FRIDAY, 18 MAY 2012
Lest we forget…
It won't make the Bureau popular but before we all start getting hung up on a version of events going, more or less, the Sun and the News of the World, both owned by Murdoch, immediately "adopted" the McCanns – for whatever reason – and set in train the crazily uncritical media support that drowned out factual analysis of the case, we need to pause. However attractive such an Answer To It All may be we could be kidding ourselves.
The Bureau has always contrasted the performance of the "overground" media in the case with that of the Internet where, we felt, among the clamour of different voices it was possible to read another side of the story. That, certainly, was not the case on the overground: while readers' comments carried some telling criticisms there was the well known similarity of view about almost all the writing and television reportage of the case.
At least, that was so in late June/July 2007 when the original Bureau first took an interest in the case and neutral sites such as the Mirror forum provided an invaluable research tool for those interested in the affair.
But what about before that? We know that the overground had gone slightly mad from about two days after the disappearance onwards. What was the Net, which wasn't under the control of anyone, doing then to keep it honest?
Well let's have a look with someone who knows, Emma Brockes of the London Guardian, writing on May 19 2007. Here are some excerpts from an article we hadn't seen before.
"…if you went online yesterday, seeking an outlet for your sympathy, you would have been confronted by a confusing and in some quarters horrifying array of options… dozens of sites and subsites that have sprung up in the last fortnight - findmaddie.com, help_find_madeleine_mccann.com, givemaddieback.com …of such breadth and randomness that by yesterday morning, the appeal set up by the McCann family… was forced to identify itself as The Official Website".
"There are 90 different Madeleine-related groups on Facebook alone, circulating her photo to user communities of between six and 76,000 members….the official website has registered 60m hits and posters of her have been seen in campsites as far away as Bulgaria, translated into local languages via appeals put out by bloggers…"
"When…Sarah Payne and James Bulger disappeared, there weren't the online communities available to power this kind of grassroots response, and for that response to have a knock-on effect in loftier quarters. But that doesn't quite explain the tone of the outpourings….homemade video tributes to Madeleine, posted on YouTube to soundtracks by Christina Aguilera and N Sync, and indistinguishable in tone and relish from the regular pop-star fan tributes… mutterings that this is a post-Diana thing…but much of the response seemed to have more to do with the News of the World's erstwhile anti-paedophile campaign, and the general hysteria that governs "right" versus "wrong" parenting.
"On the parenting websites, so riven along sectarian lines, here at least was something everyone could get solidly behind…No wonder the stampede to share the McCanns' pain has been so thunderous - although before the family's impeccable credentials became clear, one imagines there was a conflict in some tabloid newsrooms over Parents who left their kids alone while they had dinner, versus Evil Paedophile Under the Bed, he's coming for your kids next."
Not much about the Net being full of "haters", is there?
In fact it seems that there was much more pro-McCann bedlam on the Net early on, both in word-count and in readership ("60 million hits") than there was in the wicked overground media! And if you check the EMM news explorer site you will see that the really hefty propaganda for the McCanns on the overground hadn't yet begun: the outpourings on the Net were not triggered by Rebekah Brooks-type manipulation but based on the reasonably factual early agency reports and, most significantly, the claims, exhaustively described in the Cracked Mirror, of the parents themselves using their Team amplifiers.
The Bureau has always described the affair as a "psychological" phenomenon. That means roughly – because of course we're still learning – that the answer to the mystery underlying the Madeleine McCann Affair – as against the mystery of the child's fate itself – lies in the much deeper mystery of the way ordinary people perceive and behave. In this case that means the way that the great majority of the public reacted to the news that they read and accepted at the beginning, and not in any Sheepgate machinations of individuals, be they Brooks, Brown, Mitchell or Murdoch, all of whom, it now appears, were following that public mood, not creating it.
As we've suggested before, however unpalatable it is to accept, nobody but the people created the invulnerability of the McCanns, just as nobody but the people created the flower-strewn martyrdom of Princess Diana. As in that sad case a large section of the British public – including editors and ministers, who are human beings as well – spontaneously poured out immeasurable torrents of emotion, or some as-yet-unidentified variant of emotion, onto the couple, and instead of scattering flowers, they followed up by hurling trunk-loads of money that the parents – Oh horrible irony – have used against us ever since.
As things stand the broader situation is now extremely hopeful: the interrupted investigation has finally resumed and the absurd media birthday jamboree is unlikely to have had the slightest effect on police activity, despite Redwood's inexperience with the media and Third Man Mitchell's rather tired gimmicks. In tandem we are watching the gradual destruction of the UK media players who, though they didn't initiate the lies – the McCanns and their Woolfall-taught team did that – treated us as mere counters in the various Great Games they were playing at our expense. Even the Portuguese, with more excuse than most to fear a whitewash, must have had some of their fears alleviated recently as the legal system has ground on, slowly but finely.
But if we're really interested in where the truth lies we should surely be cautious in pinning the blame for the origins of the affair on such easy targets as M/S Brooks or her senile employer. Time has brought the shadowy Master Manipulators of the Universe, one by one, starting with Gordon Brown, into the light, revealing them – disappointingly? – as rich but otherwise very ordinary people without the power to protect even their own reputations, let alone those of others. The Bureau could, of course, be completely wrong but we still think it does no harm to consider the role of the British public – Us – in making the McCanns so invulnerable.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate.
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