A collection of opinion articles about various aspects of the case
Lay off the McCanns, 03 June 2007
Lay off the McCanns
The Sunday Times
June 3, 2007
I wrote about Madeleine McCann
just after she'd been abducted, and was quite startled by my postbag. Roughly half the letters sympathised impotently
with Gerry and Kate McCann; the other half were entirely, and brutally, condemnatory.
Who leaves three toddlers
unattended for half an hour at a time, they asked? The McCanns were "asking for it", they were "selfish",
they were "criminally careless". I hardly think so: leaving small children alone is never wise, but most of us avoid
doing it because we're frightened of choking, not of marauding child-snatchers; if we believed that paedophiles lurk around
every corner, we'd all go insane and never leave the house.
I was really taken aback by these letters, chiefly
because when an unspeakably awful thing happens, compassion seems a saner and more appropriate response than being smugly
Anyway: here we are again, a month on. Madeleine is still missing, her picture still appears in most
newspapers every day, and I don't know quite where the compassion percentage stands at today. There is clearly a growing
rumble of unease out there at the McCanns' omnipresence in the papers and on television. No aspect of their grief is deemed
too private to share with the media. We've watched them in church, we've watched them walking about, we've seen
their other two children, we've seen poor beribboned Kate McCann clutching pathetically at Madeleine's favourite toy.
They were in Rome last week, where they briefly met the Pope; soon they'll be off to a slew of other countries,
cameras in tow, to broaden out their campaign. And it is a campaign, involving appeals or offers of support from David Beckham,
Cristiano Ronaldo, even Gordon Brown. Whoever is orchestrating it deserves an award.
Enough, detractors say. A
hundred children go missing in Britain every year: what about them? Do we know even one of their names? The answer, shamefully,
is no. But two wrongs don't make a right: would it be preferable for Madeleine to become an anonymous statistic too? Would
ignoring the McCanns and their desperate appeal somehow honour the other 100 nameless missing children? It’s hard to
The argument then moves on to the cynicism and sentimentality of the media, which apparently feeds the
public's fundamentally unwholesome and voyeuristic hunger for images of a lost child and her distraught parents. Well,
er, yeah: full marks, Sherlock. Nothing new there: one of the bestselling books in the country at the moment is called Please,
Daddy, No. It is one of many in the same genre, and it is an unfortunate fact that the public's appetite for horrific
"true" stories involving children being abused seems, disturbingly, almost infinite.
The question is,
does it matter that some people's avid following of the McCanns' story undoubtedly involves prurience and a strange
sort of hunger for the gory detail? Not really, no. The point, surely, is that somebody somewhere knows or suspects what happened
to Madeleine, and that her parents are desperate to attract that person's attention by any means necessary. If, on the
way, they make some of us feel uncomfortable, or voyeuristic, or even, whisper it, compassion-fatigued, that's entirely
our problem. God knows theirs is greater.
Speaking of God: what really brought the nay-sayers out of the woodwork
was the McCanns' attendance at mass in St Peter's Square last week. They are devout Catholics; they met the Pope for
a few minutes afterwards; he appeared to bless a photograph of Madeleine. Unacceptable, according to some woman on Newsnight
for whom this was the final straw: the McCann story had now become about "religion and faith".
extraordinary statement. Here are two parents, stuck in hell, not even afforded the dubious comfort of grieving. Love the
Pope, hate the Pope, meeting him helped them and brought them comfort. Do we really need to sit in judgment?
boring leftie middle-class response to the McCanns' story - clumsily seeking to intellectualise an event to which most
people respond only viscerally - has echoes of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Reams were written at the time about
how Britain had gone mad, how this syrupy sentimentality was entirely puzzling, how the writer felt like an alien in his or
her own country, how he or she really didn't care that much, how plenty of women died every day, how the fuss and the
grief were entirely disproportionate and we'd all be terribly embarrassed in the cold light of day.
that the writers of those articles felt brave, like they were boldly sticking their heads above the parapet, speaking up for
a significant minority. Which I'm sure they were - though perhaps not as heroically as they'd envisaged — just
like the commentators expressing their discomfort at the magnitude of the McCann campaign.
But what's the point,
exactly? It is an act of off-the-scale egoism to base your view of a situation such as this one only on whether it makes you
feel "comfortable" or not. What has anyone's "comfort" got to do with anything? The facts are simple:
a child was snatched; her parents are in despair; the Portuguese police seem worse than inept. Someone knows what happened
to Madeleine. What are the parents to do? (Three days or so after Madeleine disappeared, and the media circus was already
in full flow, an enterprising reporter drove over the border to Spain with a photograph of her. He was met with only blank
looks: despite nonstop coverage of the story here, no one he spoke to had any idea who she was.)
The McCann family's
story is like any other in this respect: you can think what you like. You can be interested, you can be bored. You can leave
News 24 on in the background, or you can watch Big Brother instead. You can hope for the best, or fear the worst. You can
say a prayer, or rant about the Pope. It's up to you, because you can always turn the page and move on to something you
consider more interesting or more cheerful, something that makes you feel more "comfortable".
does not exist for the McCanns. They can't turn the page. They can only generate more headlines, because they believe
that the end of headlines is the end of hope. Who among us would look them in the eye and condemn them for it?
My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve, 09 May 2007
Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money
May 09, 2007
I need to break from the usual financial slant of
posts on this blog. I'm sure you'll understand as I thing's it's important to give my views on this...
My family and I returned last week relaxed from a holiday at the sleepy end of Portugal's Algarve. We were,
however, stunned to wake on Friday morning, days after we returned, to hear news that a girl, three-year-old Madeleine McCann,
had gone missing from the same complex, yards from where we stayed.
We picked the Ocean Club resort in Praia de Luz, a quiet village, because of its connections with Mark Warner
Holidays. The company has a growing reputation among families for offering comprehensive childcare wrapped in packages with
free sports activities, such as tennis and water sports. The balance of a family holiday with time to relax away from the
kids is attractive to millions of Britons.
We had a great time, able to spend time together as a family while also having some time out. Sam, our two-year-old
son, was well looked after while we lounged by the pool, or why I played tennis or sailed. My wife Andrea and I even made
nightly jaunts to local restaurants, a rare treat for new parents.
Luz, as the locals call it, is a laid back resort with a mix of Portugese holidaymakers and locals and, in
off-peak May, a smaller number of foreign tourists. A handful of restaurants and bars in the town have a balance of mainly
British families and friendly locals. This is an area you would not associate with crime, let alone the abduction of a child.
The Ocean Club has several hubs. One is a 24-hour reception, the other two have swimming pools, restaurants
and tennis courts. At their furthest point, these centres are 10 minutes walk apart. In between are Ocean Club apartments
mixed with local homes.
