[Originally published in Nov 2009 issue of Bent: http://mag.bent.com]
I saw a Facebook group calling for people to boycott The Sun. I didn't really bother to look at it, because I didn't realise people still read that thing. But apparently, they do. And what a bastion of impartiality it is, taking a glance at their website! Hype, sleaze, celebrity trainwrecks, immigrant-baiting. You know, the sort of thing you get on the Fitlads forums, but just presented in a much less funny, more sinister way.
Looking over the tabloid press' interests this month, in fact, I've noticed a few things that have pissed me off. First, the obsession with Stephen Gately's death. Sure, he died after drinking for eight hours, but that's the equivalent of going out at 8pm and getting back at 4am. Call me an extreme example (and I am), but I've had 33-hour drinking binges before. Eight hours seems . . . pretty average to me. So to hype it up as if he leads a life of sleaze is just to scandalise a very normal, very down-to-earth bloke. And so what, he and his boyfriend took a friend back to their place? Big deal! Gay men can have platonic relationships. Besides, when 'binge'-drinking, who wants to do it on their own?
Then I ran into my friend Rodrigo from Big Brother. I remember the trashy celeb-gossip magazines messaging Rodrigo's friends on Facebook and offering them money for stories. Unfortunately, they'd already decided what story they wanted to print and were just looking for someone to attribute the made-up quotes to. In the end, they failed, and instead blamed the claims of Rodrigo's alleged family heartache on 'a university friend'. That's press speak for 'someone we made up to tell a good story'. Rodrigo didn't mind about this, but explained people reading the magazines still can't tell when something is patently made up, and then accost him and hurl abuse as if the stories were true. Yet when it came to asking the press if they wanted innocent photographs of his birthday bash (which I helped him organise at Oracle in Leeds), they weren't interested unless they unveiled some salacious gossip they could print on their front pages. Unfortunately, guys, with Rodrigo what you see is what you get. You're unlikely to get anything juicy about him, because he is a genuinely nice guy.
True, writers have creative licence. But surely only if they're writing fiction? Columns and opinion pieces are different. People expect them to be ridiculously outrageous. However, you don't expect cover stories and supposed 'real-life' tales to be made up. Most people, I think, are capable of spotting the difference, but it always surprises me the number who can't.
Just for the record: when the papers start saying Drew Barrymore has been caught dogging with Martians in a pink Skoda off the Isle of White, they're probably pulling your tail. If more people looked at what they read with a little scepticism (feel free to question this all you want; I encourage it), then we might end up with people actually voting in elections, forming educated opinions and realising reality TV stars are not your property to abuse as you see fit. Just for the record, you understand. Just for the record.
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