Those Daily Mail Readers


by Robert Sharp    
8:45 am - November 7th 2007

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I have heard it twice in seven days. Twice, at two very interesting events, run by two very respectable think-tanks: Its those dreaded Daily Mail readers who are to blame.

In both cases, that journal was being used as a convenient short-hand – to signify something right-wing, reactionary, and irrational. The implication is that there are all these subscribers out there who are somehow intractable. A block of voters who can be persuaded of nothing.

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago, comparing David Cameron to Hilary Clinton. Both politicians, said Andrew Sullivan, are “scared of what they believe”. They are under the impression that the rest of their country does not share their politics. And so they triangulate and obfuscate.

I think a similar fear is being expressed when the left-winger cites the problem of the Daily Mail. But while both Clinton and Cameron’s fears may actually be justified, I think the lefty’s worries are pretty groundless. First, I think popular culture is against the Mail: Think of the ridicule piled upon it on by those TV panel shows, or in the blogosphere. Second, the idea that any section of the population is a single-minded Mobb, is as false as it is patronising.

Worse, though, is that it is defeatest. Assume that Daily Mail readers are a lost cause, and your own campaign becomes a lost cause too. We need to be more confident in the power of our own arguments, and make better arguments too. Not even the government is doing that at the moment. The Daily Mail does not represent the bulk of British opinion: It represents what a small number of editors think British opinion should be.

So, by all means let us continue fisk and critique articles in the Mail, but let’s have a moratorium on the clichés of the dreaded ‘Daily Mail Readership’. If you want to invoke a bogey-man, well, there’s always The Daily Express Readership instead. They’re still fair game.

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About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
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Reader comments


Fair comment. Another thing to remember about the Mail is that it trades on people’s anxieties. It does this very effectively and to some political effect, but there’s also an element of feeding morbid fascinations with fear. And people also have lives outside the closed thought systems of ideological newspapers, lives which often contradict what they read in them. Also, didn’t I read somewhere that most Mail readers have been voting Labour lately?

I think this whole idea of classifying people according to the paper they read absurd, it was absurd in the 1970s (although it arguably had more validity ) and it’s doubly absurd in a muti media age.
All newspspers pander to the prejudices of their readers, they wouldn’t stay in business otherwise, and this is as true of the Daily M, tawdry little rag that it is, as of the Guardian, which I can’t read as it long ago passed the point of self parody. One thing I’ve never really understood is why the left have such an obsession with the daily M, given that it’s largely read by conservatives (with a small c), a significant number of whom must vote labour, and particualarly now that like all newspapers it’s readership is dwindling to insignificant levels.
Do the left really believe that “Right wing reactionaries” (a term that I personally think is a meaningless sterotype but I understand the reference group) would disappear if it went out of business tomorrow, any more than the liberal left would if the Guardian went bust ? Despite what they like to think, the media reflects opinion far more than it shapes it.

Like it or not, the Daily Mail is read by a lot of people – despite popular culture being ‘against’ it. I think part of the problem is that you can debate its articles until you’re blue in the face, but the people you are trying to persuade won’t hear the arguments.

… Unless they’re written about in the Daily Mail.

Couldn’t agree more – it’s always dangerous when we define nebulous social groups and then attribute behaviours to them en masse, as dangerous with ‘Daily Mail’ readers as it is with ‘ethnic minorities’ or ‘young people’.

This becomes a bravery issue though and with even Gordon Brown courting Paul Dacre recently it’s hard to envisage where the courage will come from – I’d dearly love it to be Cameron but can’t see it somehow….

I think you underestimate the people of this country. It’s impossible to say what a particular readership of any newspaper believes but it is fair to say that their choice of paper is an indicator. The Daily Mail is part gossip mag, part news and part rightwing commentary. Anecdotally I know Daily Mail readers of several types, some who purchase because it is a easily readable newspaper that is not a redtop (they are for common people), some who buy it because they agree everything in it (and don’t fancy folding the telegraph) and some who can’t wait to be outraged by the latest story on migrants chasing after swans. Each of these people, however, are influenced by the agenda of the editor, especially on issues like immigration (“there are to many”) gay rights (“I disagree with it, but as long as I don’t have to see it it’s ok”, an improvement?), people on benefits (feckless) and single mothers (feckless and loose). Anecdotal, but my experience.

