I have to admit that this story kind of passed me by yesterday. I heard about it on the radio, was surprised that the BBC led their bulletins on this for most of the day, but essentially dismissed it as more biased tabloid nonsense from Murdoch. When I woke up this morning to find that the Sun was still setting the BBC’s news agenda, and that they’d raised the stakes by publishing a phone conversation between Gordon Brown and Jacqui Janes, I started to become increasingly angered by the whole feeding frenzy. The icing on the cake was when I learned that the Daily Mail’s turd-in-residence Richard Littlejohn had thrown his oar in.
I have to ask: “What the hell is going on here?”. I’m not a Brown enthusiast and I’m not a Labour supporter (not these days, anyway) but the Sun’s nasty, exploitative coverage of this story makes me want to throw a protective arm around the Prime Minister. Yes the letter was a bit scruffy, yes there were errors in it, but let’s not forget that Gordon Brown sat down to hand-write a letter of condolence to a grieving mother. What he didn’t do was set out to find the best way to offend, upset or insult Mrs Janes, although by the tone of some of the coverage you could be forgiven for thinking that.
I don’t blame Jacqui Janes for any of this. She has lost her precious son fighting in a war that many of us are struggling to understand. Surely there can be nothing worse than burying a child. The villain of the piece has to be the Sun ‘newspaper’ for exploiting a grieving mother to give a half-blind man a kicking over his handwriting, because that’s what this boils down to. Murdoch’s agenda is clear: “Back the Tories (because it looks like they might win) and stick the knife into the one-eyed Scotsman at every opportunity”. Nothing short of disgusting.
The other question that must be asked is where are the other party leaders? Why haven’t David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Alec Salmond et al stepped forward to say that, while they may have many issues with the government’s handling of the Afghan War, this kind of personal assault on the Prime Minister is unacceptable? Cameron, of course, wants to consummate his relationship with Wapping but that is no excuse for staying silent.
What is encouraging is that it looks like this may be backfiring on the Sun. Contributors to the breakfast television and radio news programmes seemed to be broadly of the opinion that Brown’s mistake was an honest one and that the Sun’s behaviour was reprehensible, and other blog posts from people who are not natural allies of the Prime Minister (I’ve picked out Caron Lindsay and Sara Bedford, but there are many others) show that there aren’t many outside of the Murdoch empire who want to play party politics with this one.
Having said that, I don’t for one minute think that this will be the last piece of vile gutter journalism from that quarter between now and the election, and I don’t suppose this will be the last time the broadcast media lurches after Murdoch’s agenda without stopping to consider what should really be making the news. But I hope Gordon Brown is undeterred from personally writing to the bereaved and I also hope, when the tabloid vultures have stopped circling, that Jacqui Janes will come to understand that the Prime Minister made an honest, human mistake.