I saw it with my own eyes. These two eyes, right here. Had I not seen it, and had I simply heard of it from even a reputable source, I would have struggled to believe it. But no. I was lucky enough to be able to bear witness to this afternoon's Sky News broadcast.
There aren't many times in your life when the pairing of Boris Johnson and Kelly Brook, gabbling away while having their hair blown around on a rooftop somewhere, is actually the intellectual zenith of your afternoon. But that's how it happened. From there, the scene changed to a Holiday Inn in the west country, and an exterior shot of the hotel where the Pakistan cricket team were staying.
I should add at this point that I understand all of this was available in HD. Thank goodness. Can you imagine if you weren't able to see people milling around outside a hotel in HD? I would consider that to be a much diminished viewing experience, almost to the point where I might think it wasn't even worth watching. I mean, people loading luggage into a coach, meh; but wait a minute! People loading luggage into a coach IN HD - oho! Oh yes! That's the fucking good stuff, right there matey.
There were further treats in store for we keen Sky News viewers, as the camera lingered on the coach. We saw the coach reverse. We saw it turn. We saw it drive off, along a road - much like many other vehicles on many other roads, except we could zoom into the windows to see barely detectable splodges of person behind all that reflective glass. Could we detect guilt? Could we see the shame, in HD? Not quite. But we could see the coach move off, past a tree, to a blur of leaves.
It didn't stop there. Did you think it was going to stop there? Fool. No, of course it fucking well didn't. It was then that the Skycopter - where are my manners? the HD SKYCOPTER - took to the air to film the team coach trundling along the motorway, towards Somerset's cricket ground. This was BREAKING NEWS, we were told, in white text in capital letters on a red background. Coach drives along road!
History doesn't record whether the coach stopped at Taunton Deane services for a bag of Ginsters pasties and a couple of Mars Milks, but luckily we caught up with the coach soon afterwards - arriving at the cricket ground! And people, many of whom were cricketers, wearing Pakistan cricket uniforms, getting out of the fucking coach and walking towards the dressing room. At this point I was hoping that the Sky HD dressingroom cam would show us the players getting changed, in HD, but no - apparently that was 'private', or some bothersome such thing.
It's OJ Simpson we have to blame for all this, of course. Ever since that bloody chase live on TV, the helicopter has been a vital tool in the 24-hour news channel's bag of tricks. Look, easily-impressed humanoids! Here's a big shiny whirry thing that makes you think you're flying! Wheeeee! Who cares what the story is, we can look at it from the air! Wow!
The HD Skycopter - which, I presume, is decked out to look like a bloody great big vulture, or at least should be - circled menacingly overhead. Look! There was someone's back garden. There was the cricket pitch! Was that a lawnmower, or a roller?! Hard to tell, as the Skycopter swooped over, waiting for the players to emerge onto the playing area.
Finally, it buzzed off, and we were left with a camera peering through the gates, looking at some blokes doing stretching exercises. To be fair to the Sky HD reporter reporting live from outside the gates, in HD, he looked pretty embarrassed to be there.
I'm not trying to belittle the story itself, just the mindlessly baroque coverage of it from Sky. Of course, if it's all true, the News of the World sting has huge implications for sport in general, and cricket in particular - though it's worth bearing in mind that nothing's been proven yet, and nothing may have happened without a newspaper getting involved - and that one bit of cheating, if it is cheating, doesn't mean that other bits of cheating necessarily have happened. It's worth reading this article, I think, to get a bit of a breather before everyone condemns the Pakistan players, or the team, or cricket, or sport.
But even if it is all true, the coverage of this sort of thing is face-deskingly silly. Putting a bloody helicopter in the sky to look at a coach travelling along a road? Do me a lemon. If the BBC had done it, Sky's friends in the press would have been wetting their pants about the waste of money. Because it's Sky, we just kind of assume somehow that you might as well put a big top tent over Kay Burley and the rest of them, for all it matters. Surely there are more important things to be filming than cricketers getting on a fucking bus?*
I'm not saying the story isn't important, because it is; but does it really deserve this kind of bizarre treatment? I know television people assume we're a bunch of chimps who'll go thudding away at the remote control if we're not giving a slew of exciting moving images so we can look at the pretty colours and wait for something fun to happen; but maybe sometimes the story is more important than getting pictures of buses going along roads, or people walking around, or a man on a lawnmower in Somerset.
At least, I'd like to hope it is.
* I'm aware of course that there was a massive real news story involving the Pakistan cricket team bus, or more importantly the Sri Lanka team coach, some time ago. I'm pretty sure it didn't get as enormous coverage (in HD) as this bit of nonsense did, though the mind plays tricks.
