The world according to Paul Dacre

The Daily Mail editor on corrections, self-regulation and liberals who loathe the tabloids.

Don't worry about press regulation; the Daily Mail is going to start running a corrections column. It's taken Paul Dacre 19 years as Mail editor to make the decision, which he announced while addressing the Leveson inquiry into media ethics -- but I suppose you can't rush these things. And it is to be commended that clarifications and corrections will be made more prominent in his very popular paper, as well as the Metro. Perhaps others will follow suit.

Dacre had previously said that "buried corrections" were "one of the great myths of our time", yet has now seen fit to make his corrections less, well, buried. You can't "bury" a correction on page two, much as it's regarded as a bit of an editorial graveyard, so this move is to be applauded. The more cynical observer might venture that it's a very convenient way of avoiding the need for front page apologies, should mistakes ever occur in front-page stories, but let's not be churlish. Not yet, anyway.

If these corrections work, it should be a great advertisement for self-regulation, and would prove the arguments Dacre made today that the tickling stick of the PCC should remain, or at the very most be replaced by an ombudsman system led by retired editors... ah, if only one could think of a prominent newspaper editor with an interest in media ethics who is soon to be retired! Ah well, I'm sure the kind of person suitable for such a cushy job would make himself known when the time was right.

It remains to be seen whether readers will accept this kind of thing as the way forward, and whether this kind of move will be seen as protection enough for those who feel they've been wronged in the press, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that enveloped the industry over the summer.

What happens, for example, if a newspaper decides against putting in a reader's correction, and there's a dispute over whether there really was an error or not? What happens if a couple of paragraphs on page two replace a larger correction that would have appeared elsewhere in the paper, on page three for example or the front page? Who decides whether that's good enough or not? There are still details to be ironed out, regardless of this move today.

What's faintly dispiriting, though, is the intellectual feebleness of some of Dacre's arguments. If people want to license journalists they should go to Zimbabwe, he says. It's the kind of reduction to absurdity that doesn't befit someone of his stature or his position; "Well if you like it so much you should go to Zimbabwe and see how you like it", is a lazy klaxon used by those who can't think in terms of nuance or shades of grey, and one would rather hope that the editor of a national newspaper could. I'm sure Dacre can; it appears that he has chosen not to.

This kind of argument supposes that there is only vicious state regulation on one hand, or freedom on the other, and nothing in between. It's just plain wrong.

As well as that, he argues that "Britain's liberal classes" are somehow at fault because they dislike popular redtops and that "This liberal hatred of mass-selling newspapers has transmogrified into a hatred of self-regulation itself." Again, Dacre is not a dunce, by any stretch of the imagination, so it's disappointing and dispiriting to see him coming out with garbage like this.

People don't like red-tops because of what they have done, because of the boundaries they have crossed, because of the crimes they have committed -not because of some political or class-driven desire to stamp down on the voice of the people. People don't like self-regulation because they feel it doesn't work. That's the top and bottom of it.

And there's the thing I suppose I take issue with the most: Dacre rails against "liberals" who hate red-top newspapers supposedly because they're popular, and voice the opinion of the many rather than the few; yet he won't countenance changes to regulation of the press, regardless of how many people support it, or how popular that is. Because he says so.

Is that really good enough? And who is representing the voice of the public at this inquiry? When do they get their turn?

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear