Monday, June 08, 2009

Victim-bashing for pleasure and profit

Call me an irrepressible optimist, or a deluded fool, but each Sunday I approach the papers with hope - that maybe the depths of journalistic integrity were eventually plumbed in the previous week's editions, and that the only way is up. And every week I am wrong. The ethical standards of our papers continue to descend, week by week, into the lair of the Gigantic Squid.

Last week's exemplar of amoral conscience, the paper which outbid all the others in the weekly auction of values, was the Sunday News. Now, I think I need to add a note of explanation here, before we go on. People Like Us do not read the Sunday News. It is a tabloid, produced for the lower orders; We read full-size papers, ones with book sections, over coffee (I only came across yesterday's paper because I popped into Magazzino to browse the latest Artforum, pretentious git that I am). The Sunday News has always been quite decent, ethically, nothing like the Red Tops in dear old Blighty. Not so this week.

Its sole front page story is about the former Minister for Indian Affairs, Captain Richard Worth. The Sunday News has achieved the scoop of an interview with the Captain's daughter, who wore a slinky evening dress for the occasion. And this is what Virginia Worth has to say about the Captain's accuser: "It's a pity [the complainant] has problems and needs help. I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs."

Correct me if I am wrong, but is this not the sort of thing that 14 year-old girls say about their classroom enemies? They think it cunning, smarter than saying "that Bournvita is such as slut, she would go with anyone; and she has thick ankles;" rather, they say "it's a pity Bournvita has problems and I really, honestly hope she gets the help she needs." See, it makes them appear both grown-up and good-hearted, except it does nothing of the kind – anyone can see it is a juvenile ruse; anyone except the Editor of the Sunday News, it would seem.

But now read on, because also coming to the Captain's aid is none other than Ms Bridget Saunders, former gossip columnist and star of last week's Media7. She turns up all other the place. And what she has to say is that the rumours of her having a sexual relationship with the Captain are quite untrue.

No, me neither. Nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever suggested that the Captain and the woman of letters were entangled; in fact, we all thought he was a pederast.

Anyway, it seems she is blaming the Labour Party for this scandalous gossip which no-one has heard before. She has no evidence for this claim, but why should we care? Of course, the cynics amongst us might think that it is a bit rich of her to complain about gossip, given her former profession. We might also recall those stories about various unnamed celebrities doing named activities with each other. And we might remember fondly those puff-pieces about Nikki Kaye she put in her column on behalf of her friend Mr Slater. Finally, we might consider that the Labour Party probably would rather have had Captain Worth stay around for a bit longer before he was caught, given the value he was giving. Finally again, we might bear in mind that Mr Goff wanted this matter dealt with discreetly and that it was that nice Mr Key who made it all public (after pretending, of course, that the Captain was leaving for personal reasons and doubtless hoping that nobody would notice he had gone).

Anyway, back to the chase. It was, of course, the Sunday News which brought us the news that the Captain would be a witness in the long-awaited cause celebre of Glucina vs Saunders. Nobody knows quite why Rachel Glucina's ghastly mother wants to squander the family fortune on suing Ms Saunders; fewer still care. It has been going on for years now and still it has not reached court. But what we all want to know is what part the Captain will play in this legal drama, and whether he still is in a position to appear as a character witness.

Anyway, that is besides the point. The point is that all this is very grubby, as are most of these people. And once again, it is the victim wot gets the blame. She needs help, in the considered opinion of the Captain's daughter. Whether the Captain's other accuser also needs help is not made clear. It rather puts me in mind of a sex predator formerly of my acquaintance, who on one occasion shrugged his shoulders and wondered aloud why he attracted women who turned out to be mad, women who became all emotional when he ended their brief relationships. Of course, the truth was that he went out of his way to find vulnerable young women whom he could manipulate into bed and then betray. But an important part of his pretence was to blame the victim, to portray her as disturbed and himself as the innocent party. The Worths, Mr Key and others involved have learned the same tactic.

