Bring on the republic and spare us from the tabloids

There is nothing quite like the English tabloids. Vulgar, insensitive, intrusive, partial, guilty of illegal phone tapping and the hiring of private investigator to look at the lives of celebrities, politicians and others.

Insensitivity was perhaps epitomised by The Sun’s headline Gotcha after the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano and its blatant warmongering about the fate of a small island with some sheep farmers.

Then there was the riot outside the rooms of a paediatrician in an English coastal city when a mob, inspired by lurid tabloid coverage of alleged paedophilia, besieged the premises.

These manifold sins were laid bare in the 2011 Leveson inquiry, the charges against newspaper management and the rare sight of some contrition from Rupert Murdoch.

But the ongoing problem is that when they get something very badly wrong, as they frequently do, they rapidly conveniently forget what they were saying the day before and change the angle completely.

A classic case study of this was the recent coverage of the Princess of Wales – or Princess Kate as the headlines put it. Now as a good republican the royal family is generally of no interest to the blog except great stories like the TV series about the man who doesn’t sweat – Prince Andrew – which was less about royals and more about great BBC journalism.

But with Princess Kate Private Eye has done us all a service by comparing and contrasting media coverage of her before and after her cancer diagnosis became known.

It started, as even people in the middle of the Amazon would be aware, after allegations that a royal family photo had been photo-shopped somewhat maladroitly. The assumption was that this was by Kate although one suspects one would, in one’s situation, ask one of one’s many attendants to do it for one.

So, what did they say before and after? Private Eye summed it up with “What was that terrible squealing sound ringing across Fleet Street late on Friday afternoon after the nation’s royal correspondents were given advanced warning of the announcement Princess Kate was to make on the BBC that evening? It was the shriek of a multitude of ferrets being hurled frantically into reverse.”

So, what did the journos say before and after the cancer diagnosis became public?

The Daily Mail’s Amanda Platell shrieked “How do all Kate’s vile online trolls feel now?” The same Platell on February 28 said: “Don’t lecture us is all about Gaza William – just tell us how Kate is.” She then riffed on Prince William pulling out of some royal memorial service contrasting his behaviour with that of the sainted late Queen.

Another Daily Mail columnist, Sarah Vine, wrote “Will and Kate should come clean about what’s REALLY going on – or they will drown in a quagmire of their own making.” Another from the stable, Richard Kay, wrote that “if the Royal Family is not quite at the 11th hour it is awfully close.”

AN Wilson said: “The Palace has given conspiracy theories new life.”

The Telegraph followed the same path. Associate editor Camilla Tominey wrote: “Sickening online trolls revelling in the Princess’ misery ought to be ashamed. From the peddling of hurtful conspiracy theories to the propagation of unsubstantiated lies, the key board warriors have inflicted an unnecessary amount of suffering on a woman now undergoing chemotherapy after a major operation.”

Earlier however, the Telegraph had talked about the possibility that the offending photos were manipulated or involved a ‘body double. On the very morning the diagnosis was announced the paper ran a “Royal Insight’ video series on the claims.

The Sun, of Gotcha fame, demanded in its 12 March issue headline “LAY OFF KATE”. 24 hours earlier they were speculating on how the original photos had been manipulated.

And after the LAY OFF headline the Sun published on the front page blurry photos of Kate and William in a car park with the headline: “Great to see you again Kate.”  Nevertheless, the photos themselves became the subject of more conspiracy theories.

The Daily Star weighed in by employing a psychic to interpret Kate’s body language while honking after the cancer news came out – “NOW THEY ARE SORRY?” Needless to say, you need to read this headline in the context of Borscht Belt humour.

Mail on Sunday columnist, Alexandra Shulman, wrote “Kate has been so open about her diagnosis. Now, let’s leave her to get better in private.”

Private Eye said: “Her (Shulman) pleas came as part of several hundred words about the princess’s illness, one of 19 separate articles over 11 pages of that day’s paper devoted to the topic.”

There was even an article quoting a psychic, The Living Nostradamus Athos Salome, on how to predict how the princess would fare in the months ahead.

Sarah Vine wrote in the Mail on Sunday that she and other columnists should apologise for giving the Princess such a hard time. Earlier Vine had demanded to know why Kate wasn’t wearing her wedding ring and said the couple should “come clean.”

Nobody has done an analysis of the Australian media coverage of the story, but it was very substantial. How relevant to Australia is another question – one which republicans continue to ask.