Conservative MP Michael Fabricant has got himself into a bit of trouble over the last couple of days by saying on Twitter that he didn’t dare appear in an interview with a female human rights campaigner for fear of being unable to prevent himself from punching her ‘in the throat’. It was a vulgar thing to write and predictably enough led to a bit of storm in the media. In the short run it gave David Cameron, who has a knack for these things, the opportunity to disown Fabricant and show himself to be a decent man. Privately he probably welcomed the chance to detoxify the Tories a bit. In the longer run it will be a bit more of a nudge to women who don’t like being hit and and men who don’t approve of hitting them that the far right isn’t the place they want to be.
The thing that struck me though was the fact that the oddballs and uglies who lined up to support the MP were recruited from journalists who write for what used to be called the quality press. Papers like the Times and the Telegraph have never been progressive, but they used to have a certain style and quite good taste. You could reasonably expect that they would be written well and assume a certain level of education.
I find it really disappointing that the Telegraph in particular, a paper I have always enjoyed reading employs people whose talent lies only in the ability to be shocking and draw attention. I say talent, but this really is not something that takes a great deal of dedication. You can draw attention in a public bar simply by farting loudly, and the skill of these writers such as it is simply the same.
I suppose the strategy is to create controversy to drive traffic from social media. I don’t know whether or not this is a successful strategy. It is certainly cheap. Sensationalists are ten a penny and new ones can be created easily. You don’t need to spend much money on research or fact checking either. But I wonder whether making the tills ring in the short run is really such a good idea. If a paper loses its cachet by trying to be populist, what really is the point of it? The views of the opinionated but badly informed are readily available in any pub. If the quality papers become the equivalent of the pub bore I wonder if they have any future.