It's hard to have any sympathy at all for dead killer Raoul Moat, beyond the knowledge that he has children and a family. But the playing-out of his run from justice and eventual death was a fairly tawdry spectacle all round. Maybe Moat isn't the kind of human being that really deserves any kind of dignity; even so, I can't think of many media outlets that covered themselves in glory, or even basic respectability, in the way they delved into his life and death.
But then this wasn't about the value of the news, or the importance of informing the public, or anything like that. When Derrick Bird ran amok and killed 12 innocent people, then himself, last month, the papers and rolling news couldn't wait to get into the gory details. Who saw what? Who did what? Why did he do it? They came up with half a dozen theories relating to Bird's private life that may or may not have been the cause - it was tacky speculation while the corpses were still in the morgue. But it was popular. We liked it, in the same way we like glancing over at a blood-soaked body being wheeled into an ambulance when we're driving down the motorway; it taps into some primitive part of us, perhaps.
Bird, a nobody, went out in a blaze of glory, all over every newspaper and every TV screen in the land, displacing the 'Crossbow Cannibal' from the publicity killer top spot. Whether publicity is what he wanted or not, we won't know, but he got it in spades, an immortality eagerly provided in death by the 24-hour news, websites and newspapers. We'll never know if this went unnoticed by Raoul Moat in his jail cell, this launch into the stratosphere of an angry nobody with a gun to the most famous (or infamous) man in Britain.
What we do know is that Moat was on record as having threatened to widen his killings to members of the public from just police officers, after what he perceived as inaccurate articles about him and his private life in the papers while he was on the run. Take nothing away from this deluded, dangerous man as being the one who would have been responsible for those crimes if he had carried out those threats; but this was known about long before he was caught. Did anyone modify their behaviour, knowing their output could potentially be responsible for people being targeted? Or was it just a case of not being able to resist the chance to publish, knowing that a killer like Moat could never sue for a damaged reputation, and that even wildly inaccurate stories would be as safe as houses from a libel action? I guess we won't know that either.
Like I said, it is hard to find sympathy for a killer like Moat. Maybe impossible. But there was something about Friday night's coverage, from Steve "Let me just interrupt you" Nolan on Radio 5 to BBC News and Sky News, that had a whiff of barely contained glee. Maybe the reporters could just sense history in the making, or see their names being etched onto awards somewhere, or maybe the tension of the real-life drama got to everyone. We won't know that either. But I found something intensely sad about it all, something deeply disturbing about reporters almost queueing up to harangue the same members of the public who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was the rush to the riverbank by photographers keen to get a key photo of Moat - maybe the deadly money shot, who knows? And those pictures of cops with guns, almost certainly telling the army of snappers to get away, for their own safety, and maybe so they didn't by their presence provoke him into shooting anyone, even himself. If Moat had done something because he'd seen the advancing photographers, what then? Anything for a picture? Would it not matter? But what if a police officer had been shot dead because a photographer in the bush had looked like a sniper? Who knows. Luckily it didn't happen. But that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened.
And then there was Gazza. Now here is someone who's vulnerable, genuinely so, and who should have sympathy perhaps, despite his problems often having been self-inflicted. But he was just another bit of meat for the grinder - a celebrity twist to make a disturbing enough evening's news truly bizarre. Maybe here was the figure people could find sympathy for, even if the life of Moat was something that seemed hard to hope would be spared. A sliver of humanity. But still just another twist while the reporters earnestly gazed down the lens, waiting for a gunshot in the background that would mean what we knew it would mean.
Then the body wheeled into hospital, cameras whizzing and flashing. Like a celebrity entering a film premiere, except it was a dead, faceless man being brought into a place where he could be certified dead.
And now... now what? The papers have fought for 'exclusive' grainy photos of Moat holding the gun to his face. Yeah, way to go. Pat yourselves on the back for that, Sunday Telegraph and News of the World. Really doing your bit for quality journalism. Well done for outbidding your rivals and getting a picture of a man with a gun to his head. If he'd shot himself in daylight, would there have been an auction for the Budd Dwyer money shot, the splash of claret spraying up into the air - or more likely the split-second beforehand?
Now there will be more absent-minded guesswork over the whys and wherefores; the victims quietly receding into the distance, the killer getting all the headlines and attention. Almost advertising for another candidate, another nobody with a gun to come and make himself a somebody, to come and be milked by the eager news media for all they're worth, until that final frame, the final gunshot. And then, it's all forgotten about, and we'll get an article or two about Rothbury is 'coming to terms' with the awfulness and 'getting back to normal' in a life without Kay Burley gossiping steely-eyed away into a lens all day, without dozens of hacks sent up from London to experience the fear for themselves.
And the slideshows of fuzzy images of Moat with the gun will get loads of ghoulish clicks, and the articles will be read, and people will conclude that this kind of story sells. And no-one will think they did anything wrong, and they'll be waiting to do it again next time. And it will happen again.
