Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The secret diary of Mark Frith

Time, once again, to open the diary of Mark Frith. This time, we find Mark publishing stickers mocking a severely disabled child, despite - as he cheerfully admits - his colleagues having told him they didn't think it was a good idea.

Mark attempts to set up his justification early. In an entry which predates his sticker calamity, he mentions that Jordan did an interview about her kid:

While most celebrities are protective of their children, it's in Jordan's interest to be public about them.

You see? It's her, she put them in the public domain. Her! Her! HER!

Frith explains what he means by "in her interest" - "she makes a fortune out of posing with them" - but does he mean that otherwise nobody would write about her? That's clearly not true, as his magazine never finds reasons to ignore a Jordan story if it can.

He then points out that Jordan can sometimes see that aspects of Harvey's behaviour can be amusing:
She makes a fortune from posing with them and in our interview she speaks a lot about him - particularly his food intake and weight.

It can't be easy for her but she's very funny about it. 'Sometimes I ask: "Do you love Mummy?" He says: "No." Then I say: "Do you love cake?" He instantly says: "Yes." '

So, there's his justification set up. Forward, now, to November:
The stickers are due at the printers when one of my team interjects.

'Some of us have a real problem with the Harvey one. People will take offence and we shouldn't do it.'

'No one will take offence. Everyone knows Jordan is always joking about the amount he eats. Leave it in. It'll be fine.'

So, Mark doesn't actually see there's a difference between a mother saying of her own child "he says the funniest things sometimes; he said he loves cake" and a commercial magazine giving its readers stickers that say "Harvey wants to eat me." Frith even attempts to say the sticker is "a reference to the interviews she gives the Press about her son's ravenous food intake" rather than a reference to the child being quite large for his age.

Forward another couple of weeks, and Frith is starting to have slight - only slight - doubts:
The new issue is back from the printers. There's still disquiet about the Harvey sticker and, seeing it in the middle of the magazine, I'm starting to worry. It feels all wrong.

But isn't the editor's job to twig this sort of "all wrongness" in the first place?

You'll note he doesn't say it is wrong - just that it feels all wrong. He also doesn't say sorry:
There has been a lot of criticism about the Harvey sticker - from the media and readers.

I seek advice and am told I must write a letter to Jordan, and have a statement prepared for any media outlet that wants a comment.

He "seeks advice"; he's told to "write a letter". No word of contrition yet.
Today's Times has a piece on Jordangate under the headline: The Lowest Point In British Journalism.

In 1989, The Times' sister newspaper, The Sun, ran an article about the Hillsborough football disaster and alleged that Liverpool fans had picked the pockets of victims and urinated on police officers as they tended to the dying and injured.

The Sun had to admit that none of the allegations were true. They apologised, yet even now there are large sections of Liverpool where newsagents still refuse to stock it.

But, according to The Times, our sticker was worse than that.

A big mistake? Undoubtedly. A misjudgment on my part? Guilty as charged. The lowest point in British journalism? I don't think so. Still, the pressure on me is mounting.

So, it's a "misjudgement" - at least he goes that far - and then lumbers into another misjudgement by trying to justify his actions by comparing them to something one of his critic's sister papers did twenty years ago.

And, yes, the Sun's Hillsborough coverage was shocking. But, on the other hand, you published - as a giveaway - a sticker for readers to decorate their belongings with which featured a jibe at a disabled child.

You're right, of course, Frith, the Times was wrong to say it was the lowest point in British journalism. But only because this isn't journalism, it's just turning people into freakshows.

Yesterday, we heard how Frith justified his cruelty towards Leslie Ash when she was at a low point in her life by suggesting it's what his readers would be doing anyway. You'd have thought if he really believed in that as an excuse, he'd be deploying it here, too, wouldn't you? It's almost as if he knows in his heart that there are just some things you might hear on the streets that shouldn't be given the dignity of print - even the spurious dignity of Heat - but can't quite bring himself to admit it.