Sales pitch

For the better part of Thursday, Iain Dale had much of his fellow Tories on tenterhooks, whilst leaving the edgy Labour cadre feeling rather squeamish.

A “Labour scandal book“, he revealed, hitherto shrouded in complete secrecy, was due to hit the shelves on Friday morning in a manner reminiscent of Edwina Currie‘s 2002 hatchet job on her own party conference. “Woah,” went upper and middle Britain, as did their wives, all their wives’ friends, their families, their families’ servants, and their families’ servants’ tennis partners. If Iain Dale’s got it on his radar, this piece must be the bomb.

But Dale didn’t reveal, and probably didn’t actually know, all that much. Some insider/informant/PR liaison probably trickled a slosh of juicy material onto his desk, enough to titillate him into broadcasting it to the rest of the English-speaking world. Hype and human nature would then run its course.

The Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, were clearly more privy to this “bombshell”. In fact, their reporters were so chuffed they spewed out five glorious pages worth of orgasmic, onanistic spunk. Somewhere in Victoria, they are still basking in that afterglow.

Not the rest of us though. Don’t mean to be daft, but we thought newspapers were supposed to tell us something we don’t already know, least of all juxtapose two ancient, worn-out stories, spice it up to disguise its pungent staleness, and serve it with a typeface big enough to register on Google Earth. A tinge of disappointment, laced with a smattering of bitterness and a pinch of betrayal, was distinctly palpable at breakfast tables across the country that morning.

I was dimly reminded of my Babel experience – a cacophony of (perhaps deliberately) unsynchronised narrative tropes, each churlishly gift-wrapped with voyeuristic exposure and saturated with graphic tragedy, as if to demand unquestioning viewer sympathy, and loosely interlocked by ill-contrived plotlines to finesse them into a singular entity.

It never ends well if I could see myself coerced into tunnel vision, as I did as I took in Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s 143-min psychological dogma, where to stray from the trope would be heresy, even treasonous. As it were, to the Daily Telegraph and its loyal readers, you might as well be the Taliban if you didn’t develop flammable qualities from hearing of how courageous British troops were left out to dry and die in Afghanistan while MPs were rolling in their ill-gained spondulicks.

Now then, before I invite a deluge of vindictive backlash for my Telegraph bashing, allow me to contextualise my indictment of their journalistic failings.

I’m a fan of context. Its inherent beauty lays in its contingency. I can bloody well explain away anything I damn please by filling out the context right. And you will believe me when I say the Telegraph news editors had their heads up their own arses, because when placed in perspective, this MP’s expenses mole bombshell exhibits all the destructive qualities of a comically defective party cracker.

Starting with the inobstrusive, the Guardian and the Independent didn’t raise too many eyebrows when they chose to bury the story – Rusbridger’s crew slapped some bland copy on page 21, while Alton thought it looked better crumpled in the wastepaper basket. One might have had higher hopes on the Times, but James Harding couldn’t bear to let this tosh grow beyond two undignified column inches.

The tabloids had better run with it, you might think. The Sun, especially. What a tie-in this would be to its ‘Don’t You Know There’s a Bloody War On’ campaign. Why, Dominic Mohan ought to have gone into laughing fits when he first saw this on his desk. Well that probably what transpired until he learnt about something a bit more expedient for pushing his rag at the newsagents. Pity, he might have thought to himself, a side column shall suffice.

And so, as it were, the Telegraph led a lonely line on relaying the MP’s expenses mole’s gripping revelations in its irreverently emphatic manner. Editors elsewhere didn’t give it so much as an afterthought. But why, aside from the obvious interest in milking further the now-dead cow they paid £110,000 for (which when you consider it, somewhat undermines the selfless patriotic fervour conveyed by their frontpage headline), would Will Lewis turn the first five pages of his broadsheet into a unabashedly partisan book review and risk making his paper and himself look, to put it mildly, a bit naff?

The first clue lies in the Telegraph last week, when it carpet bombed its five leading pages with soppy affectation for the long-deceased Queen Mother. Maybe it was the saturation coverage of a story with precious little newsworthiness, the gratuitously fawning review of the biography on page 4, or all those helpful reminders of how you could purchase a copy tagged onto the end of the stories; it was hard to miss the fact that the last British broadsheet had forsaken its last modicum of dignity for a quick buck or two. If your instincts on the monarchy lie closer to the Johann Hari end of the spectrum, you might just call it what it is – a shameless, in-your-face sales pitch.

Having butchered common sense last week, there was no need for any more inhibition. And certainly not a charade of an outsider-penned review. This time, the Telegraph claptrap would be written by their own reporters: “We wrote this marvellous book; we’re so excited we need five pages of contrived content to express our delight. Here is the cover art so good that we had to use it everywhere on our site, and the revelations inside the book are so fuckin’ awesome, explosive and the like, you have to be a sodding idiot not to buy it. In fact, we’ll help you out by putting three links to Telegraph Books, all within one news story, where you can buy a signed copy and have it delivered within 24 hours. Now that’s just fuckin’ brilliant, innit?!”

It’s almost as if their corporate lives depended on fanning the incandescent rage of self-righteous readers and pushing book sales. Why, you ask? Rumour has it that newspapers are skint these days. In fact, the collapse of advertising revenue streams have gotten so bad that Rupert Murdoch has concocted the brilliant idea to enclose his assets into gated communities, where the parasitic scum of society are repelled and the loyal and moral pay their dues. But the last broadsheet still printing on this Sceptred Isle frowns upon such drastic departures from tradition.

Instead, they serve up the same fare of populist, rabble-rousing slop and the occasional salacity. Only this time, it’s laced with cheeky, propagandistic product placements and helpful cues to convince their readers to, as Russell Peters intoned with tongue firmly in cheek, “do the right thing”.

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~ by spiegel2071 on September 26, 2009.

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