cited is that the internet now allows constant, almost always unmoderated speculation and rumour, far beyond what even the Express published; the newspapers are only competing in a race to the bottom. It's wholly unconvincing, but expect it to be increasingly depended on as the recession deepens, advertising revenues fall further and circulations drop.

The case of Jade is however slightly different because it's the first real alignment between public relations and media which has dominated the tabloids for such a lengthy period of time. Most of the previous outbreaks of group-think were when those involved were either dead or missing, and when the only people who profited from it, apart from the media, if at all and hardly by much were the relatives. Jade is more comparable with those other individuals famous for no real reason, Jordan and Kerry Katona, the latter also previously handled by Max Clifford. Clifford is both a genius and probably the most shameless individual in the country, other than the tabloid editors themselves: his control and power are probably only comparable in the media world to, believe it or not, Sir Alex Ferguson, another person who can banish media organisations from his presence on the slightest of whims and with the same amount of accountability, namely next to none.

Clifford in fact didn't really devise the model of turning an individual into a brand; Jordan's people are probably those chiefly responsible. Jordan, or Katie Price is not just a perpetually surgically enhanced model, she's an underwear designer, a novelist, the modern equivalent of a diarist, a children's author, a singer, a horse rider, a perfume brand, even a porn star, if you're willing to count her amateur antics with Dwight Yorke which were released onto the net, while at one point she was even set to give birth live online. This edifice is of course a complete and utter sham: she no more writes a single word of her books than she does actively design the underwear sold under her name. Who knows, perhaps it isn't even really her riding a horse or on that TV show with her husband; everything else about her life is fake, why couldn't she herself be? The remarkable thing about all this is that in a world where the tabloids are prepared to scream at the slightest example of phoniness on BBC programmes, they completely indulge Jordan, Katona and Jade. Sure, they might occasionally run the odd article pointing out that Jordan doesn't actually write her books, but the Faustian pact between them is strong enough to ensure that it doesn't affect the next exclusives they've got lined up to keep the punters happy. The other thing is we honestly don't know whether those who buy the books or the garments actually care whether or not they're not getting the real deal: they probably don't. At any rate, the whole thing would be unlikely to come completely crumbling down even if the whole thing eventually turns out to be one long hoax to see just how low someone can go and get some of the general public to follow them.

It's only when someone makes a truly glorious mistake, such as that made by Goody when she bullied Shilpa Shetty that for a time they're sent to the dog house, awaiting their rehabilitation. In the most extreme examples this never happens: Michael Barrymore is one such case, and some of the other famous men accused of various crimes, both proved and disproved also come to mind. Some directly link Goody's subsequent living secular saint status to the fact she was diagnosed with cancer live on Indian Big Brother, but she had in fact been back in the tabloids and not been pilloried for some time before that. The cancer diagnosis though changed everything: sympathy will always win through, unless someone is either a paedophile or a murderer, as it ought to. This though has instead been taken to ludicrous extremes over the last few weeks, resembling a unending wake before she's even close to death's door, all the past insults forgotten, just as they were after Diana died, the harlot that betrayed the royal family turned into one of the greatest Britons to have ever lived, as Rosie Boycott so risibly argued (Interestingly, when Channel 4 did its equally unscientific 100 Worst Britons poll, Jordan came 2nd and Goody came 4th<, which was certainly unfair on Goody at the time). It has gone far, far beyond emotional pornography, instead evolving into the journalistic equivalent of an onanism obsessed teenager filling a whole drawer with spunk-laden tissues, not knowing what to do with them. The whole shallow, facile, revolting spectacle has been variously defended on the grounds that it's encouraging young women to get cervical check-ups, which is far from a compelling reason but a slight positive side-effect, to the completely baseless one that Goody is doing it so that her sons can have the life that she didn't. This is nonsense, not only because Goody was already more than well-off before she was diagnosed, but also because it seems to assume that you can't do well unless you're financially stable and go to a decent, presumably private school.

The real reason I was driven to write this drivel was Madeleine Bunting's even worse article in today's Grauniad, a similar act of masturbation, albeit a pretentious one, trying to explain the Goody phenomenon in terms of the economic calamity. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with "needing to restore our faith in human nature", "grieving for the death of a fantasy world we have all been living in" or wondering what "sacrifices will we have to make as a nation to pull ourselves out of this economic mess", even if not all of those are directly thinking about Goody's death in these terms but instead through "tap[ping] into vague inchoate emotional anxieties", but is instead all to do with how Jade has been marketed and branded: she is an everywoman, and to those that have followed her, her death is similar to someone they know dying. With Diana certain people felt they knew her, through constantly seeing her life played out in the newspapers; with Goody this has been increased ten-fold, to the point where some probably are on the point of grieving because of her death, or even harming her, as the woman found with the hammer in her room may have done if not disturbed. Goody and the media have signed up because it benefits them both, and to hell with the actual effect that this real-life soap opera has on some people.

This obscene voyeurism is the ultimate tabloidisation of our culture, the latest pinnacle of the celebration of the completely unremarkable individual, the obeisance to the know-nothing. The worst thing of all is that the majority are almost certainly completely unmoved by Goody's demise, sad and sympathetic certainly, but not to the point where they want her to stare out from every tabloid front page for getting on for a month. It is instead being imposed on them by those in on the joke, those personally profiting from it. It just isn't funny. The real tragedy is that the woman with the hammer didn't cave it into Goody's skull and put all of us out of our misery.

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Friday, July 04, 2008 

Even more thoughts on knife crime and the Sun.

