Anorak News | Madeleine McCann: WMDs, Princess Diana, Credit Crunch, England And Bingo

Madeleine McCann: WMDs, Princess Diana, Credit Crunch, England And Bingo

by | 24th, October 2008

MADDIE WATCH – Anorak’s at-a-glance guide to press coverage of Madeleine McCann, Kate McCann and Gerry McCann

NEW STATESMAN: “The Real McCann Scandal”

What scandal? A child went missing. She is still missing. And that’s it. Although after a year and a half of breathless reporting not all newspapers can agree on where she went missing from.

Brian Catchcart details how the British press set out to systematically destroy the parents of Madeleine McCann.

All the press? Surely not…

You may have missed it: at the High Court in London on 15 October, Express Newspapers agreed to pay £375,000 in libel damages to the so-called “Tapas Seven”, the friends of Kate and Gerry McCann who were with the couple in Portugal when Madeleine McCann disappeared.

Missed it? Who reads the New Statesmen who could have missed that news, it being on every news bulletin? Read about it here.

The Tapas Seven victory, it seems, was treated as a minor footnote to a burned-out story; few people were likely to be interested.

Not on Anorak. But why would the Sangria 7 be a big splashy story? A child is missing and libelling the friends of the parents is not the main story, is it? The story, such as it is, is about a missing child.

Well, they ought to be interested, because the McCann case was the greatest scandal in our news media in at least a decade – an outrage far worse than the Andrew Gilligan “sexed-up dossier” affair of 2003 – and those responsible are now slinking away almost unpunished.

The dodgy dossier, with its links in a paper chain to an iffy war and the deaths of Dr Kelly and Our Boys in Iraq, is a less great scandal than newspapers sensationalising on a single thread story of a missing child? So says this left-wing, Labour-supporting organ.

The editors and proprietors of the papers responsible for the great balloon of speculative nonsense that was the McCann story had the power to kill off discussion of what went wrong in the press, and they used it. When their balloon burst, they simply began pretending it had never existed.

They moved on to another story. Some papers – the Express being the chief culprit – were simply sued and paid up, or settled out of court. The McCanns won money for their cause, and the story once more featured in the national press.

Not one editor and, so far as I know, not one reporter has lost his or her job or even faced formal reprimand as a result of the McCann coverage.

Daily Express editor Peter Hill has left the Press Complaints Commission. If anyone knows a reporter who got a bollocking do tell us.

Catchcart then plays the most reaching game of Tabloid Bingo we’ve seen for a while:

Our national press is unforgiving when things go wrong, and the problem doesn’t have to be as apocalyptic as the banking crisis.

Credit Crunch and Our Maddie.

Ask Steve McClaren, pilloried so comprehensively for his performance as England manager that he now coaches at a small club in the eastern Netherlands.

In-ger-land and Our Maddie.

Ask Sir Ian Blair, the former Commissioner of the Met, whose scalp was demanded by most of the right-wing press even though crime figures were improving.

Menezes and Our Maddie.

Ask the two BA executives who had to go after the disastrous opening of Heathrow’s Terminal Five (Willie Walsh, their boss, survived a clamour of calls for his own resignation).

Big business and Our Maddie.

Ask, indeed, the long line of government ministers from Charles Clarke back to Cecil Parkinson and beyond, who have been ordered out of office by editors and leader writers whose high expectations they failed to satisfy.

Politics and Our Maddie.

If anything like the same standards were applied to the people running national newspapers, at least three or four of them would have been dispatched to their nearest jobcentres months ago for their conduct in the McCann coverage.

What is the job of newspaper editors? To sell newspapers? Does Madeleine McCann sell newspapers? Is it bingo yet?

Very few stories have commanded such intense public interest since the death of Princess Diana.


No explanation has emerged besides the obvious one: that this was all done to sell newspapers.

(We have has one debate, though.)

Now we’re getting somewhere. Do you have to buy newspapers? Do you have to buy newspapers as you would have to go to war, use money or have elected leaders? Cathcart has made his point. He wants answers. He now asks:

Perhaps this judgement is harsh.

Now we’re getting somewhere. (How many words to go. Ed?)… And what of the punishments?

The sums are far below the levels that might alter behaviour in Fleet Street; indeed, editors laugh off such penalties when, as in this case and in the recent Max Mosley sadomasochist sex scandal, they can be set against extra copies sold.

Indeed, the fines are not all that much for national newspapers to stand. So says Cathcart who has just told us:

If it didn’t add sales, then at least it helped a paper compete with other titles doing the same thing.

Did sales go up when Madeleine McCann was on the front page? In his piece on the weakness of newspaper reporting Cathcart does not say…

But, then, Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University.

Madeleine McCann – Still missing

Posted: 24th, October 2008 | In: Madeleine McCann, Reviews Comments (161) | TrackBack | Permalink