I would like to look at 2 stories from recent weeks to illustrate, to a certain degree, how our press works. 1 of them is how a good PR person can guide a story and the other is a back-firing political story.
Let’s start with the political storm in a political tea cup first. A couple of week ago the press, particularly the anti-Labour side, were filled with stories about Gordon Brown being a bully. The accusations all stemmed from a book that was being promoted at the time by political journalist Andrew Rawnsley and were leapt upon by the right wing press. We had several days of headlines about people being pushed and shouted at and then a bullying hotline got involved. Television news also ran the stories and before long the modern political catch phrase of “We need a public enquiry” rang out for the Tories. Downing Street denied the stories.
Then something very strange happened. Before the mass reporting Labour, and particularly Mr Brown had been languishing in the Polls but in a survey conducted just after “Bully-gate” both Labour and Gordon’s ratings had risen significantly. It seemed that the voters really like, what they perceive as, a strong leader.
The story immediately stopped being reported. The right-wing press dropped it because they had a made a massive editorial and political misjudgement and it had actually had the opposite effect than planned. The Labour supporting press didn’t need to keep defending their party so they dropped it too and Television news only seems to be reading out what the papers have written anyway, so they stopped talking about it too.
It has been suggested, slightly sarcastically, by Simon Schama on his Point of View on Radio4 that it was all in the Labour plan, I’m not sure about that but it does show that newspapers only report stories that reinforce their ideological position and not the actual news. If this story was of importance then it should have continued to have been written about but it wasn’t. It was designed, be the time it reached the papers, to damage a political party but it didn’t work so was dropped.
The second story is about Take That’s Mark Owen. Now Mark Owen has had some affairs with quite a few ladies but has been treated very differently then, say, Ashley Cole. Why is that you may ask? You may not to honest because it’s not that interesting but worth a bit of a look I think.
There are 2 ways in which these stories come out. The famous person, usually, gets a call from the paper that has the story about them and they offer them the confession type of story that we have seen with Mark Owen. This is the more sensible approach because the famous person, or at least their PR advisor, can control the story. Mark Owen, for instance, has been on the front pages for 3 or 4 days now with a bit more to add to the story each day. Day One, “I have had some affairs”, day two, “I have a problem with alcohol”, Day three and four, “I need treatment, I’m going into Rehab”. Now I have no proof that the drinking problem bit of this story is true or not but it is a recurring theme in these PR stories.
What we have here is a well controlled story in which our sympathies are supposed to be with famous person.
Now, there is another approach. The famous person may choose not to talk to the paper in question. This is nearly always a bad idea. What then happens is that the paper will run a series of blow by blow (if you forgive the pun) account of the affair(s) with pictures of the lady(ies) in underwear probably insulting the size of the famous persons penis. There is another, much smaller, subset of these stories where the famous person sort of collaborates with the paper but not enough to give a tell-all interview. These stories can be spotted because when the woman in the underwear describes the sex she will be very positive about it. That is the famous person’s pay off for being a bit helpful.
I mentioned Ashley Cole at the beginning of this section so now back to him. He has been given a hard time by the press because he cheated on someone who is more popular than he is. He has fucked with an inexplicable nation treasure. He was always going to lose that battle in the press.
In this section on affairs I have concentrated on the man for one very good reason, men who have affairs are treated differently to woman. Any famous woman who has an affair will come off badly. There will be no sympathetic angle. You are a woman who dared to have some sex and therefore you are a slut. This will be reinforced by printing the story next to some pictures of you taken not wearing very much.