What the papers said
WILLIAM HARTSTON REVIEWS THE WEEK'S PRESS
Sunday 21 June 1998
Friday's Independent had a nice, but probably unintentional comment on the return of the nation's most notorious nanny. The main story of the day was headined "Ban for baby death doctors", while opposite it we read: "Woodward to get 'Diana treatment' in BBC interview". The Mirror had a different view of the Panorama-like prominence being planned for the interview with Martin Bashir. "Louise in TV grilling," it said.
The high-profile, no-comment flight home posed a problem for journalists. Most papers mentioned that Louise was in seat 1A, next to Sir Colin Marshall in 1B while her father was behind her in 2A. (You'd have thought that the chairman of BA would have offered to swap seats.)
The Times expressed great concern about her diet: "Her meal on board was a frugal one. Spurning the delights of the first-class menu - which included chargrilled king prawns tossed in a light cilantro vinaigrette, a Thai-style lobster curry, and grilled poussin in a tomato and chili salsa - she poked at a plate of fettucine with pesto. She only drank orange juice, although her father enjoyed the Chateau Branc-Cantenac 1990."
The Guardian, in a front-page piece headed "Woodward free - at a price" said: "Louise Woodward ... is expected to return to Britain and a potential six-figure sum from the tabloid press this week, despite a judge's recommendation that she should not profit from her story." So with the Mirror apparently out of contention, which of the tabloids are still in the running? The Mail, where Linda Lee Potter wrote a piece: "Nothing to celebrate but a lot of lessons to be learned", was the most pro-Louise and critical of the bereaved parents: "There was a strong feeling that Mrs Eappen wanted revenge, not justice. She had made up her own mind about the facts." The Express headed one article "Never trust her with babies" and had the phrase "guilty Louise" on its front page, while the Sun had "Don't Let Louise Near a Baby Again" in big letters on the front and "Louise Mustn't Cash In On Death" across pages two and three.
The most extraordinary comment on the whole affair, however, was in the Independent, where Max Clifford wrote under a headline proclaiming: "Even a child-killer should be able to sell her story". His argument is for a free market in morals, which he justifies with a splendid piece of arithmetic: "The readers of the paper which published Louise's story might number as many as five million, and they would no doubt be confirmed in their belief in her. But the readers of the other papers, who might number 20 million would get a very different impression. The tabloids that missed out on the story (either by being outbid, or deciding not to make an offer) would immediately attack and rubbish her." So that's all right, then. Sun readers voted three-to-one against letting Louise babysit their children.
The Sun headline "A Disgrace to England", was not a comment on the Woodward case, but on the other main story of the week, the behaviour of England's football fans. "Shame Old Story" ran the headline on pages two and three, above a story on "England thugs in 'worst ever riots' at the World Cup". The Guardian called them "hardcore hooligans" and interviewed "Robin, a 25-year-old clerical worker" on the art of football vandalism. "Running with a firm, it's not like committing a personal crime," Robin explained. Apparently the Chelsea firm is dominant at the moment. They're friendly with Feyenoord because Feyenoord's rivals, Ajax, have a Jewish fan base.
The Daily Star called them "Vindaloonies", the Mail called them "louts", "thugs" and "mindless" and with inspired incongruity juxtaposed a photograph of "a ringleader" with "the cross of St George tattooed on his beer belly" next to a picture of the "pounds 80,000 semi he shares with his common-law wife and three children". The Express was "so ashamed of our yob fans" while the Sun found a nice angle with "Pottery expert goes potty at the footy". Apparently one of our most prolific football hooligans is an expert on Royal Doulton and has written a book on pottery.
Nobody, other than Alan Clark, had anything complimentary to say about our yobs, though the Telegraph managed to find two photographs to support his allegation that beating up rival fans is not very different from playing the Eton Wall Game. Perhaps he had not seen the pictures in the Sun of one beer-bottle-brandishing fan burning a Tunisian flag and another hurling a chair apparently directly at the cameraman. Or maybe they do that at Eton too.
Only the Scottish Daily Record could take some pride in the events in Marseilles, expressing its views under the telling headline "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and published contrasting photographs, one showing two smiling Scottish fans draped in a St Andrew's flag, the other showing two England fans beating up a Tunisian.
Good news was in short supply last week, but the Telegraph did have one pleasure-giving story about researchers at the Institute of Neurology in London testing volunteers on a tickling machine. "Using a brain scanner and a ticklish piece of foam, they found that one region of the brian sneaks a message to the other so that the tickling is no longer a surprise." The results explained why you cannot tickle yourself: "When someone else did the tickling there was much more activity in the part of the brain that processes tactile sensations ... An area linked to pleasure sensations also lit up - when the tickling was self-administered it did not." They should try it on football hooligans.
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