Girls, pitchforks and media feeding frenzies

I write this piece with a tickle of glee on the inside as I watch the News of the World eat itself and the rest of the media circle to peck over its corpse.

It was not a sudden realisation by the British public that they had been fed crap–vapid crap, dangerous crap, misogynistic crap, downright boring crap–by the News of the World that sparked the fury. It all started with a teenage girl.

I am going to assume that you have read the paper at least once this week, and are aware that the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s voicemail, interfering with a police investigation and giving false hope to her worried family. Even by tabloid standards, this was pretty low, and later revelations in the ensuing feeding frenzy showed it was even worse. It is hardly surprising, though.

It took a tragically murdered young woman to make this story interesting. It took a tragically murdered young woman to make this story front page news. It took a tragically murdered young woman to make people care.

This is not surprising in the slightest, either. We have been trained by our media to react when something bad happens to a young woman. Take, for example, newspaper reporting on drug deaths. Such reporting is horribly distorted, with deaths from “media fad” substances grossly overreported, while those from commonplace, “unsexy” substances go unreported. In particular, drug deaths of teenage girls, are hugely, disproportionately reported [article sadly paywalled]. This distortion has an effect on public opinion.

Young women are “ideal victims”. Due to benevolent sexism, when something bad happens to a young woman, it becomes much more shocking and the ensuing moral outrage will be stronger. The media know this, and use this to push their agendas. They may use it as an excuse to name and shame paedophiles, or to campaign against a drug. A bogeyman becomes infinitely worse when he has harmed a young woman.

Trained by this, it took an old story about a murdered young woman to provoke anger at a tabloid which has behaved exactly as it always has.

I feel a frission of schadenfreude as I watch the News of the World strung up by its own rhetoric. It had spent so long trying to shape our opinions by using young women, that it seems fitting that its own undoing was caused by their involvement in a tragic story.

Do I feel uncomfortable that we are playing the tabloids at their own game, sharpening our pitchforks as we, perhaps, capitalise on a tragedy? Of course.

I do, however, want to see the vile, misogynistic, hate-fuelled rag burn.  I am glad it is by the tools that they sold to us.

3 thoughts on “Girls, pitchforks and media feeding frenzies”

  1. It started with a young woman, but then it pressed three other buttons – children (Soham murders), “innocent” victims and their families (7/7) and heroes (soldiers families). Boom, you’ve got a story that will run and run and run. All they need now is cruelty to animals and they’re completely screwed!

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