I can see the Emperor's winky

Kind of the Sun , huh?
In January, I set myself the task of reading every book of recycled Littlejohn columns. I was hoping to spot a through line and work out the odd logic that make the columns fit together. I had kind of lofty hopes that involved the word 'narrative'.

A few weeks ago, I decided to read the Sun every day for a week with something similar in mind. I don't know what I expected to find, but I had a vague idea that the Sun is like the Mail with a sense of humour, softer edges around its xenophobia and less prissiness about showing pictures of tits. Finding out whether this is true was supposed to do something or other. I forget what.

But something happened while I was in the middle of both of these tasks. Although I was finding out some things that I was after, I started to hear a nagging at the back of my mind that grew steadily louder with each page I turned and each crappy article I trudged through until I couldn't ignore it any longer.  It made any enthusiasm I had drain from my body in thick, snotlike ropes.  "Why are you even reading this?" it asked. "This is shit."

And it is. It really, really is. It probably comes as no surprise to most people, but tabloids are crap. They're incredibly pisspoor products whose aura of fucking shitness should overshadow any outrage we feel when we read someone saying something nasty about homosexuals or something pretend about Muslims, or the annoyance that comes with seeing figures you know have been manipulated, because those things are part and parcel of it all. Nobody at these papers gives a flying fuck about the quality of what they put out or the reliability of their analysis. They don't have to. Because, like the bloke at the market who sells you a DVD player that's actually full of old pinball machine parts who's mysteriously disappeared when you go to get your money back I just made up in my head, they don't give a flying one about the bonky load of busted lightbulbs and springs they've sold you as long as you buy it.

My week of reading the Sun came during the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The paper was busy telling us that it was just like Hiroshima and showing us radiation signs and telling us to panic and lying about the British Embassy telling 'Brits' to leave immediately. This was a big, global story and of course the paper was doing a rubbish job of reporting it. But that was just the start of the unadulterated fucking crap the paper had sold me.

In this week, I also learned that David Beckham had ridden a motorbike. Wait, that's not it. This made the papers (and not just the Sun) because he had a bandanna in his pocket. Hang on, that's not quite is just yet. You'll never believe this. The bandanna had a colour on it that might have been pink. And David Beckham is a man! Well push me down the stairs and call my mum a slag. A man with something that might have been pink? They'll be telling us women sometimes wear trousers next.

Other things I learned were that Alex Reid was apparently upset about Jordan giving his watch to her new boyfriend in a story that included pictures of both men with the watch circled for us to see. Except they were clearly different watches. They were different colours, for fuck's sake.

Ashley Cole once went into a nightclub that had a hookah pipe at some unspecified point in time. Umm, thanks, the Sun.

Also, the paper alleged that one of the women who slept with Wayne Rooney had a birthday cake with two women in bed with Shrek wearing a Man United shirt on it. There was another almost identical story about a birthday cake with some old bollocks on it later in the week but I forget what it was now. The proof offered for both of these were that unnamed 'guests at the party' said stuff about them, and there were pictures of the cakes close up that showed nothing around them to prove where they were and gave no sign that some Sun hack hadn't had the cake made themselves and taken a crap picture of them with a cameraphone. Which they obviously wouldn't do because they totally care about boldly reporting the truth about tenuous connections between celebrities and items of confectionery.

The thing is, if you point out just how crap tabloids are, you risk getting yourself called a snob. Who are you to criticise people for wanting to read possibly made up stories about cakes with Shrek on next to a picture of some tits in a national newspaper? You probably hate working class people don't you, you posh wanker. And middle class people too. Look at you, with your airs and graces and education and top 'at and monocle.

Knackers. That's rubbish. The trouble with that argument is that the person calling you a snob for pointing out how crap tabloids are is the one who's decided that tabloid readers (or working/middle class people if they want to pretend that tabloid readers represent a whole class) don't want or deserve anything better. They're the ones defending the practice of selling crap to people under false pretences because that's what they want, made up cobblers and all.  But somehow you're the snob.

This gets even more absurd when the person doing the accusations of snobbery work for these papers. Especially the editors. They've decided that to appeal to their target audience they must reinforce what prejudices it already has at all costs, even if it means deliberately distorting the truth, entrapping unsuspecting victims or making shit up. And they've decided what the prejudices are in the first place.  And this is on top of bunging out any old shite about celebrities' watches and cakes, whether true or not.