I think it was Charlie Brooker back in the TV Go Home days who did a spoof of a celebrity magazine covering a man walking past some crates. To prove that news does emulate comedy, here's today's Sky News website:
(Spotter's badge: ryanfmc)
Yes. It's true. A woman has walked up to her bin and put some rubbish in it. To clarify, the news story, on Sky News, a news channel that thinks it's grown-up enough to host a debate with the leaders of all political parties in the run-up to the next election, is that a woman has put some rubbish in a bin.
That would be bad enough, just the sheer banality of it, but they couldn't resist this:
Earlier this week, Boyle reportedly burst into tears while visiting the US for a whistlestop tour.
The star has previously suffered from stress and checked into the Priory clinic for treatment shortly after she shot to fame.
Ah, lovely. There we are: waiting for the tears, the breakdown, the stress and the problems so they can make fun out of her, just as they did when she was admitted to the Priory. Doesn't it make you proud of the British media?
This ^ is a truly wondrous thing. How to convey the sense of a new president overcoming his difficulties, being scrutinised by one of the most brilliant political minds of our time? It's a tough job, I'll give you that, but the graphics guys at Sky have really pulled out all the stops for this one.
For a start, how to represent the United States of America? That's not easy. How to convey the idea of such a vast country, from Alaska to Florida, from Hawaii to Maine? Many of us would just give up the ghost right there and then, but not Sky. No, they've gone for the 'wobbly bit of green grass with a couple of trees here and there' representation. Beautiful. I think you have to take your hat off to them.
How, then, to get across the fact that the weak, powerless, struggling president has plenty of things to concern him, while the colossus of television politics towers over him in judgement? Brilliantly - by selecting a photo of Obama looking down at something we can't even see (presumably signing something or scribbling "What the hell is that Boulton guy up to? He's at least three times as big as me. Is he a giant?" on a post-it and frantically waving it under the nose of his closest adviser), thereby conveying pensiveness at the impending verdict, and a super-smug "Yes, yes, it's me all right" pose from Our Hero, his lovely face gazing out at us, the viewer, while that shifty Obama character - is his mind on higher things, or is he just unable to look us in the eye? - can only sheepishly look downwards.
Hmm. A lot of us would have marvelled at such a brilliantly iconic piece of art and left it at that. Oh no. Not for the rococo designers of Sky, and good on them for carrying on and keeping going long after most people would have left it at that. Because there's not just two giant men - one more giant and important than the other, of course - on the wobbly White House lawn. No, there are TANKS! A POWER STATION! FOR SALE SIGNS THAT MAKE IT LOOK LIKE THE WHITE HOUSE IS UP FOR GRABS! A BLOODY GREAT BIG AMERICAN FLAG! And there, up in the Sky, TWO SOCKING MASSIVE PLANES!
All that said, the logo is the best thing about Obama 100, given that it's written by Boulton. Random quote:
Obama is marking Earth Day today by visiting a rust belt plant in Newton Iowa which has now been converted to manufacturing towers for wind turbines.
More - much more - is available on the website.
In a way I could kind of understand the fuss about the Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross nonsense. There was a sliver of a real actual story in there, hiding underneath all the bollocks. A waffer-thin story, mind you, but there was actually some real semblance of something having happened there, regardless of the whipping-up of frenzy and blather that resulted from it.
But let me tell you what I've just seen on television. On a real television, on a national station. I've seen Kay Burley interviewing the entire eastern seaboard of Willie Thorne* about John Sergeant pulling out of Strictly Come Dancing.
To recap: a national news presenter was seriously interviewing an ex snooker player about a man who was taking part in a reality TV show and who is now not taking part in a reality TV show.
What exactly the bastard cunting fuck is going on?
Is it a bit of froth about nothing to try and salve the credit crunch-stricken masses? Is it an easy lead for a desk-chained hack to cobble together at a time when reporting resources are constantly being eroded and ever more journalists are turning up at the Job Club and discovering there's bugger all you can do with a qualification in the world's least trusted profession and 100wpm shorthand (or no shorthand at all in some cases, naming no names Andrew Gilligan)? Is this just another excuse to try and attack the BBC, the tabloids and other news media having failed to get their pound of flesh over the Ross/Brand load of old cobblers? Does it represent a new nadir for news, at a time when the economy is turning into donkey-doo and thousands are being made redundant? Or is there simply no news worth reporting today?
* I once saw a pair of Willie Thorne branded socks for sale in Weston-super-Mare's covered market. I didn't buy them and have always regretted it. So let this be a warning to you - should you ever see clothing endorsed by balding moustachioed snooker commentators, don't think twice; seize the opportunity and treasure your lambswool delights.
Jowly Captain Mainwaring of UK politics Gordon Brown has said "Ooh, isn't it rotten that bankers have done bad things?"
