Editor-At-Large: The media have turned a tragedy into a spectacle

Share
Related Topics

The killings in Cumbria resulted in a tidal wave of voyeurism fuelled by modern media driven to fill airtime. Is there a criminologist, forensic or investigative psychologist in the UK who hasn't penned a few thoughts in the press or offered their snap reaction?

These misery experts all seem to end up saying more or less the same thing – that for now it is way beyond our understanding. David Cameron offered a considered response, observing, "You can't legislate to stop a light flicking in someone's head."

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were right to visit Cumbria and talk to those directly involved, to give them our support and thanks, and to comfort survivors. Now, the reporters, and the photographers need to pack up and leave the devastated community to grieve in peace.

When I see a nine-year-old boy being interviewed on Sky News about witnessing a man shot dead, I know we have gone so far beyond reporting and digesting that our values are warped. Jordan Williams, out walking with his mum and baby sister when he saw Michael Pike being blasted in the face with a shotgun, surely needs counselling, not a microphone thrust in his face by a gormless reporter.

And what about Mr Bird's own family and his former partner? His mum would have gone to bed on Tuesday evening knowing she had two sons. Thirty-six hours later both were dead and she was trapped in her house with the curtains drawn, surrounded by cameramen and reporters. His neighbours would have had to put up with reporters standing outside Mr Bird's terraced house, describing it as "shabby" and letting the world know he had a satellite dish, as if that proves anything.

At the time Derrick Bird was killing people, I was walking a few miles away on the beautiful sands of Morecambe Bay in glorious sunshine – the scene of an equally shocking loss of life. In February 2004, at least 21 illegal Chinese immigrants, picking cockles for just £5 for 25 kilos, were swept to their deaths. On that occasion, thankfully, no psychologists appeared on television telling us what they "imagined" had swept through these poor soul's heads as they were drowned by the incoming tide. In the sun last week, it was hard to imagine what a horrible death that must have been.

Another day, more pointless deaths – but this time the unanswered questions must be repeated and dissected ad nauseam. Is it because Derrick Bird was white, male and local, and his victims were not immigrants? Who wants all this forensic analysis? Why are reporters standing in Whitehaven's main street at 10pm at night delivering platitudes about "a sense of loss"?

Even well-respected programmes such as Radio Four's World at One were guilty, reduced to enlisting crime writer Zoe Sharp (author of the Charlie Fox series, who lives in Cumbria) and who just happens to have had her latest book out last month. Nice bit of promotion. She observed that crime novels were the "most borrowed" library books and that they provide "escapism ... and offer closure ... it seems we want to know why ordinary men do extraordinary things". A waste of air time.

On the BBC's This Week, Andrew Neil sought illumination from popular psychologist Dr Linda Papadopolous. We were treated to a double dose of the glamourous Dr P – first filmed in clinging black in her west London home, and then suitably coiffed and heavily lip glossed for the live programme. I am sure Dr P had something valid to say but, packaged like a glam bird Mr Neil had just met at a party, it all had the gravitas of a sanitary pad advert. I know she has qualifications up to her ears, but to me she comes across as weightless, the Sarah Palin of psychobabble. I recall something about taking "a long hard look at our health services" and "men are more likely [than women] to suffer depression, commit suicide and behave in a violent way". Well, that's a major insight.

By Friday evening, BBC reporters were telling us that Mr Bird's fellow taxi drivers were "clamming up" and locals were refusing to talk. Who can blame them? I am perfectly sure that most of the public have heard quite enough about Mr Bird, his potential motives, mental state and self esteem. Whether news editors will agree is another matter.

Swalk: Burton called Liz his Twit Twaddle. Enough said...

Why has Elizabeth Taylor decided to release the texts of gushing love letters she received from Richard Burton to Vanity Fair magazine?

They certainly prove he was capable of extraordinarily flattering drivel. In one of them he writes: "First of all, you must realise that I worship you ... you are probably the best actress in the world, which combined with your extraordinary beauty, makes you unique."

In another letter Burton (a huge drinker) claimed he would kill himself if she left him – and his terms of affection for her included "my lumps" and "Twit Twaddle".

Elizabeth Taylor was extremely beautiful – and totally captivated by this randy Welsh windbag, continuing to return to him over and over again in spite of his appaling behaviour. Now she is older but is she any wiser?

Burton was the love of her life, but revealing such intimate details is creepy and makes the magnificent Liz seem more needy than perhaps she is.

When in love, don't put pen to paper – it will always be held against you.

But I look down on him...

Posh is a modern term of abuse. Labour thought they were onto a winner deriding David Cameron as a "posh boy". Cameron is so concerned he let it be known he likes to be called Dave, and turned up at his sister's wedding in an ordinary lounge suit. We all aspire to a bit of poshness though. A new survey shows that three-quarters of us would love to be married to someone further up the social scale. But how do you spot a toff in modern Britain? Forget titled relatives, it's all about what you eat and where you shop. I've just completed the "posh" survey: I own an Aga, shop at Waitrose, eat hummus, go to the opera, drink Earl Grey tea and swig prosecco. That makes me posh, even if I attended state schools and have an Estuary accent. Dave hasn't got an Aga and doesn't go to the opera. Am I posher than him?

It's Mars, you idiots – not cars

In these frugal times there's a need to think creatively – which is why, presumably, six men are spending 520 days in a sealed container in a car park in Moscow, pretending they are on a mission to Mars. I grew up listening to Doc, Mitch and Lemmy in Journey into Space on Sunday night on the BBC's Light programme, going to bed terrified that aliens might land in Fulham during the night. Now I know it was all concocted in a radio studio with props, and the sound of their rocket was a recording of a plane at Heathrow.The European Space Agency says its mission will monitor how astronauts will cope with solitary confinement on long voyages to the galaxy. But if the crew know they're in a car park, a huge quota of stress is removed. They won't be dealing with unknown life forms or with engine burnout as they re-enter Earth's gravity. Sounds like a waste of money.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Plumbing & Heating / Bathroom Trade Counter Sales

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established London ba...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Children shouldn’t even know the word 'diet' — obesity and lack of body confidence are symptoms of the same cause

Natasha Devon
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Deadmau5, Kanye West and Jay-Z at the Tidal launch event in New York  

Tidal: An overpriced music streaming service that only benefits the super-rich members of a messianic-like cult? Where do I sign up??

Michael Segalov
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat