In yesterday's post about the Cumbrian tragedies I looked at how newspapers had chosen images of dead people under blankets as their shop window, to shock and disturb, as if people might somehow not understand the idea of a shooting unless they looked at a dead body sticking out of a blood-soaked shroud. It struck this reader as being somewhat excessive, when those dead human beings under the blankets had families and friends; I wondered if we really needed to see such images to understand the tragedy, or whether the papers were just trying to use shock value and gore to flog a few units.
I also felt that the big grinning face of Derrick Bird, the killer, staring out of many front pages instead of the bloody blankets, might be just the kind of thing that such a crime hopes to achieve. There were 12 other deaths, after all - 12 other lives ended, as well as Derrick Bird's. But in the race to sensationalise and explain the awful crimes, those people had been largely anonymous, while Bird had grabbed all the attention, just as you might fear he would have wanted to.
Some of today's papers, though, redress that a little.
I like the Times's front page the most, I think - in contrast to yesterday's ugliness. And I like the Mail's too, which goes to show how they can get things right with this kind of story. Now, at last, the focus has turned, in some quarters, from the one killer - whose own family are experiencing a tragedy too, of course - to his 12 victims, and their families. Perhaps you might say this is just the way of news - concentrate on the killer first, the victims second - but I wonder if it really need be this way. Maybe it's just because the killer's identity was known so quickly, and the victims weren't; maybe it's because the killer's identity was what was seen as important first. It's hard to tell. But now the other dead people have faces, or most of them at least; and their stories are being heard. It's not just Bird's life story that is important.
But that's not the whole story. Elsewhere, the murder-porn continues.
Again, Bird's face grins out, as the speculation scampers about to try and explain the most unusual crime in the most simplistic terms possible. Was it a family feud? A tax bill? Both? Neither? Does it matter? The Sun, of course, can't help themselves from calling him PSYCHO CABBIE and increasing the £60,000 tax investigation to £100,000. I wonder if there isn't some kind of sympathetic strain as well towards someone facing a tax investigation, as opposed to what there might be, say, for someone facing an investigation into wrongly claimed benefits.
But those papers, grim though they are, are nothing compared to the appalling Mirror. I don't really want to repeat it, but I can't comment on it without referencing it, so here it is:
As I mentioned yesterday when the Mail greedily snapped up pap photos of one of Bird's sons, what exactly do we learn from seeing these pictures? I'm not saying that his family isn't suffering too, because of course they are, and it must be awful for them. But WHAT HAS DAD DONE? They know exactly what he's done, the question's irrelevant; and it's putting words into the mouths of people who haven't spoken to the papers, because they don't want to, because they don't want to be in the papers, because they just happen to be relatives of someone and not relevant to the story at all. I imagine the weasel justification will be "Oh but there was a family feud, therefore..." but that's garbage. This is pure exploitation of a tragedy to flog papers, and intrusion into shock and grief. It's not in the public interest to see these faces - how can it be? What do we benefit or learn from it? How is our understanding improved?
I don't know. This story might drag on for more days. It's understandable, given the level of tragedy, but today's papers show that it can be handled sensitively and intelligently, focussing rightly on the innocent victims rather than the perpetrator - without having to drag the other innocent victims, the killer's family, into the limelight with snatched pictures as they try to come to terms with the enormity of what's happened. Now might be the time to stop asking the unanswerable 'why?' questions and leave all those families to grieve.