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Being editor of the Sun is like being queen of the sewer

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Bidisha
writer, critic and broadcaster

The Leveson inquiry into media standards in the UK has shocked the nation by revealing that those in power are quite bent, that they all know each other and that some of them are liars and cheats governed more by petty politics, short term populism and power-moves than social or cultural ideals.

Now that we’ve seen the underbelly of the overclass, let’s remember that Shakespeare was writing about exactly these issues in his history plays, which spanned several centuries of the medieval and early Tudor period and were popular because they reflected all too accurately the machinations of the late Tudor court and its ruler.

Just as Shakespeare had his red-haired paragon in Elizabeth I, we have our own auburn figurehead, Rebekah Brooks, erstwhile editor of the Sun.

You know – The Sun. Tits, sport, paedophiles and immigration. Like a bad one night stand or a Pot Noodle, it takes three minutes to experience and leaves you feeling slightly soiled.

Brooks’ charismatic image has often been the only thing breaking the monotonous coverage of besuited male power-players and Leveson lawyers and (often) female hacking, surveillance and media harassment victims.

She has been portrayed by both her supporters and detractors as a larger-than-life character you couldn’t make up: ambitious, bulletproof, wily, beautiful but deadly.

She is equal parts ‘flame-haired temptress’ (a true tabloid phrase, that)  and succubus, Scarlett O’Hara survivor and Becky Sharp social climber, cruel as Mrs Danvers, calculating as Lady Macbeth, the Bouddica of the boardroom, the Godiva of the galleys, the red-topped queen of the red tops, a predator whose chosen consort is a mere actor and not an equal.

Like all women who capture the public’s attention, she is cast in mythic, atavistic terms, her rise both feted and fated, her effect supernaturally powerful.

She is represented as having an inexorable, Medusa-like attraction, so that the Prime Minister D-Cam ‘must’ have his weekly exchange with her and even Rupert Murdoch’s reptilian features soften into fatherly mistiness when she’s around.

To those who abhor tabloid culture and want to find a woman to blame she’s an immortal siren luring hapless male hacks to their sacrificial deaths; or else she’s Kali the destroyer, Goddess of death. The death of journalistic ethics, that is.

But Brooks is a person, not a myth. She is neither a high priestess of Nietzschean willpower nor an epic, avaricious monster.

She has been unfairly singled out, objectified, physically fetishised, rated and debated as if she is the sole ringleader in some nasty female voodoo project, the lust-object linchpin connecting Murdoch, the Tory government and the tabloid media.

In fact, the problems Leveson has uncovered are wideranging and the overwhelming majority of perpetrators brought before the committee are men.

These men, whichever sector they work in, are not subject to either the overblown myth-making or petty over-analysis and character assassinations which Brookes has been subject to.

They are treated as what they are, and what Brooks is: leaders of media outlets which under-represent women in every section of their pages except fashion and beauty, under-employ women in every department of their offices except as assistants, secretaries, cleaners and caterers and slander women in their stories as lying rape victims to be disbelieved, brainless totty to be looked at or scheming harridans to be loathed.

Brooks is a busy, highly capable, successful, experienced, resilient and effective tabloid newspaper editor who has probably battled incredible prejudice to get where she is. She is to be respected for sheer staying power and insouciance under arrest and interrogation.

But she has repaid the world by making sure she will not help any other woman in person or in print.

As such, she is exactly like her peers: a patriarch, a market-led conservative capitalist businesswoman, a mainstream player who rates ratings above all else, someone who is on the inside where the power-holders of the media, politics, sport, policing, culture and national institutions scratch each other’s backs.

Brooks demonstrates just how far you can go if you are a tough woman who wants to edit a tabloid rag which has never done anything for justice and equality (for anyone) in its life. She knows how to make a newspaper that trolls, bigots, oafs and yobs will love.

I too have been involved in Leveson recently, attending a post-committee conference to review the submissions that women’s groups made to the panel.

They reported on tabloid newspapers’ representation of rape cases, rape victims, women’s bodies, domestic violence cases, perpetrators of violence against women and the treatment of women in power in politics and public life. The results were damning and often stomach-turning in their misogyny.

While Brooks is no worse in her values or behaviour than her peers, equally she is no better. Charisma does not excuse narrow-mindedness.

Editor of the Sun? That’s like being queen of a sewer.

  1. Jane Osmond says:

    Bravo!

    • vicki wharton says:

      As such, I think Rebecca Brookes reminds me of Margaret Thatcher – a scapegoat for the policies of men around her. I don’t like either of them – but I didn’t like Edward Heath or James Murdoch either – but I don’t see them being charactured in quite the same way. It seems to me the moment weak and deceitful men get caught out doing whatever they’re doing, the first line of their defense seems to be ‘She made me do it!’, which kind of proves why they shouldn’t have been in charge of anything if they can’t take ownership of their own behaviour.

  2. Polly says:

    Thanks Bidisha! This is great.

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