Could this be the most disgusting headline to have hit news stands since The Sun's coverage of Hillsborough? The dehumanising of the children ("bred 17 babies"), the welfare-baiting headline, the sideswipe at social workers; seldom has a tragedy been exploited so brazenly and cynically to score political points. And for the judgement to land at the very moment the government are actively impoverishing hundreds of thousands of low paid workers, unemployed people, and the disabled, it's enough to give those of us who aren't of a conspiratorial turn of mind pause.
There is no merit in The Mail's argument whatsoever. On this Owen Jones is absolutely right. The criminal ends Michael Philpott used to try and wrangle a larger council house out of Derby City Council says nothing about people who receive Child Benefit, live in social housing, or receive out-of-work support. If The Mail seriously believed their poisonous rubbish, and I'm not convinced they do (which, of course, makes it even worse) let's have pages of moral panics against market relationships. Don't they, after all, incentivise robbery and murder?
The press usually defend the foul ideas they promote by saying they give what their readers want. If people didn't like what they had to say, the democracy of the market would kick in and no one would buy it. And indeed, with one or two exceptions, newspapers are declining almost entirely across the board - including The Mail. They're definitely not giving people what the people want. And, with a bit of luck, this headline will cost another chunk of the paper's readership too.
Nevertheless, while the print format is declining, The Mail has got the website side of things all figured out. Mail Online is more than just a newspaper in digital format, it is a mega-blog that effortlessly combines the paper's usual, swivel-eyed fare and celebrity "news". Rare is the person who hasn't found themselves sidetracked by their sidebar of shame.
Part and parcel of this strategy is friction, and it's something they cottoned on to very early on. As the print edition shows, the core audience for unreconstructed bigotry is limited and declining. The same processes prising apart organised conservatism are slowly but surely snuffing out its base. To get the wider audience in, the affluent younger, the urbane and intelligent, you don't water the content down. You up the ante. You play on the paper's reputation as the most scurrilous of all Britain's right wing rags and publish ever more outrageous things. They seek to anger, shock and outrage as many moderate, liberal and left people to drive greater quantities of traffic to their site. As a case in point, this morning's headline was bandied about on Facebook by various lefties. In other words, hate and bile is what ensures stories go viral among the very people who detest the paper the most. It's a business model. As I wrote a couple of years ago, "It's a stroke of genius: exploit your opponents' right-on politics and they will market your putrefying product across their social media networks for you."
The Mail is stupid. But The Mail is not stupid.