The Mail and Hugh Grant: flagrant intimidation

by Brian Cathcart

What lies behind the Daily Mail’s assault on Hugh Grant? Could it be conventional piety? Hardly: have you looked at Mail Online lately? It is an artful mix of soft porn and celebrity gossip of the kind which, just a few years ago, the Mail itself would have dismissed as morally corrosive.

Is the paper living in a dream world of Downton Abbey values? Maybe, but look at this. Delightfully illustrated and just a week old, it shows a Daily Mail that, far from being judgemental, is aware, cheeky and relaxed, even in the face of evidence of mass adultery.

Or could it be that Amanda Platell has some personal objection to Hugh Grant? She would not need one, for her article carries all the hallmarks of Glenda Slagg morality. Imagine that her instructions had been to whip up hatred against the mother in this case rather than the father. She could have done so with exactly the same passion and apparent conviction, simply substituting arentyasickofher for arentyasickofhim.

The Mail’s great broadside against Grant has nothing to do with morality and nothing to do with the perils of fatherhood outside wedlock. It is simply an act of intimidation.

The actor has been a prominent critic of privacy intrusion by the press and the Mail has chosen to make an example of him. It is saying to any prominent person who challenges the press: if you speak out, this is what we will do to you.

One of the most vivid insights into the culture of the old News of the World was a conversation from 2002 that happily was recorded for posterity. “That is what we do,” a news editor told a reporter, “we go out and destroy other people’s lives.”

The Mail plays the same game, and its technique in this case is wilful distortion. Take three facts and from those facts derive a dozen assumptions, all of which fit your agenda. From those assumptions weave a narrative as demeaning as can be contrived, and then pile the outrage on top. Never mind that the same three facts could provide the foundation of five entirely different narratives, leading to entirely different perspectives on those involved.

Platell doesn’t know the truth about Hugh Grant’s relationships and the Mail doesn’t either, but that does not matter: they have constructed a story that serves their purpose.

Just at this moment, with the Leveson inquiry set to start taking evidence and the joint parliamentary committee on privacy in full flow, the Mail is desperate to blunt the message that the unregulated mass-circulation press — the press that gave us hacking, the McCann case, the Christopher Jefferies case and so many others — is a threat to the health of our society.

Hugh Grant is a Leveson witness, so it makes him a target. And at the same time the treatment doled out to him serves notice, not only on anyone else with opinions the Mail does not like but also on everyone involved in both of those inquiries, that they can be dealt with the same way.

In their high-minded moments, papers like the Mail present themselves as champions of free expression, yet this is how they deal with those who disagree with them. And they have the nerve to call other people hypocrites.

Brian Cathcart teaches journalism at Kingston University London and is a founder of Hacked Off. He tweets at @BrianCathcart.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

November 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm

“And they have the nerve to call other people hypocrites.” – Oh Mr Cathcart, the irony is overwhelming. Hugh Grant has never courted publicity?

No, he just got caught in a car with a hooker.

November 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm
– In reply to: Me

Why does it still bother you that Hugh Grant got a b_ _ _ job from a hooker? He’s not the first public person to get caught in a situation like that and he won’t be the last. What about all of the MARRIED men who get caught with hookers, girlfriends, etc.? Ashton Kutcher, Eddie Murphy, Bill Clinton, etc. What about the MARRIED women who cheat on their husbands? Hugh Grant wasn’t even married at the time. Whatever his relationship was with Liz Hurley and however she handled it, was their business and no one elses.

Erich Mielkereply
November 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Daily Mail journalists and much of the tabloid press these days have more in common with the old East German Stasi than Woodward and Bernstein. Their behaviour undermines civil society and it’s about time we fought back against these animals. I can’t give my real name because I’m scared of them as well.

November 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Brian, great piece, but you linked to the wrong story. The Daily Mail stories are always outrageous, regardless the topic, but their constant attacks on Hugh Grant are obnoxious, at best. That they call themselves “journalists” is an insult to real journalists who report “real facts,” write in a fair and balanced manner, get both sides of a story, and leave their biases, if any, “at the door.” I have never seen anything resembling this at the Daily Mail. While I mourn the continued demise of newspapers the world over and the resulting loss of jobs for journalists, I can honestly say that I look forward to the day when the Daily Mail prints its last issue and closes its doors forever.

Philip Dennerreply
November 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

The red-tops are past masters at influencing public opinion using the basest instincts of their readers, xenophobia and racism, among them. If you are well known and attack their privileged position they see you as fair game for character assassination: they will do the same just to sell papers. More important than even this is the way they twist almost all stories to support the political views of their owners some of them simply being made up. This infantilises their readers and makes rational politics impossible. Policies on many important issues such as drugs, the EU and others, have been poisoned by their ignorant bigoted approach. We pay a heavy price for the paucity of good journalism in the UK and the BBC sadly does little to make up for the bias in the printed medias.

Malcolm Bradbrookreply
November 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I quite agree with all of your points here. Still, what surprised me is what a clumsy attempt at a smear this is – the timing and the viciousness of it leave few people in doubt of what is behind it.

I have blogged on declining standards at the Daily Mail myself

November 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm
– In reply to: Malcolm Bradbrook

The Daily Mail has no standards, as exemplified by its so-called “reporters.”

November 3, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Absolutely agree, I typically enjoy the Mail and Amanda Platell has a cheeky humour to a lot of her pieces but this is quite vitriolic and unnecessary. Disappointed.

Malcolm Bradbrookreply
November 4, 2011 at 8:09 am

@savash98: On moral grounds I am inclined to agree with you (hence my shame). However, my blog refers more to the fact that they were once extremely good at what they did – you could rarely see the glue holding shaky arguments together.

November 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

The Amanda Platell diatribe was only one of FOUR separate articles in yesterday’s Mail Online, listed one under the other on the sidebar, about Hugh Grant and his ‘philandering ways and reprehensible morality’. If only Liz Jones had stolen his sperm he could have made the top five stories.

November 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

Who cares about Hugh Grant: the point is that the only intersting feature of this guy is his crapiness: what do you want journalists to talk about concerning him????????????????? I don’t know the interest people can have on him and his life!!!

November 4, 2011 at 4:15 pm

The Daily Mail ought to be ashamed of themselves. I hope they go down just like “News of the World” did.

Gavin Carterreply
November 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm

I wish we could live in a world where we were allowed to be individuals. We are not all joined together at the hip. We all have our own moral rights and as individuals should be allowed to decide how we behave. If we do not injure others mentally or physically then we should not be judged for our actions. If there is a God…. ‘Remember’ he or she, animal, vegetable or mineral gave us free will. I for one use that whenever I can, and to hell with the small minded opinions of bigots and narrow minded prudes. I suppose I have a skeleton in my closet, but it’s polished and varnished and dipped in shameless gold. I dare say many would throw sewer water over it, given half the chance.

November 7, 2011 at 12:47 am

I have just been reading the (DM) newspaper article re Hugh Grant’s ex girlfriends, ex-boyfriend’s story and how he feels sorry for her now that she’s been left holding the baby so to speak. *looks up to the sky* *big yawns*

In my opinion it takes two to tango and if she did not want Hugh’s baby then she should have taken precautions. She probably saw Hugh as some rich man who could more than pay for her having a baby therefore she probably wasn’t worried about becoming pregnant by him at all. Maybe it was an arrangement between them who knows i.e., you have my baby and I’ll buy you a huge home to live in! 🙂

Most ‘nice’ woman would wait until they were married before planning the family. I don’t have much time for those females who do differently….therefore I don’t feel sorry for her at all!!!! I had two children inside of marriage and both of them were planned for. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They were both conceived out of love between two people…and not just a fleeting casual romp. She’s a silly woman if you ask me. If they were not in a committed relationship together why was she having his baby? Hasn’t she heard of the morning after the night before pill? This woman should read up on condoms/other precautions to stop her becoming pregnant…..if she’s not interested in fathering any more children by other rich men. She’s lucky Hugh Grant has offered to pay for a decent home for her and the baby…which is probably more than she would have received if she had not picked on a rich man to impregnate her in the first place.

Oh well Hugh can afford to have a number of babies by lots of different women if he chose to do so….and he would still be rich enough to eat the next day. I’m sure there will be a number of willing women who’d want to be set up in a home next door to him….with a newborn baby in tow. 😉

Ps Hmmm I dare say a lot of the benefit system should be looked at by women who father children outside of marriage. Some look at it as an easy option to get a house away from their parents. Ewwww!!!! Tax payers are keeping them. In my opinion children grow up much better in a two parent home/environment with two loving parents until they are at least going to primary school. It’s stressful for any woman to take care of a young baby on her own and babies often pick up on this.

Of course I do not speak of those who have lost their partners through bereavement as this can not be helped. I speak only of those who choose to have children without being in a relationship.

Chelsea Papreply
November 17, 2011 at 11:14 am

Love the Daily Mail article and can’t stand the self righteous, pompous Hugh Grant.

Johhny Englishreply
November 21, 2011 at 6:43 pm

The media want people to believe that this enquiry is about such things as Hugh Grant being caught with a h**ker. As he said in his statement today, he has no argument with the press over this. It is about the fact his privacy clearly was breached, whether it be from the phone hacking or publishing of medical records etc.
News International shut down the News of the World in the hope that the entire blame for scandal could be placed with the News of the World and thus swept under the carpet with it’s closure.
I think we need to focus on how organisations, such as News International, have so much power to distribute what they like when they like. Its understandable and also worrying that the government has such a close relationship with media organisations and clear that freedom of speech and freedom of information is nowhere near what people like to believe it is in the west. There is as much propaganda in the UK as many nations portrayed as unstable, undemocratic etc.
Let’s face it in the UK, infact I don’t know where not, the media is biased and heavily influenced by the government.
Of course if the government doesn’t want the media to publish something they can just say it’s not in the public interest to do so and ban them from doing it.
If they want something (anything) published they can ‘leak’ it out.
It’s funny that in the western world today people want to know about Hugh Grants relationships and things like that, that’s why the media provides it. People aren’t interested in anything that’s not superficial celeb-related.
Media coverage of the Middle East, Libya for example – what’s happening there? Is democracy being encouraged….or who has the west ‘put’ in power. A strategic ally no doubt. Probably former Chairman of BP….he’s out of a job I heard….

Mel Quinnreply
April 9, 2012 at 11:18 am

What I find disturbing about all this is that once again successive governments have left private individuals to search for ways to protect themselves from crime instead of enacting the necessary laws to protect our basic human rights. A multimillion pound industry has sprung up because individuals are having to invest in CCTV, personal alarms, body guards etc… we have just had to invest in creating a secure system and application for our mobile phones just to protect voicemail messages… the world truly has gone mad. Corporate and White Collar crime statistics continue to rise and yet the police seem helpless to address it and the crown prosecution service hesitant to take action. Lets hope this inquiry will level the playing field…

Mart Prestonreply
October 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Has Juliet Shaw’s story been bought to the attention of Leveson?

Spinneyhead | Daily Blog 11/03/2011reply
September 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm

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