by Daisy Cutter

Yesterday morning The Sun ran with a typically sensationalistic front page ‘scoop’ of a 22 year old actress holding a plastic gun to her head and bizarrely – and entirely incongruously – attempted to link this directly to last week’s school massacre in America. Under the headline ‘Brainless’ the accusation was that Helen Flanagan, a British soap and reality TV star, had shown crass insensitivity to the bereaved folk of Sandy Hook, a small town in Connecticut on the other side of the planet, by her tweet and accompanying picture on Monday. It is extremely doubtful that the grieving inhabitants of Sandy Hook had even heard of Flanagan, never mind seen her tweet – I should imagine they have more pressing matters on their minds at present – so The Sun helpfully contacted some of them to hurt them further and point out the fictional outrage in order to secure a quote or two.

Where do we start with this? Let’s begin with the bullying of a girl who is even to the most casual of acquaintances – and as someone who doesn’t watch Coronation Street or I’m A Celebrity I am as casual as it gets – quite plainly a well-meaning, decent lass who perhaps isn’t the fizziest can in the fridge. Flanagan tweeted yesterday that she’d been in floods of tears since awaking and seeing the reprehensible ‘story’ and was fearful of what impact this may have on her mother. Who can blame her? After all there is a picture of her in just her pants, being accused to the nation in the most virulent manner of mocking the deaths of 20 schoolchildren.

It is yet another example of the super soaraway Sun – who lest we forget have been championing their journalistic credentials of late in light of the Leveson Enquiry – unnecessarily and purposely causing immense pain to an individual who can’t fight back. It is a typically cruel modus operandi that the Sun excels at, a newspaper that laughably prides itself on being a paper for the people, people they randomly turn on, exploit and lie about without a moment’s thought.

Then we come to the actual logistics of the rag’s claim. Was the photo insensitive? Had it caused outrage and upset anywhere at all, even in the puerile minds of the Sun’s newsroom? Of course not and if you believe Pete Samson, the US Editor of the paper who was assigned to pen this stitch-up, wrote it with genuine Woodward and Bernstein ire you probably shouldn’t be given the carving knife this Christmas for fear you might eat it.

Firstly we must explain the back-story to the supposedly offensive picture. In October Flanagan took part in a photo shoot where she posed with various props in various outfits. In this one particular snap she is wearing black underwear and holding to her head what is clearly a toy gun. On Monday she reposted the photograph on Twitter alongside the message ‘Head f***’ to demonstrate that she was very hungover. Four days earlier an unhinged young man on another continent walked into a school with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and two high-powered handguns and began to indiscriminately fire at children and teachers killing 26.

If logic and a disparity of ludicrous proportions is stripped away I suppose we have gun = gun. Oh my God she is a monster.

But wait. Because if we’re going to demonise anyone who is connected in any way to a firearm in the days that followed this awful event what about the countless videos of rap artists that have been shown in the intervening days on music channels? What about soldiers? They hold guns all the time the insensitive brutes, wandering around Salisbury Plain not caring one jot if a relative of a recent gun-related crime might happen to be passing by. And if we’re being consistent with being outraged by plastic weaponry why isn’t a Toys R Us catalogue splashed across the front of the tabloids overtly displaying a water pistol and declaring that the company is making fun out of bloodshed?

Ridiculous you say? Yes, it really is and that’s even before we get to the real reason why this busty likable-but-dumb soap star was so needlessly castigated in such a sick and cruel fashion yesterday morning.

You see last Friday was a tabloid mother lode and legitimately allowed them to ink in bold across five page spreads some of their favourite screaming headlines involving their favourite screaming words. These include ‘massacre’, ‘rampage’, ‘death-toll’, and ‘lunatic’. But no matter how atrocious the event it really only warrants a three day news cycle. First there is the immediate coverage; then a day of more reflective reaction; followed by a third day of rounding together facts that only emerge from time and investigation such as what weaponry was used, were there any acts of heroism, what progress are the police making in determining how and why this happened, and of course that old classic from a small island race, were any of the victims British.

Once all this has been established and properly covered the narrative has been exhausted and it is time to move on to the secondary cycle. This is usually where the broadsheets concentrate on commentary and opinion and – it must be said – where the media in general can actually do some good. This week we have seen page after page of criticism for America’s gun laws and superb and erudite analysis of the country’s tortuous struggle with its second amendment.

This – perhaps understandably – is all deemed too serious and boring a subject for the tabloids to explore. Their readers wouldn’t stand for such chin-stroking and so they instead spend their secondary news cycle pulling tenuous links from popular culture into the story. After all, they have now given over their front page to three consecutive days of actual news and their readers might start getting edgy and glance at Heat on the higher shelf.

