Back when Herbert Anchovy presented the seminal 1970s quiz show 'Blackmail' from his loft in Thames Ditton, he could hardly have seen what the future held. In those days, there was still a lot for people to be shy about - homosexuality had only just been decriminalised, the public gasped at divorce, married people's affairs were scandal and anything other than an orthodox lifestyle was frowned upon. No wonder blackmail was such a profitable crime.
Society has moved on in a lot of ways. Being gay and out is accepted by the vast majority of society (except for a few ignorant bishops); most families know enough about divorce and separation to realise that these things, while miserably hurtful and unpleasant, aren't uncommon; marriage doesn't have the sanctity it once did; children out of wedlock - even for rich newspaper proprietors - aren't frowned upon; and, in the main, most folk are tolerant of others' religions, lifestyles and choices. That's why it's good to live in Britain in the year 2008. Society has moved on and made progress. There's a greater understanding of people's emotional needs; things like mental illness have less of a stigma, and children are being offered support for conditions like Asperger's, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders, where once they were left to struggle and fail, condemned to the scrap-heap. No longer do we hide away people with disabilities - we've even had a blind home secretary. (He was a reactionary shit who has hamstrung the nation for years to come thanks to his idiotic ID card scheme, but that's beside the point.) Opportunity is greater than ever before. Prejudice against all forms of 'being different' still exists, but it's withering on the vine, especially in urban areas. This has to be a good thing. It's not PC gone mad, it's just common sense. If I had any reason to be proud to be British, it would perhaps be that I feel people in this country are considerate, compassionate and forgiving, on the whole. I know there are still bigots and fools out there, and there always will be. But society, which does exist, is leaving them behind to their own poisonous selves.
Yet blackmail still exists. It's a particularly unpleasant crime that can only thrive in an atmosphere of pernicious moralistic sniping from the gutter press. Cheated spouses may forgive their partners; newspapers and their self-appointed experts on everything who get paid a fortune to rip apart ordinary people's lives in badly written columns will not. Would it still be possible to blackmail someone without the gutter press lying in wait to print every sordid detail and pass judgment from their high horse? Would it still be possible if the press in this country didn't try to represent a particularly outdated 1950s agenda of swingeing orthodoxy coupled with hatred of all things different? I really do wonder if it would.
Ah yes, someone pipes up from the back row, but if people didn't want it they wouldn't buy the papers, would they. What choice do they have? What choice have you had this week to avoid Michael Todd's death and all the prurient invasion of privacy associated with it? What choice have you had to leave his widow in peace? Which readers wrote into the papers and said: "Can we have more invasions of privacy please? Can you take photos in that dead girl's bedroom? Can you get some witless bastard to insult the spelling in the messages of compassion from her friends while being incapable of spelling himself? Can you tell me about the dead copper's affairs while his wife's still grieving?" Who asked for that? You? Me? No-one did. We get given what we're given because editors think we want it, not because we do.
Sure, we can not buy the papers if we don't like them - and people are abandoning the press in droves - but it goes beyond that. It goes to the heart of what makes a newspaper a newspaper. Is it paying ridiculous amounts of money for long-lens pap pictures of dying celebrities? Is it ripping apart people who've had the misfortune to have a loved one die, while leaving alone the failing politicians on both sides because our rich owners don't want to upset them and risk having to pay more than a few quid in tax? Is that what being a newspaper's about? Is that what they were set up to do - protect the rich and their interests, but demonise the ordinary person when they have the misfortune to be grieving?
Which brings me to this latest turd in the toilet bowl of the Mail. I know I pick on the Mail a lot, and to be fair to them it's not just them who are evil muckraking cunts who rape people's privacy when they're at their most vulnerable; that goes for quite a lot of the Fourth Estate's finest.
But see if you can work out why this is in the public interest.
Husband of dead police chief's mistress is battling bowel cancer
Because it's nice to have the whole fucking world know something like that, just because your wife happens to have been having an affair with someone who has died. That means you're fair game now.
By SAM GREENHILL, LIZ HULL and JAMES TOZER
There's three wastes of an NCE right there. Could have got a trained pack of chimps to have written this invasive bullshit.
The widow of Michael Todd last night spoke of her love for the cheating Chief Constable.
Did she speak of 'my love for the cheating chief constable'? Did she? No, she remembered her husband - and, I might add, acted with a good sight more dignity than any of the bastards in the scum press have this week.
Grief-stricken Carolyn Todd paid tribute to her husband as an inquest heard that he had not jumped to his death or taken an overdose during a tormented walk up a mountain on Monday.
Did this inquest hear his walk was tormented? No.
"I loved Michael very much and the last time I spoke to him he told me he loved me too. We have been married for 27 years and eight months."
Her tribute to the Greater Manchester police chief came as it emerged that the husband of the woman he had an affair with is battling bowel cancer.
'It emerged'. From whom exactly? Did he ring you up and tell you?
Estate agent xxxx xxxxxxxx, 52, is fighting the disease at the same time as trying to save his 30-year marriage to Xxxxx xxxxxxxx.
I actually can't bring myself to quote that. It just feels wrong. Maybe I'm a soft-hearted idiot. I suppose I've done the damage by linking anyway, but I just don't want those names on my blog. I just feel uncomfortable about it. I guess that's why I couldn't be the likes of Greenhill, Hull or Tozer. Too warm-blooded.
The inquest opened yesterday and heard that Mr Todd - who has been linked to a string of women including serving police officers - was twice the drink drive limit when he died.
The inquest heard that Mr Todd had been linked to a string of women, did it? Bullshit. But it's a clever weaving in of the prurient details into the inquest strain of the story, to try and imply that these things were said in open court and it's just a reporting of the proceedings, whereas the truth is that the inquest would have heard no such thing. The only reason we know Todd was linked to a 'string of women' (if indeed such a thing exists) is because the Mail decided it wanted to tell us.
The journalists will say it's what we want to know and what we have a right to know; that somewhere along the line Todd signed away every right he ever had to privacy - but while that may be questionable, there is no doubt that the invasion of privacy of the man with bowel cancer is reprehensible, disgusting and stinks to the rafters.
This week has shown just how horrible the Mail can be. Beyond the hatred of immigrants and the poor, there's something deeper, something darker. Something truly unpleasant. A desire to attack ordinary people, to vilify the public for being caught up in tragic events. It's a whole new level of nastiness that I hadn't noticed before.
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