Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it’s still the same fecund bone-yard of gossip, poison and lies
Rupert Murdoch with the first issue of the Sun on Sunday. Photograph: Arthur Edwards/AFP/Getty
The Sun on Sunday, which is of course the News of the World with a different hat on, lied about me last week.
In the general scheme of things, the crumbling economy, the savaged environment, the treacherous, inept, deceitful politicians that govern us, the corrupt corporations that exploit us, it might not seem like a big deal. That’s because it isn’t to anyone, except me or my girlfriend. The pain, disruption and distress, that the Sun inflicted by falsely claiming that I cheated on my girlfriend, in the context of such awesome corruption, is a pale liver-spot on the back of Murdoch’s glabrous claw. Still though, it’s a tiny part of the demon’s dermatology and as such, connected to all the other pestilence. Here’s how.
Storytelling is important, whether it’s a ruddy and robust town crier or Homer (I mean the Greek one but the other one counts too). The manner in which we receive information can affect us as much as the information itself. There is a certain duty that comes with being the anointed purveyor of truth. Can we trust that our media is fulfilling that duty? Who do they really serve? Everyone knows papers like the Daily Mail and the Sun can’t be trusted, we’ve come to accept their duplicity as part of their charm, and their defence, that it’s only really celebrities and people that deserve intrusion who are affected, while superficially true in this case, is actually the biggest lie of them all.
We all remember the worst lies, the ones where the red tops are caught red-handed, like Hillsborough, where the Sun enthusiastically heaped more pain on the grieving people of Liverpool by claiming that innocent fans had pissed on police and rifled through the possessions of their dead fellows under the front-page headline “The Truth”. We remember the disgust we shared on learning that the News of the World hacked into the voicemail of a missing child who turned out to have been murdered. We all know too that they were said to have hacked the phones of dead British soldiers, victims of 7/7 and murdered Sarah Payne’s mum. These people are not celebrities, they are only known through grave misfortune and then through calculated desecration.
Do any of us really think that these transgressions would have been freely admitted if not unwittingly revealed? No we do not. I wonder then what abominations lie uncovered beneath the tit and glitter lacquered grime and scum they serve up daily? We will never know the true extent of their dishonesty. We are dealing with experts in propaganda who will stop at nothing to see their version of events prevail, and on the rare occasions when the truth emerges, like a hernia popping through gorged corpse, they apologise discreetly for their ignoble flatulence in a mouse-sized font for hippo-sized lies. They dispose of the truth as expertly as Pulp Fiction’s “Wolf” disposed of Marvin’s body, these wolves of pulp fiction.
Rupert Murdoch, an animatronic al-Qaida recruitment poster, in his private letter to Sun staff, after the News of the World was briefly closed for a makeover (not through remorse, or shame, no, because they couldn’t sell advertising space and because he wanted to launch the Sun on Sunday anyway because it’s cheaper to run one title than two – some guys get all the luck) referred consistently to his pride in the Sun as “a trusted news source”. Trusted is the word he used, not trustworthy. We know the Sun is not trustworthy and so does he. He uses the word “trusted” deliberately. Hitler was trusted, it transpired he was not trustworthy. He also said of the arrested journalists, “everyone is innocent until proven guilty”. Well, yes, that is the law of our country, not however a nicety often afforded to the victims of his titles, and here I refer not only to hacking but the vituperative portrayal of weak and vulnerable members of our society, relentlessly attacked by Murdoch’s ink jackals. Immigrants, folk with non-straight sexual identities, anyone in fact living in the margins of the Sun’s cleansed utopia.
How this stuff works can be quite subtle. I remember a few years ago they ran a front-page story headlined “Swan Bake” and a story about immigrants eating the Queen’s swans.
I chuckled at the gleeful vilification of the alleged perpetrators and the jingoistic reference to the swan’s royal owner. More sinister though was the information not included; that if people are eating swans from a park, it’s not an act of antisocial defiance, it’s because they’re bloody starving.
What is the implicit agenda of an institution that highlights this aspect of the narrative? It is significant too (cygnet-nificant? They love a pun) that adjacent to the copy they placed a photograph of some “eastern” looking men and beneath it, the caption “Asylum seekers, like these pictured, are eating the Queen’s swans” – LIKE these pictured!! It wasn’t actually the culprits, merely, the Sun supposed, asylum seekers “like” them.
The reason for this irresponsible approximation is that when we next see an “eastern” looking person out and about we will have a visceral, visual association with an act of antisocial barbarism. This is how the Sun wants us to see immigrants, through their lens of vindictive condemnation. They want us looking suspiciously and disdainfully in the direction of marginalised individuals; “chavs”, “immigrants” and “gays,” not in the direction of the institutions who actually damage our society – banks, corporations and the media.
