Daily Mail discovers new country

What is Britain like? What is the average person in it like? Is it a nice sort of place to live, convivial, chatty and sane? Or might you randomly be attacked by thugs on the way to buy milk, locked up in a basement and whipped with dog chains or else bludgeoned to death with a meat cleaver before being burnt to ashes in a gravel pit?

The first thing to admit is that we can’t answer such questions on the basis of our own experience alone. We can’t know a nation directly: we live in a particular place, we have some friends, we go out a bit, we see things here and there… But for a bigger, defining sense of where we live and how the place is doing, we tend surrender our judgements to one entity above all others: the news.


© REX/David Hartley

It’s to the news we turn when we want to know how things are going. And that’s why, every day when we follow Britain’s most popular news source, the Daily Mail, we can count on learning some very particular things about the United Kingdom:

These stories are read by millions. They are conceptually far more interesting than the plots of most novels and the stories of all of our friends. And they make a difference to the mentality of the nation. After reading them, all sorts of things change in the minds of their mesmerised readers.

It feels riskier to order a taxi:

NO WOMAN IS SAFE IN A MINICAB, WARNS RAPE JUDGE

And to take a train:

HOMELESS MAN FOUND GUILTY OF PUSHING 84-YEAR-OLD WOMAN TO HER DEATH ON STATION PLATFORM

One worries about getting ill:

‘MOST LETHAL EVER’ NEW FLU VIRUS KILLS THIRD OF VICTIMS

But is even more worried about going to hospital:

PATIENT, 39, DIED AFTER WAITING EIGHT HOURS WITHOUT WATER AND AN ‘EXTRAORDINARY LACK OF CARE’

One longs to be young again:

MILEY CYRUS WEARS RACY TIGHT WHITE BRIEFS AND BLACK THIGH HIGH BOOTS FOR RAUNCHY MORNING TELEVISION PERFORMANCE

But one loses all faith in innocence:

TEACHER GIVES STUDENT, 16, POT AND HAS SEX WITH HIM MORE THAN EIGHT TIMES

One worries about the state of one’s body:

CHLOE SEVIGNY SHOWS OFF HER LEGS IN PRINTED SHORTS AT THE ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK PREMIERE

And knows how people will judge us when we are older:

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MEG RYAN’S FACE?

One hates politicians:

EU LEADERS QUAFFED £120 BOTTLES OF WINE OVER LUNCH WHILE INSISTING THERE WAS NO ROOM TO MAKE SAVINGS IN THE BRUSSELS BUDGET

But one doesn’t hold out much hope for ordinary people either:

WHEELCHAIR-BOUND EQUALITIES ADVISER, 59, JAILED FOR ARRANGING TO HAVE SEX WITH GIRL, FIVE, AND HER MOTHER AT A TRAVELODGE

One is fearful of men:

FATHER MURDERED HIS 11-MONTH-OLD SON BY SHAKING HIM VIOLENTLY AND THROWING HIM ON THE FLOOR MINUTES AFTER ARGUMENT WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND

But one is equally afraid of women:

MOTHER, 43, ARRESTED FOR HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH HER TEENAGE DAUGHTER’S 14-YEAR-OLD FRIEND

There seem very few reasons not to despair of the human race:

SURI CRUISE, 7, TO LAUNCH HER OWN FASHION RANGE

If asked why it has decided to tell us all this, the Mail will soberly reply that it has no choice. It simply has a duty to tell us ‘the truth.’ What happens in the country is not something that it decides. The stories aren’t made up: a father really did murder his eleven-month-old son. A wheelchair-bound equalities adviser truly did arrange to have sex with a five-year-old girl and her mother at a Travelodge. It would be a betrayal of journalistic duty to keep the public away from these sobering but fundamental phenomena; journalists have to share the truth about the nation with the same frankness and lack of squeamishness as a doctor delivering a challenging diagnosis.


© REX/David Parker / Associated Newspapers

Paul Dacre receives award for his services to storytelling

This is thorough and dangerous nonsense. In the nation at any given point, there are 65 million stories at large and therefore, a welter of conflicting perspectives about what is going on in the land. There are several paedophilic murderers at work, but tens of millions who don’t favour abusing and bludgeoning children to death. Some people will be drawn to murdering partners who have been unfaithful with a meat cleaver, but the majority will muddle along with only rare explosions of rage or suicidal thoughts.

The Mail has ended up with an enormous power: the power to assemble the picture that citizens have of one another; the power to dictate what our idea of ‘other people’ will be like; the power to invent a nation in the public imagination.


© Getty

This power is so significant because the stories the Mail deploys end up having a self-determining effect. If we are regularly told that many of our countrymen are crazed and violent, we will be filled with fear and distrust. If we receive subtle messages that money and status matter above all, we will feel humiliated by an ordinary life. If it’s implied that all politicians lie, we’ll quietly put our idealism and innocence to one side and mock every one of their plans and pronouncements.

But, in truth, of course, reality is always multifaceted. The UK isn’t just a severed hand, a mutilated grandmother, three dead girls in a basement, embarrassment for a minister, trillions of debt, a double suicide at the railway station and fatal five-car crash by the coast.