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Saturday, October 27, 2007 

The Madeleine circus rolls on.

I keep promising myself that I won't write any more posts on the McCann saga - and then I very quickly find I break those personal bonds. This isn't going to be overly long, although if this longest, most drawn-out of sensationalist crime stories doesn't run out of steam prior to Christmas, it might well only be prudent to suggest that it may merit a review in full at years' end.

The one thing that does appear to be self-evident now is that the sympathy for the McCanns is slowly ebbing away. This isn't necessarily due to the fact that they are almost certainly the only realistic suspects in the disappearance of their daughter, but more likely just through the general fatigue of the sight of both them and Madeleine, staring out at you whenever you enter the newsagent. I'm sick of seeing all of them, sick of reading the confabulated nonsense being concocted on a daily basis by men and women who are an insult to the definition of journalist, and continuously disgusted by the duplicity of the media in its role in first defending the couple from even the slightest of suggestions that they could have been involved and now in routinely damning them and drawing on the most basest of sources, especially those who seem to be eager to be paid for their lack of insight.

You can't just blame the media themselves though - the McCanns' use and now relationship with it has been a disaster from the beginning. They simply haven't managed to get the balance right, just as the press itself hasn't. Granted, you can't damn them too much for not understanding how the feral beasts operate, and their initial approach, in getting as much coverage as they possibly could in the hope that Madeleine would quickly be found if they got her image transmitted across the globe, was probably a risk worth taking. It always however threatened to drive a potential kidnapper to ground, locking Madeleine away where she would never be discovered, or into panicking and to use an unpleasant euphemism, disposing of her. Their subsequent appointment of a spokesman who is, as commentators have pointed out, little more than a spin doctor of the most oleaginous kind, has also thoroughly backfired.

The tabloid media as a whole has delighted in using the story to their own advantage. The faux empathy verging on emotional pornography which radiated from the coverage at the beginning quickly turned to the News of the World and Scum sponsoring huge billboards, posters and t-shirts with their own logo adorned all over them. Celebrities pledged money, their jets, and even inserts in their books. The "bungling" of the Portuguese police supposedly highlighted by the tabloids, often verging on xenophobia, only seemingly resulted in them increasing their briefings to their home media, who in turn denounced the British press and increasingly turned on the McCanns themselves. I watched last week's Dispatches documentary while away, which sent "five of the UK's best-qualified criminal investigators" to Praia da Luz to investigate all the leads, and while a couple were critical of the initial inadequacies of the search around the resort, the level of invective towards the investigation by the local police was notable only by its absence. By far the most revolting development though has been the Daily Express, the worst of the tabloid mentality summed up in a single paper, where Madeleine has not now been absent from the front page for months, the concept of making money out of collective misery far too good an opportunity to miss for Richard Desmond, a pornographer who last year paid himself £40m.

While I have never sought to pass any guilt on the McCanns themselves, either for leaving their children alone while they went out to dine, or for being possibly involved in their own daughter's disappearance, I'm fairly certain that all of us were aware from the beginning of how rare abductions of children from their own homes are: kidnapping whilst on holiday is next to unheard for. As the days, weeks and months have passed, with all the leads apparently drying up, the suspicion was always going to pass onto themselves. I genuinely hope they are innocent, mainly for their own sake. The best thing they could do now though is to completely step back from the limelight, sack Clarence Mitchell and make it clear to the press that they will be making no further comments whatsoever until any new leads turn up. They can still fund their own investigations into their daughter's disappearance, as they seem to be doing, but their own presence in the coverage is only exacerbating the increasingly chilly public mood towards them. At the moment, as perverse as it is, they're only encouraging the mentality which is leading the tabloids to sink even lower than they ever have before: the Daily Mail's current online poll is "Do you think Kate McCann's tears were genuine?", (other polls include is Nigella Lawson getting too fat and Has Strictly Come Dancing become too competitive) and the current results are perhaps indicative, 49% saying yes and 51% saying no. The media is foul enough without having to cover yourself in shit whilst utilising it.

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