Newspaper watch: The Mail plays the blame game

  • 27 December 2006
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Christmas is a special time for the Irish Daily Mail. Not only does the holiday provide plenty of opportunities to trumpet the nostalgic, conservative, narrow-minded views beloved by the paper, but it also plays directly into the Mail's unique selling points – the nurturing of a generalised state of anxiety about health and the identification of people to blame for stuff.

According to the Mail's editorial on Stephen's Day, science is “daily eroding the certainties of life”, although the Mail is doing its best to eliminate this uncertainty, particularly through what Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre memorably described as their “ongoing ontological program to divide all inanimate objects into ones that will either cause or cure cancer”.

The traditional Christmas over-indulgence and the post-festive anxiety is perfect for their special line in offering dubious health advice based upon ludicrously inaccurate and sensationalist reporting of scientific research. Thus, the Mail's front page on Stephen's Day reassured any readers who might have had too much turkey by describing situations “when healthy foods are bad”. The following day's front page announced a new slimming pill which had “been hailed by scientists after stunning test results” – strangely, nobody seems to have noticed the stunningness of the breakthrough when the preliminary test results were announced at a conference two months ago.

The Mail's rose-tinted nostalgic views of Christmas past, a vision adopted wholesale from the paper's English edition, never existed, not even in England and approaches surreality in the Irish version. However, the utopian nature of the traditional Christmas provides the paper with considerable ammunition in their favourite pastime of all – blaming other people for bad things. Asylum-seekers and immigrants and their political manifestations in multi-culturalism and the dreaded political correctness were naturally wheeled out as prime villains in the ruination of traditional Christmas values. An anecdote about a religious individual distributing allegedly homophobic material was portrayed as yet another attempt by the politically-correct thought police to “ban Christmas”. The rather run-of-the-mill negative comments by religious leaders about the “commercialism” and “culture of greed” of modern Christmas was deemed newsworthy enough to make the front page on Stephen's Day and were echoed in an editorial entitled “A welcome reminder of the role of morality”.

Howver, the need to blame somebody else runs deeper than just the traditional villains. When airplane passengers were delayed due to weather conditions in the days leading up to Christmas, the Mail naturally pointed the finger at British Airports Authority, implying that the inability of planes to fly in heavy fog is another example of their lack of preparation: “Isn't it curious that the world's biggest airport seems utterly taken aback by the fact that winter is sometimes foggy?” Similarly, when weather conditions caused flights to be cancelled in France, rather than attempting to examine the realities of modern air-transport logistics, the Mail took the considerably more certain route of announcing that Ryanair had “cancelled Christmas”. All in all, a merrily traditional Christmas for the Mail – promoting dubious science stripped of uncertainty designed to target public anxiety while indulging in the traditional sport of pointless moaning.π