For more widespread evidence you don’t have to look far. View, for example, the BBCs ‘Have your say’ section of it’s website. They are out in force. People who want to bring back national service, believe all public sector works are lazy, witter about house prices and fantasize about corporal punishment in school, all ‘Daily Mail’ type issues. Similar examples can be seen at the Daily Mail website itself, the Express website (which is terrifying) and numerous local news websites up and down the country.

The websites are moderated and perhaps the views that get published are those of the right type, i.e. reflecting the paper’s line. Perhaps the only people that get so worked up about these things to turn their computer on, and spend the time writing a comment, are the nutters I am reading. My experience is that a lot of people’s gut instinct around a lot of issues are a Daily Mail instinct. I think there is a bogey-man, and he’s getting red-faced over his boiled egg, orange juice and Daily Mail.

Edward, I don’t doubt that the people you speak of do exist. But they can be persuaded by good arguments, reinforced with bold and – crucially – confident rhetoric. If we consider them a lost cause, then we admit defeat.

Matt makes the point that Guardain readers are subjected to similar stereotyping… but the Right has not ceased to consider them as possible constituents.

The Mail’s comment section is – perhaps counter-intuitively – a bad place to get a sense of the readers. I agree with Edward that the main effect of the moderation policy is to reinforce a narrow band of acceptable opinion (centred on the editorial line.) In effect, the Mail ends up being involved in perpetuating the stereotype of its own readers – amplified by “me, too” commenting.

I’m not sure this isn’t because the Mail has a vested interest in kind of politics (or journalism) which propagates a simplistic divide between Good Clean Mail Readers and Dirty Leftie Guardianistas. It’s a narrative they’ve been very keen to push – and, as such, one we might want to resist.

(It’s interesting, though, to read the comments on the occasions when the balance actually shows disagreement with the scaremongering epic of the day. I seem to remember that the claim that Hermione Granger was too violent to be a good role model for girls didn’t pass the laughter test.)

Robert. Let’s hope so. Of course a lot of the types of people I was referring to appear to be of the older generation, so perhaps it’s just a matter of waiting!

(Was that to flippant for LC comments?!)

BD. The best example of what you mention RE disagreement was Littlejohns column about the murdered sex workers in Ipswitch, along the lines of ‘we won’t miss a few prossies’. The comments calling him to task restored a little of my faith in humanity. Of course there was the weekly calls for him to run for PM, and those are the people that _are_ a lost cause.

Why pick on Express readers? There can’t be more than four of them left.

11. Geordie-Tory

I’ll say it again, I am a proud Conservative, but I find the Mail’s “tone of voice” absolutely abhorrent, particularly in its scaremongering of immigration and its attitude to sexuality.

Before anyone posts “How can you be a Conservative and support etc, etc…….” let me just say that my paramount starting point is the belief in Freedom of the individual (I know you lefties don’t like that word, but please focus) my own very personal view on immigration is this:

…..If we removed all borders on the planet, still less than 5% of the world’s population would move to another village or town, let alone to another Country or Continent. More on that in a moment.

I often find as a Conservative, that we are the optimists, believing people are capable of more and not pesseimitic about human behaviour like the left, wishing to emmesh people in entitlement frameworks to control their behaviour.

Thus, it is only natural to me that I would wholeheartedly support the Optimists, those most dynamic Individuals (hurrah!) who choose to come to this country and enrich our economy and society with their energy, drive and crucially positive, optimistic outlook on life!

So where am I going with this? Well, at 38 I am hardly a “young” conservative, but I know most 20 and 30-something conservatives would be pretty comfortable with the viewpoint I have just outlined (Granted they are the odd – and I do mean ‘Odd’ – goggle-eyed, crazed young Tory Boys who hold reactionary views which would make Genghis Khan blush, but you get loons in every party right?).

So I suppose I just wish you to bear this view point in mind when commenting on the Conservative or “right-wing view” of immigration, and don’t seek to stereotypify this as a “Daily Mail” world-view.

One final point, often when those en gauche, write about Daily Mail readers and confuse this with Conservative policy, they typically use words like “Colonel Blimp” and “Blue Rinse Brigade” to evince the point about the reactionary nature of said people.

Granted, the Daily Mail knows its demographic, and styles it’s writing accordingly, and yes its sad that it does not attempt to enrich (I deliberately veered away from using the word enlighten there, as ony lefties think they are more enlightened than others!) its readers with positive and life-affirming stories about immigration or homosexuality for instance, BUT is this sort of Ageist, discriminatory language appropriate, helpful or even tolerant when what you are really making veiled references to our ageing section of population?