The options for childcare were numerous, well organised and of a very high standard. A well-staffed nursery
with a child-to-carer ratio that was often just two-to-one, took youngsters from 9.30 to 12.30 every day and from 2.30 to
5.30 in the afternoon.
These creche facilities were next to the poolside Tapas restaurant where Madeleine's parents were eating when
Madeleine and the younger twins Amelie and Sean were sleeping at the McCanns' apartment overlooking the swimming
pool at the main hub of the resort. Around that pool was the Tapas bar which was in high demand every night. Most guests went
to the buffet at the Ocean Club's Millennium restaurant, a 10-minute walk away from the McCanns' apartment. But eager guests
would queue from 9am to book one of the limited number of tables at the Tapas bar, which served barbecued fish and meat dishes
to order. Both restaurants were included in the price of the holiday.
The McCanns' choice to leave their children at the flat and make regular checks is surprising given the alternatives.
In their defence, they may have been expecting, as advertised in Mark Warner brochures, a 'listening service'. Staff told
us that the service had been discontinued because the apartments were too spread out. The resort, however, offered a baby-sitting
service for 15 euros (£10) an hour, which was staffed by a member of the daytime nursery teams, or a 'dining out club'. This
involved parents dropping off children at the crèche where they would be supervised watching videos until they went to sleep.
Parents would then return before 11.30 to scoop up their sleepy offspring.
I can imagine the McCanns' dilemma. The 'dining out club' was more than a five-minute walk from where the
McCanns stayed along cobbled streets or a winding pedestrian path through the apartments. It's not far - it worked brilliantly
for us on most nights - but it would have felt much further if you had to ferry thee children there and back (and hope they
were still asleep after doing so). Plus parents were required to wait until children under two, which includes the McCanns'
twins, were asleep. We talked to parents who said this was enough to put them off the option.
The McCanns opted instead to eat 40-50m from their apartment, not much more than a pool's width away. They
hoped it would be just close enough to hear a crying baby but with bar music playing and restaurant hubbub, it wasn't close
enough to hear what happened to Madeleine that night.
I can't imagine what they're going through now. I, along with millions others, only hope they can find her
soon and safe.
So what is a parent to do?, 12 May 2007
TWO mums confided to me this week that their children
had "incidents" on holiday after being left in kids' clubs.
I won't go into the cases for privacy reasons, but both involved childcare workers acting in an inappropriate
way. It has affected family holidays and both mums blame themselves for leaving their children with strangers.
So to all the smug, judgmental parents who have questioned why Kate and Gerry McCann did not make use of the
Mark Warner resort creche facilities, or employ babysitters for little Madeleine and her brother and sister while they ate
in a restaurant just yards away - it could have happened to any of you.
I have no doubt that Mark Warner staff are perfectly professional, but as parents we do what we think is right
for our children. And if the McCanns thought it was better to leave theirs sleeping in an apartment in a holiday resort chosen
for its child-friendliness rather than placing a stranger in the same room as their precious toddlers, who's to say they're
Kate's mum Susan says: "You make a decision and think it's OK. This time it wasn't and Kate and Gerry must
live with that."
The fact is, on holiday, away from the stresses and strains of daily life, and especially in a resort renowned
for family holidays, we'd all be lulled into a sense that nothing can harm us.
We do things we might not do at home - there's no way the McCanns would have left their tots sleeping in their
bedrooms while they went to the local restaurant back in Leicestershire.
We often left ours sleeping upstairs in a hotel room while we dined downstairs until one night, when they
were two and five, we were told they were running up and down the landing screaming and calling for Mummy.
I have never felt so wretched - seeing two tear-stained faces looking questioningly at me as if to say "Why
did you leave us?" is an image that has stayed with me.
Now we take them with us or leave them with babysitters - babysitters who are sometimes male, often complete
strangers whose credentials we don't check.
What are we to do? Not go out on our own? Not go on holiday? Or trust that our faith in human kindness will
prevail? In the end that's all we can do.
Source Of Sources, 13 May 2007
Martin Brunt, Sky News crime correspondent
May 13, 2007
'Sky sources' are a bit thin on the ground here in the Algarve.
There's no sidling up to a friendly cop for a quick natter away from the cameras. No slipping off for a cappuccino
and an off-the-record chat...or "guidance" as we call it.
So I really don't know. if the police have any real idea what happened to Madeleine McCann. I suspect they
I'm having to rely for information on the local Portuguese Press whose accuracy is sometimes highly questionable.
One paper seems to have good contacts. The rest of the stuff is best described as "culhoes". In neighbouring
Spain that would be "cojones."
Each morning, with the help of a translator, I have to pick my way through the minefield of flyers.
At breakfast time I can get away with attributing the stories to the local papers. Later I try to turn them
I imagine somebody has the unenviable task of doing much the same for Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate.
The couple must sometimes despair at the media interest, but they know we are their best hope in finding witnesses.
The police are doing nothing to appeal for the public's help. They continue to hide behind the country's secrecy
law, which even prevented them from issuing a description of the clothes Madeleine was wearing.
It's the law, but that doesn't make it right. There's a feeling that law will be repealed after being held
up to so much global ridicule.
One morning Gerry and Kate McCann told a colleague of mine "Please, it's Madeleine, not Maddy."
We've all been guilty of that. They've lost their daughter once, they don't want her taken and renamed by
Written by Martin, May 13, 2007
Response in 'Comments' section from Paulo Reis:
Your comments are appalling, disgusting, offensive and nauseating. The only thing that I agree
with you, was when you wrote "[…] I really don't know". Right! That’s the only truth in your post. Your classification
of the Portuguese Press as "colhões" [that's the right way of spelling], the vernacular translation of "testicles" and a word
no educated person would ever mention in front of women of kids, is the most offensive and unfair I ever heard.
you call a "minefield of flyers" is a serious, professional and ethically oriented, non-tabloid coverage of the sad event
of Madeleine abduction. I'll make available, at my web page (Gazeta Digital - http://www.gazetadigital.blogspot.com/), within
a couple of hours, headlines and highlights of the Portuguese Press from the last days, with pictures of front pages and links
to the stories online.
This may allow British viewers and readers to have a conclusion about how wrong you are, with
your racist comments, more proper from a member the Schutzstaffel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS).
You, Mr. Martin
Blunt, are a good (?) example of those howling blood-thirsty British tabloid journalists, willing to kill – or let someone
be killed – to have a story. That's ok with me, as you keep this low form of life inside your country and don't export
it to Portugal.
