The Sun: Inspiring vitriol, for your entertainment.


London, UK. Saturday 17th November 2012. Demonatrators outside the News International offices protest for No More Page Three, against nudity in the national press. Page three of The Sun still has a naked topless model every week day.  © Michael Kemp / Ala

It was late on the evening of the 9th December 2012, that the Tory Party changed their website to reflect the broken pledge that the NHS would be protected from cuts. Since changes to the NHS were made, the number of patients having to wait more than half an hour in an ambulance outside A&E has risen from 11,000 in 2010, to 14,000 in 2011, to 20,000 in 2012. The BMA among other medical unions have expressed anger at the Government’s NHS policy. 7,000 nursing jobs have been lost. 16% of Hospitals now claim to be woefully understaffed. Every day, we hear new stories of the problems within the NHS.
The chair of the UK Statistics Authority said:

“expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10”.

NHS staff are having to be forced to find £20bn in NHS ‘efficiency savings’ as part of the rules set out by Sir David Nicholson (collectively known as the Nicholson challenge) whilst at the same time dealing with such a huge reform of the health service. A draft version of the NHS risk register suggested that patient care would suffer as a result of the mass of changes, would lead to waiting time increases, and a less well managed system. The Mental Health Charity “MIND” published a report in which it said mental health services were severely overstretched and underfunded.
So, thousands of jobs lost, an NHS in management crises mode, people having to wait more than half an hour to leave an ambulance, pretty much non-existent mental health services, and real terms cuts to health funding. All of this is largely ignored, whilst a girl having a boob job causes apparent outrage. Well done Britain.

We are told never to fully believe or just accept what we read in a paper like The Sun. We should rightfully investigate for ourselves and challenge the piece, taking into account commercial interest and agenda, understanding class biases, its approach to female issues in general, and taking in multiple sources based on multi pieces of evidence, before passing judgement on a story. But, if the story in The Sun plays on our prejudice already, people tend to take it at face value. Or look to another equally as disreputable source (The Mail? A few angry comments on a forum?) for back up.
Maybe your prejudices saw this Headline back in April ’89 four days after Hillsborough, and took it at face value:

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– After all, it took two decades, inquiries, whilst a silent public carried on buying this publication, without question, before the Sun were forced to apologise for such an horrific mistake.

Perhaps you saw this article, and felt a sense of “he did it!” down your spine as you saw a man who looks a little different, paraded on the front of a national newspaper, alluding to the notion that he was guilty of a murder, simply for not looking how the The Sun and it’s readers deem to be acceptable (usually, blonde, big breasts, and naked):

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– Perhaps you’re sat thinking “no, I definitely didn’t believe those stories, but I believe this one, no questions asked!

Perhaps you burned with outrage at the state of ‘Broken Britain’ that would allow a celebrity to take drugs live on TV, after seeing this:

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– And you’d have been right to be horrified. What a terrible idea, a horrific and illegal idea, and clearly something about Broken Britain blah blah. I mean, it must be true, right? Well….

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Perhaps you saw this, and was horrified that a bird had flew away with a baby!!

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– Perhaps this saddened you enough to research for yourself and realise the footage is a digital fake. Which the Sun knew, by printing that a ‘fierce debate’ raged whether the footage was real or not, somewhere in an obscure paragraph on the story. This is not reflected in the headline of terror.

But no, whilst all of those stories are clearly manipulative, invented, and lazy in journalistic quality…… we must all take the Josie Cunningham story on face value.

The Sun are an interesting bunch. “Look at boobs, look at these boobs, no don’t look at her, look at her boobs, aren’t they great *vote conservative* boobs? Keep looking at *immigrants are taking your money* her boobs, don’t take your eyes off the boobs, look at *scroungers, scroungers everywhere* her boobs. Keep looking…“, but this week, they are angry. They are angry that a woman has had breast enlargement surgery, despite their constant attempts to let the Country know what sort of female body is acceptable, whenever possible. Apparently then, morality, in Sun land does not include blatant misogyny, or constant promotion of a culture of policing how people should look. When Harriet Harman attempted to get The Sun to remove it’s topless models from Page 3, the Sun responded by calling her a “feminist fanatic“. Completely degrading her arguments, and resorting to weak ad-hom attacks. So, misogyny…fine. Misogyny that they apparently feel the need to defend, with gems like this….