Geordie-Tory

Ps – I have never forgiven “Das Mail” (Oops! Germano-phobia there, or maybe just a joke!), for the hateful, homophobic smear campaign it ran against Michael Portillo during the Conservative leadership election in 2001. Portillo, whatever your view of him, would have rejuvenated the Conservaties much earlier, and thus kept Labour on its toes, an intellect capable of exploiting government weaknesses(Would we have gone into Iraq for instance, if Tories had led opposition, rather than voting with NuLab?).

It’s definitely a mistake to dismiss the mythical Mail reader as impossible to reason with. They probably could be persuaded with good arguments if they ever saw them. But when would that ever happen?

The right wing press acts as an echo chamber, with each paper often regurgitating what’s appeared in the others. A PC Gone Mad story, say, often only has to appear in one and within a few days it’s spread across the others, regardless of whether or not its true (and they almost always aren’t). Where would a Mail reader go to find out the story’s codswallop? Especially as the paper (and the other ones on the right) poison the well of other sources, inventing the Guardianista and the myth of the left wing BBC.

The power of the Mail et al means that stories can spread like wildfire, with even some of the most sceptical readers being taken in. Take the recent story about the IPPR wanting to downgrade or scrap or ban Christmas. How quick before that was being accepted as truth even among Guardian readers?

Also, the comments section of the Mail is not the best place to look to find that its readers are further to the left than the paper. A lot of the people who get critical things published are people who are antagonistic towards the paper, wouldn’t buy it in a million years and don’t need to be reasoned with anyway, like some of the folks on MailWatch. Or me.

It’s also heavily moderated, so its impossible to tell how quickly it would descend into the quagmire that is the Daily Express ‘Have Your Say’ sections, with people tubthumping for the BNP and advocating the compulsory sterilisation of immigrants?

So, while there might not exist a stereotypical Mail reader, or at least nowhere near as many as we might think, where does anyone go to present readers of the Mail and the other right wing papers with an alternative?

For info, I’ve now spoken to three dyed in the wool Mail readers who voted Labour in 1997 who stated that the reason was just that “they thought it was time for a change”. Obviously this required a Labour Party that wasn’t outrageous.

But the charge remains – it *does* feel like the Government refines its policy to appease the Mail, and very rarely, if ever, bulllishly takes it on.

The Guardian and the Mail are two sides of the same coin, they may not share a common political viewpoint but they do share the same philosophical viewpoint, one is relativistic the other is absolutist, and as we know from Prof. Peter Berger, these two positions really add up to the same thing.

http://sageking.typepad.com/journal/philosophy/index.html

We are told from the Guardian side of the equation, that there is no logical and moral arguments for capital punishment, there is,anyone familiar with Immanual Kant will understand them.
We are told from the Mail side of th equation that the downfall of civilization began with the abolition of the death penalty, it did not and without it we can never have credible justice system, this is also incorrect.

Personally if you “liberals” want to have a referendum on the issue and put your theory to the test that popular culture is against CP, then il listen to the debate and probably vote alongside the rabid haters of the Daily Mail.

5cc
A PC Gone Mad story, say, often only has to appear in one and within a few days it’s spread across the others, regardless of whether or not its true (and they almost always aren’t)

Some do turn out to be false, or misrepresented. But to say “nearly always not true” is absolutely ridiculous.

Would you like to me to quote various Muslim organisations condemning actual PC gone mad situations?

The power of the Mail et al means that stories can spread like wildfire, with even some of the most sceptical readers being taken in. Take the recent story about the IPPR wanting to downgrade or scrap or ban Christmas. How quick before that was being accepted as truth even among Guardian readers?

Ahh! Vast right wing conspiracy!! And – I think you might be right !!!

Immigration is bad for society, but only until a new solidarity is forged – By Madeline Bunting

The fact is 5cc ALL the press make things up. Except when the left wing press makes stuff up, it’s normally involving entire countries, such as the infamous Indepenent front page by Fisk, on Israel using Uranium on the Lebanese (which was found to be completely unfrounded by the UN)

Or when the left-wing Daily Mirror printed falsified pictures of uk prisoner abuse – which resulted in massive increase in the insurgency and certainly resulted in the end of certain British soldiers lives in the following days and weeks.

