The Express, Apologies, Dunblane and a Bloodthirsty Mob

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Life, Media

A few weeks ago, the Scottish Sunday Express had a front page leader about the ‘Anniversary Shame Of Dunblane Survivors’, where they castigated those kids — now 18 and no longer under legal protection — for talking about getting drunk, making idiots of themselves, and generally behaving like normal 18 year olds.

You might remember I posted my thoughts on the piece too.

A facebook group was set up, a petition was set up, and a lot of other bloggers also commented, suggesting that the Scottish Sunday Express ought to publish an apology, and this ought to be found on the front page too.

They did.

The apology wasn’t ideal: it spent an awful lot more time saying how brilliant the Scottish Sunday Express actually was than admitting that they had actually done anything wrong. As Graham Linehan notes on his blog Apology noted. Now what?

There is a suggestion — which I agree with — that the apology doesn’t go far enough; and also that:

this is not an isolated case of some crazy hacks, or even a crazy paper, getting out of control. This is simply an extreme example of the state that journalism in the UK has found itself inGraham Linehan

The question here is surely two-fold: do the press complaints commission have teeth, and if they don’t, is it time that there was an independent body overseeing them instead of the cosy backslapping scenario they currently have? Ofrant, maybe…

However, and this is a big point, the Scottish Sunday Express have apologised. This also made it to the front page (in smaller type than the original, but still…). And therefore what I don’t approve of is the bloodthirsty mob baying for blood…

Are they going to sack the woman “reporter” who wrote this piece? I hope so…Digital Spy Forums

This quote came after the apology. Other, similar examples, are available on other, similar forums, with people calling for ‘disciplinary action’ and the like. Unfortunately, they don’t actually want “disciplinary action”, they want a public execution, and these two aren’t the same thing.

Paula Murray and Derek Lambie cocked up massively in misjudging the mood of the nation, in not apologising immediately, in being offensive and intrusive, and in allowing the article to be written and published in the first place. Disciplinary action may, or may not, be appropriate, but any action must take previous conduct into consideration. However, disciplinary matters in most organisations are not a matter for public record, and we shouldn’t expect it necessarily to be so here either.

As it was not fair for the Dunblane kids to be tried by the Scottish Sunday Express and found wanting, it is not fair for bloggers to offer up a similar trial-by-blog and determine that Paula and Derek should be sacked. We, as bloggers have achieved something. We’ve got them to backtrack and apologise. Let’s have the decency to win with good grace…

The online journalism blog points out some of the ways the Express could have apologised more effectively, but what I would hope is that they would learn from their mistakes — from the backlash against them and from the outcome of the PCC‘s investigation — and produce more responsible, better quality journalism in future.

That is what I would like to see. We’ve seen the apology, now lets see them show that they meant it.

But the baying mob with their pitchforks and flaming torches at the door of Dr. Lambie’s Castle Expressentein is not the way to go about it. That’s one of the problems with the very journalism that we are being critical of.

Rather than fixing the problem — in this case the culture which allows those stories to flourish — it’s easier to call for someone’s head and pretend that will fix the problem. It would appear to me that most of the newspapers in the country think that the best way to provide social care for at-risk children is to repeatedly call for the heads of anyone who ever makes a mistake. Yes, those mistakes can be very costly (Baby P, the foster rapist etc) but the question needs to be asked why are mistakes being made.

Is it because the staff are under pressure? Is it because they are under-staffed? Under-funded? If so, how is a witch-hunt against social services actually going to help matters? What we need to do is fix the problem, not find a convenient scapegoat to publicly humiliate and execute.

Sharon Shoesmith, Fred Goodwin, Jade Goody, Paula Murray and Derek Lambie are the convenient public faces picked out by the media and the public for the failings of social care, the banking system, for racism and bigotry (at least until she became the princess of hearts) and journalism. These individuals were not to blame for every individual failure in those sectors — the problem is with the institutional culture (either within society or a specific sector). That is what needs to be fixed; these people are not the root cause of all that is wrong; but they may be a symptom of the disease.

I don’t want the easy route — individuals being scapegoated for a cultural failure (and then allowing that culture to continue unchecked). I want the actual problem addressed.

