Years ago, the news media provided something good to the people.
Now, through the wondrous agency of Daily Mail Australia and its interminable drive to be perceived as Australian media’s sleaziest joke, it’s beginning to be taken away.
The internet has provided us many brilliant things: streaming live sport, specialised news services and videos of snakes chasing baby iguanas.
It has also offered up some less enlightening creations: hacked elections, cyber-bullying and … Daily Mail Australia.
The distinction between the latter two is now paper-thin after the Daily Mail’s determination to – in the words of lawyers acting for Samantha Armytage – “humiliate and shame her in the most base and personal way”.
While newsrooms around the world are retrenching foreign correspondents, photographers and highly-regarded journalists, the Daily Mail is sating its unhealthy interest in breakfast television celebrities (its social media is managed by a former Today producer) by throwing money at photo and media content exchange site, Diimex – which, it must be said, approached the brief with a John Hinckley Jr-level of dedication.
The fruits of this labour, combined with the words from clickbait copyboy Max Margan, resulted in the lawyers acting for Armytage threatening to sue the Daily Mail for substantial damages.
Withdrawing the article and providing Armytage with an apology would be the only way to mitigate this action.
Daily Mail has added an apology to the bottom of the Armytage 'Granny panty' story. You should not go to the link again to read it!
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottliebFOX) December 13, 2016
Incapable of reporting news, the Daily Mail had done the next best thing and ensured it became the news. Whether the inept apology to Armytage and “readers more generally” kept the legal dogs from the door remains to be seen. What is not in doubt, however, is that it ensured it ran another news cycle:
“…an earlier version of this story contained critical statements regarding Samantha Armytage’s appearance. While the story has been amended, we apologise for any distress caused to Ms Armytage or readers more generally.”
For all the superficial, mouths-of-babes coyness of Daily Mail’s apology, it should be considered in the context of the news site’s oeuvre. That is to say, in a way that is in no way considered, contrite or genuine.
Consider the revised, softened headline:
“Casual Sunday! Sunrise host Samantha Armytage goes solo as she heads out on a shopping trip after slamming rumours about her dating life.”
The offending photos remained, all that changed was removing references to her underwear. It hardly screams contrition, and is not even approaching a rethink of its editorial direction, but remains firmly rooted in the gutter, along with the rest of society’s garbage.
And so long as three million (THREE MILLION!) of us keep clicking on the Daily Mail’s stories every month – which, according to the latest Nielsen data makes it Australia’s fifth-largest news site (behind only news.com.au, ABC online, nine.com.au and smh.com.au) they’re not going to switch their gaze to Manus Island, East Aleppo, or hell … even Canberra.
Three million readers represent a number of things, advertising dollars not being the least of them. And as a trashy tabloid understands better than most, nobody goes broke underestimating the intelligence of people – and if three million of us gorge ourselves on the junk “journalism” on such sites, then surely we must take some of the blame for the sleaze that poses as news.
We’re drowning in information, but if the data on Daily Mail Australia is any indication, we’re not even remotely thirsty for knowledge. This is why the boom industry in 2016 is bullshit. This is why Oxford Dictionaries named ‘post-truth’ as word of the year. This is why Daily Mail Australia can get away with issuing a half-arsed apology and not even feel the slightest breeze of simple decency blow through its newsroom.
The Daily Mail doesn’t serve us, the three million of us who read it serve them. We are the en masse enablers for this degrading garbage. That it regrets its decision to run the Armytage story and is genuinely contrite?
There’s your “fake news” right there. As for editorial responsibility, well “responsibility” is just another word for a mess that parents of girls who believe that body image is the most important thing have to clean up.
Denzel Washington, a former journalism student at Fordham University, summed it up as well as anyone when he was asked at to address a fake news story that he was featured in with Donald Trump: “Get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true. Just say it. Sell it. Anything you practice, you’ll get good at. Including B.S.”
Daily Mail Australia’s apology wasn’t genuine, it was B.S, and B.S is its M.O. Their apology was simply “on-brand”.
— Candice Wyatt (@CandiceWyatt10) December 12, 2016
Craig Little has spent 20 years in advertising, PR and public affairs and is well versed in the dark arts of the media. He can sometimes be heard on 774 ABC and was a member of The Spin team that once explored the murky side of politics and the media on Triple R.