Mark Steel takes on the British press—or, more specifically, The Sun, a prominent, Murdoch-owned tabloid—for its efforts to bring down Prime Minister Gordon Brown:
You can forgive Mrs Janes anything, given the circumstances, but the Sun has made a front-page issue of this spelling business, claiming his tatty handwriting proves his lack of concern for soldiers, which seems a slight exaggeration. They might have had a point if he’d sent his condolences in the form of a limerick. Or if he’d sent a text with a grumpy face on it. Or if he’d reversed the charges when he made the call. But in the list of priorities when dealing with a war, accurate punctuation must come a fair way down. This is why, as far as I know, none of the First World War poets wrote “Worse than the crash of the shells sent to bomb us, General Haig writes a dash where he ought to put commas.”
Even so, the front page, then two more pages, then a page of the whole conversation, then a cartoon are dedicated to this story, and you can hear the whole taped call on a website. Tomorrow there’ll be an advert with a picture of a pouting woman in a nurse’s outfit, saying: “Ring 0898 600 500 to hear Naughty Naomi read out the whole letter with spicy spelling.”
The Sun has declared Mrs Janes “Mum at War,” and the poor woman is their weapon for the week for belittling Brown. If she’s not careful they’ll tie her into a deal like a record company, and she’ll be barred from displaying any grief or anger anywhere except by a Sun reporter, who will have full exclusive rights to print them, mash them into a dance track or whatever they fancy.
Yet strangely, they were the most enthusiastic supporters of the war in Afghanistan, even depicting politicians who opposed the war as wobbling jellies. You’d think that it might have occurred to them that this could involve an element of danger, what with wars in Afghanistan tending to fall a bit short when it comes to health and safety.
So now they protest the reason for the deaths is the lack of helicopters and suitable jackets, but they could suggest another method which could radically reduce the risks, which is to no longer fight the war at all, the major success of which has been to give Afghans the democratic right to not to vote for a corrupt leader in a fiddled election that’s re-run and cancelled.
I don’t know what to say. This whole thing seems so foreign. After all, we Americans don’t have a similar experience. You know, a news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch in permanent campaign mode against political figures they don’t like? Politics may make strange bedfellows, but it also can define the idea of cognitive dissonance.