WOMEN beware women. The hatcheting that Natalie Clarke gave to
the Revd Sally Hitchiner in Monday's Daily Mail was
monstrous example of bitch power. It was also a piece that deserves
to be taught in journalism schools as an example of everything that
is wrong with our profession.
The background is that Ms Hitchiner, a chaplain at Brunel
University whose prettiness had already ensured that she was
photographed a lot at the General Synod, had done a fashion shoot
for The Times's Saturday magazine, along with a long and
This was a natural Daily Mail story; so, when another
paper got it, the Mail revenged itself with a "profile"
across most of two pages.
"Rev Hitchiner's unusual clerical style is apparent, too, on her
Twitter and Facebook pages. For her Twitter page, she selected a
photograph of herself wearing a tiara-style hair clip. In one
picture on Facebook, she is winking at the camera.
"Confronted by all this attention-seeking, one is duty bound to
ask the question Rev Hitchiner is presumably dying for us to ask:
is this really fitting behaviour for a woman of the cloth?"
This is, remember, the Daily Mail, a paper that so
furiously defends decency that its website has used the phrase
"shows off her . . ." more than two-and-a-quarter million times in
the past four years. In none of these 2.25million cases was the
next word "intelligence", or any synonym. The nearest to this that
a Google search of the site could offer me was the news that "Heidi
was also keen to show off the results of her bottom augmentation. .
. They didn't remove her brain and put it in a new body."
So, back to Sally Hitchiner, her indecent prettiness and her
scandalous vivacity and cleverness, which is compounded, for the
Mail, by a positively blasphemous reticence about her
"Rev Hitchiner lives in West London and prefers to keep her
private life private. It is not known if she is in a relationship;
she has no children: 'I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I'd had
children. And I'm very happy with the way things are'."
The unwary reader might suppose that Sally Hitchiner had said
these things to Natalie Clarke. So far as I can discover, the two
women have never spoken at all. Hitchiner's real offence was almost
certainly that she wouldn't talk to the Mail, the Almighty
Mail, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and
from Whom no secrets are hid.
Every single quote in the Mail piece was lifted from
The Times two days previously, where they had
been set in a very much more sympathetic and intelligent context.
It wasn't just the quotes from Sally Hitchiner: even the snark from
anonymous traditionalist bloggers had been copied from The
Times, which was, incidentally, referred to only as "a
broadsheet Saturday magazine" in the piece.
Nothing will happen to Natalie Clarke as a result of her day's
work. Unpleasant things would have happened to her if she had
failed to come back with a story. There is no possible comeback for
the victim of a monstering like that: every word and every quote in
the article was probably true in itself, and only their arrangement
was a lie. They couldn't have been nastier if Sally Hitchiner had
had a beard.
THIS is the sort of thing you need to remember when reading the
Mail's defences of press freedom, and its claim that state
regulation will kill off the industry, or at least put us on the
Leveson Care Pathway to death by dehydration.
IT would be very wrong to suggest that only right-wing papers
are hypocritical in supplying the readers with whatever it is their
disgusting appetites crave. The announcement of the Duchess of
Cambridge's pregnancy saw the notionally republican left-wing
organs tie themselves in almost identical knots.
In The Guardian (half the front page given to a
full-length picture of the Duchess) we had Zoe Williams writing
"Kate Middleton's pregnancy: 10 stories I don't want to read".
The New Statesman had "Ten things you won't hear about
while everyone discusses Kate Middleton's pregnancy".
The Independent, which lost 40 per cent of its
circulation last year, by official figures, has been so battered by
its fall that it no longer even knows how to sell out. Its front
page had a stupefyingly unattractive and uninformative picture of
photographers aiming their equipment at a hospital door, and a
caption which didn't mention the baby at all, just "The royal news
that's put a spring back in the media's step".
The only original and thought-provoking point I saw in all ths
coverage came from the conservative blogger Cranmer, who asked why
it was that a ten-week-old royal foetus is universally understood
as a "baby", as if it were already fully human.