Most of the British journalists, reporting from Algarve, behave as if they were following a National
Geographic expedition to study the not-so-long-ago-cannibal tribes in the deep jungles of New-Guinea. But you, Mr. Martin
Blunt and the journalists and editors of Daily Mail and The Telegraph, went a little further and showed how deep is your fidelity
to the ideas of the author of "Der Mythus des Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts" [The Myth of the XX Century].
Hope you are
aware that this post is what is considered, both in British Law and Portuguese Law, an offensive remark, made through the
media (aggravated circumstance…). Now, it's not the right moment to do it, but I can promise you that, once Madeleine
McCann case is closed – and I hope, with Maddy being reunited with her parents – you will heard, not from me,
but from my solicitor.
Jornalista (Carteira Profissional nº 734)
Posted by: Paulo Reis 13 May 2007 19:08:02
The British media does not do responsibility. It does stories, 18 May 2007
The British media does not do responsibility. It does stories
frenzied reporting of the missing McCann child serves neither the interests of the family nor the cause of justice
Friday May 18 2007
The media coverage of the missing McCann child has
largely escaped censure. This is because it concerns an ongoing tragedy and because the grief of those directly involved is
so real. Neither justifies freedom from comment. The coverage has been absurdly over the top and cannot have served the interests
of the family, or the eventual cause of justice.
I was astonished to see the BBC news department sending its star presenter, Huw Edwards, to southern Portugal
to handle what was essentially a single thread story with at least two other onscreen reporters in place. The corporation
must be stiff with under-employed staff. Presumably as a result of this decision, the McCanns regularly led the 6 o'clock
news, ahead of Gordon Brown's leadership bid - even when there was nothing new to report from the Algarve.
In this voracious feeding frenzy the media presence in Portimao was reduced to extremes of invention to justify
the prominence the story was getting back home. We learned of false sightings, car chases, child traffickers, barren women,
beach paedophiles and dark dungeons. A "suspect" was enveloped in private detective work way beyond any consideration for
natural justice. The sympathy a reader or viewer was bound to feel for the McCanns was overwhelmed in an exploitative swarm.
Star footballers were signed up, as were Hell's Angels, MPs wearing yellow ribbons and ministers meeting deputations. It was
as if a missing child were this year's Make Poverty History campaign.
Madeleine has become Maddy, an angel face in the clutches of a monster. The reasonable attempts of the McCanns
to avoid publicity and be seen to cooperate with the much-battered Portuguese police were as broken sticks in a tornado of
coverage. No aspect of the case was left intact by invading armies of counsellors, paediatricians, psychologists, criminologists
and trauma consultants. "Every parent's nightmare" became the nation's nightmare. Families closed their doors to the world,
hugged their children close and cursed Portugal.
To suggest that this might not be a good way of finding a missing child is clearly spitting in the wind. It
is possible that publicity in the McCann case might have induced witnesses to come forward in the immediate aftermath of the
girl's disappearance. It is equally possible that media hysteria could drive a cornered criminal to desperate measures to
cover his or her tracks. Is it worth the risk?
There were 798 child abductions in Britain in the last period for which figures are available (2003-4), of
which most were intra-family but 68 were "by strangers". Of these, a majority were quickly and quietly resolved, by information
being available and acted on before the captor realised. Twenty-five of them took longer, in addition to dozens from preceding
years. Since the disappearance of Madeleine on May 3, another 450 young people have gone missing in Britain. While many are
teenagers, none has received anything like the attention given to the McCanns.
So what made this case so special as to merit the trans-shipment of Fleet Street's finest and the BBC's chief
news-reader? The answer is that a "big news story" is not a systematic concept. It does not emerge onto the page according
to some calculus of merit, as satirically suggested by Michael Frayn in his novel, Towards the End of Morning. It does not
claim its place on the front page via a table stipulating five dead Englishmen (or one Londoner), 50 dead Europeans and 1,000
To acquire front page status a story must compete with dozens of similar human interest stories on a particular
day, boosted by happenings over the light news period such as a bank holiday. Hence the phenomenon that alsatians only attack
children at Easter and there is a "road carnage horror" every Christmas, though statistics on both are constant through the
year. The story should relate the ordinary lives of readers, as did the Soham murders, but not the deaths of the Morecambe
Bay Chinese cockle pickers. It must contain tears, suspense and mystery.
Such features are not cynical or strange. A newspaper story strives to attain the quality of a novel, if only
because it knows that readers like novels, as television viewers like soap operas. The human imagination is attuned to narratives
that have beginnings, middles and ends, preferably ends that carry some moral message. Under this pressure what is extraordinary
is not that newspapers sometimes make things up (and get them wrong) but that they make so little up.
The McCann story ticked all these boxes. It was not another runaway teenager or the death abroad of another
"promising gap-year student". It was a heartbreaking and open-ended mystery. Any parent could relate to it. Any reader could,
by expressing sympathy and showing vigilance, participate in relieving pain and possibly solving the case. This might involve
intrusion into private grief and blatant xenophobia, but that is hardly a media novelty. Britons travelling abroad seem to
feel entitled to the same consideration by the authorities as they would get at home, and journalists feed that unreasonable
I have found the coverage of the McCann story prurient and tedious beyond belief. That the BBC should regard
it as more important than Brown's ascension to national leadership crumbles my faith in that great organisation. Tabloid values
have come to British public service broadcasting with a vengeance and without even the commercial pressure of the private
sector. It is like the daily attention given to the kidnapping of the BBC's brave Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, when
dozens of other kidnappings, including of journalists, go unreported.
In this spirit I must constantly remind myself that the British media does not do responsibility. It does
stories. And stories tell better when they are about individuals, not collectives. The media is unconcerned with what people
like me find decorous or important. It kicks down doors and exposes the hidden corners of the human condition. It fights competition,
plays dirty and disobeys the rules. There is nothing it finds too vulgar or too prurient for its wandering, penetrating lens.
Journalists may have cooked the McCann story to a burnt crisp. But they cook many other stories that way and
I say, thank goodness. There are plenty in power who feel too much was written and said on the Royal Navy hostages, on cash-for-honours,
on BAE sleaze and on David Kelly. Tough luck on them.
Damilola Taylor was just one among many youngsters whose lives are ruined or lost on Britain's sink housing
estates, conditions highlighted by the extraordinary publicity attached to his case. Many brave people are killed for trying
to impose order on Britain's streets, but it was the teacher, Philip Lawrence, who captured the public's imagination. Sometimes
there is no better way to alert the nation to street violence, racism or even the dangers faced by families abroad than through
the tragedy visited on an individual victim.
The British press plays hard cop to the soft cop of the British constitution. It goes where politics dares
not tread, certainly the present pusillanimous parliament that still cannot find a way of holding the government to account
for Iraq, as congress is finally doing in America. The press does not operate with any sense of proportion, judgment or self-restraint
because it is selling stories, not running the country. The unshackled and irresponsible press sometimes gets it wrong. But
I still prefer it, warts and all, to a shackled and responsible one.
'Maddie' and the media in Britain AD (After Diana), 24
'Maddie' and the media in Britain AD (After Diana)
three-week emotional outpouring around the missing Madeleine McCann has laid bare much about British culture today.
Thursday 24 May 2007
Last week I wrote here about why everybody seemed to be 'Missing "Our Maddie"', and questioned whether that
outpouring of public emotionalism was a healthy response to somebody else's tragedy. Normally I would only write a spiked
column touching on the same issue two weeks running when there is a war on, or at least an election campaign. But these are
not normal times.
Over the past three weeks, the campaign and media coverage around the missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann
has continued to seize the public imagination in a way that politics in Britain never does these days. And it has also apparently
done what wars cannot any more, by uniting the nation behind a cause.
Few want to question the response to Madeleine's disappearance, since we are talking about an innocent little
girl. Yet, despite my suggestion that we should shut up about 'Our Maddie', there is a need to keep questioning the reasons
behind this phenomenon, and what it reveals about the British state of mind. The campaign for 'Our Maddie' may indeed be well-intentioned;
but it has come to look like an increasingly morbid symptom of a society that is missing something other than a little girl.
Inevitably, raising these issues means you get accused of downplaying the horror of child abduction. We have
all been touched by the McCann's tragedy, sympathised with the devastated family and, if we are parents, even allowed ourselves
to think for a moment what it would be like if our child went missing. I hope that she is found safe (whilst recognising that
history suggests this is increasingly unlikely as time passes) and that those responsible are brought to account.
But over the past three weeks, the reactions to this case have gone far beyond such personal feelings of basic
human solidarity. Indeed, it has become clear that there are not one but two little girls involved here. There is Madeleine
McCann, at the centre of a secretive investigation in Portugal. And then there is 'Our Maddie', a photographic image of a
blonde girl with a name made up by the media, at the centre of a publicity circus over here.
As time goes on it increasingly seems that the UK media coverage of Maddie has had little connection with
the progress of the case itself. Indeed it has often appeared that while the police investigation has been stalling, the media
campaign over here has been revving up, as if the less that has been happening, the more coverage it has attracted.
During the first two weeks after Madeleine disappeared, there was little of substance to report from the Algarve
on most days. Yet as the Sky News correspondent in the Algarve wrote in his blog, the story topped news bulletins every day
bar one - only pushed slightly down the schedule once, by prime minister Tony Blair announcing his resignation date.
Last Sunday night on ITV News was a study in making headlines out of the fact that nothing was happening.
The only development was that Madeleine's father was flying home for an overnight visit. To record these events, ITV News
had two 'live' reporters - one standing in Portugal to tell us that the plane would be taking off 'any minute', the other
sent to near the McCann's home in Leicestershire to report that this was where he would be travelling to.
Then, Monday's Daily Mirror covered its front page with a splash reporting 'a minute's silence to remember
Madeleine and pray for her safe return'. The source of this important news? An anonymous e-mail, calling for a minute 'to
raise consciousness about the disappearance', as if raising consciousness any higher were possible.
Now we even have articles speculating on what will happen when the case drops out of the news, and a sort
of grim contest to find new angles to keep it in the headlines and keep the emotional temper high - from stories about Madeleine's
baby siblings kissing her image on TV, to front-page 'exclusives' about the BBC soap opera, EastEnders, pulling a summer
storyline (ie, not to be broadcast for some time) involving a baby being snatched. None of it is news, but it all offers excuses
for more 'Maddie' front pages, so back into the emotional maelstrom we all must go.
Some have put this remarkable blanket coverage down to the media savvy of 'Team McCann', the family members
and advisers supporting Madeleine's parents. No doubt they are well-organised and persistent professional people who have
done everything they can to keep the case in the news, and nobody can blame parents for that. The question is, however, why
has the media been so willing to give in to their efforts and tried so hard to put itself in their shoes? After all, the British
media is not known for its soft-heartedness. Nor can it have much to do with helping the investigation - the constant calls
for more/any information from people in Britain seems more likely to lead to wild goose chases and confusion.
But it is always too easy just to scapegoat 'the meejah'. Media bosses will say that they have only been giving
their readers and viewers what they want - as reflected in high viewing figures for anything Maddie-related and positive feedback.
Nor did the mainstream media somehow order millions of people to visit the Madeleine website set up by the family campaign.
The media has willingly provided the ring for the public circus. But it has been reflecting - and reinforcing - wider, powerful
trends that exist across contemporary UK society.
Here are a few of the features of our culture that have been laid bare these past three weeks:
Britain AD - After Diana. It is over a decade now since I coined the phrase
'mourning sickness' to describe the rising fashion for ostentatious public displays of grief and ersatz emotion in response
to celebrity deaths. It was a trend that became obvious to all in the huge response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,
Many have since tried to claim that mass emotional outburst was a national 'moment of madness'. But the current
mawkish response to the disappearance of a little girl shows that, if anything, the same attitudes are now more deeply embedded
in the public psyche and more readily brought to the surface. It has been an outbreak of a sort of pre-mourning sickness,
before we even know whether or not she is still alive.
Sharing suffering has become one of the few ways that people feel able to come together in an atomised society.
The emotionalism around 'Our Maddie' has displayed many of the new rituals people perform to make a public show that they
care and are sharing the pain - the flowers, the wristbands, the ribbons, the online messages. When the news reported that
the McCanns were visiting a 'holy site' this week, I thought for a moment that they were coming home to see the pile of these
memorials near their home; it turned out to be a Catholic shrine in Portugal.
I have been reminded again of something Oliver James, the popular psychologist, said about the reactions to
Diana's death in one of his wiser moments: that the sincerity of the public's emotions was not in doubt, but their authenticity
was. In other words, these are not fake tears, people are not putting it on. But nor can public shows of concern for strangers
or celebrities be compared to genuine grief. There is something else going on.
In the same way, something else has driven so many people to make a public display of their private fears
and feelings over the little girl they have never met. This is close to emotional exhibitionism. It is clearly more about
searching for ourselves over here than helping to find her over there. Sadly, this is how many people feel that they can express
themselves, and find themselves part of something bigger, in Britain AD - After Diana.
The football factor. The high profile of football and footballers
in the campaign around 'Our Maddie' should come as no surprise. There were the early fan-made 'Our Maddie' banners at Everton
(after we all saw the pictures of her in an Everton shirt), the messages from Premiership players and David Beckham asking
for her return, the unprecedented two minute film about her shown at Wembley before the FA Cup final, and then the Liverpool
team posing with a 'Bring Maddie Home' banner on the way to Athens for the Champions League final.
