Monday, 20 April 2015

Operation Elveden: Keep Taking The Tabloids

I applaud legal fightbacks from famous people whose privacy is trashed, and relish the satire of Homer Simpson’s “if they didn’t want people pawing through their garbage and saying they’re gay, they shouldn’t have tried to express themselves creatively”.

There is plenty to dislike about British tabloids. They squawk confected outrage, they oversimplify, they pry into complicated private miseries, they do mean stings, some did hack phones. They cozen people in crisis to make fools of themselves. They are obsessed with the wobbly bits of women’s bodies, yet turn on a sixpence to deploy outraged Aunt-Agatha prudery whenever it suits them. They are capable of misjudged campaigns leading to real danger, like Rebekah Brooks’s name-and-shame paedo fiasco. They are sometimes racist, frequently homophobic, almost always sexist.

But they are vivid, economic forces of communication, and some headlines are brilliant (“How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?”). They do expensive investigations. Their ease with the grittier end of society, their fellow-well-met pubbiness creates matey fellowship with coppers, prison officers, hospital porters, soldiers: people whose officer classes we definitely ought to know about.

The tabloid hack has no respect for authority, rules or notices; blags in, nips through windows, lies to get a story worth getting. Many have been well worth it, and picked up gratefully by the soft clean hands of the “quality” press and television.

Tabloid readers are not stupid. They don’t believe everything, they don’t approve of all exposés, they give generously to appeals, they smell injustice and callousness (as The Sun learnt the hard way, over Hillsborough). They just want bite-sized information, straightforward language and an irreverent laugh. Sometimes they are offered beautifully succinct political information, more useful than some cerebral analyses.

And though the red tops often deserve an outraged libel suit and contumely, they did not really deserve the targeted, legally dubious, vengeful and institutionally snobbish attacks of Elveden. As Lord Macdonald admitted: “It is simply obvious that there are circumstances in which it can be in the public interest for journalists to pay for information.” ...

S'pose so, yeah, sort of...

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