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I do of course find it a little ironic for right winged papers, and their readers to be complaining of poor NHS services, given the Party that they support wilfully undermine and underfund the NHS at every possible opportunity. They should surely be directing their anger, if their worry was adequate funding for patient care, toward those who have worked to make 7000 nurse jobs redundant…. surely this is far more significant, than one girl having a breast enlargement procedure?

Josie Cunningham, is of course, an easy target – a symbol, if you like – for people who see an NHS failing miserably, aren’t interested in wider context, and need someone to blame. This is especially true if the girl can be presented as a bit of a ‘chav’, somehow and as vaguely as possible they manage to compare her case to an unrelated case, in a separate region of the country, with separate budgets that in no way relate to each other, that includes a child, some awful disease, or a war hero. The usual manipulations.

I do not wish to get into the details of the story itself, I admit to not knowing enough about it, because I have not followed her story for the past 8 years, nor am I her doctor, nor have I sat in on her psych evaluations, nor do I know anything about the case beyond what is presented by the right winged media. There is a lot of guess work being presented as fact all across Twitter and The Sun’s website. A lot of exhausting the object, and a lot of fallacy employing: “She clearly conned the doctors“, “She is taking money away from kids with cancer“, “I have small boobs and I don’t care!!! Why is she not EXACTLY like me?” “She had two slight bumps, so couldn’t possibly have had 0% breast tissue“, “Something terrible about tax payers money and immigrants and scroungers…..or something like that“. We then get told that we shouldn’t blame her. It’s the NHS’s fault, and the doctors. But then, we are told that we should blame her because she in fact, not at all worried about her self image, and just wants to be a model, and so managed to pull off a sophisticated con trick in which she deceived medical professionals with the cunning use of…. crying, probably, maybe, they’re not sure, but they guess that must be the case. Maybe.

But, perhaps they are right. I accept that is a possibility, that the Sun may have done the unthinkable, and printed a story based on fact. It’s a possibility. I don’t deny that. The story itself, I don’t think any of us have the facts on, and so it would be equally as absurd for me to claim it to be based on manipulations, or completely wrong. However, if the story is correct in every aspect, that still does not permit the backlash that unfolded.

So, following on from the above, this article will loosely be based on Josie’s case (though not on the specifics), by using her case as an example to show the intense vitriol that is borne out of feigned right winged media outrage, misplaced, uninformed, and aimed at the wrong person or institution, and the witch hunt it provokes. When, last week, we learnt of the tragic and entirely preventable death of Lucy Meadows, we all knew that it was in part, caused by the fire storm brewed up by a sensationalist right winged media that aims its dirty rhetoric at one insecure, and vulnerable person, and then sits back as the fire spreads, bullying commences, and it doesn’t stop until someone’s head is on a spike. This story is no different. It is a result of weak and horrifying journalism that is wrong on so many levels. The person is of course a different person, with a different mental outlook, different circumstances, and different experiences, but the fundamental reason for The Sun to take such a keen interest in the story, is the same. It is purposely inflammatory sensationalism, with a hint of misogyny, aimed at one vulnerable person, to create an atmosphere of anger for its readership.

So, I will reserve judgement on the actual strength of the case against her or the NHS. I will neither say she did or did not deceive her doctors, nor will I say the doctors were simply bad at their jobs by not sticking to NHS guidelines on cosmetic procedures, I am not going to comment on the philosophy of the NHS, nor what it should and shouldn’t be providing, I am happy to say that perhaps further investigation into the case may prove the Sun to have been absolutely correct, that’s a possibility, I am also not going to claim to understand Josie’s motives or her mental state, she may well be a devious con artist, but she may well also have had serious confidence issues personal to her, surrounding her 0% breast tissue and the psychological effect that will obviously have. I couldn’t claim to know. I am not going to comment on the validity of the specifics of the case, because I, like everyone else commenting on this, have no real clue. It is the result of the reporting of sensationalism and its culture, that I wish to explore.

When I search “Josie Cunningham” on twitter, this is what I get:

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– You may be tricked into thinking she’d committed some horrendous crime to deserve such detestable abuse. But no. She has new breasts. This is tabloid Britain. This is what national ‘news’ outlets, with an agenda, and with a very one sided slant on stories, create. A disproportionate sense of outrage. People do not question. They believe it must be true, and the damage that attitude leads to is irreparable.
Chase her!!! With a pitchfork!! Get the Witch!!!! Why? …. erm…. because she now feels better about herself, using YOUR hard earned money that could have been spent on covering the cost of the massive corporate tax break? The slut!

The underlying issues are barely discussed. More people will have read this story, than have even glanced at the Health and Social Care Act. And that’s a massive problem.

Most irritatingly of all, is Katie Price’s piece in the Sun today. A woman who perpetuated a culture that reveres people with the ‘ideal body’, who made a career simply out of being topless every so often, and selling intimite details of her sex life, in a paper that speaks of “boobs of the year“, and splashes candid photos of young celebrities from revealing angles all over its “news” website, apparently doesn’t see the irony in their outrage, that it might lead to impressionable young people having body image issues in the future. Their argument tends to be “Well, other people don’t have issues, why should you? Be quiet and look at this half naked girl with the perfect body… and then turn over the page to see how fat Britney looks on the beach“. Contrast this with studies into body image, and mental health alongside underfunded mental health services, and you quickly see where the misplaced outrage should be aimed.
And ….. Katie Price; a woman who sold as many stories about her split with Peter Andre as possible. A woman who cashes in on every marriage she’s had, during it, and once it’s over, selling a humiliating ‘statement’ after her break up with Alex Reid, in which she needlessly went on a character assassination rant against him. And also, quite ironically said: “Our difficulties were also not helped by Alex becoming more fascinated by life in the media eye“. A woman who goes public, to announce she thinks Kelly brook is a “heffer” and sparks as many feuds as possible with other “celebrities“. What a wonderful representation of “hard working” celebrities. There you go Josie, if you want to be like Jordan; marry a few times, sell needless sex stories, humiliate your ex, publicly call other women fat, and the Sun will then give you a job in which you write on the morality of NHS boob jobs. Are you fucking kidding me?

Like everything The Sun says and does, hypocrisy is at the apex of any story it presents upon the emotions of “the taxpayer“. News International owns The Sun. When its CEO Rupert Murdoch is not defending allegations of hacking the voicemail of a dead school girl, or bribing police for stories, or showing uninvited paparazzi shots of a celebrity with a bit of breast showing, it used to spend its time losing legal battles over unpaid taxes. In 2009 the Australian capital territory won its battle to reclaim $77 million in taxes and penalties owed by News Corporation. When News Corp moved its headquarters to the US, through tax loopholes, it deprived Australia of millions of $ in unpaid capital gains taxes. Praying to the alter of the “Taxpayer” God when it suits their commercial interests; squeezing the life out of the “the taxpayer” otherwise.

The boob job apparently cost ‘the taxpayer’ £4800. So that’s about £5,999,995,200 less than Vodaphone were allowed to write off their tax bill… no outrage? No? Okay then. That’s also only a couple hundred pounds more of taxpayers money than former Conservative deputy leader Michael Ancram spent on cleaning and gardening for his £1.5m, five-bedroom house. Or a couple of grand less than Conservative Schools Minister Michael Gove spent furnishing his luxury London pad, before switching his second home. Or about a grand less than Tory MP and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis spent on a lovely new £5,700 portico for his Yorkshire home. But those people are Tories. And they wear suits. So it’s fine. Keep voting Tory, and keep aiming your anger at one young girl with new boobs. Because you hate misspent public funds.

So “infuriated” were the Sun with Josie, they invited her to a topless shoot, and splashed it inside their papers, along with all over their website. This is a way to sell papers, by appealing to a very ill-thought out sense of outrage. Photos enhance the story. But remember! They’re outraged! Their photographers must have been crying with disgust and a sense of moral indignation as they were taking the photos. I can imagine the editor was weeping with anguish as the paper went to print. They didn’t want to do this. But they felt the duty *at this point, put the National Anthem on as you read this*… they had to, for the sake of the Great British Public and the hard working tax payers of this here great nation. Of course that must be it.

The Sun absolutely played both Josie and its readership, by appealing to her dream of modelling and offering a job shooting with a national paper after so many years of (alleged) insecurity – and remember, she doesn’t have a PR team, or a media guru to tell her it might be the wrong move, and The Sun played the readership, not affording them a full, comprehensive narrative from many different perspectives, that is necessary for decisions to be made, and judgements reached. It is under that framework, that it was of course inevitably accompanied by manipulative rhetoric, and nasty public comments:

“Single mum-of-two Josie, 22 — a £9,000-a-year telesales girl — hopes to be the next Jordan. Critics have nicknamed her Katie Cut-Price.”

