Posts Tagged ‘Fleet Street’

In This Fortnight’s Private Eye: Daily Mail Journalists Lurking Outside Hospital

December 10, 2014

The ‘Street of Shame’ column in this week’s Private Eye for 12th-19th December 2014 reports that staff at St. George’s Hospital, Tooting, discovered a photographer with a long lens camera hiding in the bushes near Accident and Emergency. When he was asked what on Earth he was doing by hospital security, he replied that he was working for the Daily Mail. Janet Tomlinson, the Mail’s associate picture editor, confirmed this, when the hospital contacted her. She explained that the Mail had sent out photographers all over the country to snap ‘party people’. This means drunks about whom the Mail could publish long rant about how they were wasting NHS time and resources. According to the Eye, the hospital was spectacularly unimpressed by this and the Mail’s attitude, and threw the snapper off the premises on the grounds that the hospital was non-public regarding patient confidentiality.

Fleet Street as a very long and dishonourable history of violating the privacy and sanctity of hospitals. Either the Sun or the News of the World, as I recall, sent two of their journalists to burst into the hospital room where Gorden Kaye, the star of the WW II sitcom, ‘Allo, ‘Allo, was recovering following being struck down in the gales of 1989. As ‘Allo, ‘Allo featured the sort of bawdy innuendo common to a lot of the series written by Perry Croft, like Are You Being Served, one of the journos involved thought it would be a jolly lark to wave a cucumber around.

The press also burst into the hospital room of Russell Harty, when the BBC chat show host was dying of an AIDS-related illness. Even after they were thrown out and physically barred from the premises, they still continued to invade the privacy of the dying man by renting a room in the house opposite and snapping him through the window.

Recently I’ve posted a few pieces from Pride’s Purge, in which Tom Pride has described his own harassment by Mail journalists, who have tried to disclose his secret identity and threatened his friends. Just this week the good satirist has posted pieces about his complaint to the Daily Mail about their failure to protect adequately the identity of two children the Mail featured in a story about a family of ‘benefit scroungers’, who nevertheless still managed to spend £1,500 on Christmas. This was, of course, another hate piece on the unemployed and desperate. Given the tenor of the article, it was no surprise to read the remarks of another commenter on Tom Pride’s article that it had originally been written by the Sun, and the interview with the family had been obtained by deception. The family had been persuaded to give the interview, believing it would be a more neutral story about people on benefits and low incomes nevertheless finding ways to celebrate Christmas with style.

Tom Pride’s complaint about the newspaper was in part provoked by the outrageous news that Paul Dacre, the foul-mouthed editor of the Mail, is now chairman of IPSO, the government body regulating press conduct. This reminds me of the joke in the Walter Matthau/ Jack Lemon comedy, The Front Page, about a journalist trying to track down and interview an escaped prisoner in the Chicago in the 1930s. Lemon plays the journalist hero, with Matthau as his sleazy, amoral editor. One of the final jokes in that movie is that Matthau’s character then goes on to become a lecturer in journalistic ethics at Harvard.

We’re in pretty much the same situation here, with Dacre as head of IPSO. Only unlike the great comedies made by the Hollywood duo, that ain’t no laughing matter.


Michael Bakunin on Privilege, and the Modern Privileged Hatred of the Working Class

March 14, 2014

Owen Jones devotes a whole chapter in his book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012) to the way the media has also contributed to the demonization of the working class as feckless, drunken, drug-addicted promiscuous and violent wasters. He quotes expressions of such class, and also racial prejudice towards the White working class, not only from Right-wing columnists, such as James Delingpole, Amanda Platell and Janet Daley, but also Liberal anti-racists such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. He quotes Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel on the very narrow class basis of the journalists now sneering at the underprivileged and the working class, stating

As Rachel Johnson (editor of the Lady and sister of Boris Johnson) puts it: ‘What we’re having is a media which is run by the middle classes, for the middle classes, of the middle classes, aren’t we?’ She is spot on. The journalists who have stirred up chav-hate are from a narrow, privileged background. Even papers with overwhelmingly working-class readerships join in the sport. Kevin Maguire told me of a Sun away day in which all the journalists dressed up as chavs. Chuckle at their venomous columns by all means, but be aware that you are revelling in the contempt of the privileged for the less fortunate. In the current climate of chav-hate the class warriors of Fleet Street can finally get away with it, openly a flagrantly: caricaturing working-class people as stupid, idle, racist, sexually promiscuous, dirty, and fond of vulgar clothes. Nothing of worth is seen to emanate from working class Britain. (p. 119).