Football has become the nearest thing to a modern-day church for many in our secular society. Where do people
come together in large numbers to show their respects or bow their heads these days? At football grounds, where a minute's
silence (or even a minute's applause) before kick-off has become a regular feature of match-day. To have some campaign
linked with football has become a sign that we take it seriously.
This is one sign of the way that the status of football has been inflated in recent years to fill the gap
where our society's deflated, flat public and political life ought to be. So when the campaign for Maddie became a focus for
people to make a public display of common feeling, it was straying onto football's new home ground. Indeed, those posters
for Madeleine often occupy the same windows and make the same statement as England football flags might - an expression of
the wish to belong, to be part of an emotional collective.
Some might think it better for people to come together and share feelings around something serious like a
lost child rather than something as frivolous as football. But there is surely nothing positive about turning child abduction
into a national spectator sport and an emotional football to be used for other purposes.
Misery media. The furore surrounding the McCann case has confirmed
the central role of the media in society today. It has become the only platform for public debate and discussion. The way
that this one case has suddenly been elevated into a media-managed national obsession shows that we have reached the point
where, if an event is not reported, it effectively did not happen; but if it captures the media's attention, it can be the
only story in town.
Yet the coverage following Madeleine's disappearance also reveals the weakness of the news media today. Lacking
a clear sense of its own mission, and feeling as isolated as every other institution, the media seizes upon a case like this
as a chance to connect with the audience. As that same Sky correspondent's blog put it, journalists generally are 'not very
popular in certain quarters, and en masse we can even seem like vultures'. But over the McCann case, things are different:
'members of the public keep telling us what a great job we are doing'. He concludes with satisfaction that 'we as journalists
had moved beyond reporting to performing a public service'.
But what are the consequences of this shift for news reporting? It means that reporters become concerned not
just with reporting the news but with making it - pointing the finger at suspects, and generally doing whatever they can to
keep the national emotional rally going. It means journalists putting themselves and their feelings at the moral centre of
the story, which inevitably leads to telling us how we should be feeling. At worst, we can end up with a sort of news version
of the misery memoirs that top the best-sellers lists, wallowing in the trauma of it all. It is pretty base voyeurism, yet
it is seen as a 'good thing' because it keeps Maddie in the news.
The lonely planet of politics. Last week, when members of the
McCann family visited Parliament, a lot of MPs wore those yellow ribbons for Madeleine; some senior politicians were reportedly
spotted ducking out of the debating chamber to get one when they saw how popular they had become. They were criticised in
a few places for this cheap stunt, even accused of pandering to the sentiment of 'the mob'.
But they weren't really pretending, either. Politicians are at least as lost as anybody else in our society
today, bereft of any clear sense of mission or purpose. In an age without real political parties or social movements, politicians
do these things out of a genuine sense of desperation to be connecting with some sort of widespread public sentiment. That
is why they will hitch their horse to any passing wagon unquestioningly.
Even Gordon Brown, prime minister (non-)elect declared that he would do anything he could to help the campaign.
Family members reported that he was tearful when they met him. As a father, that is entirely understandable. But as a PM,
we could do with a more clear-eyed vision of where the country is heading.
In sum, the outpouring of emotionalism around Our Maddie reveals that many of us seem to have lost something
other than a little girl: a sense of where to draw the line between the private and the public, between feelings and facts,
between genuine grief and pseudo-suffering; a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, so that many will seize
upon any opportunity to indulge in collective emoting; a sense of how to report the news, or how to lead the country.
It is important to stand back and take stock before emotional exhibitionism and voyeurism towards victims
become defining features of 'Britishness' today.
Mick Hume is spiked's editor-at-large.
For Madeleine's sake, beware the juggernaut of publicity, 31 May 2007
For Madeleine's sake, beware the juggernaut of publicity Daily Mail
Last updated at 18:14 31 May 2007
This is a piece that is almost impossible to write.
It is an almost unutterable message to Kate and Gerry McCann, but I feel I must say it before it is too late: "Please,
please, for your own sake and the sake of your missing daughter Madeleine, step off this speeding juggernaut of publicity
for just a second. Be still for one moment and think about what you are doing, about where you go next."
I realise that just writing those words leaves me open to howls of protest, to accusations of callousness and insensitivity.
What mother or father in their situation could think of anything but getting their child back? Who could pause when every
second might make the difference? But hear me out.
Like millions of people, each night my first prayer is for Madeleine's safe return. My second is for Kate and Gerry McCann,
to give them the strength to endure the horror that has befallen them.
Any parent would move heaven and earth to try to find their missing child. If that means shouting Madeleine's name in
every corner of the globe, then the McCanns have made it plain they will do so.
To that end, they have helped orchestrate a publicity campaign to keep their daughter's face in the forefront of the
public's mind, to maximise public support.
And herein lies the danger. For I cannot help but question whether a new heart-rending, eye-catching initiative day after
day is the right way to go about things.
Especially when it means exposing even the most intimate moments of family despair. Moments like the one on Tuesday night,
when they kissed goodbye to their two-year-old twins, Amelie and Sean, before flying off for their audience with the Pope.
Not for one second do I doubt their motives - and Pope Benedict's support is both moving and laudable. All the McCanns
want is to get Madeleine back, whatever it takes, however long it takes. And yet, and yet...
Let me be clear: I do not agree with those - and there are a surprising number - who blame the McCanns for leaving their
three children alone in that apartment in the first place.
As Gerry McCann said, no one will ever blame them more than they blame themselves. What use is blame now anyway? Blame
won?t get Madeleine back.
But I do feel that the McCann's sustained public agony is so intense it is becoming almost unwatchable - thereby destroying
its very purpose.
None of us can imagine the full extent of the torment they are going through, day after day, as hope grows dimmer and
desperation fades toward grief.
But this I do know: the McCanns cannot be in a fit state to make rational judgements about what they are being asked
to do. If someone told them that cutting off their arms would bring Madeleine back, they'd do it.
And I do wonder about the people who are advising them.
As the former Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short once remarked during coverage of famines in
Africa, there is such a thing as compassion fatigue: the point at which the suffering is so great, people can no longer watch
it, let alone respond to it.
"Despondency paralyses the will to action," she said, and that is as true of the missing Madeleine as it is of the starving
Having spoken to Scotland Yard experts on child abduction days after Madeleine went missing, I am well aware that in
the beginning, it was crucial to keep her face on television and in newspapers.
The courage it took for the McCanns to do that is unimaginable and I have nothing but the deepest admiration for them.