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8 Comments to The Express, Apologies, Dunblane and a Bloodthirsty Mob

  1. Heather says:

    March 25th, 2009 at 11:05 am

    The problem with this argument is that Sharon Shoesmith and Fred Goodwin were at the top of very dysfunctional and backhanded organisations. They were not the personal instigators of the problem. Derek Lambie and Paula Murray *were* the personal instigators in this situation. In addition to sanctioning Paula Murray’s stalker conduct and then giving her the front page, Derek Lambie seems to be the only boss left in the UK who does not sack an employee on the spot for publicly celebrating her drinking problem. He has not disciplined the employee for her embarassing conduct nor been held responsible for creating a work environment where staff are allowed to stalk people while under the influence. Why do you think that is?

    If we are to fix cultural failures, we have to start somewhere. It is entirely proper to call for disciplinary action. Fred Goodwin’s house was vandalised this morning; that is the symptom of an aimless witchhunt braying for public execution. By contrast, the blogging on the Dunblane issue and the subsequent discussion it’s raised on journalism in general is the most measured and intelligent thing I’ve read this year.

  2. JackP says:

    March 25th, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I’m not saying that disciplinary action is inappropriate. What I do think is inappropriate is the assumption that this needs to be in the public gaze.

    I’m also not convinced Paula has a drinking problem. Like Tim implies on bloggerheads, if you take certain facebook posts out of context, you can get an incorrect and inappropriate image of someone. I’m sure I’ve said daft stuff I later regretted (on here as well as facebook, no doubt). I’ve certainly said daft, tongue-in-cheek stuff about drinking…

    I would however like to see the action against the Scottish Sunday Express from the PCC be effective. Ultimately it is the organisation which must take responsibility for the culture within it — if Lambie and Murray are simply following (rather than leading) that culture, they should not be made scapegoats. Punishing the paper (in particular the proprietor’s pocket) is to my mind more likely to effect a change…

    And you’re right that the Fred vandalism is wrong. But it is the fact that he has been held up as a scapegoat which has led to him being targeted in that way. And I agree that most of the blogging the SSE thing has been fine and appropriate … I’m not really disagreeing with you much, to be honest … only that I think holding individuals up to public vilification is a bit iffy

  3. JackP says:

    March 25th, 2009 at 11:49 am

    For those of you disagreeing (or agreeing) with me, you may also wish to see the comments of people disagreeing with me in the comments on Graham Linehan’s article.

    Still, at least unlike the SSE, we’re all allowing people to publicly comment, eh?

  4. EddieK says:

    March 25th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hi JackP,
    I was pointed to your piece from another site, and made my criticisms back on that site. That was probably a bit rude, and I do apologise… I was going to wait until there were a few more comments on here first before wading in with my crap!

    Anyway, that being said…

    Yes, the orginal incident was highly offensive, and Mr Lambie is essentially the gatekeeper of what goes into the paper. His job would come with a level of responsibility linked in with experience and editorial judgement. It’s part of his job. He is paid to do this.
    Unfortunately, you also have to balance this with the fact that sensationalist headlines sell papers (Dunblane! Dead Children! Drunken Teenage Yobbos!). Was the fact that this was let through down to a ‘lapse of judgement’? By someone with his level of experience?
    (B*****cks it is – but that is just my own opinion.)

    Yes, there will be people in blogland who want the guy hung, drawn and quartered. There’s also a lot of pointed discussion about the matter as well, from people without pickforks and flaming torches.
    Me? I wouldn’t want his head on a pike. I wouldn’t want him sacked. But I think apology is neccessary. What was offered was *not* an apology. Who is apologising (Mr. Lambie?) and for what?
    All hidden away in a pile of self aggrandisement.
    It’s a textbook PR excercise, but it wasn’t an apology.
    Are you confident that Mr Lambie actually recognises why the original article was offensive? To the point that he will be far more careful about it in future (if only to safeguard his job)?

    The problem I have with the whole ‘Cultural Failure’ defence is that it fails to address individual responsibility and is vague in meaning to the point where you have no handle how to improve the situation. It’s got to start at the level of the individual, or nothing will change.

    I’d better go before my torch sets off the fire alarm….

    Cheers, Eddie.

  5. Steve Whateley says:

    April 3rd, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    My aim is to try and get the Scottish Sunday Express closed down along with with its daily compatriot and its southern. No less will satisfy me.
    Lambie and Murray are symptomatic of an even sicker society. They represent all that is evil in journalism.

  6. Heather says:

    April 4th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    The more I think about the whole thing the sicker it seems. What moral perversion in our society protects and defends a woman who stalked underage gunshot victims with the full intention of exploiting them as soon as they turned 18?

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