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Another day at the Mail office

07 December 2012

Shot down: the Mail guns for the Revd Sally Hitchiner

Shot down: the Mail guns for the Revd Sally Hitchiner

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 sympathetic interview.

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 personal life:

"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.

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