– For what purpose does including she’s a single mum, and on a meagre salary have? There is no reason to include that whatsoever. It plays simply on an ‘undeserving’ underclass that The Sun is famed for inventing.

“The wannabe model excitedly flaunted her 36DD bust, which was boosted after she wept to her GP about being a 32A.”

– The “wannabe” model. Negative connotations of someone not quite cut out for it. Someone to laugh at. And the comments about the GP; This suggests she shed one tear, and a doctor said “oh okay, have new boobs, we won’t evaluate you any more“. This line of reasoning is reflected in the comments from people all over social media, who seem to be parroting whatever the Sun says.

And then we see the comments underneath the piece:

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Then there is the Youtube clip of her on Daybreak discussing her personal issues with having 0% breast tissue (which, I know, the Sun readers don’t believe to be true). The commentators on there display an equal amount of vitriol and outright bullying:

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– This is the desired affect the Sun was after. It presents one side of a story, in a very demeaning manner, exploits the insecurities and ambitions of the girl (the photographers would have made her feel like a model), and then presents the negative article to the readership as fact, having spent the previous two days building up the story to appeal to outrage, because it is now a story that has potential follow up stories.

But it also has a deeper affect on the culture of not only what is acceptable within the realm of tabloid journalism, but wider society as a whole. The culture that promotes Katie Price as some sort of hero of modern morality, a culture that leads to people having such intense body image issues, is most certainly a culture that surrounds The Sun. Whether the girl in question had serious body image issues or not, is irrelevant. The overtly misogynistic approach to tabloid journalism cannot possibly be spun to suggest a positive outcome. Go to the Sun’s website and count the amount of times it refers to female body image, or presents candid and intrusive photos of a female celebrity. Here, i’ll help:

  • “Spanks a lot wind!” – A story showing an upskirt shot of Khloe Kardashian. The story also includes a close up shot, zoomed into her crotch. The story is about how she tried to pull her dress back down. News!
  • “There’s no-thin flabby about fabby Abbey Clancy” – Apart from crimes against headlines, this is a story about how Abbey Clancy isn’t fat. News!
  • “Jessie J has a body to match The Voice” – A story about how Jessie J looks relaxed in a bikini, leaning against a tree. News!
  • “Pussycat Ashley’s got the cream” – A story about a woman’s tanned legs. News!
    And here’s some more. (Remember, there are all from the Sun website’s first page):
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    Here is a piece from The Daily Mail website a couple of months back, highlighting my point, that the tabloid media is inherently misogynistic, polices what is “right” with the female body image, and thus creates an atmosphere for people “wanting to be like Jordan” to flourish:
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    – The Right Winged tabloid media creates that culture, sometimes subtly, sometimes quite obviously. It is a part of the model of the tabloid media, it is in its fabric. The media is responsible for it, and then The Sun shakes its head in disgust when the product of that culture emerges among people who aren’t celebrities.
    The feminist activist and journalist, Laurie Penny at the Guardian writes:

    “It is vital that we understand that sexism is not just one more naughty thing that the tabloids do. Sexism is the dirty oil in the engine, the juice that makes the whole shuddering sleaze-machine run smoothly. The eyes that are drawn to the topless teenager on page three skim lightly over page two, where propagandists on the Murdoch dollar peddle torrid justifications for the waging of wars and the slashing of public sector jobs and call it news.”

    The “End Violence Against Women Coalition” argued in front of Leveson, that Page 3 was part of a tabloid culture rooted in the 1970s that objectified women, sexualised women, and helped to promote a body conscious society. Leveson noted that the representation of women in the tabloid press raised:

    “important and sensitive issues which merit further consideration by any new regulator.”

    – Misogyny in the press, and the culture of the policing of the bodies of female celebrities whether they welcome it or not, creates wider issues. Especially when mixed with sensationalism, and outrage. That is obvious. It is therefore hugely hypocritical of the Sun to have fanned the flames of a body-conscious culture for decades, and then to so viciously attack the inevitable product of it. They set the fire, and then they run to the rescue with a bucket of petrol, and everyone stands around cheering them as saviours.

  • One Response to The Sun: Inspiring vitriol, for your entertainment.

    1. […] noted in a previous article on a similar subject, a couple of days back: The overtly misogynistic approach to tabloid […]

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