Friday 23 December 2022

The Sun's Anxious Apology

For its part in the latest round of scurrilous attacks on Meghan Markle, The Sun has apologised. You will recall that Jeremy Clarkson, their pet stick of curly-haired tedium, launched an attack on the Duchess of Sussex from the pages of the Sunday edition last weekend. He wrote how he was "dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while crowds chant, 'Shame!' and throw lumps of excrement at her". It doesn't take much to unravel the vitriol he and fellow middle-aged-to-elderly columnists reserve for her. Meghan condenses everything they hate about this country and its younger people in particular. Their diversity, their tolerance, their socially liberal commonsense. In their right wing imaginations, Meghan's marrying into the royal family is a breach too far in this most sacred and white of institutions. As such, no matter the level of utterly disgusting press she receives, as outlined in that Netflix documentary, it's men like Clarkson who are really the wounded ones.

After a day of social media heat, Clarkson issued his faux apology on Monday. Claiming he had "put his foot in it", he was "horrified" that his toe curling rant had "gone down badly with a great many people". In other words, he wasn't sorry at all. Except for the fact he'd been called out, and made to feel his main television gig - hosting Who Wants to be a Millionaire? - was a little bit less secure. ITV is, according to the Daily Mail, a woke TV channel after all.

The Sun apology is along the same lines. While arguing Clarkson's views are his own, the paper recognises that "with free expression comes responsibility" and that "we at The Sun regret the publication of this article and we are sincerely sorry". Again, note no apology for the injured party. They've also scrubbed the article from their archive, which is probably as much contrition Meghan will ever receive. But this being The Sun, it couldn't simply say sorry. It had to pontificate about its good causes, such as its campaign against domestic abuse. Just don't talk about how the paper helped hound a mentally ill woman to death, has backed the government's criminal treatment of asylum seekers, spoke up for the Met as its officers cracked skulls at the Sarah Everard vigil, are right now are at the forefront of attacks on Mick Lynch and the RMT, egging on Rishi Sunak's war on striking workers, and earlier this year literally willed young people to go die in a field.

It normally takes months of court time and enormous legal bills to elicit a Sun apology, so this is unusual. 60 MPs, organised by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, wrote an open letter condemning the piece. But as the names were the usual suspects, it's not likely this had a bearing on the apology. Nor the fact Clarkson's own daughter joined in the condemnation. Rather, it comes down to the vulnerable position the paper is in. The Sun, like all Murdoch-owned rags, stopped publicly reporting its circulation figures in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit. Then it was 1.2m copies sold daily, and a million on Sundays. As per all newspapers, it was in long-term decline and is now likely to be behind the Mail, hovering at a daily (and decreasing) circulation of 800k. Its force mainly lies in framing news stories and selecting the issues of the day (which is lapped up and echoed by the BBC), and their (legacy) influence over politicians. It is a declining power in the land.

And yet, looked at another way The Sun couldn't be in ruder health. Its website has about 30 million views a month, constantly vying with the Mail for the top spot. But here in lies the problem. For both papers, their readers are there for the games, competitions, celebrity and human interest stories. They don't hurriedly rush to their Sun app in the morning for the latest ravings of Trevor Kavanagh, or whatever poison Victoria Newton has dripped into the day's editorial. Having found a business model that can make money, it comes at the price of a depletion of its political gravity. Also, because its dependence on internet traffic grows by the day "the brand" becomes increasingly sensitive to online push-pull factors, just like any other company. And so if one of its star columnists creates a stink, the fear is audiences will steer clear of the pong. And advertisers are easily spooked, who ultimately the business depends on. In other words, the perceived threat of user and marketing boycotts finds The Sun in a position of vulnerability, and they have to act swiftly if on the wrong end of a controversy.

All of a sudden, its persistent fretting over the "woke mob" and "cancelling" makes sense. In the attention economy, politicised audiences can leverage the power of the network in ways old school editorial offices cannot. It's simultaneously a realisation their institutional heft is degrading, and an anxiety that very soon none of it will be left. Jeremy Clarkson's carefully planned and cynically calibrated "outburst" at Meghan, with the full approval and connivance of The Sun's editor might well have had one unforeseen but welcome consequence: that the day of this demise has been hastened.

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Robert Dyson said...

I'm on the republican side, not royalist. Even so the royals should be given the same honest respect as any other person - that's not deference. I found the Clarkson comment disgusting and inflammatory. What he can't take is that Megan is not pure white yet she has made a fortune from her own efforts in the racist USA. Harry has had a privileged past but has decided to go it alone with a POC, which I also admire. That's something else the Sun cannot take, he should have stayed in his gilded cage. I don't have any special interest in the pair but they should be allowed to get on with their life. I wonder if this is also being used as a distraction from that uncle Andrew and his arrogant stupidity.

Clinesteron Beademungen said...

"uncle Andrew and his arrogant stupidity." or more realistically,

"uncle Andrew and his criminal paedophilia".