ChrisC objects in the comments on my previous post on all things knife crime, saying the statistics do not say that crime is falling. Going by the police statistics on violence against the person, he's right, which have been rising exponentially since the way they were recorded was changed in 1999. The past couple of years have seen this level off and the figures become stable. I am correct however when I refer to the British Crime Survey figures, considered more authoritative, which paint a completely different picture, with violent crime have fell by 43% since 1995. The police figures he links to conclude there were around 1,000,000 offences against the person in 2005/06 as reported, while the BCS for the same year measures over 2,500,000, a drop from a peak of 4,000,000 in 1995. Crime itself by both measures has also been falling since 1995 (PDF), but as we know all too well, it doesn't feel like that and very few outside police/political/judicial circles believe it.

The major flaw in the BCS when it comes to the current apparent epidemic of knife crime is that it doesn't survey under-16s, who are also those who are in the front-line of muggings for expensive gadgets, such as mp3 players and mobile phones. This is to change, as was announced by "Wacky" Jacqui Smith, but for now it is still the best measure we have. Also to consider is that increasingly those who are the victims of violent crime are turning up to hospital without reporting it and giving asinine stories when asked what happened to them. There have been trials in Scotland in hospitals that have attempted to link the numbers of those admitted to A&E with stab wounds etc with the eventual number of crimes reported, and to highlight how big the discrepancy is. This is something that most certainly needs to at least be considered south of the border, as the only way we'll ever get to the bottom of how the deep the problem is through valid, unquestionable statistics from all sources, police, BCS, hospital, even schools, as Lee Jasper(!) argues very eloquently on CiF in an excellent post which has a number of good suggestions of how to tackle knife crime without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Also vital is that the independent body Louise Casey recommended in her report for crime statistics of all varieties is established, which will hopefully put a stop to the selective and partisan reading of the crime figures.

Also very interesting on the statistics score is this post by the BBC's Mark Easton, who's digging on hospital patients with various wounds is rather eye-opening:

Between the years 2002-3 and 2006-7, the number of these children admitted to hospital with knife wounds in England "almost doubled" we are told. From 95 cases to 179. A rise of 88%.

However, over the same period, the numbers of under-16s admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds has gone down from 253 to 181. A fall of 28%.

So, 84 more children were admitted with stab injuries than five years earlier. But 72 fewer children were admitted with gunshot injuries.

If no distinction is made between knife and gun injuries, the headline might read "teen violence stable.


Given the particular anxiety over youngsters with knives, I looked at the most recent data for under-16s and spotted something quite surprising. Of those 179 children admitted to hospital last year, 72 or 40% were in London.

Knife fights appear to be a particular and growing problem in the capital. Juvenile disputes are too often resolved with a blade.

It is a different story in the North West of England. In Manchester and Liverpool it is gunshot wounds that the hospitals are predominantly dealing with.

Between 2002-3 and 2006-7, London doctors treated 33 children with wounds from firearms. In the North West, medics patched up an astonishing 251.

During the same period, London A & E departments admitted 225 children with stab wounds compared with 117 in the North West.

What do we conclude from all this? Well, I don't think these figures tell a story of increasingly ferocious juvenile violence sweeping the land. Instead, they offer clues to the nature of predominantly urban gang culture.

If you don't believe me, consider this. In 2002-3, not one school child was treated for a stab wound anywhere in central and south east England outside London. How many victims were there in this large and populous region last year? None.

This is what I've been arguing here on the previous post and before. While there are serious, apparently intractable problems in London involving knife crime, and gun problems in Manchester and Liverpool, of which we've heard relatively little since the tragedy involving Rhys Jones, outside of the major cities there is not some huge crisis involving weapons, especially not "a Dark Age of lawlessness" as the Sun so hyperbolically put it. The emphasis on London is understandable - it is the capital city, reflects England and Britain as a whole and is where the media is encamped, and so of immediate concern to them and their children. For those of us outside of it however who simply don't recognise this picture of a land in constant fear of teenagers carrying blades, it rankles. While it would be crude to describe what's happening in London as a moral panic, as 18 teenagers this year already have lost their lives, what is noticeable is pattern of coverage. A couple of years ago the main concern was guns. At the beginning of this year it was drunken feral teenagers kicking adults to death for little to no reason. At the moment it's knives. The circle will probably square before too long.

The Sun itself, predictably, is in no mood for introspection or such analysis. Like with previous victims of crime where it's difficult to determine who's using who, the Sun is relying on emotion, this time from Ben Kinsella's distraught and clearly in mourning sister Brooke. Her suggestion is for national service to be brought back seems to be more one of desperation than of complete seriousness:

“I want politicians to consider bringing back National Service. If these evil people want to fight so badly, let them fight for their country. If they want to pick up a weapon, let them fight for a good cause.

“We’re losing hundreds of innocent boys in Iraq and Afghanistan, so we may as well send these criminals overseas to fight. The only way to stop this is to do something extreme.”

It doesn't seem to have been put gently to her by the Sun journalists responsible for the interview that the last thing the army needs are "evil people" when they're fighting what is not a typical war but one against an insurgency where public support of those in the area is crucial, and that training already violent young individuals to been even more ruthless in survival tactics is not the greatest of ideas, but then the paper isn't interested in realism. It simply wants her words to move minds for its own agenda.

There is this rebuke to the Sun's continuous demands for more prisons without thinking of the consequences however:

“I want to see proper prisons brought back,” she said. “It’s like a badge of honour for kids to be put in prisons these days. Inside, they gain more respect and make contacts which they use to become even harder criminals when they’re released. They’re in for a couple of years and when they come out they’re treated like heroes.”

Although what a "proper prison" is is anyone's guess.

Again, not that this alters the Sun's editorial view:

EACH day seems to bring more horror than the last.

The Sun warned yesterday that we are sinking into a Dark Age of crime.

And now we learn of the ghastly slaughter of two fine young French students in a London bedsit.

Even in the current climate of violence, the savagery of their murders leaves us numb with horror and revulsion.