I wonder , would we ever see a right wing blog calling for a moratorium on the cliché of “the Guardianista”?

Probably not evolute. But the Guradianistas are never seen as downtrodden work class types, far from it, they are seen as elitist liberals who don’t live in the real world. Guardianista is used to desrcribe silly liberal niave thinking, where as “daily mail readers” are often followed by the extremely emotive words like scrum.

“A PC Gone Mad story, say, often only has to appear in one and within a few days it’s spread across the others, regardless of whether or not its true (and they almost always aren’t)”

Some do turn out to be false, or misrepresented. But to say “nearly always not true” is absolutely ridiculous.

Would you like to me to quote various Muslim organisations condemning actual PC gone mad situations?

Nope. What you would need to do to demonstrate a real PC Gone Mad situation is demonstrate a real PC Gone Mad situation. And then lots more to prove they’re not nearly always untrue. Since they quickly become urban legends, quoting people who believe them doesn’t prove them to be true. It just proves people believe they are.

The best you could manage over in the comments at Pickled Politics was one incident that happened in one school four and a half years ago. You need to do better than that.

“The power of the Mail et al means that stories can spread like wildfire, with even some of the most sceptical readers being taken in. Take the recent story about the IPPR wanting to downgrade or scrap or ban Christmas. How quick before that was being accepted as truth even among Guardian readers?”

Ahh! Vast right wing conspiracy!! And – I think you might be right !!!

Immigration is bad for society, but only until a new solidarity is forged – By Madeline Bunting

Ahh! Vast strawman argument! And I think you might be, well, not right.

I don’t think there’s any conspiracy, just a mixture of confirmation bias, lazy journalism and a desire to make stories as sensational as possible that create urban legends without a single fact check.

The Bunting link doesn’t work. And I don’t know what it was supposed to prove anyway.

The fact is 5cc ALL the press make things up. Except when the left wing press makes stuff up, it’s normally involving entire countries, such as the infamous Indepenent front page by Fisk, on Israel using Uranium on the Lebanese (which was found to be completely unfrounded by the UN)

Or when the left-wing Daily Mirror printed falsified pictures of uk prisoner abuse – which resulted in massive increase in the insurgency and certainly resulted in the end of certain British soldiers lives in the following days and weeks.

A couple of problems with this. First it’s a tu quoque fallacy. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, no matter who says it.

The difference is one of scale. There are fewer left wing outlets and they sell far fewer copies. They’re also prone to bellieving the urban legends created by the reight wing press. that’s howcome Carloe Malone could take the stories about the IPPR wanting to downgrade Christmas and embellish it further by saying the government wanted to.

How many people even saw or knew about the Fisk front page? I certainly hadn’t. And when lies in the left wing press do become widely known, how many people keep believing them? Anyone still think the Iraq photos were genuine?

How many people still believe that Tower Hamlets Council banned black bin liners in the 80s? How many people believe that the Worker Registration Scheme shows that nearly 700,000 Eastern Europeans are in the country who arrived since 2004 (that one was just repeated on the BBC – Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch had to put them straight on that one)? How many people still believe in stories about Winterval or banning Christmas?

You seem to believe the last one, at least.

19. James Glover

I think there is a distinction between ‘people who read the Daily Mail,’ and what is commonly thought of as a ‘Daily Mail reader.’ The core audience reflected by their editorial stance does, unfortunately, exist, but their readership is also made up of people who ‘buy it for the TV guide.’

Whether they do or not, I think the best reason to refrain from the cliche is still the defeatest aspect. If they exist, and have their opinions reinforced by the Mail’s output, then we should be challenging and persuading them, not writing them off as a lost cause.

There are a lot of good reasons that the Daily Mail gets pulled up rather than other newspapers; it has a veneer of respectability, it presents arguments rather than making statements, it creates a debate and your role in that debate for you. Reading many sections of the paper you get the impression that people who actually read it everyday do not want to think about the society that they are living in. Yes it’s wrong to criticise Daily Mail readers rather than those who write and edit the paper but the fears of the left are not unfounded, there are plenty of people who read a newspaper for its TV guide who adopt the views of the newspaper because it’s their daily or weekly read. All of us are influenced by the arguments that are presented to us most often and most vigorously, often to the extent that we overlook the most obvious historical parallels.


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