Back in July, the Mail was understandably annoyed when a BBC tennis commentator made an unpleasant remark about the weight of 16-year-old tennis player Laura Robson.
Some might say that portly commentator David Mercer should keep his views to himself on the subject of weight.
That did not stop the BBC veteran offering the opinion that British starlet Laura Robson needs to lose some ‘puppy fat’.
Mercer, 60, was forced to say sorry to 16-year-old Laura for his words, broadcast live on the BBC’s ‘red button’ service to cable and satellite viewers.
I think they're kind of undermining their own argument by commenting on the commentator's own physical appearance, but still, you have to say it's not a nice thing to be judging a 16-year-old on their physical appearance. Given that it was the evil BBC doing it, it pushed the right buttons for the Mail.
I mean it's not as if they'd be making catty comments about a teenager's weight, is it?
She's the Cheryl Cole lookalike widely tipped to be in with a chance of winning this year's X Factor.
But it appears the pressure is really getting to Cher Lloyd, who was pictured out in London yesterday looking incredibly skinny and [f]rail in a blue jumpsuit.
The 17-year-old looked drawn and distracted as she walked along with an member of the X Factor crew.
"The pressure" - of what? Being in a singing competition? Or being judged on her weight in public?
While being interviewed in the street Lloyd's body language made her appear anxious.
Possibly because she saw there was some twat with a honking great camera lurking a few yards away, ready to sell the photos to a national newspaper who'd be only too happy to made nasty little remarks about her weight...? Who knows.
Back to the Mail's story about the BBC and Laura Robson:
But the apology failed to pacify charities which said such thoughtless comments were in danger of encouraging eating disorders among the young.
Thoughtless comments in danger of encouraging eating disorders among the young... good job the Mail would never stoop so low, eh?
The Mail distances itself from organisations like the BNP and the EDL, despite providing a lot of their ammunition with inflammatory and misleading articles about race and immigration. Today's story is no different:
A chief constable is seeking emergency powers to ban the far-Right English Defence League from marching through a city's Muslim neighbourhood, amid fears it could provoke widespread violence.
Up to 10,000 EDL supporters are expected to descend on Bradford over the bank holiday weekend in what is claimed will be a rally against Islamic extremism.
But residents fear the provocative march could cause a repeat of the 2001 race riots.
I tend to call people like the EDL and BNP 'ultranationalist' rather than 'far right' nowadays, but that's just a matter of taste really. The EDL are an odd bunch, hard to define in some ways but easy to define in others. They claim to be set up against Islamic extremism, but you have to wonder whether that's really the case, and it isn't just the case that they're a bunch of needle-dicked racist thugs looking for a punch-up rather than protesting about 'their' country.
But as I've written before, the Mail's straight reportage of the EDL and BNP, for example, and the attempts at handwashing by the likes of Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn, finds an angry response from readers. It's no different today, with many readers getting angry with the way the Mail reports the story and calls the EDL a 'magnet for neo-Nazi thugs' and compares them with Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts (who, as we all know, the Daily Mail supported back in the day, but that's by the by). The commenters pile in under the article, firstly with a classic bit of 'whataboutery', comparing the EDL march with the one (which never happened) by Islam4UK through Wootton Bassett; secondly by claiming that Unite Against Fascism are 'the real thugs' and thirdly by claiming that they are just 'English patriots' and there's nothing wrong with the lovely, cuddly EDL.
Have a look for yourself, if you must, but it's not pretty reading. The comments most in favour of the EDL receive positive votes; those against receive negative votes. Now you might suggest these are readers whisked over to the Mail by message boards and forums, and I dare say there's an element of that.
But what if there's something else going on? What if, when you talk about 'white British' mothers explicitly, and wring your hands about the number of 'white British' births, worry about white British mothers, write about 'white flight', and you talk about white people as being 'nationals', and you suggest that second-generation immigrants aren't really British, you're creating a dialogue in which people begin to believe that the only true Brit is a pale pink one? Is the Mail really an innocent bystander in this argument, or actually part of it?
As for banning the march, it is of course provocative and unpleasant, but should go ahead if at all possible. The last thing anyone should do with little Englander 'patriot' types is give them an even bigger chip on their shoulder and give them a genuine sense of victimisation, opposed to the 'stranger in my own country' mentality they carry around with them. The police aren't planning to ban the protest altogether, just the marching element (which you could presume has more potential to be difficult to police). But even so. Scum like the EDL have the right to protest, even if they're completely wrong, and even if they trying to be inflammatory and provocative. Stopping them just makes them believe their own paranoia.