But why did the women in the Captain's life choose the Sunday News for their revelations? Perhaps because the Herald on Sunday usually leads with a tragic car crash, perhaps because all the other weekend papers are besotted with David Bain, the man who did not murder his family beyond reasonable doubt. It is not really a good time to go plugging your story, because Bain's media circus has come to down and it has all the best acrobats. And then there is Susan Boyle and New Zealand's Next Top Model. In fact, with all this going on, there was hardly any room to print any news stories, so both the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday Star Times wisely decided not to.

Perhaps I am being rather harsh on the Sunday News. It is the last of the Sunday papers to run news stories. The other two compete with each other to run the most asinine and irrelevant celebrity tragedies. The SST stories suffer further humiliation by being posted on the Stuff website as "Editor's picks," in turn suggesting that the Editor is a cretin.

But it is funny I mentioned the Editor, one Mitchell Murphy, because he was on Mediawatch yesterday. And here's a funny thing: he is also Editor of the Sunday News. Which is another first for New Zealand: two papers, one Editor, who happens to be a recent arrival from Australia. Maybe there is a story in that.


sas said...

I don't know if you are an irrepressible optimist, or a deluded fool either, I do know the papers in NZ (and Australia) are uniformly puerile. That you spent about 15% of this post setting the context by which you found yourself in posession of a Sunday News made me laugh. I am smugly revelling in this morning's Guardian and yesterday's Observer Magazine, half-read in the bag.

Peter in Dundee said...

Buck up Paul, you might live in Dunedin and have to suffer the news the Oddity feels fit to print. What class 3 at Opoho primary got up to will have a big photo on the front cover.

Mind you print journalism is declining the world over. Here in the UK the self destruction going on over at the Torygraph is spellbinding in its awfulness. That noise you hear is corpses spinning in Highgate Cemetery. I hold no brief for the organ you understand only it used to be fun popping in to revel whenever England lose big in Sport. I did so after they got Clogged at Lords only to find a rambling, incoherent and illiterate comment article.

Michael Atherton in The Times is far too sensible to be very much fun and the Graun's Sport's reporting is awful apart from OBO of course.

BTW what happened to the fonts on this post?

George said...

In Australia, The Age and SMH have some decent feature writers. Otherwise, yes, we are descending on the internet, leaving the host that feeds on us to die.

Tom in Dundee said...

But Peter, judging from the web presence I increasingly think that the oddity is actually about the best paper left in NZ. Given the choice between Stuff's half-witted, semi-literate recycling of overseas celebrity bollocks and the ODT's front page of a lost cat, I'd go for the distressed moggy any day.

Anonymous said...

I finally cancelled my SST the other day. I felt guilty. It was like putting down an old dog but one that had ceased to be of any use and had actually become highly irritating with its constant piddles on the rug and inability to stand up on its own.

The woman on the phone asked me why I wanted to cancel. I muttered something about Michael Laws and the paper's dearth of news or news continuity. I couldn't tell if she typed out what I said or if these were already pre-selected resopnses in a drop-down box on her screen that just required a mouse click.

Giovanni said...

I couldn't tell if she typed out what I said or if these were already pre-selected resopnses in a drop-down box on her screen that just required a mouse click.

Lhaws must have a whole drop down menu all to himself.

George said...

I remember a couple of years ago, flying back to NZ from Sydney. I had an AirNZ flight, and as I walked on they handed me a copy of the Sunday Star Times. I sat down, looked at the cover and very nearly walked right off again,

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I reckon.

What really upsets me is the lack of continuity. Stories with long arcs just aren't followed anymore.

What is Helen Clark up to? Dunno. Her people haven't yet decided to send out press releases saying that Helen Loves Her New Job. So the issue will remain dormant until peolpe decide to make it an issue -- those people not being journalists.

There isn't a single feared journalist in Auckland. Someone who kicks ass and takes names. People who fear his/her phone call.

I've actually had conversations with comms people who agonise over when to tell journalists things -- things that are PUBLIC INFORMATION. Not secret things.

We live in the times of the end.