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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Smearing Rationale

Another day, another forced apology: the Daily Mail has paid out 25,000 notes – plus an undisclosed, and probably far larger, sum in legal costs – to actor Kate Winslet after she sued following another mean spirited hatchet job. Given that those who have the resources will take action to defend their reputations from attacks by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre’s pisspoor hacks, one could be forgiven for wondering why the paper keeps on smearing, when they know what will follow.

There is, as ever, method in this particular madness. Dacre has, as I’ve told on many occasions, a knack for supplying stories that chime with the views, fears – and prejudices – of his target audience. The idea that actors aren’t very nice people, or are dishonest enough to say one thing for public consumption while doing another behind closed doors – the offending article called Winslet “irritating” and said she lied about her exercise rĂ©gime – fits the template of sneering envy, that “it’s alright for them, what do they know about how real people live?”

Moreover, the uplift in sales that the steady stream of knocking copy generates means keeping profits up, and therefore maintains the ability of the Daily Mail to charge advertisers top dollar. Put simply, it’s worth the occasional carpeting in the courts to behave like this.

And, the clinching argument for Dacre and his shock troops, is that the apology and court appearance are invariably going to come some way down the line from the article that provokes the lawsuit. By that time, some of the mud will have stuck, and another reputation will have been stained: the idea that there is “no smoke without fire” is central to the Daily Mail mindset. And this will carry on, for one depressingly simple reason.

It sells newspapers. Any higher principles do not enter.

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