Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Blair on the media: is this what happened with clerical sex abuse?

Tony Blair's memoir is almost entirely devoid of any reference to his Catholic faith. But it contains some very interesting analyses, not least of contemporary media mechanics. Monitor is struck by the following passage on how the media generates a "scandal": is this what has happened with clerical sex abuse?

Then, in April, there was Charles Clarke and the foreign offenders who on completion of their sentence should have been deported and removed from the country and weren't. This was serious, but Charles made the mistake of trying to be too open too early, when the full facts could not be known -- the problem, as with many such things, had existed for a long time, well before we came to power -- and he suffered a mauling with bad consequences for me, him, and the government.

As with any such issue, what happens is that the spotlight suddenly shines in a corner that has lain dark for ages. That's fair enough; but what then occurs is that a complete ex post facto attitude is imposed on it, so that you end up with a ludicrously exaggerated sense of wrongdoing. So when the foreign offenders' 'scandal' is uncovered, it leads the news and this is perfectly sensible; but then because the media focus is so intense, every detail becomes another headline as if the politician in charge, in this case Charles, has literally been doing nothing else for months on end and is therefore incompetent in not having sorted it all. Then, for sure, someone pops up and says: Ooh, I warned them all about this (usually in paragraph 193 of some memo) and then the frenzy develops into hysteria.

Anyway, you have to go through it, and by the end I became quite deft at dealing with these kinds of furore. Basically you have to get on top of the detail quick, and then grind people down with fact, context, rebuttal, explanation and the art of blinding with science.