Brown: Punish The Risky Bankers
Oh? And how will you do that?
Following the Government's massive £500bn bail out for the banks,
Whoa! Hang on a tick? Remember yesterday, when every single newspaper went with the news of a £50billion bailout? Where the fuck has the extra £450billion come from all of a sudden? Did they all forget an extra 0 on the end of the figures? Whoops, forgot about the extra £450billion, is that all right? It's not as if it makes any difference, is it?
the Prime Minister spoke of his anger at the way some in the City had behaved. "I am angry at irresponsible behaviour," he told GMTV.
Oh well, I bet the bankers are shitting themselves right now at that thunderous indignation from Tartan McBuckfast. If you do something bad... I'll... I'll... well I'll... I'll get angry! And then what will you do? You'll have to deal with me being angry about things! Ha ha! And then you will feel truly punished and very, very sorry about what you have done. Basically, Brown is employing the Naughty Step for city traders who have (quite legally, let's not forget, because a lack of regulation is what successive governments have believed to be the right thing) fucked up the savings, pensions and mortgages of everyone in the land.
"Our economy is built around people who work hard, who show effort, who take responsible decisions, and whether there is excessive and irresponsible risk-taking, that has got to be punished."
If only there was someone powerful enough to punish the irresponsible! We could give him a special job title, and he could live in a special house, and he could be in charge of things, like making laws and so on. Oh, but if only we could find such a person...
Besides, why punish people retrospectively for not having broken any laws? It's all very well wringing your hands about it now, but for years Brown and his mates dismissed any idea of regulating the markets as Jurassic leftie nonsense that had long since been disproved. So if he's going to start looking for anyone who's been 'irresponsible', it might be the people who were 'irresponsible' enough to allow the City to be as irresponsible as they liked without interference or punishment of any kind. Again, if only we could find the person who did that. He may have had a special job title, and lived in a special house in a special place, and once a year he may have tried to do stuff about the financial system... oh if only we could find the culprit and take him to task...
It raises a couple of issues. The first is that the children themselves chose to name the bear Mohammed but escaped punishment. Why? Are they deemed not to have the mens rea to have committed such an act? If not, then why should the teacher have to take the responsibility on their behalf? Is her only crime here cultural ignorance? Or rather, ignorance of extremism?
One thing that has always amazed me about the Muslim extremists is their insecurity when it comes to the prophet. Why feel the need to stick up for someone like him? Don't you have a god to do that sort of thing? And why shouldn't his name be used in such a way? People name their children Mohammed; why shouldn't a child name a teddy bear Mohammed? I think it's missing the point, perhaps wilfully so, to claim it is 'making an image of the prophet'; it's just giving an inanimate object, albeit one with eyes, a nose and a mouth, a name - that's the top and bottom of it, and we really shouldn't think the children wanted the bear to be Mohammed himself. Just to have the same name.
As ever, it's the innocence of children that gets trampled by the herd of religious nuts. The kids surely saw nothing wrong in naming the bear, much as someone might name a child; perhaps they were, in a formative way, thinking about the naming process for a child when they become adults. Children don't see a minefield of upsetting the prophet or upsetting their religion; names are just names, and mimicking behaviour is harmless to them. The kids didn't see why it was wrong.
I don't really venture over to Sky News, knowing who owns it, but I dipped a toe in earlier - and I might come back after being pleasantly surprised to see this little nugget uncovered by their reporter:
There is no specific, or explicit ban in the Koran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed - be they carved, painted or drawn. However, chapter 42, verse 11 of the Koran does say: "[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth... [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him."
Now that's interesting, isn't it? It's not even in the Koran, just in an
extreme interpretation of it. Nice work from Sky to go to the original source material rather than just interviewing a wingnut and asking their views - no wonder, with that sort of journalism, that Rupert Murdoch wants to squash their independence and make them more like Fox.
One thing that Richard Dawkins, love him or hate him (and you'll no doubt have guessed my stance by the title of the blog) makes a very good point about is the religionisation of children. He has made a very powerful case for we adults not to label children as Christian or Muslim or Jewish children, but children of Christian parents; children of Muslim parents; children of Jewish parents. It's a distinction that is very important, and right. This story itself is pretty good evidence that children aren't born religious and can exist to a young age without being imprisoned by the tenets of their culture and superstition.
So when the BBC drone says
One Muslim teacher at the independent school for Christian and Muslim children, who has a child in Ms Gibbons' class, said she had not found the project offensive.
That's just plain wrong, I'm afraid. The children are no more Christian or Muslim than I am. The children are just children: they may learn about Mohammed the prophet or Jesus Christ in their religious studies, just as hopefully they will learn about biology and chemistry in their science classes. But they are not Muslims and Christians. Not yet. One day they may decide to be, as is their right and their free choice, one hopes, but not yet.