As ever, papers like the Mail fuel groups like the EDL, then step away and pretend to distance themselves from their views when it comes to the crunch. But there's not really a million miles between the obsession with 'white Britons' and the EDL's thoughts of 'patriotism'. Certainly not as much distance as these newspapers would like to think.
A while ago I wrote about how it wasn't just women who get low-level bullying from newspapers and magazines - James Corden was slagged off for daring to be overweight and be seen in public without a t-shirt (meaningless or otherwise), and commenter Thomas on the post 'I'm disappointed rather than angry' points out how the Mail took the piss out of Eamonn Holmes for going to a bakery and buying cakes.
Today there's another example that reminds us that it's not just people who are deemed too chubby who feel the force of this quest for perfection in celebrity images - if you're seen as being too thin, then that's just as much reason to make fun of you. Black or white, thin or fat, male or female, they don't discriminate - well actually, they do, of course; but the point is, they'll pick on anyone. Essentially, we're back in the playground trying to find something to make fun of.
So here comes an article about radio presenter Johnny Vaughan:
Apparently he looked 'a shadow of his former self' and 'skinny and dishevelled'. Are you ready for the picture that shows the true extent of this horror? Shield your children's eyes from this awfulness:
Oh. Is that it? It just looks like, well, some normal enough-looking man, in his 40s, who's lost his hair a bit, who hasn't shaved, and doesn't appear horrifically skinny to me. But of course the main thing you want from a radio presenter is for them to be clean shaven:
Cringe-making: Vaughan even appears unshaven in a cheesy new ad campaign with co-host Lisa Snowdon for Belvita breakfast biscuits
Imagine that! Unshaven in a TV advert! Horrors! Clearly it's the beginning of the end for Vaughan, who might as well be put to sleep immediately, to spare us having to watch his further decline.
So it's not just women who get teased and picked on by these magazines and newspapers; and not just for being overweight - people who don't really appear to be unhealthily underweight, yet who look slightly different from how they might have looked several years ago, are fair game as well. But if you look at the comments, even the readers are bemused as to what they're meant to be thinking about all this, with many disagreeing that there's anything wrong with the picture at all. I guess that's the only positive to take out of it.
You may find this hard to believe, but I don't hate the Daily Mail. I don't hate that there's a newspaper called the Daily Mail. I don't hate that it's a right-wing publication which yearns for a middle England that never really existed; that's fine by me. How can you hate that? That's what a lot of people would like. I may not agree with it, but you can't go around hating the things you simply don't agree with.
No, the main thing that makes me angry - and it's more of a disappointment than anger, if truth be told - is when, as with yesterday's story that I wrote about here, they're just so malicious in driving their agendas. There's something calculating about the way in which they decide to target subjects like immigration, tell the story from only one side, distort the statistics to fit the narrative, and then hammer the message home with a shrill editorial blaming Labour and doom-mongering about the future, while condemning anyone who might dare call racism racism as being 'sanctiomonious'.
Well, I'm sanctimonious then. But I'm disappointed, more than angry. What annoys me about the Daily Mail is that it could, and should, be a wonderful newspaper. It's very well put together, I don't think anyone would argue with that. It has some talented writers. It has that kind of pang of nostalgia about it, a desire for family values, an old-fashionedness that people like - none of which are necessarily bad things at all. If it stuck to that sort of thing, I wouldn't mind it at all. In fact if it stuck to that sort of thing, and was blatantly right-wing and conservative with a small c, I wouldn't mind either.
But no. It has to take it that one step further. Stories like the one about 'white British mums' simply have an undercurrent of nastiness, of unpleasantness about them. One commenter on my piece yesterday submitted a comment on the Mail's story (for some reason rejected) congratulating the paper on finally 'coming out' as racists. It's hard to disagree when you see stuff like that. What are stories like that for, other than to spread fear of minorities and tap into the same kind of 'polluted blood line' thoughts that the people on ultranationalist and racist forums delight in - which is why the Mail is such a popular source of information there? You can claim that the Mail are simply providing a ghost-train ride over the breakfast table for their pearl-clutching readers, and there's probably an element of truth about that; but there's something darker about the whole thing, I'm afraid, darker than just 'writing for the readers' or fearmongering. A whiff of something distinctly unpleasant. And when you see it time after time, it stops being possibly an accident, and it becomes a policy.