The highest paid columnist in the land is so craptacularly substandard that he reproduces fifteen year old myths as truth, mistakes a dog for a woman, says an organisation is responsible for something fifteen-odd years after the it was disbanded and not only can't be bothered to even find out if something has happened or not, but decides to say, "Did this happen? Maybe it did. I don't remember," without breaking his stride and acting as if it didn't anyway. Like a laser guided truthiness machine, that man.  But it doesn't matter.  It's what people want.  Who are you to deny the people their shit sandwich, you ponce?

Last Thursday, former News of the World hack Paul McMullen appeared on 10 O'Clock Live opposite John Prescott to defend his former paper for the phone hacking scandal. He first launched into Prescott for his expenses claims, which is pretty funny. The expenses scandal - the biggest political scandal to surface for years - wasn't revealed as the result of phone hacking. A whistleblower approached the papers with the information. The News of the World turned it down. Too expensive and not enough about footballers and pink cakes, probably. Or tits.  Too complicated for the audience.  You snob.

The actual defence of phone hacking itself was, predictably, that the papers need to be free to do certain underhanded things for truth! and justice! and democracy! and to hold our elected masters to account. That'll be why they targeted Sienna Miller's mum then.

These lofty defences of criminality in the press sound like what would happen if Superman had a breakdown and went on a rampage across Metropolis. Imagine him using his super hearing to snoop on people and his super voice to shout out their secrets, spying on women in the shower with his x-ray vision and blowing his super breath up women's skirts while he rubs his thighs and dribbles super drool all down his 'S' emblem, randomly shouting saucy puns as he goes.

The Mayor of Metropolis calls a meeting and says, "We have to make a tough choice here. Superman must be stopped. It's time to break out our secret supply of Kryptonite and bring him down."

But apparently Metropolis needs Superman. What would happen if there was an alien invasion?  Even though last time aliens tried to invade, Green Lantern took care of it. Superman was busy with his hands down his tights, looking through Lois Lane's bra and making chimp noises.

So yeah. It would be totally fine if the papers occasionally used underhand methods just so they could expose corruption and dishonesty. Except they bloody don't. One of the stories the paper had apparently prepared on the back of phone hacking alleged an affair between Gordon Taylor and his assistant based on the message "thank you for yesterday. You were great." The message actually referred to Taylor speaking at her father's funeral.

Well done, Lumpy!  Give yourself a lolly.

In fact, talking of corruption, the most intriguing recent potential examples is the relationship NoTW may have had with the Metropolitan Police.

There's Rebekah Brooks admitting to the paper paying the police for information. Or 'bribing' if you prefer.  There's the matter of police not questioning Neville Thurlbeck in the original investigation into phone hacking despite having papers marked 'for Neville' among the evidence they'd seized from Glenn Mulcaire and him being the only Neville who worked for News International. Oh, and having his name on the byline of the story about Prince William's leg that kicked the whole affair off, alongside Clive Goodman's, who was being investigated at the time. And was jailed.  At least Thurlbeck has been questioned now.

I won't go into the instances of the paper revealing supportive bullshit that appeared to cover the Met's collective arse when the police have been involved in spectacular fuckups.  Well, not again, anyway.

There's more in the Hugh Grant secretly recorded interview with Paul McMullen in the New Statesman.  It don't look too good.  According to McMullen, "20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms?"  Go and read the whole thing for a clearer idea of what you probably suspected anyway.  (And here's the Mail's take on the interview).

The tragic thing - the thing that all this farting on is leading up to - is that the tabloids (and other papers too, I shouldn't wonder) are nut deep in the sort of scandal that giving them free reign is supposed to protect us from, involving potential police and political corruption, in order to help provide us with a shiny polished turd of a product.  Is it really worth the effort?  David Beckham had something pink!  There's a cake with Shrek on!  Alex Reid had a different watch to someone else, but let's pretend it's the same!  Someone had an affair except they didn't!  Is it true?  Who gives a shit?  Look - Muslims are getting their own Muslim only toilets!

And Richard Littlejohn gets paid rather than paraded through the streets with the word 'BUM' scrawled across his forehead, being blatted in the face with one of those boards you used to rest on your knees in art at school and made to wank for coins.

