Dog whistle journalism

with 3 comments

As the Clintons are accused of playing the race card – and losing – in South Carolina, so the Daily Express once again plays the race card – with yet more virulence – on its front page today.

‘Migrants send our crime rate soaring’ is emblazoned across the front of the paper. This is topped by a non-news story about Madeleine McCann (‘Amazing lookalike: “I did not kidnap and kill her”‘), and tailed by ‘outrage’ about the news that – according to the Express – Maxine Carr is expecting a baby. Together these must represent a new low in the paper’s desperate scramble for dog whistle populism.

The main story picks up on a leaked letter from the Chief Constable of Kent, Mike Fuller, who is asking the government for more money. When the letter was leaked, Fuller was presumably not unconscious of the fact that, by using phrases like ‘migration surges’, his request for more money should earn a certain amount of publicity.

Yet given Fuller focused on population increase rather than migrants per se, he might have been slightly surprised by the rampantly xenophobic headlines the letter elicited. Three newspapers ran with the story: the Sunday Times (‘Police chief: “migrant tide adds to crime”‘), the Daily Mail (‘Top black officer warns of “migrant crime surge”‘) and the Daily Express.

The Sunday Times story was reported by Jonathan Oliver – recently headhunted from the Mail after his David Abrahams scoop at the end of last year. Nick Fagge meanwhile, the author of today’s Expess piece, had to take time out from reporting on the McCann’s – having written over 20 articles about the McCanns since the beginning of November (including ‘Is Madeleine a child slave in Morocco?’, and ‘Maddy: mum faces ten years in jail’).

The Express story itself is based entirely on Mike Fuller’s statistics, a reaction from the Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green, and a quote from the anti-immigration spokesman Sir Andrew Green. In other words it is almost entirely lacking any actual journalism. It has been spread across the paper simply to appeal to public fears of migration and latent xenophobia.

When Roy Greenslade wrote critically about the Sunday Express’ reporting on the McCann’s a couple of weeks ago, one commenter asked him why he was wasting his time on a paper no-one read. But that’s the problem, over 700,000 people are still buying the Daily Express, and over 650,000 buying the Sunday Express, according to the latest ABCs.

Sales are dropping, but the further the drop, the more aggressive and downright nasty the paper becomes. One can only hope that, as some point, they go into freefall.

Written by Martin Moore

January 28th, 2008 at 5:19 pm

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3 Responses to 'Dog whistle journalism'

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  1. My wife and I play a kind of buzzword bingo with the Express front page as we walk by the news stands here. Currently the top marks are for a “Triple Whammy” – Madeleine, Diana and Muslims/Immigrants occupying all the available stories on the page. Pitiful really.

    Martin Belam

    28 Jan 08 at 10:03 pm

  2. Except its not even dog whistle journalism; it’s so bleeding obvious.


    29 Jan 08 at 8:15 am

  3. It presumably wouldn’t be too hard to start an automated version of the Express. Take headlines including certain words (Madeleine, Migrants, Muslims, Maxine Carr, Diana… a few about freak weather) mock up the same couple of first paragraphs, and then rotate. Given the falling price of print costs the only tricky bit would be distributing it to news stands

    Martin Moore

    29 Jan 08 at 10:39 am

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