I would love the Mail to be a really good, popular, mainstream newspaper that didn't have to resort to stories like that, and that its columnists didn't need to do the kind of casually offensive trolling that Needledick manages in his emission today, chortling away at workplace suicides in China (go and find the bloody thing if you want, I won't link to him). I would also love it to be able to run a few articles without being bitchy and horrible about people's bodies (especially women's bodies, though they're not averse to having a go at men), though that again seems a forlorn hope. It's just that these kinds of things seem so superfluous to me. They detract from everything else, and make the Mail seem pretty shabby; they erode the credibility of all the rest of its journalism. Why believe a story about crime, for example, if you know that on the facing page there's some agenda-driven nonsense about immigration which you know isn't going to be entirely honest about the facts? Why should other stories be treated any differently? It damages the whole brand.
Of course, I may well be in the minority. (In which case, you could argue that I have every reason to be afraid of the Mail.) It may be the case that people love the Doomsday immigration narrative, in which millions of Poles and brown people are pouring into the country, diluting the purity of the indigenous population and making hard-pressed taxpayers pay even more tax while everyone else gets free cars, mansions and golf courses on welfare. Maybe that's what people want to read, because it's the dystopia that makes them feel better about their own failures and their own shortcomings. Maybe people like the callous cruelty towards dead Chinese factory workers because it gives them a belly laugh and brightens their working day, and they love the way that 'com-pen-say-shun' is spelt out phonetically because it makes it even more hilarious. I dare say that does it for some people. Maybe people love looking at a woman who's got a perfectly normal body and screeching "OOh, she needs to lose weight!" or "Ooh, she needs to put on weight!" because it makes them feel better about themselves.
I can't help feeling disappointed, though. There's a streak of malice, of nastiness, that runs through the Daily Mail brand, and I think it turns off a lot of potential readers. Who am I to argue, when the sales figures are so high and when they're positioned so well in the marketplace, when they're making pots of money and when they're so successful? That is all true, of course, but that doesn't mean that the nastiness isn't there. I'd love to think they could be just as successful without the unpleasantess, without the distortion, without the cruel streak; but maybe they can't. And maybe that's our fault as much as theirs, for buying the damn thing in the first place, and for reading it at all.
Today's Mail editorial attempts to head off criticism at the pass:
(thanks to ArmyofDave for the photo.) But if the Mail is so certain about its attitude and the righteousness of its argument - as well as the 'sanctimoniousness' of anyone ever daring to call racism racism - then you have to wonder why they have heavily edited the story on which the editorial was based.
The story you can see on their website now is bad enough. But it's chickenfeed compared with what was originally up there. I saw the original last night and noticed it had been changed this morning. But how to find it...? I knew of one place where the story would certainly have been appreciated - the ultranationalist/racist Stormfront messageboard.
I don't like delving into Stormfront very often - it's like plunging headfirst into a torrent of human waste, and you feel that if you spend more than fifteen minutes there you might catch racism or something - but it needed to be done, on this occasion. Sure enough, there it was. Of course it was. Alongside truly enlightening and delightful discussions about 'polluted bloodline' mixed-race Barbie dolls ("Use them for target practice") is the Mail's story, as it was, before they decided to change it. The original headline was along the lines of "THE MATERNITY UNITS WHERE ONLY ONE IN TEN MOTHERS IS WHITE BRITISH' and the story went like this:
New statistics taken from NHS records of women who have just given birth show that white Britons now account for an average of just six in ten of those receiving maternity care.
They also reveal the startling changes that a decade of record migration is having on different parts of the country.In some inner city areas the proportion of white British mothers slumps to fewer than one in ten.
But the impact on parts of Middle England is even more staggering. NHS trusts which cover parts of the home counties - such as St Albans - report less than six in ten mothers are white British.
The figures will reignite the debate about the scale of immigration and the scale of social division, as well as the impact on public services.
One of the reasons why it's so vitally important for newspapers, as trusted news sources, to get their stories about contentious issues right is because of the way in which they're hoovered up by people like Stormfront, the EDL the BNP and other 'patriot' organisations. There is (or should be) an extra onus on reporters to ensure that what they're saying is accurate first time out. But is it accurate, or is it misleading? Well, the revised story certainly changes the tone:
Just one in ten babies is born to a white British mother in some parts of the country, figures reveal.
