Media tribalism has always existed, but now it’s more obvious than ever. The BBC’s director general suspects there’s a whiff of anti-BBC tribalism about the whooping and finger-pointing over the non-existent Frozen Planet non-fakery silliness that spread right throughout the media from the tabloids to the proper newspapers.
As I wrote the other day, the BBC were accused by the Telegraph (among others, kicked off by the Mirror) of misleading viewers about a scene involving polar bear cubs. The BBC responded as robustly as you might expect to what was at best kite-flying on a slow news day, and at worst nasty barrel-scraping.
Is Mark Thompson right? Is there more than a suspicion of anti-Beeb targeting in the stirring up of the Frozen Planet row? I don’t think journos have ever really loved their rivals, but the lines are getting more and more entrenched, as more and more journos head down the stairs for the last time with a bin-bag of stuff and a tear in their eye.
Add to that the roaring and finger-pointing at Saint Nick Davies by the likes of Kelvin “The Truth” Mackenzie (I write his name so often I’ve become tired of it, and will henceforth only refer to him in these columns as “The Truth”) and a picture begins to emerge, perhaps. You get the sense that it’s tapping into the kind of ‘us against them’ tribalism that’s always been lingering under the surface. “It’s all very well telling us how to be journos, Davies,” snarl the unlucky ones who ended up ctrl+C and ctrl+V-ing press releases for a living, or writing witless celebrity bullshit about Z-list no-marks on reality TV shows. “But now you’ve fucked up, and you’re not so good yourself.”
It might not be the case, as it had been suspected sometime ago, that the News of the World or people in its employ deleted voicemails on Milly Dowler’s mobile phone, giving the family false hope, but the phone was still hacked. Davies’s error wasn’t a vendetta or agenda-driven piece of fact-twisting to suit his narrative, either; it was just an honest error based on the facts as they were known at the time, acknowledged as such and immediately corrected. You know, like some of the other newspapers are supposed to do, but don’t, unless the PCC gives them a slap on the thigh with a lump of wet celery, or unless the complainant is rich enough to take the legal option.
You can kick it around and pretend that if only the public knew that the Screws didn’t delete voicemails, the outrage wouldn’t have been so great, but that’s just not the case. A dead girl’s phone was hacked. 7/7 victims had phones hacked. That’s the top and bottom of why people were revolted: because they had every damn right to be. And still do.
I think the problem is that the silver-topped journos you see getting so worked up about this sort of thing (take a bow, Jules Stenson) managed to live most of their lives without a great deal of scrutiny from the public, or their fellow professionals. Now they’re centre stage, and they’re woefully unprepared for the experience, trying to fight their way out by shouting and pointing at Nick Davies, saying “Please sir, the swotty kid did something wrong, as well! Punish him too!”
Maybe this kind of tribalism is only to be expected as the endgame approaches, newspapers die off and the new landscape gets drawn. For now, these media tribes are like Titanic passengers fighting each other to the death for a space on a bit of wood. They’re going to succumb to the freezing waters themselves, eventually, but they want just that little bit longer before they do.