Those murders are clearly an exceptional case, and as PDF reflects, it would be a major surprise if burglary really was the primary motive when such extreme violence and brutality was used. As we've seen though, to call this a "Dark Age of crime" is to ignore the evidence in front of your face.

As The Sun has repeatedly said, our political leaders, the police and the courts must show they grasp the seriousness of the crisis we face.

That means more arrests, stiffer sentences, more jails.

But more must be done to break up the gang culture.

Many will agree with grieving actress Brooke Kinsella, who calls in The Sun today for a return of National Service.

Quite. If there's one thing that'll break up gang culture, it'll be ordering them about and splitting them into regiments.

Brooke, whose brother Ben was killed by a knife gang, believes a tough spell of compulsory military life would stop teenagers drifting into street crime.

She believes it would instil in them discipline, respect and common decency.

Actually, she doesn't say anything like that all, or if she did it's not included in the interview write-up. The only thing she says about it is what I've quoted above. Looks like the Sun is trying to develop the idea for her or put words in her mouth. Either way, it's still an unworkable suggestion.

National Service was created to prepare a generation of young men to defend us from an enemy abroad.

Now the enemy is within.

Now the language is similar to that regarding the terrorist threat. Of course, if there was now a successful attack, the mood would swiftly swing from concern about knife crime to exploding brown people again. In both cases talking of an enemy within is over-the-top and unhelpful, but again that doesn't seem to matter.

Decent young people would feel outraged that they were having to suffer because of a mindless minority.

But the crisis we face is engulfing everyone.

That means nothing — including National Service — can be ruled out in our battle to end the savagery.

As we've seen, the crisis is not engulfing everyone, and it would be nice if the Sun could admit that it isn't. Once you've built your prospectus around eternal terror or insecurity on the streets though it's difficult to back down. Using such potentially counter-productive and discriminatory tactics will do nothing to solve the crisis that does exist, and will instead embitter a whole generation out of the desire that something must be done.

Then again, it could be worse. You could think that giving kids PlayStations for telling us what their lives are like is a good idea, as does the completely brainless Polly (what is it with that name?) Hudson via Anton Vowl.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007 

The Madeleine circus rolls on.

I keep promising myself that I won't write any more posts on the McCann saga - and then I very quickly find I break those personal bonds. This isn't going to be overly long, although if this longest, most drawn-out of sensationalist crime stories doesn't run out of steam prior to Christmas, it might well only be prudent to suggest that it may merit a review in full at years' end.

The one thing that does appear to be self-evident now is that the sympathy for the McCanns is slowly ebbing away. This isn't necessarily due to the fact that they are almost certainly the only realistic suspects in the disappearance of their daughter, but more likely just through the general fatigue of the sight of both them and Madeleine, staring out at you whenever you enter the newsagent. I'm sick of seeing all of them, sick of reading the confabulated nonsense being concocted on a daily basis by men and women who are an insult to the definition of journalist, and continuously disgusted by the duplicity of the media in its role in first defending the couple from even the slightest of suggestions that they could have been involved and now in routinely damning them and drawing on the most basest of sources, especially those who seem to be eager to be paid for their lack of insight.

You can't just blame the media themselves though - the McCanns' use and now relationship with it has been a disaster from the beginning. They simply haven't managed to get the balance right, just as the press itself hasn't. Granted, you can't damn them too much for not understanding how the feral beasts operate, and their initial approach, in getting as much coverage as they possibly could in the hope that Madeleine would quickly be found if they got her image transmitted across the globe, was probably a risk worth taking. It always however threatened to drive a potential kidnapper to ground, locking Madeleine away where she would never be discovered, or into panicking and to use an unpleasant euphemism, disposing of her. Their subsequent appointment of a spokesman who is, as commentators have pointed out, little more than a spin doctor of the most oleaginous kind, has also thoroughly backfired.

The tabloid media as a whole has delighted in using the story to their own advantage. The faux empathy verging on emotional pornography which radiated from the coverage at the beginning quickly turned to the News of the World and Scum sponsoring huge billboards, posters and t-shirts with their own logo adorned all over them. Celebrities pledged money, their jets, and even inserts in their books. The "bungling" of the Portuguese police supposedly highlighted by the tabloids, often verging on xenophobia, only seemingly resulted in them increasing their briefings to their home media, who in turn denounced the British press and increasingly turned on the McCanns themselves. I watched last week's Dispatches documentary while away, which sent "five of the UK's best-qualified criminal investigators" to Praia da Luz to investigate all the leads, and while a couple were critical of the initial inadequacies of the search around the resort, the level of invective towards the investigation by the local police was notable only by its absence. By far the most revolting development though has been the Daily Express, the worst of the tabloid mentality summed up in a single paper, where Madeleine has not now been absent from the front page for months, the concept of making money out of collective misery far too good an opportunity to miss for Richard Desmond, a pornographer who last year paid himself £40m.

While I have never sought to pass any guilt on the McCanns themselves, either for leaving their children alone while they went out to dine, or for being possibly involved in their own daughter's disappearance, I'm fairly certain that all of us were aware from the beginning of how rare abductions of children from their own homes are: kidnapping whilst on holiday is next to unheard for. As the days, weeks and months have passed, with all the leads apparently drying up, the suspicion was always going to pass onto themselves. I genuinely hope they are innocent, mainly for their own sake. The best thing they could do now though is to completely step back from the limelight, sack Clarence Mitchell and make it clear to the press that they will be making no further comments whatsoever until any new leads turn up. They can still fund their own investigations into their daughter's disappearance, as they seem to be doing, but their own presence in the coverage is only exacerbating the increasingly chilly public mood towards them. At the moment, as perverse as it is, they're only encouraging the mentality which is leading the tabloids to sink even lower than they ever have before: the Daily Mail's current online poll is "Do you think Kate McCann's tears were genuine?", (other polls include is Nigella Lawson getting too fat and Has Strictly Come Dancing become too competitive) and the current results are perhaps indicative, 49% saying yes and 51% saying no. The media is foul enough without having to cover yourself in shit whilst utilising it.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007 

Still failing to get the balance right.

Witnessing the current rush to defend the McCanns by the vast majority of the British media, it's hard not to think of just how daft they're going to look if they move from being suspects to being charged. The previous biggest reverse ferret in history was the death of Diana; this could yet far surpass it.

From the very beginning, the coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, at first highly manipulative, the equivalent of emotional pornography when there was very little that anyone in this country could do to help, has struck almost entirely the wrong note consistently. The lack of desire to examine any alternative theories, the attacks on the German radio journalist who dared to ask one of the first difficult questions directly of the couple, all of it has been so utterly craven and so completely untypical of this countries' tabloid media. The one supposed saving grace of the tabloid culture is its indefatigability; it is unrestrained, unafraid to think the unthinkable, and uses all of its critical muster, often for ill. Numerous previous cases have shown how it loves to think the very worst: see Colin Stagg, smeared, libeled, pursued and attacked for years until he was finally cleared of all involvement in the murder of Rachel Nickell; Maxine Carr, smeared and attacked for lying for the man she both loved and was in fear of, forced to be given a new identity because of the hate that the tabloids, especially the Sun threw at her; and a paedophile whose former garden was dug up last year after a tip-off, with the Sun screaming about a new "house of horrors", a reference to the bodies buried on the property of Fred and Rosemary West, only for the entire story to completely disappear and never be mentioned again after no human remains were discovered.

All of this has been thrown out of the window when it's come to the McCanns. The unwillingness to think any ill of them whatsoever, and now to treat the Portuguese decision to make both Gerry and Kate suspects as evidence of a plot to fit them up because of the police's own incompetence suggests that many journalists have completely lost the faculty to report the story with any modicum of independence. It's ever so slightly reminiscent of the case of Louise Woodward, also a Brit abroad, who was almost universally held by the tabloids to be innocent, regardless of the merits of the defense or prosecution case.

To call it strange would be by no means overplaying the atmosphere currently prevailing. The mood of the close to six past years in the new age of terror has been to presume guilt until innocence has been proved, as the attitude towards the Kamal family showed. With the McCanns it's been the absolute opposite. It'd be a welcome development if this was shown to all those suspected of crime, but somehow I can't imagine it'll spread. As with everything, there has to be a balance, and it's been as sorely missing as ever.

I have no idea whether the McCanns have anything to do with the disappearance of Madeleine, but to completely discount the possibility, especially in line with the forensic evidence, examined not by the Portuguese police remember but by the Forensic Science Service in this country would be foolhardy, considering the complete lack of any other suspects apart from Robert Murat, himself the victim of heavy speculation to begin with. The so-called feral beasts, when made to decide between a middle-class British couple and a foreign police force, have already made their choice.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007 

More reasons to love Jeremy Paxman.

Earlier in the year we were treated to a semi-coherent rant by the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre in the form of the Cudlipp lecture, where he attacked the "subsidariat", i.e. the Guardian, Independent, Times and BBC for their various crimes, mainly not being right-wing enough and as a result treating the general public who as we know are naturally conservative with contempt. It's worth comparing his abortion with yesterday's excellent MacTaggart lecture by Jeremy Paxman, where he effortlessly identified the real problems with the current state of the fourth estate.

Taking his cue in part from Tony Blair's own valedictory speech on the state of the media, Paxman rightly notes that despite the amount of hypocrisy involved in Blair's comments and his laughable example of the Independent, his message was partly right but delivered by the wrong person.

The basic charge sheet against us from Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell is as follows. Firstly, that we behave like a herd. Secondly that we have a trivial and collective judgement. Thirdly, that we prefer sensation to understanding. I’m sorry to say, but I think there’s something in all of these arguments.

You only have to see re-examine the coverage of Rhy Jones' tragic death over the last few days to see just how the herd operates. It's been almost an exact mirror of when Madeleine McCann went missing - the news media has decamped to Liverpool, the newspapers have offered rewards for information, we've had the same intrusion into the parents' private grief, and we've had interviews with any teenager who so much as looks like he might be in a gang, none of which have told us anything to new.

Take the Guardian's interview
this morning with a "Nogadog", a disgusting litany of boasts, bravado and shallow willy-waving that tells us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know about gang culture, but it sure makes for good copy and introduces the general public to local slang for the police. That the little prick behind the interview is now probably a hero along his friends for getting into the posh Grauniad with his senseless, immature mumblings despite being too afraid to show his face like the frightened shit he is ought to have told the journalist that this was gutter journalism rather than investigative reporting and getting the story behind the story. Did the television and newspaper photographers also have to film and snap Jones' parents looking at the tributes to their son, showing his mother crying again, even after they'd given an emotional press conference? It was tawdry voyeurism of the worst kind, emotional pornography that intruded on their private grief. That some of the tabloids (and indeed, the Telegraph) put it on their front page ought to tell us how much they really care: and does the Mirror's front page happen to remind anyone of one of the Sun's early efforts to "empathise" with Kate McCann?

