A fortnight or so into the investigation surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann Simon Schama postulated thus on Question Time;
“If Madeleine had been the daughter of a black single parent from South London, and the occurrence had taken place at Butlins, would there be the same level of media interest?”
There was a sharp collective intake of breath (we were still at the Diana Stage), a pause and then a ripple of acknowledgement washed across the audience.
Shannon Matthews disappeared from her home in Dewsbury a week ago today.
Not ONE mention on Sky News who at this stage in the McCann case were anchoring their main bulletins from Portugal, nor on the Today Programme or News 24. A trawl of Ceefax produced the same result. Nothing. Diddlysquat.
This from the Mirror;
“A man helping in the search for Shannon Matthews was found nailed to a cross.
A neighbour who found him said; “He was shouting “Jesus Christ over and over. He was drunk so I told him to get up, but he said; “I can’t””.
Police deny any connection to her disappearance.
Shannon’s Mum Karen (32) said she and her boyfriend Craig Meehan (22) could not bear to go home.
A pal said; “They are beside themselves”.
This coverage would be funny if it did not epitomise the contempt that the Red Top Press has for it’s largely Working Class readership.
The scenario described is to suggest that life in Working Class areas is one big episode of Shameless, as you can well imagine Frank Gallagher in such a situation.
Feckless, drunk and immoral bludgers, the lot of ‘em.
Just the demographic that New Labour have in their sights as described by the lamentable Caroline Flint last month when she called for those who won’t work to be made homeless.
Then there is the description of Meehan as the “boyfriend”. Not partner. It makes the mother seem all the more irresponsible and immoral. “She takes boyfriends!” Then there is the mention of Meehan’s age, thrown in for added moral outrage.
On top of that the friend of the family is described as a “pal”. Throwaway, expendable, worthless.
And those three words describe the attitude of the media to the White Working Class and why Shannon’s desperate situation barely registers in Tabloid Land.
The Express/Mail faux Middle Class readership are made to feel frightened by the McCann case as “IT COUD BE YOU!” feeding their idea that they are on the same socio- educational rung as the McCanns.
They aren’t, but this contemptible niche market in the Press con their readers into thinking that stuff Inheritance Tax affects them, and make them feel like they should be concerned. And vote Tory accordingly, whilst casting an insidious aspersion that this family, and the Mother in particular were the architects of their own misfortune by the way they live their lives.
More pertinently how we are made to assume that a chaotic lifestyle is abroad here. We have no idea of course, but the seeds are planted.
What the Matthews case shows in microcosm is how fractured Society has become, and that Working Class people are increasingly portrayed by the media in the same way that Orwell painted a picture of life for the Proles in 1984.