They forever print tabloid tales of benefit cheats on the swindle, which is bad – I used to do it – but the reality that we lose £1bn a year on all benefit fraud combined, and £25bn on tax avoidance and evasion by big companies and the super rich is seldom reported. Why don’t we read that story in the Sun? Perhaps it’s because, as Rupert said in his private email, the Sun would “continue to fight for its beliefs”. Of course, the Sun believes in an easy ride for big corporations – it is a big corporation, Newscorp is one of the biggest there is. Plus they get £35,000 per page for the corporate ads they carry for Tescos, Vodafone, British Gas, O2, corporations within the incestuous family of business, media and government that grow corpulent together. It is common slither from parliament to a position on the board of a big company, or to creep from a tabloid role into a position advising leaders of a sleazy government. All operate within the cosy, loophole-laden system that advances their feudal interests and penalises the rest of us, at a time of ardently imposed austerity.
More importantly these corporations, whether they’re selling information or consumer goods, collude in a pervasive myth and toil to keep us uninformed on important matters such as the environment, economic inequality, and distracted by vapid celebrity claptrap. The Sun don’t want an informed populace rejecting their bigoted dogma and daily objectification of women. Tescos don’t want engaged and educated consumers recognising the damage that their corporate marauding does to communities, agriculture and local businesses. Their agenda is the same.
These organisations want us dumb and full of junk, in our bellies and our brains. The Sun boast on their website that they give advertisers unique access to their “market”, that’s you and your family, because as Murdoch says, they are trusted.
They gloat about their power “one in every seven quid spent on groceries in the UK is spent by a Sun reader”. Actually they don’t say quid, they say pounds. On the Sun’s marketing site, where they address the people who really matter to them, their corporate partners, they eschew the colloquial jocundity, where stars romp in love-nests and drop tots, here the silvery nomenclature of commerce reigns, the Sun’s true tongue.
Should we all boycott the Sun as the people of Liverpool devoutly do to this day? Are other newspapers any better? We all enjoy a bit of gossip, it’s hard to look away from kiss’n’tells or tittle-tattle whether it’s about a doped-up soap star or Murdoch himself. I admit I read the story about his wife Wendi and Tony Blair in the Mail on Sunday last weekend and how they slept in the same house on numerous occasions, without ol’ Digger knowing.
There’s no way we would be reading such a tale, even in its anodyne, sanitised form, without a tacit nod from Aussie-Skeletor. This being a story about powerful, litigious people, it was composed in befittingly genteel terms; the pair are described as having a “friendship”. Imagine the pejorative bilge that they’d stir up and slap on, if it’d been a yarn not about tycoons and warlords but about people outside of the mainstream; an out-of-favour celeb, an immigrant or a gypsy.
Then we’d be reading about “suspicious, nocturnal trysts” or sleazy secret liaisons. However, you want to describe it, the affair (by which I mean “matter”, I’ve been advised by a lawyer, these words are all filtered and combed before you are allowed to see them) supposed to have caused Murdoch to give his former blood-brother the cold shoulder, hardly surprising after he got Blair elected and supported his unpopular, illegal war so vociferously.
You can bet more kids of Sun readers were sent to Baghdad than of any other paper. Some friends of mine thought it dubious that the Sun’s deceitful story appeared just days after I’d spoken out against the media, corporations and the government. It could be a coincidence. Or it could be that the Sun loves me when I’m a prattling, giggling, Essex boy “Shagger of the Year”, when I’m in my proper place, beneath vacuous headlines, herding their flock towards dumb lingo and crap bingo, when I’m being cheeky on MTV or even unwisely invading answerphones, in a way that many would argue, is less offensive than the manner that they are alleged to have done. In my place I’m fine, but if I use my glistening podium, to talk to the people I grew up with, or signed on with or used drugs with, vulnerable overlooked, underserved, ordinary people, people that can’t sue them as I am, then out come the fangs.
We know they’re all pals, who head up governments, newspapers and big businesses, who hobnob together and horse-ride together. Who can say what Murdoch meant in his letter to despondent and soiled Sun journalists when he ominously intoned that his empire would “emerge stronger”. Certainly these are not words of contrition and the Sun on Sunday so swiftly returning to the fecund bone-yard of gossip, poison and lies indicates that they’ve learned nothing from the outrage they provoked with their desecration of the dead children of ordinary people.
I wonder what punishment would be severe enough to make them recognise the wrong they’ve done to us? Maybe we should show solidarity with the people of Liverpool and the Sun’s other victims. Or at least next time we skim these rags remember what they really think of us and what they really care about. Observe the companies that advertise on their tainted pages and let them know that we notice their allegiances. When they start to lose enough money, when enough of us come together and confront our real enemies, not the imaginary ones that they select, then perhaps the sun will go down and tomorrow we might see clearly, in the light of a new dawn.
Russell Brand is donating his fee for this article to the Justice for the 96 campaign