So on Tuesday we witnessed the stone-cold classic in such circumstance as the influence of popular culture was erroneously blamed for the atrocity. It transpired that Adam Lanza – like almost every other 20 year old in the first world – enjoyed playing violent computer games, namely Call of Duty. In a sad echo of the 1980s hysteria over ‘video nasties’ that followed the Hungerford shootings COD was dutifully given the full lashing of British piety whilst over in the US their tabloids went further still and looked to Hollywood for their ABC reasoning. This led to the farcical situation of Quentin Tarantino having to defend his forthcoming western that hasn’t even been released yet. Perhaps Lanza imagined what gory scenes it might contain and snapped?

Once this depressing and inevitable bulls*** stage of finger-pointing has been concluded most other publications then move on to report on other news stories that arise from a world that produces an infinite amount. But not The Sun. They didn’t get where they are today without taking that extra step into barmy lunacy.

You can imagine the eureka moment from whichever unpaid intern was trawling Flanagan’s Twitter account (someone he follows presumably for her Dorothy Parker wit), saw the photo in question and made the most strained leap of logic.

Perhaps there was concern as he approached his boss that he might be laughed out of the office. It was after all a link so tenuous as to be absurd even by their standards. Yet in every other way it was such an archetypal Sun story that it was only missing a Savile/paedo connection to be perfect to the point of parody.

Firstly it involved a contestant from the latest I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and the f***nuggets who make up the paper’s readership watched and enjoyed that in their droves. As a significant bonus it was that bikini babe wearing very little so the white van racists could get their early morning titillation.

Lastly, in addition to appeasing their demographic, it gave the glorified comic an opportunity to indulge in what it loves best – to be sexist, bullying, insulting, cruel, and hypocritical yet somehow have the sheer gall to do so from a moral standpoint.

Perhaps we are being a touch unfair here? Perhaps it was a slow news day?

Well of course such a term is nonsense and I will not take up your time by detailing the numerous examples of more notable and worthwhile subjects for The Sun to explore over a rather vacuous girl posing for a magazine photoshoot.

Save for one news story that explains why I am writing this article in the first place.

For yesterday saw the quashing of the original Hillsborough inquest. It was a momentous step towards a justice long fought for by ordinary people imbued with extraordinary virtue. For twenty-year years I have never failed to be astonished, inspired and amazed by the unstinting fortitude and dignity shown by the families of the 96 and the city of Liverpool. Though intense anger will always reside in me that this fight should ever have been required at all it also represents the very zenith of goodness that we, as people, are capable of aspiring and reaching.

I do not need to elaborate on the connection between The Sun newspaper and the awful events that unfolded on April 15th 1989; how they forever made themselves an indelible part of the sickening narrative by what they printed four days later and the egregious consequences thereafter. But as I saw on a forum about the newspaper’s disgusting treatment of Helen Flanagan I was also following Twitter and news sites for developments at the High Court as the hearing took place. And the contrast between the two was so acute it prompted this. It was a contrast between virtuous substance and vacuous lies so stark that it provoked a (hopefully) positive and (hopefully) lasting effect upon me.

For twenty three years now I have not bought a single copy of The Sun – I borrowed an edition off a relative to research this piece – yet its very existence has continued to be a source of bitterness and indignation. And though I would like nothing more than to see it fold, and for vengeful karma to strike upon all those who are associated with such a hellspawn of a publication, the likelihood is that it will peddle its bile throughout my lifetime. But that’s okay, because something was let go in me yesterday.

An internal deal has been struck and it is this – you live in your world Sun and I will live in mine and never the twain shall meet. Your world is one of fear and hate and lies; a Mordor for morons. My world contains media with integrity, from journalists such as David Conn, Tony Evans, and Brian Reade. It contains the people of Liverpool and the wider football community who have campaigned against all odds to right a shameful wrong perpetrated by the establishment of the day. In my personal life it is a world where friends are cherished and happiness is continually sought.

Your world has no place in mine and no longer do you even matter.

This morning I asked the relative of mine if I could again borrow his ‘newspaper’. Against my better judgement and with pragmatism losing to vain hope I wondered if The Sun had included yesterday’s verdict on their front page, such was the magnitude of what occurred.

Apparently a member of One Direction has got a new tattoo on his arm. Blown up to a sensationalistic degree was a photograph of the inked 18th century boat with a detailed description of what it represents. The tone was strangely celebratory as if it meant a single f***.

It’s a good job for his sake that it wasn’t a gunship.