Shock! Horror! Tabloid hacks are the new paedophiles

Leveson has provided just what we needed: a ‘subhuman’ bogeyman we can hold responsible for society’s ills

BY Brendan O'Neill LAST UPDATED AT 07:31 ON Thu 1 Dec 2011

THERE is something darkly ironic about the broadsheet and Twitter fury currently being aimed at tabloid hacks in the light of the Leveson Inquiry: it echoes the fury that the News of the World once visited upon suspected paedophiles.

From erudite columnists to posh actors to grammatically challenged tweeters, everyone now gets their rocks off by indulging in epic moaning about “tabloid scum” and how they have brought both politics and morality to their knees.

Even the language used by well-to-do tabloid-bashers eerily mirrors the lingo the News of the World used in its articles on “pervs”.

Hugh Grant, who got Guardian gals’ eyelashes fluttering when he appeared before Leveson a couple of weeks ago, says Britain’s tabloids have nurtured “a culture of pure evil”.

Comedian Steve Coogan told Leveson that some tabloid hacks are “sociopaths” who inhabit “an amoral universe”. Joan Smith told the inquiry that she considered herself “a different breed” to tabloid journalists - in the same way that News of the World readers took comfort in the belief that they were “a different breed” to paedos.

Continuing this theme, Ros Coward in The Guardian described Paul McMullan (above) - the former News of the World journalist who appeared at Leveson this week - as “an off-putting example of the species” and “villainous”.

An evil, badly bred, warped species that lives in a different moral universe to the rest of us… chuck in a few words like “perv” and “weirdo” and the exact same arguments could have appeared in the News of the World 10 years ago.

When they aren’t being labelled “evil”, tabloid hacks are being compared to animals - just like paedos were in the News of the World.

The LA Times rages against the “excesses of [Britain’s] feral tabloid industry”, while a celebrity website attacks the “bloodthirsty breed of sharks that is the British tabloid media”.

Meanwhile, in online discussion threads and on Twitter, Leveson has given rise to a tirade of abuse directed at the “scum” and “subhuman” trash who work on tabloid newspapers. All we need now is a mini-riot outside the Leveson Inquiry, with a bit of stone-chucking, and the chattering classes’ aping of the News of the World’s campaign against “evil” will be complete.

What both the old tabloid fury against paedos and the new broadsheet fury against tabloid hacks share in common is the need to find a bogeyman, an evil figure whom we can hold responsible for society’s ills and then metaphorically pelt with tomatoes. So where the News of the World tried to convince us that paedos were ripping up the moral fabric of society, the anti-tabloid set would have us believe that a few red-top writers have polluted political and moral life.

At least the News of the World was honest about pursuing a moralistic campaign against devils and undesirables. In contrast the tabloid-bashers try to disguise their Two Minutes’ Hate as an inquiry. But the truth is that whether you’re chasing evil paedos in Portsmouth or screaming about evil tabloid hacks on Twitter, you’re still engaging in cheap and shallow moral masturbation. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.