Sex, children and Mail Online

The Daily Mail campaigns against the sexualisation of children. Meanwhile, its website runs pictures of 14-year-old Kylie Jenner in a "tiny wetsuit" and "skimpy bikinis". What's wrong here?

Kylie Jenner is “seen posing up against a rusty old truck” with her sister, Kendall, in their “flirty white dresses.” With “much longer limbs” than their more famous siblings they “made the most of their trim pins”. Later, Kylie changes into an olive-green gown “which is skimpy around the bust area”, and “works her magic in front of the camera”. She has less modelling experience than Kendall, a swimsuit model who “is envied by millions of girls … for her lithe figure,” but is catching up, and loves “posing for the cameras”.

Kylie Jenner is 14 years old.

She is the daughter of Olympian Bruce and Kris Kardashian, and stepsister to Khloe, Kim, Kourtney and Rob. Her sister, Kendall, recently turned 16. The quotes above are all taken from a single Mail Online article, which is just of one of dozens written about the young girls. A more recent headline reports that they “don tiny wetsuits for a day at the beach”. The article is based on a picture that Kendall posted on Twitter; it was spotted by the all-seeing Daily Mail Reporter, who apparently felt that 14- and 16-year-old girls wearing “very short wetsuits” would attract clicks.


Elsewhere on the site, six photos appear of the “teen bikini queens” soaking up the sun. Daily Mail Reporter describes them as “exhibitionists” who “display maturity and a lifestyle far beyond their years”. Fourteen-year-old Kylie is “not exactly shy!” as she “gets dressed in full view of passers-by”, an image Mail Online editors feel must be shared with the world. Days later, Daily Mail Reporter is shocked - shocked! - to find that the Kardashian family have included the two girls in a “raunchy home music video”. The “sexually-charged” performance features “teenagers Kendall and Kylie dancing suggestively in skimpy bikinis” and “shaking their bottoms for the camera”. The Mail show a picture of the girls, captioned Too young?” In case readers still aren’t sure, they helpfully provide the full video too. 


Of course the Kardashians court publicity. The Kardashian name is a brand, and the family are a business built around the meticulously stage-managed performances of people who have chosen to live life as low-brow art. One can criticise adults for making that choice, and say that they deserve to reap the consequences of their actions; it is not so easy to dismiss the plight of a 14-year-old girl who - like any princess destined for a throne - has her choices made for her. Her family created the photo opportunities, photographers decided to take pictures of her posing in a bikini, picture agencies bought and sold the snaps, and newspaper editors chose to run them. At no stage in this celebrity industry assembly line does anybody seem to have considered whether it was appropriate to exploit a child in this revolting fashion.

At 14, Kylie has come late to celebrity. Six-year-old Suri Cruise, daughter of Tom and Katie, has been featured in more than six hundred Daily Mail articles - almost one for every three days of her life. In 2010 the Mail reported that the four-year-old was spotted snuggling up in her pink 'blankie',” observing that: “the comforter has been a constant feature in little Suri's A-list jetset life, and it seems that she isn't quite ready to give it up”. If this seems ‘cute’ to you, imagine this sort of obsessive media scrutiny applied to you or your child at the same age. No wonder that in 2008 the Mail could report that: Suri Cruise may be only two years old but it seems the toddler has already developed a dislike for photographers.”

The next stage, surely, is for the intrepid Daily Mail Reporter to venture through the vaginas of pregnant celebrities with a microphone and a handycam, in order to rank the relative cuteness of famous foetuses. Of course MailOnline's editor, Martin Clarke, told the Leveson Inquiry that “we don’t report pregnancies unless confirmed by the subject”, but as TabloidWatch reported recently they’re happy to cover rumoured pregancies; whether revealing that Megan Fox is “still staying mum” about her “growing ‘bump’,” or asking whether Gisele has “something to hide?” Clarke and his competitors are leading us into a brave new world where people can be celebrities from conception to grave.

As worrying as this is, it is the treatment of teenage girls that is most worrying. The Jenners are far from the only targets - Jimmy Saville-Row at Vice Magazine recently highlighted, the Mail’s alarmingly frequent use of the phrase “all grown up” to describe adolescents, to which I would add the equally creepy “older than her years”. The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

Remarkably, there is nothing in the PCC code to stop Mail Online publishing images of young children accompanied by such commentary. Section 6 of the code, focusing on children, says that “young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion” and that editors “must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s life”. In the case of Kylie Jenner, a celebrity under construction placed firmly in the public domain by her parents, neither rule really applies. That is a state of affairs the Leveson Inquiry would do well to consider. If Paul Dacre’s concerns about sexualisation are genuine, then perhaps he might like to consider it too.

Martin Robbins is a writer and researcher. Find him at The Lay Scientist or on Twitter: @mjrobbins

Kendall and Kylie Jenner are regular fixtures on Mail Online. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide