Jane Devine: We need public figures to have the courage of their convictions but we need grown-up reactions
The headline was “A Good Day to Bury Bad News”.
The e-mail it referred to actually said: “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors’ expenses?”
That was more than ten years ago and came on the day the Twin Towers collapsed. It cost Labour party special adviser, Jo Moore, her job because it was seen as tasteless and insensitive, and because it added to the already growing row about Whitehall spin. But, the fact remains, it was a good day to bury bad news, a very good day – one of the best, in fact.
Despite this, the reaction to that e-mail was huge. Would it have been such a controversy if she’d said it on Super Saturday when Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and others made it a bumper gold medal-winning day for Team GB? Probably not. Yet that would have been a good day to bury bad news, too.
The opinion and reaction of elements of the media and the public are so fickle, it makes them almost impossible to predict. It depends on who you are, what you say or do and what else is happening.
Just last week, Barry Norman was lambasted for referring to Julia Roberts as “every man’s dream hooker”, yet Boris Johnson was applauded when he described the end of the Olympic Games as a “tear-sodden juddering climax”.
This unpredictability is encouraged by the readiness of public figures to apologise when they get a negative reaction to what they’ve said, even if what they’ve said is true, or just their opinion.
We are so temperamental in this country: deciding to be hurt and insulted by some things and not bothered at all by other, very similar events. The fact that people then issue statements and say sorry encourages the public and the media (reflecting the public view) to believe it is our right to control them, take the moral high ground and behave like a bunch of petulant five-year-olds, stamping our feet when we don’t like what’s said, but having neither rhyme nor reason to our reaction. And so the cycle continues.
There is one thing we can be sure of, though: once someone has said or done something, even if they have been roasted alive, the next person to say or do something similar won’t get nearly the same level of reaction. And in that sense, public opinion generally follows a similar pattern.
It’s like the plot of a B movie on a Saturday afternoon: the first brave person to go out and face the danger is killed straight-off, others are injured, but once the masses go together into “them thar woods”, they all come back alive.
If we are ever to break this cycle of behaviour, we need public figures to have the courage of their convictions and grown-up reaction. But for that we need more pioneers, strong enough to go ahead of the masses and come back alive. Boris, anyone?
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