How the Daily Mail responds to people who don't toe the line

Remember Julie Spence?  She's the Chief Constable and tabloid darling who got acres of fawning coverage in the Mail for speaking about how immigration strained the police in Cambridgeshire.  In 2007 and 8, she was at the centre of stories like 'Mass migration and a 'fractured' Britain', 'Police force spending over £1 million a year on interpreters due to rise in migrant workers', 'Immigrant motorists fuelling rise in road crashes, says police chief', 'Sex-trafficking soars with at least 100 brothels in Cambridgeshire alone', 'Chief constables called to crisis summit with Jacqui Smith on immigrant crimewave', 'Commentary: The facts behind crime and migration', 'Police chief calls for more cash to fight migrant crime despite official report claiming there isn't a problem', 'Extra funds promised by Government to help police deal with rising immigration levels', ''Economic downturn could spark ethnic tensions', says police chief', 'Mass immigration to blame for knife culture, chief constable warns' and 'It's NOT racist to tell the truth about immigration and crime, says leading police chief'.

Phew!  That's a lotta coverage. 

It's not the end of it either.  She featured in lots of other stories too, like ' 'We don't even know how many migrants there are in Britain', says minister' and 'Peterborough: A city crumbling under pressure from immigrants'. 

The adoration of the Mail reached a crescendo in 'Woman police chief to apply for top Scotland Yard job', which, in an ecstactic reverie, describes her as 'independant minded'  'prepared to confront uncomfortable truths' in the face of political correctness and, perhaps most importantly for the Mail, married.  And therefore not a lesbian.  And therefore worthy of support.  Spence hadn't even decided whether she was going to apply for the job yet.

But something has made the Mail go sour on its darling.  Since last July, Spence has only featured in four stories; 'Police under fire for spending £82,000 on self-help guru to stop officers moaning', 'We're sorry, police tell nurses threatened with rape after taking FOUR HOURS to respond to 999 calls', 'Judge blasts 'lamentable' police who took ELEVEN hours to respond to teenager's rape claim', and yesterday's 'Don't expect us to attend every 999 call... says chief constable whose force finds cash to run police dog blog'.  Four negative stories since last July - two in the last week.

There must be other poor 999 response stories from different forces that the Mail has decided not to cover, and it's unlike the Mail to report negative things about its heroes at all.  Even if this is an unusual number of mistakes by Cambridgeshire, how difficult would it be to fit this in with its existing coverage and prevailing anti immigrant hysteria?  "Now police force that highlighted the cost of immigrant crime unable to answer 999 calls" would be the sort of story James Slack could write in his sleep.

So, what gives?  There are probably a few things contributing.  When the Mail loved Spence, the main moral panic was knife crime, and the paper hadn't yet had to cut back on its anti Eastern European campaign after the complaint from the Federation of Poles in Great Britain.  Spence's comments were a perfect fit for both of these.  The best example is probably 'Mass immigration to blame for knife culture, chief constable warns'.  The current crime panic in the press is about being able to defend yourself from criminals.  Useless police forces who take ages to arrive fit much better into that narrative.

But that's not the most important thing that could have turned off the Mail.  In November 2008, Spence gave an interview to the Guardian in 'Repeat offender'.  The interview is overwhelmingly negative about Spence's comments in the tabloids, but this is the passage I'm most interested in:
"Yes, there was a rise in crime but it was proportionate to the number of new migrants," she says now. "It was no more or less than you'd expect with any rapid movement of people into the country." If these comments were reported at the time, they were lost in the frenzy caused by her descriptions of Iraqi Kurds bringing knife crime to Peterborough and Lithuanian blood feuds triggering murders in Wisbech. That could be the fault of the media, or of Spence for not explaining herself clearly enough.
Here, she says something a bit less sensationalised about the rise in crime than we'd see in the Mail.  Spence's words were always beefed up and exaggerated - I covered the story about Iraqi Kurds and knife crime in 'Truth and knives' and 'What a difference a year makes'.  It really had twisted Spence's words and made it not only look as though she'd said something she hadn't, but at first glance it also made it seem she'd actually written the story herself.

Mark Pack extensively quoted the Guardian interview on his blog, wondering whether Spence had whipped up fears deliberately or been the victim of tabloid misreporting.  I think we might have our answer.  The extensive coverage by the Mail seems to have stopped around the time of the Guardian interview, which suggests that Spence stopped feeding the tabloids with easy to misrepresent quotes around the same time.  That must have upset people at the Mail a bit.  But, like with Columbo, there's just one more thing.

Mark Pack's blog post was bout Julie Spence joining the Press Complaints Commission less than three weeks ago.  Two of our negative stories come after that, and six months after the last time the Mail mentioned her at all.  The most negative one - that mentions Spence in the headline, has the Home Affairs Editor in the writer's chair, most openly prods readers for an opinion and completely forgets previous admiration for straight talking, is the latest.  After her appointment to the PCC.

The PCC website quotes Spence on her appontment as saying:
"Throughout my career in the police service, I have seen first-hand what it is like for ordinary members of the public who find themselves caught up in the media spotlight, or subject to media scrutiny. I have been impressed by the proactive work that the PCC does with vulnerable people, and am looking forward to contributing to the work of the PCC as it continues to make rulings which balance rights and freedoms with wider responsibilities".
Ah.  Balancing freedoms with wider responsibilities and knowing what it is like for ordinary members of the public, from someone who was extensively misquoted by the Mail and seems to have stopped feeding it stories.  Now we have a couple of negative stories - three if you count the separate story about the dog blog linked to from the latest one - and all in the space of three weeks.

Will anybody give me odds on Julie Spence having made decisions at the PCC that Paul Dacre doesn't like?


Mark Pack said...

Good analysis. Both depressing (if there's been such a cynical u-turn in media attitudes) but also possibly promising (if that's been triggered by having a new PCC member doing a good job).

claude said...

Confirmation of the poisonous joke that goes by the name of 'Daily Mail'.

Brilliant piece, by the way.