It's perhaps fitting that Gerry McCann himself has now criticised some of the coverage of his daughter's disappearance. Some will rightly suggest that it takes some chutzpah on his behalf to condemn the "bombard(ing) [of] people on a daily basis" with Madeleine's image after that was what his wife and he set out to do in the first few weeks, but the continuing of just that has become truly revolting, with the Daily Express making up stories every day now for weeks because it's decided its a circulation booster. This is the very worst of the media's behaviour, acting both like a herd and preferring sensation to absolutely any understanding. Every reported act must be met with a reaction - Jones' death demands zero tolerance; Madeleine's disappearance has to lead to more co-operation Europe wide on paedophiles; immigration figures are not anaylsed for exactly what they mean, but are distorted, used as a political football and then by single-interest groups to prove how right they are (see Five Chinese Crackers all this week); and the decision not to deport Learco Chindamo must result in the ripping up of the Human Rights Act - and all of this in just one week, in the supposed silly season. When it's not pure sensationalism, we instead get irresponsible fearmongering: just look at the Sun's idiotic, designed to cause panic coverage of the floods, claiming there were going to be mass outbreaks of water borne diseases and that yobs were going round pissing in and smashing up bowsers, which the BBC, the Sun's natural enemy had to correct.

Paxman rightly points out just how money, ratings and the digital age have all had a hand to play in both the scandals concerning the faking of competitions, the defrauding of the vulnerable who enter premium-rate phone line quizzes, and the gradual drop in trust all round. Big Brother is but the biggest example - a witless, unethical exploitation both of those who involve themselves in it and those who itch to vote the contestants out, but which Channel 4 relies on as its banker. You could argue that Big Brother pays for Channel 4 News, Dispatches, Peep Show etc, but why should a channel providing a public service have to stoop so low in order to also bring the "highbrow"? Shouldn't we be outraged that Newsnight, an institution that usually gets less than a million viewers that if were to disappear would leave a gaping hole in political coverage on television, is getting even further cutback while programmes that are an insult to viewers' intelligence like "GrownUps", "Tittybangbang" and "Little Miss Jocelyn" are still being produced and mass advertised? Why should we be surprised that people are turning off and losing faith when such dreck keeps getting renewed?

We need to treat our viewers with respect, to be frank with them about how and why programmes were made, to be transparent. We need, in short, to rediscover a sense of purpose.

This ought to be, to quote one of the most abused terms of the week, "common sense". That it isn't suggests how far the media has moved from being the supposed voice of the people to deciding that it knows what the people want - and how wrong it often is.

Slight update: Tory MP John Whittingdale and Panorama's John Sweeney have come up with the obvious solution to Newsnight's woes: close BBC Three. Considering about the only decent programme it's managed to produce in four years has been Monkey Dust, it ought to be a no brainer. The other reasonably popular dramas it's produced, such as Torchwood, Bodies, etc would be just at home on BBC Two as they are on the BBC's feeble attempt at a "yoof" channel.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007 

The grief industry.

In today's Guardian, Ian Jack recalls the end of summer 10 years ago:

It is worth recalling that first week of September 10 years ago, when 10,000 tonnes of flowers were dumped outside the royal palaces and Gordon Brown was said to be seriously considering a proposal to rename August bank holiday "Diana Day". I knew few people who felt as the crowds did, but this minority (or perhaps majority) largely remained silent and invisible to the media: in the climate of those days, to be sceptical was to be labelled unfeeling. A few brave people wrote to the newspapers to say they were disturbed by the dominant mood. Later in September, writing a piece for Granta on reactions to the Diana's death, I tracked down and interviewed eight or nine of them. Ten years later, what they said bears repeating. Peter Ghosh, an Oxford historian: "We kept being told that the country was united, which it was in the sense that we were all watching the same television programme. But in any other sense - that divisions of class and race were being healed, for example - well, it's crap, obviously."

Maggie Winkworth, a psychologist in Chiswick: "I'd call it mass hysteria, a kind of mania. You saw the power of the crowd. To me, those pictures of mounds of flowers were quite repulsive ... It seemed a kind of floral fascism ... a country controlled by the grief police." How many people felt like this? I suspect many millions more than were apparent at the time.

Jack doesn't mention whether some of those who questioned the mass-mourning which occurred then came under the same opprobrium which poured down upon the head of Professor Anthony O'Hear when the Social Affairs Unit published a book which contained an essay of his on the public reaction to the death of Diana, but it's probably safe to assume that they were replied to voluminously in the press.

O'Hear's essay, which also considered the sentimentality and general mawkishness exhibited at the time, was in fact far less of an aggressive critique than that offered by Winkworth. As Francis Wheen noted at the time (reproduced in Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, pp 68-70) O'Hear only went so far as to suggest that the grieving had lacked a sense of proportion. Nevertheless, this didn't stop the Mirror from calling him a "rat-faced little loser" and Tony Blair describing him as an "old-fashioned snob." Even a Guardian editorial suggested that the Social Affairs Unit as a whole was a "slightly fogeyish bunch."

Even if the events of this week have suggested something of a backlash against the McCanns, you get the same sort of feeling reading today's press coverage of the 100th day since Madeleine has disappeared. After 3 months of an unending media campaign, it has come to precisely naught. The only thing we still know for certain is that Madeleine, on the evening of May the 3rd, disappeared from the McCanns' apartment of the Mark Warner Ocean Club complex in the Portuguese resort of
Praia da Luz. Everything else is still conjecture.

Not that this has stopped the press here at home pointing the finger variously at paedophiles and then the only declared suspect, Robert Murat, with gradually decreasing credibility. The Portuguese press, for its own part, has spent much of the last week speculating, along with police leaks reminiscent of those to the Sun in similar cases, that either the McCanns themselves or friends of theirs on holiday with them were now under suspicion. No one seems to have been able to strike the right balance; the British press and media being utterly craven, for which see this hagiographic account of the last 100 days in today's Sun, papers running front page splashes condemning a German reporter who dared to question whether the McCanns themselves might have been involved in some way, while the Portuguese press have been apparently happy to publish innuendo which appears to have absolutely no foundation. Even those sections of the media we usually depend upon to rise above the clamour and shrieks of the gutter press don't seem to have been immune to the image of a pretty missing white girl: the Grauniad running an interview with the McCanns which tells you absolutely nothing, and today's Telegraph, featuring another interview with the two.