The statistics - based on NHS monitoring of the ethnicity and nationality of patients - show a sharp contrast in the backgrounds of new mothers in urban and rural areas.
While white British mothers accounted for just 9.4 per cent of all births in one London health trust, the figure was 97.4 per cent of all births in Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.
The birth statistics reflect how mothers described themselves, not the ethnicity of the fathers or the babies.
It's good to see that the story has been revised and its tone is now a lot less shrill. But the online Daily Mail is only part of the story - it's the original version of the story (with the question about 'reigniting the debate about immigration' and the accompanying editorial about 'unfettered immigration' and 'an urban Britain dominated by ethnic minorities'*) that appeared in the newspaper, and which was read over the breakfast table. So did the Mail think the original story was a bit wrong? Was it a free hit? Do they think its tone was a bit amiss? Is the more up-to-date story more accurate? Will they update their newspaper readers with today's story? We don't know.
As to the accuracy or otherwise of the original or revised stories, I'll leave it to others. But I will point out this section, which still remains in the revised version:
Across England 62 per cent of all births last year involved a white British mother.
The largest other single ethnic groups were 'other white' - including Eastern Europeans - which made up 7 per cent of births, black (5 per cent), Pakistani (4 per cent) and Indian (3 per cent).
Of the rest of the mothers 8 per cent described their ethnicity as 'other' (including mixed-race women) and the remainder were listed as 'not known'.
There's a whole 11 per cent of 'not known' there, which could be anything - people who don't like ticking boxes, people who've got better things to do when they're about to bring another life into the world than fill in diversity forms that are going to be manipulated by people arguing against immigration, and so on. I wonder if 'other white' includes Irish, as I would have thought that would have been one of the biggest categories - in all the box-ticking exercises I've ever done, there's a 'white British' box and a 'white Irish' box as well as a 'white other'. But again it's a question of the Mail looking for it's "New Labour's unfettered immigration evil" agenda - by saying that 'other white' includes 'Eastern Europeans', it's trying to make a fairly obvious point. But what percentage of 'other white' are these Eastern Europeans? It's not mentioned. For all we know, it might be 0.001 per cent. Sure, they're 'included' but are they significant, compared to white people from the USA, Australia, etc?
But who cares about 'white British' anyway? White British are not better British than black British or Asian British or mixed-race British or 'other whites', surely? I find something rather sinister about the idea that we should be fixated on 'white British' as the marker of something significant - it's verging on 'indigenous population' territory, and all the unpleasantness therein. There's that dirty thread running through the whole story - more obvious in the original version, the one that appeared in the print edition, but still there even now.
The Mail says you're sanctimonious if you say it's racist to question whether this kind of ethnic diversity is a good thing or not. Perhaps not racist to ask the question. It is, however, wrong to imagine that 'white British' is a better kind of British than any other British, though, and it's very clearly misleading to imply that New Labour's government was responsible for all the ethnic diversity that we see in Britain today - these figures aren't compared with any others from another time period, yet are still used in the editorial as proof somehow that it's all Labour's fault. It's not out-and-out racism to complain about the 'impact of immigration on Middle England', but it's not a million miles away either.
So a lot of mums are not 'white British'. So what? Would it be better if they were? I don't think so. The Mail might not like to think it's being racist, but the folk at Stormfront latch on to this kind of story straight away. As I said, that makes it doubly important for the journalists responsible to ensure they've got their facts right, that they're not being misleading and that they're not going to provide ammunition for the ultranationalists and the racists. I wonder if they can, hand on heart, really say that's the case.
* You may well ask how a 'minority' can be a 'minority' when it's 'dominating'.
I had a similar feeling to this back when the Mail and friends decided to go nuclear against Russell Brand. Once again, I'm torn.
On the one hand, James Corden is bloody awful. I liked Gavin & Stacey, but he's become so ubiquitous, and that sketch show with the other one whose name escapes me (Matt Horne, that's it) was so head-deskingly unwatchable that I started getting angry whenever I saw his face on the telly - which was every five seconds. It got to the point where the CordenBleurgh banishment device had to be invented to get rid of him from the worldwide web.
But... then there's this.
You know, just in case you hadn't worked out what James Corden looked like in a pair of swimming shorts. We need a million pictures just so you can work it out. And again:
Having written last week that men often don't really face the same media pressures to look perfect as women do, I might have to revise that view after having read stuff like this:
Despite his sizeable paunch, James Corden is not exactly shy of showing off his body.
