Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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Why the Sun has turned Ken Clarke into a Teletubby

This is what passes for a debate about sentencing.

Kenneth Clarke, the man who is too soft on crime for the red-tops' taste, has now become a Teletubby. Do you see? Do you see what they did there? Ken Clarke is a bit chubby, therefore he's a Teletubby. Haha! Terrific. They've cut out a picture of Ken Clarke's face, and put it into the body of the yellow Teletubby, Laa-Laa. Why? Because Ken's living in Laa-Laa land if he thinks that modifying the existing system of reducing tariffs for criminals if they plead guilty is the right way to battle crime! Haha! Geddit?

There's even an online game where you can throw Hush Puppies at cuddly Ken. No, really, there is, thanks to Britain's most popular daily paper. Have a go at it yourself. Essentially you have to move move a shoe over scrolling Ken Clarke/Teletubby things as they float past the Palace of Westminster in the background, then if you click your mouse, he disappears, and another one floats past, and so on.

Ordinarily, of course, the thought of throwing items footwear at Conservative MPs dressed as children's cartoon characters would be the sort of thing that bring me almost sexual delight, but no. Not this time. It must have taken, oh I don't know, thirty or forty seconds of this before I lost the will to carry on. The endless Ken Clarke/Laa-Laas kept scrolling past. And I kept hitting them with a Hush Puppy. And that was it. The same thing kept happening, again and again. The big yellow Ken Clarkes kept rolling past. And I kept hitting them with a shoe. And then they sped up a bit, and I know that I was meant to be finding this a right old wheeze, but I could barely break into a smirk.

This is the 'news is sport' model: News is sport; sport is news. Just as an England football manager can be turned into a turnip (or a jackass in the case of the current incumbent), Ken Clarke can be turned into a Teletubby. The readers won't quite understand just how much they're meant to dislike someone unless you literally turn them into a figure of ridicule: a vegetable, a comedy animal, a children's TV character. If you think that something like sentencing tariffs, or football tactics, might be too hard for your readers to understand, don't worry: just wheel out the crudely Photoshopped picture, and they'll get the message. Look at this idiot! He must be sacked.

There are a couple of other reasons why I don't find the Ken Clarke Teletubby thing terrifically funny. Firstly, it's worth reading this blogpost by Ben Chu over at the Independent. He makes the point that Gabrielle Brown, a rape victim who initially criticised Clarke, was eagerly used as a figurehead by the tabloids when she had the 'right' views. But when she changed her position after having considered the issue and having met with Clarke, that was not seen as being as important a story, or as worth mentioning - it certainly wasn't treated with the same prominence.

Secondly, it's this strange business of newspapers like the Sun deciding what's 'soft on crime' and what isn't, the 'CAGE THIS BEAST AND THROW AWAY THE KEY' mentality that aims to stoke the fires of revenge and punishment. It's part of a relentless moral crusade to put more people in jail for longer, to increase the numbers in jail, to build new jails: it's all about punishment. How did it get decided that was the right thing to do? Is it best for the country, or is it just what the Sun anticipates its reactionary readers might want to hear?

I have no idea whether it's the result of a thoughtful study of the justice system, based on some moral code or simply a reflection of what the paper thinks its readers might want. It's never really explained very well. All we're left with is Ken Clarke in a big yellow suit with an antenna on his head. Throw a Hush Puppy at him, that'll do the trick. Punish him. Make him suffer. A bit like how we're invited to see criminals. And that's what passes for a debate about sentencing.