Even their language in the first press conferences, saying how much Madeleine needed them and they needed Madeleine,
was bravely scripted to try to trigger the response in her kidnapper to let her go.
Then to have to trawl through pictures and video footage of their daughter to find the images that might jolt a witness's
memory - a fresh picture every day - must have been utterly heartbreaking.
But then the Madeleine bandwagon began to roll and other people started falling over themselves to leap aboard.
It's one thing for the pop group Simple Minds to allow their hit single Don't You Forget About Me to be played at football
grounds to raise awareness in the first days after Madeleine's disappearance.
But when I heard two weeks later that Bryan Adams was considering allowing the re-release of his 1991 single, Everything
I Do (I Do It For You) to help continue the campaign, I found myself wondering: was this good for Madeleine, or good for Mr
Adams's fading career?
And whereas I have no doubt whatsoever about Gordon Brown's motives - he of all people would understand the searing pain
of losing a daughter - his much-publicised personal intervention leaves him open to charges at worst of political opportunism
and at best of clumsiness.
I hesitate to use such a phrase, but it seems, at times, as if we are witnessing "competitive grieving", with the McCanns'
private agony becoming a public sport.
It's not that Madeleine does not deserve special attention. Indeed, I wish every child who goes missing - hundreds in
Britain and Europe every year, thousands in Africa and Asia - got that special treatment.
No, the real problem now for the McCanns is that the public at large will grow weary of these orchestrated photo opportunities,
and cynical about the parade of well-meaning celebrities who have offered their support. And then what?
Only yesterday I saw a group of women gossiping over the papers when one saw the headline about Kate McCann's trip to
see the Pope.
It read: "I have never left my twins before." The woman threw the newspaper down and said "If only that were true" -
clearly referring to the night Madeleine went missing.
One of her friends said she found the pictures of Kate and Gerry tearfully hugging the twins farewell in the full glare
of the cameras disconcerting.
"Is nothing private any more?" she asked. "Will it be a spread in Hello! next?"
Callous, certainly, but also a reflection of how the public's sympathy cannot be taken for granted: the weight of the
tragedy is beginning to become unbearable to all those people who have, until now, joined in the prayers and the yearning
for Madeleine?s story to have a happy ending.
How will people react, I wonder, to the news that after yesterday's trip to the Vatican, the McCanns will embark on a
highly public trip around Europe?
Once again, I understand why they feel they must keep Madeleine in the headlines, but they have to keep the public with
them, too. And unfortunately they cannot do that by increasingly desperate and occasionally voyeuristic coverage of their
Look again at the pictures of Kate and Gerry with the Pope: they appear beyond exhaustion, so frail and stretched with
suffering they seem ready to snap.
Surely they need to take stock, to preserve their sanity, if not for their own sakes then for the sake of two adorable
children who remain their most precious hope of happiness in these dark and desperate weeks.
I really Sunday Mirror (no online link available)
I REALLY hope the McCanns are not serious about considering paying criminals to help in the hunt for little Madeleine.
While there's oceans of goodwill out there for Gerry and Kate, there will be just as many hoodlums who'll fleece them.
Shame on Alex the rant, 15 July 2007
Shame on Alex the rant Sunday Mirror (no online link
C4 NEWS' Alex Thomson should be ashamed of himself for his rant about the McCanns, saying they are milking the media
and criticising them for not being there when little Madeleine was snatched.
Just what did this jumped-up newsman think he'd gain by stuff like that? Does he not think that Gerry and Kate McCann
lie awake every night racked with guilt? If I was a boss at C4, I'd regard his judgment as poor and mark his card.
Asking Questions of the McCann Media Machine, 06 August 2007
What did we in the media feel when we heard that Madeleine McCann had gone missing? If we're parents and if we're totally
honest, we could admit to certain not very admirable emotions: What kind of parents were they to let that happen? Why weren't
those children being properly looked after? And finally, with just a touch of relief, thank God it wasn't my child.
she disappeared in Portugal, parents everywhere suddenly improved their child security. In the immediate resort, children
were being clung onto with an enthusiasm not seen since the day and hour of each birth. Throughout the world, shocked mothers
and fathers were shaken into a sudden guilty assessment of how lax their procedures had become.
Madeline was on the
lips and in the minds of every mother and toddler group attendee; every church and community centre; every branch of John
Lewis and Tesco. The massive publicity campaign machine and its growing staff handling media and public relations seemed to
run like a well oiled machine. Agonising cutaways of the distraught parents vied with sterile-suited Portuguese forensic experts.
The appeal for 'legal expenses' was launched and rapidly raised vast but undisclosed amounts though quite what legal
expenses would be involved in searching for a child and eventually, possibly finding both her and her kidnapper, has yet to
be made clear. People gave generously, wanting to play some kind of active role in helping to search for the little blond,
blue-eyed girl with whose face we all became so familiar. The official website just tells us that 'any extra' will be devoted
to finding other lost children.
Parents in Scotland were relieved they hadn't been victims as the McCanns were but
they wanted to help as best they could. Just as many handed out flyers, mounted photographs, more than five million people
visited the website (www.findmadeleine.com) in its first 24 hours, forwarded emails, others put up generous amounts of cash. Others – not very many, but some
– were less honourable. There was the Staffordshire woman who was found guilty on two charges of theft as a result of
her falsely claiming she was collecting for Madeleine and there were stories of web hijackers trying to siphon off financial
While we in the media on every platform related the latest events in the investigation, at times highlighting
perceived failures of officialdom, the McCanns continued their well orchestrated campaign, visiting everyone from the Vatican
to Capitol Hill, although not always being met by heads of state.
At no point to date has the media anywhere managed
to get answers to some of the more difficult questions like: Where is the money going? Was the door actually locked in the
bedroom? If so, surely this would have been a fire risk? If not, then you must have known the children were not completely
secure? Why didn't you get a baby sitter to stay with the three children? Could you see into the room from where you were
sitting? Exactly how long had you been away from the room when you returned to find Maddy gone?
Out of sympathy for
the anguished parents, the media has held back but where some have tried to ask these kinds of questions, they have been very
rapidly and firmly faced down. They clearly are not going to be answered.
The result is that seeds of suspicion have
been inadvertently sown. Every politician knows that the refusal to answer a questions or to respond with a 'no comment' is
almost always taken as some sort of admission of guilt. Media machine McCann needs to be aware of this and to return some
credibility to its cause by setting out clear, accountable answers to some of these painful but valid questions.
media interest is to be sustained, if the world is not to forget Madeleine McCann along with thousands of other missing children,
then the campaigners need to accept that the difficult questions won't go away and need to be answered. As any PR will tell
you, a media campaign is a two-way process. If you refuse to get the media on board, their interest very rapidly lags. The
McCanns need the media buy-in. Yes, they have had it for a couple of months on their own terms but if they are to continue
with their search, they will need to recognise that this is a reciprocal relationship.