It started with the equivalent of emotional pornography, coverage by turns both mawkish and pointless, urging the public to pray for "Maddie" and then to wear yellow, as if either could in any way possibly do anything to help the investigation, a display of fake empathy, or even possibly real, with hardened hacks going native in their refusal to even examine any alternative possibilities. The results of such coverage were displayed in comments on the Sun's own website: if they're to be believed, some seemed closer to a complete breakdown than the McCanns themselves have. After a couple of weeks, it mutated into something much more familiar: coverage for the sake of coverage, designed purely to try to boost sales, without offering any real support, while still indignant about anything negative directed towards the sainted couple. The Express, which was has probably featured Diana on the front page more since she died than before (see Daily Mail Watch), changed from the Diana Express into the Daily Maddie, the cynicism behind such blanket splashes being only too visible. Today's coverage has then come full circle: back to the Scum opening up "books of support" rather than books of condolence.

The main difference between the atmosphere of then and now is that in 1997 there was hardly no one who dared to raise their head above the parapet and suggest that this was all a little over the top. Private Eye's front cover jibe about the press coverage being revolting resulted in WHSmith temporarily removing it from their shelves. Major mass usage of the internet was also still in its infancy; while Usenet quickly started to buzz with conspiracy theories, debate and resistance to the rolling coverage was still mostly absent. This time round it's been very different: forums have been full of threads either critical of the McCanns or even suggesting that they have the most questions to answer. Whereas those nonplussed by Diana's untimely death and the reaction to it were underrepresented in the media then, with 44% apparently feeling alienated by the BBC's coverage of it according to their own research, the internet has now allowed those with a very different opinion to that dominating the mainstream to raise their own flags. It's not surprising that this change has left some of mainstream media both confused and angry by their failure to monopolise public opinion: the Sun describes the McCanns today as the victims of a "vicious smear campaign", something it ought to know about considering the number of ones that it itself has run in the past.

Responding back in April 1998 to O'Hear's essay, the Sun not only described grief as "a vital safety valve", it also told readers it was perfectly OK to "keep grieving". It shouldn't surprise you that the paper's leader now is full of similar sentiments, ending with:

As another day of torment passes, Sun readers will hope and pray for a new landmark. When Maddie is back with her loving parents.

It seems unlikely that the grief industry will be slowing down its production, online opposition or not, any time soon.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 

The revenge of emotional pornography.

Lazarus's autobiography, the title of which is only one letter off being accurate.

For those being directed here from, see the bottom of this post.

Great stories tend to come in twos. Darwinism, it seems, is back with a vengeance:

A FIRE which swept through a fourth floor flat in Weston is believed to have been caused by a candle lit by a kind-hearted elderly woman for missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann.

Jean Lester, of Westbury-on-Trym, was visiting her aunt in the neighbouring flat at the time the fire broke out. She said: "I came out of my aunt's flat and saw Mary in the corridor. She was very distressed.

"She told me that she had lit a candle for the missing girl, Madeleine, and placed a note by it in the hope it would help her safe return."

It would be easy to suggest that this is the kind of thing that the emotional pornography of the last few weeks featured in the tabloids would lead to, so that's just what I'll do. Rather than helping find a little girl missing hundreds of miles away, it's done the inevitable and came back and bitten the poor old woman in the ass.

Coincidentally, another loathsome parasite who encourages the irrational belief of providing help and support through collective hope and prayer has finally, and equally inevitably, turned up in Portugal:

A TOP psychic will travel to Portugal today to join the hunt for Madeleine McCann.

Diane Lazarus, 40, has already helped cops with high-profile cases including the murders of Jill Dando and little Sarah Payne.

Yes, her name really is Diane Lazarus, although it's her husband's surname, if you believe that. Here's her own propaganda:
From a young age Diane Lazarus (known to many as Diane Lloyd-Hughes) first experienced the power of her amazing gift by seeing, hearing and speaking to spirits and since then Diane has learned to control her gift and can switch on and off at will. Today she is rated in the top five of professional practitioners in the sphere of non-physical science, worldwide.

Non-physical science, known to everyone else as lying to the vulnerable and gullible. Or alternatively, as the dole officer clerk in
History of the World Part 1 remarks to Comicus, who gives his job as stand-up philosopher, "Oh, a *bullshit* artist!". She also couldn't have done that great a job in finding the killer of Jill Dando; many consider Barry George to be innocent.

In an exclusive interview mum-of-two Diane from Crosshands, South Wales, told The Sun online:

- Maddie was targeted after being secretly watched by her abductors, including one woman

- She is in Spain after travelling by car on main roads from Portugal and is being well looked after

Really? Could this insight possibly be related to the alleged sighting of a small blonde girl at petrol station on a motorway which leads to Spain?

Police searching for British girl Madeleine McCann believe she may have been snatched by a group of two men and a woman.

The group of three were captured on CCTV at a petrol station on a motorway that leads to Spain, according to reports in two separate Portuguese newspapers.

The group were reportedly with a young girl, who looked distressed, newspapers 24 Horas and Correio da Manha reported. Police later confirmed that they are studying the CCTV footage and that the evidence may be “key”.

Lazarus continues:

- One of the culprits has olive skin, dark hair and a drawn, skinny face

A person with olive skin in Portugal? Now she's really stretching her credibility!
“I hope going to Praia da Luz will give me the leads to where exactly she went from there. I feel she could be in Spain.

“I have also picked up that they cut Maddie’s hair and made her look like a boy.”

This is amazing! What more can Mrs Lazarus tell us?

Once in Praia da Luz, Diane will ‘tune in’ on a map of the area around the Mark Warner holiday complex and a snapshot of missing Maddie.