He then goes on to describe how such hatred and contempt for ‘chavs’ has become an amusing pastime for the privileged members of the Middle Classes, including Prince William, at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

This chav-hate has even become a fad among privileged youth. At universities like Oxford, middle-class students hold ‘chav bops’ where they dress up as this working-class caricature. Among those mocking the look was Prince William, one of the most privileged young men in the country. At a chav-theme fancy dress party to mark the end of his first term at Sandhurst, he dressed in a loose-fitting top and ‘bling jewellery’, along with the must-have ‘angled baseball cap’. But when the other cadets demanded he ‘put on a chavvy accent and stop speaking like a Royal’, he couldn’t do it. ‘William’s not actually the poshest-sounding cadet, despite his family heritage, but he struggled to pull off a working-class accent,’ one cadet told the Sun. Welcome to twenty first century Britain, where royals dress up as their working-class subjects for a laugh.

To get a more detailed sense of what the ‘chav’ phenomenon means to young people from privileged backgrounds, I had a chat with Oliver Harvey, an Old Etonian and president of the Oxford Conservative Association. ‘In the middle classes’ attitudes toward what you would have called the working-class, so-called chav culture, you’ve still got to see class as an important part of British life,’ he says. ‘Chav’ is a word Harvey often hears bandied around beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford. ‘You’d think people would be educated here, but it’s still something people find funny.’ Unlike other students, he dislikes the term because of its class meaning. ‘I think it shows a patronizing attitude and is rather offensive. It’s a word used by more fortunate people towards less fortunate people… Unfortunately it’s now a popular term that has been transplanted into people’s everyday consciousness.’

A place like Oxford is fertile ground for chav-hate. Nearly half of its students were privately educated, and there are very, very few working-class people attending the university at all. It helps unlock the truth behind the phenomenon: here are privileged people with little contact with those lower down the scale. it is easy to caricature people you do not understand. And indeed, many of these students owe their place at Oxford to the privileged circumstances that brought them a superior education. How comforting to pretend that they landed in Oxford because of their own talents, and that those at the bottom of society are there because they are thick, feckless or worse.

Bakunin Book Pic

Michael Bakunin: aristocrat and Anarchist revolutionary. Probably wouldn’t have been a fan of David Cameron

All this seems to bear out what the great 19th century Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Michael Bakunin, had to say about the corrupting effects of social privilege:

It is the peculiarity of privilege and of every privileged position to kill the intellect and the heart of man. The privileged man, whether he be privileged politically or economically, is a man depraved in intellect and heart.


IDS: Just about everything about him corroborates Bakunin’s comments on privilege.

Clearly not everyone in the upper or middle classes is a mass of seething hatred and contempt for the working class, despite the efforts of the columnists of the Daily Mail and Telegraph. And very few would wish to see present society destroyed rather than reformed in the wave of apocalyptic violence Bakunin recommended. ‘Even destruction is a creative act’, as he described his attitude to the exploitative state and contemporary society. But it does describe the class attitude, and privileged hatred of the poor and disadvantaged shown by the very upper class members of the Tory front bench. After all, with Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS presiding over an administration determined to destroy the welfare state, reforms that have resulted in as many as 38,000 deaths per year, it’s difficult not believe that Bakunin had a point about the corrupting influence of privilege. This needs changing, and fast. And it must be through the ballot box that such class hatred, oppression and exploitation must be removed.