The hunt for information, 09 August 2007
Amid all the speculation,
it is hard to know what to believe about Madeleine McCann's disappearance - and Portuguese secrecy laws don't help matters.
August 09, 2007 12:00PM
There is so much speculation around it is difficult to know what can and can't be believed. Was Madeline McCann abducted
or did she die in her bedroom? Was it a tragic accident or a deliberate act? Do
Gerry and Kate McCann or one of the
family friends know more that they are telling?
What is clear is that there is more
speculation now than ever, after a three-way war has broken out between the British and Portuguese media and the Portuguese police, with
Gerry and Kate at the centre of it.
But why has such a war started? One answer is because of the Portuguese legal system and the information vacuum from
the police, with details of the investigation remaining unknown because of strict Portuguese laws designed to keep police
work secret. The secrecy law that prevents information being shared applies not only to police, but to anyone involved in
Under the law of judicial secrecy anyone who releases details of a police investigation while it is still under way could
face criminal procedures. In practice, the law has prevented the police from making appeals, or confirming or denying speculation
surrounding Madeleine's disappearance. It also prevents Gerry and Kate from speaking out.
For me, the secrecy law presents serious concerns about the Portuguese police's ability to undertake such a complex inquiry.
It is this specific law that creates the problem, providing no opportunity to appeal for information from the public, to release
a description of what Madeleine was wearing on the night she disappeared, and saying what time she disappeared, for example.
In relation to the secrecy law I have sympathy for the Portuguese police, as this is what they have to work within - but it
needs changing urgently.
This week we have seen a reinvigorated investigation, which for many weeks has limped along, apparently rudderless, lacking
focus and direction. On Saturday, as a result of a review by British detectives, we saw
Robert Murat's house re-searched, presumably looking for evidence - evidence that was potentially never secured when the police first
searched the address. The house and grounds and vehicles were all searched in less than eight hours. If Robert Murat did have
evidence at his address was it really likely to be there 11 weeks after the first search?
We also saw Mrs Murat driving her vehicle to the police station in order for them to search it. Why? If the vehicle contained
potential evidence the police should have gone and seized it.
Then the most amazing evidence emerged on Monday that
blood has been found in the bedroom that Madeleine was sleeping in. Thirteen weeks after Madeleine disappeared and after the apartment had been
thoroughly forensically examined (or so we are told), cleaned and re-let - the police find an area of blood that is apparently
invisible to the naked eye. This evidence could be vital, although as of yet we do not know if it belongs to Madeleine and
are probably unlikely to know this for another week at the earliest.
Whoever the blood belongs to, why was it missed in the initial forensic examination? What else have the police missed
or failed to investigate thoroughly?
With new focus to the police inquiry I would expect to see further development over the forthcoming days - in the build
up to the
100-day mark. I also anticipate that there will be more pressure on Gerry and Kate McCann by the Portuguese media, more speculation and
more rumours. Whatever the situation, the Portuguese police need to act now, to put a stop to the leaks and enable the investigation
to be focused on one thing: finding Madeline.
Say a Praia for Maddy, 19 August 2007
FROM the moment Madeleine went missing, you got the impression the Portuguese police couldn't find their backsides in
Just look at that little police chief in the cheap suit who popped up at the first shambolic press conference. You just
knew they were so far out of their depth it made your heart sink.
Clueless. Completely clueless. From the time it took them to bring in sniffer dogs and block roads, right up to a few
days ago, when suddenly blood was found on the apartment where the little girl was abducted as she slept.
It was nearly 100 days into the investigation, for God's sake. How come forensics or anyone else searching the apartment
never found blood before?
It's bad enough that they don't know what they're doing. But what really sickens me is the way the police, the Portuguese
press and others have turned on poor Gerry and Kate McCann.
It's disgusting. And from a country that has children and the family at the core of its society, it's even worse.
I cannot imagine what every gut-wrenching day must feel like for the McCanns without Madeleine. Their last thought at
night but must be about her and their first, as they open their eyes in the morning.
And yet we still have these Portuguese newspapers being drip-fed by police insiders trying to point the finger. Don't
get me wrong. I'm not blaming the Portuguese police for not finding Madeleine.
Any small town anywhere in the world would be out of their depth with a kidnapping. Any small police station, not used
to major inquiries, would not even know where to start.
And even if they did know, and had started the investigation with more gusto, perhaps they would still never have found
But their turning on the McCanns stinks. It's all about the main agenda - the tourist trade. This kidnapping has gone
global, and they, and Portugal, are in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. At the end of the day, nothing is more
important than money. I was talking to a wealthy Irish golfer the other day, who has a house in Praia de Luz. When he mentioned
it was in the place Madeleine went missing, I expected him to be sympathetic to the family. But you know what he said? It's
ruining the whole place for everyone.
It used to be a great place out there with the golf, he lamented, but now the missing girl is all everyone talks about.
Unbelievable. But, sadly, that mindset is out there. And not just among people like him. I would bet the cops and the authorities
will be glad to see the back of the McCanns.
In fact they can't even wait until the heartbroken couple find the strength to go home without their precious little
They know their insidious little leaked stories to the press will drive those poor parents out.
The latest casts a shadow over the McCanns' friends, and there's the spin that Madeleine was thrown into the sea the
night she was abducted.
That clears it up nicely for them. If it's true, they'll be hoping she washes up far away from their shores.
Yes. The McCanns will have to come home. Praia de Luz is tired of their tragedy. And for me, the idyllic little fishing
town will always be remembered for that shame.
Madeleine and the media, 21 August 2007
At the Edinburgh television festival this
week, Kirsty Wark will interview the father of missing toddler Madeleine McCann.
In an article for the BBC's staff magazine, Ariel,
she discusses the questions posed by the media's reaction to Madeleine's disappearance.
By Kirsty Wark
Presenter, BBC Newsnight
Last Updated: Tuesday,
21 August 2007, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
has become the picture that nobody tears down, Madeleine McCann's angelic face on posters downloaded and printed by people
all over the world and stuck up in supermarkets, train stations, on airport jetties and in cinema foyers.
The picture is emblazoned across Jonny Wilkinson's jersey, on Premier League team strips, and on Ewan MacGregor's
bike. Madeleine McCann is everywhere, and nowhere.
I can't think of any other story, so prominent for so long, where there are so few facts.
TV reporters have done thousands of pieces to camera eeking out the few reliable details, newspapers have
contained screeds about the McCanns whose faces are as well known as many celebrities.