Diane said: “I need to start from the beginning and be where it all happened.

“Quite honestly I don’t think Madeleine has come to any harm. She will be returned to her mummy and daddy.

“I feel there are a few people, including a woman, involved in the disappearance.

“They went out of their way to get a girl of a certain age. They also knew Madeleine had a brother and sister, Sean and Amelie.

“They felt as the McCanns have two other children taking Maddie wouldn't be quite so bad.

Oh, so they're considerate kidnappers. At least the McCanns have that to hold on to. She can't resist dropping names, though:

Diane will spend four days on the Algarve after being invited by a close friend of Gerry and Kate McCann, both 38.

"Hundreds of people have contacted me to see if I could help.

“Even Bonnie Tyler, who is one of my best clients, has been in touch.

Rather than being a total eclipse of the heart, this seems to be a total eclipse of the mind. Lazarus has one last piece of advice:

“I’ll be very mindful of the McCanns too. They’ve prayed a lot for Madeleine's return which is great.

“Prayer really does work. Everyone should say a prayer for Maddie’s safe return.”

Indeed, and make sure you mind the curtains when lighting the candle.

Update: This blog has had the dubious honour of being featured on's page devoted to Madeleine McCann. Much like Diane Lazarus, Brian is a fraud, a liar and a charlatan, preying on the distraught relatives of missing people's vulnerability and desire to believe someone who says they can help them. An example of how he makes it look as if he's predicted something before it's happened is explained here and here. He is additionally debunked here, and allegations of how he has cheated people out of money are here. Finally, he's let have it by various posters on the James Randi forums over his lies about Madeleine.

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Monday, May 28, 2007 

Trial by Fleet Street part deux.

Isn't it strange how the Portuguese police, who up till now have been loath to reveal almost any details about the case at all, have apparently leaked that Robert Murat, the only "suspect" in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, had child pornography on his computer? It's also odd, at least in a coincidental sense, that his ex-wife when questioned yesterday by the Sunday Moron about whether he'd indulged in the use of online pornography said that she'd never caught him looking at it.

Don't read too much into that though, because the Scum has some other source material for you to consider in the hunt for a witch. According to Murat's ex-boss, he was "a huge porn fan, addicted to women." Not only that, but he apparently terrified a fellow female employee by stalking her, and all the women hated him. Oh, and he suspected he had an "unhealthy" interest in children. No doubt he had al-Qaida sympathies as well. Last but not least, the Scum reveals that his website viewing included sites containing bestiality. Whether he's additionally into scat, hentai or is sadly not forthcoming.

But wait! Does your child look anything at all like Madeleine? Then you too can probably get into the tabloid of your choice! One family contacted the Scum after their daughter was nearly snatched:

Portuguese Lina Santos said: “When I saw Maddie’s photo I shivered. She is so similar to my daughter Carolina. They are like doubles.”

Except err, her daughter has very dark blonde hair, and doesn't looking anything like Madeleine at all. Apart from that, they are indeed like identical twins! Coming back to Murat's ex-wife, the Sunday Moron also seems a remarkable resemblance:

THE startling likeness between Madeleine McCann and Robert Murat's daughter hits you at once.

As little Sofia Murat stares into the camera wearing a yellow "Madeleine ribbon", she bears a haunting resemblance to the missing four-year-old.

As the photograph clearly demonstrates:

I bet no one's ever seen them in the same room, right?

Meanwhile, the News of the World is embarking on an advertising campaign across Europe, which also happens to mention Madeleine, or rather Maddie, as only the newspapers have ever referred to her.

The whole point of every aspect of the search for Madeleine escapes me. She's now been missing for over three weeks, and any sightings have completely and predictably dried up. Rather than helping to find her, it has to be considered if the high profile campaign has in fact made certain that whomever's taken her will never let her out of wherever it is she's being held, if she isn't already dead. If you were plastered over every billboard in the country with wanted signs, and being talked about in newspapers and media across an entire continent, the obvious thing would be to lay low for a while. Still though the torrent of coverage pours forth, with a DVD being played at the Championship play-off match for reasons known only to the organisers, and some sad lonely individual setting up a meeting point for other sad lonely individuals on Second Life to pretend to pray about a girl in the real world who's disappeared.

To begin with, the coverage was the equivalent of emotional pornography, voyeurism dressed up as empathy or concern that this could happen to any one of us. Now it's simply coverage for coverage sake, still designed primarily to benefit the sales of newspapers and viewing figures, but without the pretense of offering any kind of support, like a relationship in which the romance and lust have been replaced by familiarity and the slow gnawing feeling of tedium. All that's left is to speculate, draw conclusions and slowly but surely forget.

Update: Seeing as this page is being linked to again by, here's an repost of a post I've already made on his amazing "psychic ability":

This blog has had the dubious honour of being featured on's page devoted to Madeleine McCann. Much like Diane Lazarus, Brian is a fraud, a liar and a charlatan, preying on the distraught relatives of missing people's vulnerability and desire to believe someone who says they can help them. An example of how he makes it look as if he's predicted something before it's happened is explained here and here. He is additionally debunked here, and allegations of how he has cheated people out of money are here. Finally, he's let have it by various posters on the James Randi forums over his lies about Madeleine.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007 

In search of hysteria.

Are there really no depths to which these internet users will sink? Could you possibly believe that there are people evil enough to be trying to cash in on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann by setting up phony websites which rather than trying to help find her are instead full of adverts?

Sorry, I entered Daily Mail-land for a second. Let me rephrase while mocking myself.

Are there really no depths to which these newspapers will sink? Could you possibly believe there are journalists, editors and proprietors trying to cash in on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann by filling their newspapers with photographs of the McCann's other children hugging soft toys even though there hasn't been any new developments since earlier in the week?

