Wednesday, 19 March 2008

I'm Sorry, So Sorry, Please Accept My Apology...

But journalism is blind, and I was too blind to see....

That's an updated version of the Brenda Lee song that the owner of the Daily Express and the Daily Star is singing today. This morning press baron Richard Desmond's two titles printed "unprecedented" front page apologies for their coverage of Madeleine McCann, the 3-year-old British girl who went missing last year in Portugal. Her parents had sued the papers, arguing that the Express and Star had basically convicted them of killing their daughter then covering up her death.

Of course, it's still possible that they did exactly that. But what both apologies say is that Kate and Gerry McCann are "completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter's disappearance."

The papers' apologies sound like one of those "corrections" in Private Eye: "Like every other English paper, The Daily Bastard may have given the impression that Kate and Gerry McCann were necromancers who had killed their child in a fit of Satanic bloodlust and supped upon her still-warm corpse. We now realise they are, in fact, wonderful, loving parents who only wanted the best for their daughter and that they should be hosting a BBC family holiday travel program. The Bastard regrets the error."

When the rest of my family saw the apologies this morning (after first berating me for buying those papers) each one said, "Oh, so they found her then?" They assumed there had been some resolution to the case. How else would the papers feel so confident to go to press with such a statement (completely innocent)? After all, according to Portuguese authorities the couple are still official suspects.

I'm not saying the McCanns did it, or even that I think they did it. Just that a newspaper should only say as much as it's confident it can say. Of course, if the Express and Star had done that from the start they wouldn't have had to shell out $1 million in damages, money that is going to a "find Madeleine" fund. I don't know what the specific articles that the McCanns complained about said, though I can imagine. There are parts of the British press that exist almost in another universe, newspapers that take a tiny shred of reality and construct a fantastical carapace around it. I admit it's entertaining, and I don't want to sound like one of those prudish press critics who writes as if afflicted with permanent heartburn, but the downside to such sensational coverage is apparent from what is on the front pages of those tabloids today: a total about-face based on no evidence due to the fact that their earlier stories were based on no evidence.

Shaned and Named
I'll write some time soon about a trip I took last week to the impressive offices of the Daily Telegraph. Impressive because of the total integration of Web and newspaper but also because of the physical layout of the newsroom. It's a bit like a zeppelin hangar combined with a Bond villain's lair: huge video screens display the web site, the top Telegraph web stories and various news channels. Desks are arranged in "hub and spoke" fashion. (Here's a YouTube tour.)

Shane is the Telegraph's communities editor, which means he keeps track of the multitude of reader contributions to the web site. The Telegraph has gone into this in a big way and on his blog Shane describes how he got his title.

Let the Sun Shine In
A bunch of great stories today about the McCartneys' divorce settlement, in which we learn that getting $50 million hasn't made Heather Mills any less crazy than she was before she got it. The best headline is in the Sun. Playing off the facts that Heather "Mucca" Mills once posed for nude photos and that the judge called her a liar, the Sun offered an elegant one-word head: "Pornocchio."


mark from alexandria said...

Re: Mucca...yet the crazy parent gets custody. Granted, Sir Paul is "getting on a bit," but is this really the environment in which he expects his youngest to thrive? Oh, I forgot, in the UK, the father is assumed to be the poorer parent almost always. Never have understood that.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

One does not expect tabloids to make fine distinctions but the two in question seem to have done just that in their explanatory apology. They were no doubt advised by the "best" legal minds.