It Was The Sun Wot Manufactured It

The Sun crows over the Shannon Matthews case:

The prosecutor said cops recovered at [Michael] Donovan’s flat a copy of The Sun from March 11, with the headline: “£50,000 for Shannon. Sun ups reward to find lost girl.”

Police also discovered a copy of the Daily Mirror which had been ripped up and dumped in a bin.

Its bizarre that The Sun should choose to delight in this little factoid, because it draws attention to a few rather negative interpretations:

  • The Sun is paper of choice for evil scheming child abductors”
  • The Sun falls for trap set by evil scheming child abductors”

or worse

  • The Sun’s dubious track record inspires evil scheming child abductors”
Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan pose with a 'Sun' branded reward poster, February 2008
Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan pose with a 'Sun' branded reward poster, February 2008

Now the paper’s editors will no doubt suggest that by offering their reward, they were merely acting as good citizens who just wanted to see Shannon found safely.  However, the crass branding of the reward poster, which they gleefully reproduced in today’s paper, shows that their motives were altogether more commercial.  Not content with merely reporting the story, they insisted on influencing it.  They delighted then, and they still delight, in the part they played.  But the shocking truth is, by quickly fulfilling the plotters’ prophecy and advertising a reward, they inspired the kidnappers to keep Shannon hidden for longer, thus prolonging her ordeal.

Of course, if Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan are found guilty, then they will be rightly condemned for their actions.  They have free will.  However, blame is not a zero sum game.  We do not live in a vacuum, and the media can send signals which inspire others to act in negative ways.  Usually, violent films, rap artists, or computer game producers shoulder the criticism.  When they are put in the spot-light, these groups usually cite free-will, but also agree that they should act responsibly, that they should add caveats and warnings to their art, and that it should not be marketed to the vulnerable or easily impressed.

I note that this contrite and defensive attitude is nowhere to be found on the pages of The Sun.  They have fuelled this case, sparked a sales bonanza, and will surely do it again the moment they are given another opportunity.

And next time – mark my words, there is always a next time! – it is likely that the disappearance will be genuine.  Another pair of worried parents, bamboozled into supporting “The Sun’s Campaign” to find their child, followed by a period where they themselves come under suspicion.  Its a winning formula for The Sun, and not one politician will call them on it.

Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy, please comment there.