The comic put every generous inch on display as he walked around topless in Los Angeles before taking a dip in the pool.
Gavin and Stacey star James, 32, drew attention to himself in a pair of white Inter Milan football shorts.
Yes, how dare someone who hasn't got a perfect shape be as unashamed as to walk around near a swimming pool, wearing the kind of clothes that people wear when they're swimming? He should walk around in a triangle-shaped piece of sack so that we don't get forced to look at his torso (when some cunt in the bushes with a long lens decides to snap him going about his normal life)!
Just in case you haven't got the picture about how horrendous it is that someone who's overweight should be allowed to be out in public (well private, really, but everywhere is public if you've got a big enough camera lens):
Hanging out: Portly James Corden showed off his rotund physique while on holiday in Los Angeles last week
Check me out: The comedian didn't appear to have a care in the world as he wandered around in his Inter Milan football shorts
Tight fit: On Saturday night he host the Marbella 2010 party at Cafe de Paris in London
As ever with these things - usually a woman in a bikini gets the treatment - it's the sneery tone of it that's so unpleasant. How dare Corden dare to walk around 'without a care in the world'! How dare he! He should be covered up! He should be ashamed of himself! And as if the ladies will form an orderly queue for someone who looks like that...
Look, I might think Corden's abominable, and an unfunny bastard, and whatever, but in the name of all that's fair and decent, it's fucking pathetic to go pointing at him for what he looks like and laughing. And yes, I know, he's made fun of his own physique in his TV shows (including the execrable Horne & Corden) but that's beside the point; there's a nasty, snide, bullying tone to articles like this.
An interesting aside is when you come to the comments, people can't wait to stick the boot in - not to Corden, but to women:
Yeah, hahaha Fred. What a corker.
By all means let's slag Corden off if he's not funny. (And he isn't, in my opinion.) But this kind of childish bollocks is barely a spit away from the school playground.
*update* Please see Dawn's post on this. She got there before me.
I've left the Mail alone for a while because, well, because my sanity benefits from not being exposed to its horrors, to be brutally honest with you. But I couldn't leave this one alone. Today's story
is one of the lowest things I've seen, even from these jokers, for a while. As ever, I can't bring myself to give them even the tiniest sliver of traffic; but if you really must go there and see it for yourself, you know how to find it by searching for that delightful headline.
Beneath it are photographs of: 1) A woman in tears as she looks at a hearse containing the body of her dead husband; 2) The same, but with the widow placing a flower on top of the hearse; 3) The woman overcome with grief and in tears; 4) Another man in tears as he looks on; 5) Just in case you hadn't seen it already, another photo of the widow in tears as the hearse passes by; 6) Another photo of the same woman with another mourner in tears next to her; 7) Photos of two of the dead service personnel; 8 ) A picture of the flag-draped coffin being unloaded from the military transport.
The widow, Heidi Kirkpatrick, is pictured six times. In each photo she is barely able to contain her grief.
Now I know there are a few things to bear in mind with this kind of story. Firstly, this is a public event and therefore there is a tacit acceptance that these things are public, not private. However, I would say that since this is the relatives' very first opportunity to see their loved ones since they have been repatriated, it's not as simple as that. In a lot of ways this is the same as watching a blanket-covered body being wheeled out of a front door - although of course as seasoned tabloid readers will know, that's fair game nowadays as well.
Secondly, you could argue that it's necessary to cover this kind of story in order to bring home the reality of war, and I don't disagree with that of course. There are some who would call the Wootton Bassett repatriations a slightly ghoulish parade that has become unnecessarily politicised, but I wouldn't go that far. I can completely understand the need of relatives to be there to see their loved ones arrive home, and the need for people to express publicly their support for the armed forces should they choose to do so. I do find there is at times a slightly Diana-ish element to all this which I might not find entirely palatable - though of course you have to respect the right of anyone to mourn in whatever way they choose, as someone like me can't possibly imagine what they're going through.
And it's not the families' fault how these events are portrayed. The Mail's take on this particular repatriation is nothing short of grief porn. There's a whiff of something unpleasant about all the photos of the grieving widow, in her pink dress, and yes, she's not an unattractive woman. I just find something slightly unsettling about the whole thing. One photo can always be justified, but six? I am not so sure at all.