Weigh out of line

The Daily Mail's vicious treatment of Mo Mowlam revealed a callous disregard of the facts, argues David Walker

Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam always knew she was on The Daily Mail's hit list. Her Northern Ireland brief on Labour's front bench means she is front-line game. Labour-soft-on-the-IRA is a story the right-wing papers need no prodding from Michael Howard to run.

But on Irish affairs Ms Mowlam has been sure-footed. So she fell victim to another line of attack. Her size. On 5 April The Daily Mail gave over almost an entire news page to a very large photograph of a very large Ms Mowlam. The accompanying piece by Vicky Ward was colourful - "why is she so big?" and "look what she's done to her hair". It reported speculation (a code word for something a journalist makes up and cannot be bothered to find a pliant source for) that she was so altered that Tony Blair had "chosen a new frontbencher".

The tone of the article was friendly; it blamed her weight gain on her giving up smoking. But the only contexts which made it a "story" were deeply unfriendly. Ms Mowlam's weight is only worth picturing if fat women are funny or (nudge, nudge) how can the government of the country be trusted to someone who lets herself go in this way?

A few days later, The Daily Mail's columnist Lynda Lee-Potter weighed in. Ms Potter's stock in trade is to opine crudely on the basis of minimal facts. Together with some prurient banter about the MP's sex life, the great phrase-maker described her having "shoulders like Frank Bruno and bears an undeniable resemblance to an only slightly effeminate Geordie trucker."

On Saturday, with characteristic humour and dignity, Ms Mowlam announced she had been undergoing treatment for a tumour, including steroids (which cause weight gain) and radiotherapy (which can cause hair loss).

The Daily Mail, plainly put, got the story wrong and no one was expecting any hint of an apology this morning. Do we then dismiss this as just another tale of media prurience ? After all, Mo Mowlam has her press champions - Bridget Rowe wrote movingly about her yesterday in the Sunday Mirror. And her political reputation is unaffected: the voters of Redcar will, if anything, support her even more enthusiastically.

But before The Daily Mail is allowed to pass on to its next trick, it is worth making these notes. One is an old saw. The press culture it exemplifies is persistently misogynist. Women are regularly put down, an observation diminished not one whit by the fact it is female reporters and female columnists (which The Daily Mail has in abundance) who do it.

Yet the worst thing that can be said about the treatment of Ms Mowlam is the example it gives of editorial laziness. If reporter Vicky Ward actually talked to Ms Mowlam face to face, she is evidently myopic as well as incurious, since the wig the politician wears is plainly such ... and Mo Mowlam (to her credit and her handlers' despair) is talkative to the point of indiscretion. Perhaps the questions did not go far because in The Daily Mail's world view, fat Labour female is so much more compelling a story than sick politician with the potential to be a stateswomann

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border