The last time I typed their daughter's name on Google it offered up more than two million pages.
The McCann campaign has been unprecedented and we, the media, have been willing participants. If you were
in the McCanns' position I am sure you too would do everything in your power, and seize every opportunity to keep the story
on the screen, online and on 24 hour TV.
But how did they achieve such blanket - and on TV at least - such uncritical coverage when hundreds of children
disappear every year?
Was it because the family and their close circle of friends knew how to create massive and sustained interest
that had a fleet of satellite trucks racing to the Algarve, or was there something about this little girl's disappearance
that triggered a kind of collective sensation akin to the death of Princess Diana, and an international conversation point
on blogs and chatrooms? Or perhaps both?
There is also the fact that the McCanns are telegenic and articulate - and are doctors, and therefore regarded
as respectable members of society.
The broadcasters did not keep their distance. The BBC helped to organise the original televised statement
which was pooled to British and Portuguese television stations, probably in the absence of any input from the Portuguese police
whose rules and operational methods are different from what we are used to.
And early on, on 10 May, the controller of News 24, Kevin Bakhurst, wrote in his blog:
"We will continue to try to provide the high volume of coverage and updates that the audience wants while
respecting the family's privacy and needs and while striving to separate real developments from rumour."
Since then there have been few real developments, so the McCanns in partnership with the media have staged
a number of "events," the most famous being their meeting with the Pope.
There have been regular photo opportunities, high profile supporters and recently a series of interviews.
Even when the coverage has not gone their way I suspect that they will consider it of little importance in
comparison with the importance of keeping Madeleine's face on the front page.
They are incredibly well plugged into the media, and have a campaign organiser, a media advisor who is the
godparent of one of their children and a former lecturer in new media, and a roster of loyal friends who give their time,
energy and expertise.
They all think laterally about how to produce a new angle on the story. In that way they remind me of the
producers on Newsnight, and it's been that way from the beginning.
The morning after Madeleine's disappearance I was on my way to London to the programme, and at home in Glasgow,
a neighbour whom we'd never met rang the bell.
She was one of Kate McCann's closest friends and she was very upset. She told my husband that Madeleine had
disappeared and Kate and Gerry were frantic because the police had been slow off the mark.
They were desperate to get the story out and could I help? In fact the disappearance soon began running on
all the outlets.
That kind of direct action has been a hallmark of the campaign. Creating a publicity engine and keeping the
momentum up has given the McCanns a positive focus, and was achieved by them and their family and friends through an enormous
amount of self discipline.
Has this tragic story created a "blueprint" for families who find themselves in similar terrible situations,
or was there something unique to the McCanns?
We in the media should ask ourselves whether we would react the same way again, and again because the sad
truth is that it will happen sooner rather than later.
What the papers say..., 29 August 2007
The British press has
been scathing about the Portuguese media's treatment of the McCanns, but Fleet Street's own track record isn't exactly glowing.
August 29, 2007 11:34AM
You may not have spotted it, but some of today's newspapers report that Gerry McCann, father of missing Madeleine, "stormed" out of a Spanish television studio after being persistently asked for detailed answers on the case which Portuguese law
prevents him from divulging.
Kate McCann stayed on the set and explained "it's the pressure" and her husband came back and apologised after a five-minute
break. Sounds fair enough to me. But what is striking - yet again - is the way the papers report this sort of incident as
if it's nothing to do with them.
Before he walked Dr McCann had been asked to confirm that the couple had been the "last people to see Madeleine alive".
Something may have been lost in translation here, but that sounds like a pretty leading question given the way speculation
has developed on the case.
"Everything we read in the press is inaccurate or untrue. We would like to talk, but we cannot talk," Mrs McCann - also
a medic - told the Telecinco channel during the interview.
Well, yes, that must be true of a lot of the acreage of "Maddy" coverage during the McCanns' 120-day ordeal. Rightly
or wrongly, certainly understandably, they have tried to ride the media tiger, hoping that relentless publicity might help
rescue their little girl.
The policy seems to have failed, as was probably the case from the start. You can see why they tried, even
visiting the Pope, a funny sort of gesture given the papacy's record on child protection. But it appeared to give the McCanns some solace in
But back to the papers. Last week the Daily Express devoted a full page to the deplorable allegations made in the Portuguese
media. They range from wife-swapping holidays in Praia da Luz, to drunkenness, inattention, doped kids and heavy hints that,
perhaps, the McCanns or their friends might in some way be responsible for Madeleine's disappearance and presumed death. Oh
yes, and Gerry McCann wasn't her real father anyway, but doctored the birth certificate as doctors can.
I suppose it's a comfort to be reminded that, contrary to some high-minded liberal thought, ours isn't a uniquely dreadful
media. When Paris Match airbrushed Sarko's flabby tummy in the latest Action President shots in a canoe the other day (the
proprietor is a chum) most of us were on the side of the flab. Ditto ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's dyed hair which got
a German news agency into trouble. I've seen it up close and it looked dyed to me. So what?
But the idea that poor Dr McCann is stressed out solely because of the nasty things those dreadful Portuguese papers
have been saying seems a bit rich. Fleet St hasn't exactly confined its reporting, analysis and comment to the rigorous rules
imposed by Portuguese law.
In the process it has been pretty rude about the local coppers as well as the local media, neither of which had much
previous experience of this kind of kidnap or the Fleet St posse in action. It's quite a sight.
But self-detachment is standard practice for newspapers in a crisis; the tabloids are worse, but not too much worse.
In everything from Wayne Rooney's love life (deplorable conduct by Merseyside police in cahoots with the tabs there) to Tony
Blair's loans-for-no-peerages affair, it's nothing to do with us, guv'nor. We just happened to be in the vicinity. We'll have
a lot more of this before the weekend's latest Diana Fest is over. At least the McCanns' sorrow has spared her memory a few
tacky front-page headlines in the Express.
The latest example is Formula 1's Lewis Hamilton, the best thing that's happened to Britain's standing in a world sport
for some time. Build 'em up, knock 'em down, woe betide that young man if he doesn't win the title this season (at his first
At the weekend he said he might be moving to Switzerland to shake off media hassle and snappers jumping out from behind
every litter bin. He can handle the cars, it's the coverage he can't manage, so he said. We're entitled to take that with
a pinch of salt. Perhaps tax status is part of the calculation, perhaps he'll get used to the hype. But don't bank on it.
Remember, Brazilian football coach, Phil Scolari, used the same justification to turn down the England job when Sven finally
resigned. It would have meant moving from Portugal. And that was before the McCann story brought the pack to Praia da Luz.
to Nigel at