The One That Got Away – curious mass disavowal by the UK’s press
We are used to bemoaning the press for their relentless pursuit of celebrities and politicians: digging up the dirt; making unfounded insinuations; frequently having to apologise or pay damages for getting it wrong (or, more usually, for ‘making it up’). So it was with some disbelief and wide-eyed stupefaction that we witnessed here in the UK, just a few weeks ago, the unravelling of a sad and sorry tale from within the celebrity firmament: a story that for more than 40 years had remained completely unreported by the nation’s media.
I refer to the case of the now deceased Jimmy Savile, well-known and ‘much loved’ DJ and television presenter, who during his lifetime did a great deal for charities and good causes in general. It now seems, though, that Sir Jimmy Savile OBE was using these good works as cover for a long series of sexual assaults on under-age and vulnerable girls. If you are unfamiliar with the details of the allegations against Mr Savile, then this article is a good summary from the Guardian of what was known about the case as of last Friday, 12th October – http://bit.ly/V7t7fr.
No doubt as the police investigation proceeds we shall learn more about what actually took place in dressing rooms and hospital wards up and down the country. But what is intriguing me, for the moment, is the way that some elements of the UK press are trying to pin the blame for what happened wholly on the institutions that gave Jimmy Savile the access and freedom he needed to perform these alleged acts of molestation. It is as though the press are saying: “How were we to know what was going on?”
The fact is that rumours abounded about the man and his predilection for young female victims. Nothing, as yet, has emerged that suggests anyone actually knew for sure what Mr Savile was doing. But it seems strange indeed that journalists who are so quick to pursue stories on the basis of much flimsier hearsay and gossip should have ignored this particular one for so many years.
There seems to have been a collective ‘decision’ amongst the press and the TV media not to print or say anything about Mr Savile in case it harmed his good charity works. In clips that have been aired recently on UK TV, the man appears to have hidden successfully behind ‘a smokescreen of the truth’—on the one hand cracking jokes about his unsavoury reputation, while on the other emphatically denying there was anything behind the rumours whenever seriously challenged. On the few occasions when newspapers were toying with the idea of running a story, Mr Savile would always play the ‘charity trump card’, saying: “Do you really want to stop all that money flowing into the charities I support?”
If there is any justification at all for the press’s relentless pursuit of tittle-tattle and innuendo surrounding celebrities and others in the public eye, then it must be that occasionally (very occasionally) they do turn up something that is indeed shocking and should be exposed in the public interest. The fact that all the UK’s media seem to have connived for 40 years in allowing this particular series of alleged crimes to continue—assaults on some of our most vulnerable members of society—is in itself a disturbing revelation. The editors and journalists who took the decisions that enabled Mr Savile to carry on his activities unquestioned should hang their heads in shame.
Once again we see how the press is capable of influencing events, but this time through inaction rather than action. A curious spectacle indeed.