The hunt for Raoul Moat did not take place

I apologise for another post highlighting my libertarian side in the same week, but how can I resist when censorship has been in the news again?

Obviously the Facebook group glorifying Raoul Moat is disgusting, but can we force Facebook to remove it? On “Question Time” we had that strident advocate of “aspirational socialism” Andy Burnham, who uttered the immortal phrase:

I’m not in favour of censorship, but…

I’m afraid I missed the rest of Burnham’s utterance because I spent the next couple of minutes crying into my copy of On Liberty.

Why did so many people join this Facebook group? The numbers might not be as high as the 18,000 reported to have joined, because many seem to have joined in order to criticise others who have actually joined to glorify Moat. In any case, it’s a big enough number – somewhere in the thousands – to be concerned.

A common view seems to be that they’re just stupid. “This shows there’s a lot of thickos in Britain today”, railed Kelvin McKenzie on “This Week”, blissfully unaware of the part the newspaper he used to edit probably played in that process.

But did these people really join just because they were stupid? The quintessentially stupid person, certainly by the definitions on dictionary.com, is Dougal McGuire from Father Ted.

There isn’t a bad bone in Dougal’s body, but there can be no doubt that he’s stupid. He has this childlike misunderstanding and dunderheaded view of the world. You’d think he was being deliberately obtuse, but he’s not – he’s just stupid.

But here’s the rub – Dougal McGuire would never join a Facebook group praising a murderer. Because that’s just not on. The people joining the Facebook group have failed the “Father Dougal test”. It’s not simply stupidity that is causing this small outpouring of support for Raoul Moat. In fact, it’s more insidious than that.

What could it be then? Perhaps George Galloway had a point on “Question Time”, when he talked about it being part of a groundswell of white, working-class rage. But let’s go straight to the horse’s mouth. This is what Siobhan O’Dowd, the ‘founder’ of the group, said in a radio interview (as reported by the Daily Telegraph):

Just hours before the page was withdrawn, Ms O’Dowd had launched a rambling defence of her views.

In a radio interview she told listeners: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Legends get talked about and he’s being talked about so in my eyes he’s a legend.

“I think he’s a legend for keeping them [the police] on their toes. I think it’s funny how he hid. It’s not just me who thinks this.”

These sorts of comments have been echoed elsewhere (see the 8th and 9th paragraphs). Raoul Moat has become a “legend” – the solitary man with a shotgun evading the law, he’s become like Omar Little of “The Wire” to a small section of the white working-class.

Perhaps another factor in the group’s popularity is that Moat gained notoriety because of his murders. A number of studies have shown that, nowadays, an increasing amount of people are seeking merely “fame” and “celebrity” as opposed to achieving anything good or tangible. By his despicable actions Moat managed to transfix the British media for the best part of a week, which amounts to a great deal of notoriety in anyone’s book.

Those watching and reading the media coverage of the manhunt for Raoul Moat, right up to that final standoff in Rothbury where he eventually shot himself, could be forgiven for thinking that this was all a game, and not “real” somehow. I’m sure many people reading this were also watching the 24-hour news coverage of that final standoff – I did, for a few minutes. Some wanted to get closer to the action. It wasn’t just Paul Gasgoine who travelled to Rothbury, pint and chicken in tow. Apparently some people took deckchairs and stayed to watch the denouement. Even those people weren’t getting as close to the action as some members of the press. Martin Robbins has collected some of the best examples of this, in an excellent article which should be read in conjunction with a reply by Fleet Street Blues. For the purposes of the point I am making, pay attention to question three. I won’t quote the whole thing, but here’s part of it:

The picture below shows an officer holding a taser pointed at Raoul Moat while his gaze is distracted towards a photographer. It provides a stark illustration of the profound ways in which the media (and those they incite) can interfere with a police operation. The officers here don’t look pleased, as you would expect, yet this picture has been repeated endlessly through-out the news without a single presenter stopping to pause and wonder just what the hell the photographer thought he was doing in such a sensitive position, putting lives at risk and for what?

Jean Baudrillard wrote three essays collected in a book entitled “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place”. Without wishing to subject you to lots of postmodernist babble, part of his argument was [and here I’m going to quote Wikipedia, bad scholar that I am]:

Baudrillard argues that the style of warfare used in the Gulf War was so far removed from previous standards of warfare that it existed more as images on RADAR and TV screens than as actual hand-to-hand combat, that most of the decisions in the war were based on perceived intelligence coming from maps, images, and news, than from actual seen-with-the-eye intelligence (Baudrillard 2001, 29-30).

Hence the absurd title of this blog post. Did the hunt for Raoul Moat take place? Or was it, to paraphrase Wikipedia, “so far removed from previous manhunts that it existed more as images on newspaper stands and TV screens than as an actual search?” Obviously the hunt did take place, but there seemed a surreal quality to it. It all seemed just a game. The ending was like the culmination of a film, as Barbara Ellen put it, more like “Death Wish” or “Die Hard” than an actual police investigation.

How the media report incidents such as Raoul Moat’s shooting and investigation needs to be reviewed quickly. This clip from Charlie Brooker’s “Newswipe”, and this article from Johann Hari summarise the problems with how the current style of reporting often spawns copycat attacks and turns protagonists into “nihilistic pin-up boys”. The “Newswipe” video is below:

In conclusion, what seems to be happening is this:

People increasingly seeking “fame” over any other tangible achievement + news coverage giving lots of publicity to murders = thousands of people joining a Facebook group in praise of Raoul Moat.

David Cameron seems too intent on calling for censorship, condemning the Facebook group and sweeping this whole affair under the carpet. Yet the attitudes from the public and the reporting styles of the media that spawned this group cannot, and should not, be so easily forgotten.

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6 Responses to The hunt for Raoul Moat did not take place

  1. Hannah says:

    I’m not sure “censorship” should be the boo-word here, so much as Cameron’s cheap populism. In fact, given that the main problem here is the irresponsible behaviour of the mainstream media, as you’ve outlined, there is a case for more formal censorship of the press. It’s not just this issue either, just look at the Express headlines we looked at before. There are guidelines for responsible journalism already: http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=174 but self-regulation doesn’t seem to be working. I think the solution could be for the Government and the media to get together, agree on some standards and set up an independent, regulatory body, with actual teeth.

  2. I’m not in favour of formal “censorship of the press”, as in passing legislation. Those sorts of statutes would be a slippery slope, and the government should have as little control as possible over what the press print. However, the PCC needs to be more independent of journalists (isn’t Paul Dacre on its committee?) and given proper powers to come down like a ton of bricks on journalists/news outlets if they break the guidelines set down by the NUJ.

    Starting out by talking about censorship was just a way of me then going on to talk about other things like the media coverage of Raoul Moat.

  3. Hannah says:

    He’s on their Board of Finance: http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/whoswho/pressbof.html.

    Their actual committee is a more eclectic bunch, with a slim majority of non-journalists: http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/whoswho/members.html

    They claim that their code is written into “Editor’s contracts” and that this gives them real powe (http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/benefits.html), but it’s unclear that there are any material consequences for a breach, and given that they’re funded on a largely voluntary basis by media outlets, such power that they do have is dependent on the graces of those they are regulating. This seems a fairly major conflict of interest.

    I think we’re saying pretty much the same thing, the PCC’s a good place to start, and I’d want any body to be independent of the Government and party politics, but any independent, punitive, powers they have would have to be granted to them through legislation.

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