Realising this, as I did in the middle of reading Littlejohn's books and the Sun, kind of robs the enthusiasm for pointing out dishonesty and mistakes, or trying to work out the logic behind ginormous piles of stinking garbage.  I never even got round to posting about the Sun.  You can only point out the Emperor's winky so many times before it makes you despair of the whole task.

And you can only witness millions of naked people being fleeced by shysters selling them new 'Emperor style' outfits while politicians and police prostitute themselves so the grasping shysters don't say anything nasty about them for so long before you despair of the state of fucking humanity.


Anonymous said...

I like the superman analogy and agree re the loftiness/lowest common denominator point.

The press love sitting on their high horses and using underhand methods to justify some highbrow pursuit of the truth - when in fact, all they're concerned about is a whiff of scandal and whatever celebrity gossip they can get their hands on.

Funny that a profession as "ethical" as journalism has given rise to worlds like "hacks" and "gutter press"

Mark said...

I really feel for you, it must be tough having to look at the tabloids as often as you do. I was in the barbers yesterday, they only had the Express and the Sun. Picked up the Express, thought it might be a laugh. Got to the third page of them perving over Kate Middleton *spit* being thin or something. Just thought "fuck it" and put it down. You sir are a much better man than I ever will be.

As a consolation, this post made me laugh quite a few times. Actual laughing no doubt.

Anonymous said...

God, how spot on and how depressing. I remember a similar feeling during seven years as a news editor; having to read the tabloids every day - and experiencing the horrible sensation of feeling the toxicity levels increasing inside your skull, like huffing slurry.

Anonymous said...

The worst part of that conversation between McMullen and Grant is the part where McMullen admits that Milly Dowler's parents were among the victims of the phone hacking. Not that I think the famous people or politicians 'deserved it' (I certainly don't think that), but that struck me as especially sick.

In any case I agree with you about how depressing it is. Don't ever try doing the same with gossip blogs - I did that, and it drove me nuts. Not just because these people were clearly lying through their teeth and frequently got simple facts about the celebrities they supposedly knew so much about wrong, but because their fans wouldn't listen to reason either.

Anonymous said...

Is there any particular reason why Davey Boy appears to be giving it the Nescafe handshake in the accompanying photo?

Tinderbox said...

"And Richard Littlejohn gets paid rather than paraded through the streets with the word 'BUM' scrawled across his forehead, being blatted in the face with one of those boards you used to rest on your knees in art at school and made to wank for coins."

Beautifully put.

Akela said...

I had a similar moment myself when I got back from holiday last week. 10 days without seeing a newspaper and I happened upon the Express. Oh how wearyingly predictable it all was! It seems like they take the same load of old toss each day and just shuffle a few words around. And somebody somewhere gets paid for this shit. Depressing beyond words.

Howe zat said...

You, sir, are incredible.

Chris Nelson said...

My God Man, you must be a masochist to go through all that! If I had a bonnet I would tip it to you.

The amount of utter wank that tabloids publish is one thing, but as you touch upon, the self important and utterly non-repentant defense for that wank makes the situation far, far worse.

And something that I think bears mentioning as you referred to the Prescott vs McMullen debate last week is that their pathetic defense is SO wafer thin that John Prescott, a man who himself would admit is not a gifted public orator was able to TEAR MCMULLEN TO SHREDS! John Prescott managed to garner more support for himself in that 5-6 minutes than the Labour Party could muster over the entire last 4 years of their time in government. If a so-called professional journalist, someone who is supposed to be a professional communicator comes off that badly, it just demonstrates how much of a seedy, vile, contaminated quagmire tabloid press has become.

Hannah said...

Excellent, excellent post. You have no idea of the number of times I've thought about starting up a media watch blog (inspired of course by the immense quality of this and other existing blogs) but become too depressed at the thought of having to wade through the toxic, amateur, underhand filth that is a tabloid. I am eternally grateful that you take this challenge on for me and for all of your readers.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievably brilliant. The problem Is that my relatives who read the daily mail are people who have been propogandarised, and are completely blinded to anything. When confronted with other facts which may be contrary to daily mail tripe, they burst out with things like "well, what about THIS then?" And then they proceed to tell me facts to back up their argument, often stories on immigration and Muslims often to the point of obsession. The problem is that the facts they use to back up their argument are straight from the headlines of the daily mail. I watched a very good video the other night, which said how the extreme right use the same method of propoganda that the Nazis used against Jews, disabled people, etc.
I hate the daily mail for what it has done to my family.