Here's what "internet expert" Colin Sweetman told the Mail:

"When it's the misspelling of something like Google, that's one thing, but to capitalise on the disappearance of a little girl is a despicable practice."

Quite. But did you know that you can help widen the search for "Maddie" if you're going on holiday by wearing one of the Sun's Where's Maddie t-shirts?

Meanwhile, the Express, which earlier in the week compared the only "suspect" so far named to Ian Huntley, has much more important speculation news. Robert Murat has apparently asked a number of people for alibis; somehow, the Express takes this attempt by Murat to clear his name through showing he could not possibly have taken Madeleine as further evidence of his abundant, obvious guilt.

Angela Philips, writing on CiF, attacks the naysayers by saying this isn't prurient media barons taking advantage of a great opportunity to sell some newspapers by indulging in emotional blackmail, but rather pure empathy from journalists and the population of Britain towards the McCann family. Such pure empathy can be seen on MyScum, where the coverage seems to have driven several of those commenting close to despair:

this is to much!! i cant bear to see Maddie´s sister and her parents faces anymore. this is breaking my heart. i cry all the time, someone, somebody MUST know something !! i think about Maddie all the time, and i cant sleep. i pray for you Maddie all the time, and i know you will be home soon with your mum and dad, and your sister and brother. whoever did this crime must be a very disturped person !!! i pray to God to talk with this person heart and let Maddie go. even this is affecting me daily, because i simply cant forget about Maddie and her family, i can never compare my sadness and frustration with Kate and Gerry. i just thank God that He gives them strenght to carry on with the search for Maddie, Becauses i know for sure that she will be found. i bless the woman who saw Maddie in Maroco and God help her to identify the man who was with Maddie.

I can't believe someone would do this to a little girl!! every time it comes on the news it makes me want to cry my heart goes out to her family!! I'll be praying for her safe return!!!!! ino she'll come home soon and safe.

Hi i think they should try and use a spitulist,clairvoyant or must be worth a try....that Poor little girl..It wasn't her fault all this happened to her..And her parents must be so distrant..They are a beautiful family and i do hope this is going out all around the world...someone MUST KNOW SOMETHING!!!It tearing my hair out with it and soon this story will disappear...something Must be done fast.thankyou and good luck

Their apparent breakdowns doubtless have nothing to do with the specialised section the Sun has set-up, which has almost as many reports as the whole normal news page has.

It is however easy to quote statistics regarding how many other children will have gone missing in the 16 days since Madeleine went missing and glibly remark how many children in Iraq, Darfur or wherever else will have died in that time period. This is slightly unfair, both on the media and on the McCann family. There was always going to be immense public interest in the story, whether it had happened to a respectable middle-class religious couple or a godless working class family, although the coverage may have been different as some have more than convincingly alleged. The main problem with the coverage from the beginning hasn't been that it has been all-out to find Madeleine: it's rather that it's geared towards serving the own interests of those who are so kindly helping to spread the message, whether it's British Airways, the News of the Screws or "Sir" Philip Green, while at the same time indulging in the kind of mawkishness and synthetic, manufactured grief that is making ordinary people around the country feel almost in some way responsible and personally involved, even though there's nothing whatsoever that they can do. For papers like the Daily Mail to be outraged when some companies and individuals take advantage of the situation in the exact same way that MP's wearing yellow ribbons were and the press itself is isn't surprising, it's just classic Street of Shame humbug. And neither is going to get Madeleine back.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007 

We are all bourgeois, err, I mean McCanns now.

We share your pain claims the Scum. Except that they don't, and we don't, do we? Can any of us who haven't been in the same position as the McCanns claim, and this includes when children briefly wander off, as they are wont to do, actually know what they're going through? No, of course not. We can however to pretend to know what they feel, we can go through the motions and, when you're a newspaper, you can make as much out of it as possible by trying to surf the wave of sympathy.

Hence this pointless plea from the Sun:

THE Sun today urges Britain to show support for the anguished family of snatched tot Madeleine McCann — by wearing yellow clothing in her honour.

We want our army of readers to show they are shoulder-to-shoulder with Kate and Gerry McCann during the agonising wait for news of their missing four-year-old.

Why? What difference will it make? When we choose to wear something that either shows our support for a cause or in memory of something that's happened, whether it's a poppy, or even a white wrist-band during the Make Poverty History drive, we're make a statement about our beliefs, whether it's about never forgetting those who sacrificed their lives for freedom or otherwise. What's the point of wearing a yellow ribbon except to show that you've got too much of an emotional connection about something that you can do absolutely nothing about? The McCanns, however much they claim they're being buoyed by the support they're receiving, are only thinking about one thing, and that's getting their daughter back: wearing a small piece of cloth or a certain clothing isn't going to do that.

It's the same with the requests to pray for her. Presumably these calls are being made to the same God which let her be snatched in the first place. Or is this a challenge from that same source to test their faith?

There's also nothing quite like getting some publicity out of the misery of others. How else to explain the decision of Philip Green, Richard Branson and the News of the Screws, the cunts of capitalism, to put up a reward which has now reached £2.5 million? The flyers being produced by the Scum couldn't possibly miss off their logo, and as for the footballers going out with yellow wristbands, even if requested by Madeleine's aunt, well, words fail me. Alan Johnston, as Chicken Yoghurt points out, captured by Islamic militants from one of Gaza's clans or not, could only wish for such measures. Between a bald journalist and a pretty 4-year-old girl, there's no contest, as both Gordon Brown and David Cameron can both attest to.

Give it another week, and if she's still not been found, the press will probably begin to forget and move on. Pounds of flesh extracted, good deeds fulfilled, police from foreign country sniped, hatred of paedophiles brought to the boil, jobs a good'un. Then we'll see who feels whose pain.

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