Against The Norm

by Quinn

Justin, at Chicken Yoghurt, suggested that buying yesterday’s Independent would be the finest 70p I ever spent, just for this article by Matthew Norman. Well, I went the whole quid and bought it online (then saved it to a word document if you want me to email you a copy) and I was certainly not disappointed.

Ah, but; I wasn’t disappointed because I have long been puzzled by Matthew Norman’s continued employment in the media; I find him a wearisome and spiteful writer whose main claim to fame is to have slagged off The Fast Show when reviewing its first episode, so his judgement is certainly suspect. The reason why Justin should rate Norman, a writer who is his inferior by a good long way, eludes me; but each to their own.

Anyway, Norman’s article takes Charles Clarke as its subject, and I have two points to make. First, there is Norman’s description of Clarke; he says that

the only vaguely fitting word I can find for this poisonous, puffed up, jug-eared gargoyle apology for a democratic politician is the one word we are not allowed to use even in so grown-up a newspaper unless it comes wrapped in sanitising quotation marks.

Er, stunning. Now I cannot abide Charles Clarke, he is one of my least favourite politicians, which is saying something, and he deserves a good going over; but I think resorting to such puerile and personal insults is utterly pathetic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not thinking of Clarke when I say this, I really don’t care if he bursts into self-pitying tears while reading the article; I just find it childish, and fully in keeping with the Matthew Norman canon. I may sound po-faced – and probably hypocritical – in saying this, but there you go; perhaps you should just call me Victor Mature (as in the old Viz character, not the actor).

But the second, more important point, is that I wasn’t impressed with the article because its main subject matter is covered far better elsewhere. Norman tells the story of

Canon Phillip McFadyen, parish priest and father of a daughter, Rachel, who miraculously survived the King’s Cross explosion on 7 July last year with minor injuries, despite being a few feet from the bomb when it detonated.

At a meeting of clergy at the cathedral a fortnight ago, Mr Clarke was the guest. Generally at such meetings, a half hour is set aside for debate, but at this carefully managed event Canon McFadyen couldn’t ask the question he had promised Rachel he’d put to him: why does the Government refuse a public inquiry into the Tube and bus bombings?

He wrote to Mr Clarke on the matter last year, without the courtesy of a reply, so when the meeting ended he approached his constituency MP and asked it. If the canon was slightly agitated at the time, most of us would excuse this in the circumstances. Mr Clarke isn’t most of us, and but for the fact that he has since issued the ritual blithe apology, his response would stretch the credibility even of connoisseurs of the monomaniacal arrogance and sheer bloody malevolence of New Labour ministers. He stared at the canon in what the latter described as “a very nasty way”, yelled “Get away from me, I will not be insulted by you. This is an insult”, and stormed off past him, leaving the cleric close to tears and too distressed to take part in the Eucharist.

Well okay; in fairness you can see where Matthew Norman’s indignation comes from for his anti-Clarke diatribe; but where can you read this story better? Well, all across the (ugh!) blogosphere for a start which featured this story weeks ago, including the aforementioned Rachel’s own blog, where again as a writer she is streets ahead of Matthew Norman. Now I don’t know what the source was for Norman’s article, but what I find interesting is that this seems to be one of those rare occasions when the mainstream media has taken its lead from a blog, rather than the other way round. And it’s not just the Independent; The Sun also mentioned the story in this editorial attacking Clarke (although in criticising Clarke because “we pay the price for his tolerance”, my italics, they don’t seem vexed by the same civil liberties issues that trouble many bloggers). That the media have picked up on a story from a blog appears to have been missed in the adulation some have heaped upon Matthew Norman’s article.

For a long time bloggers have had a largely one-way relationship with the media; the newspapers print it, and the bloggers either praise or slate it. Perhaps this incident indicates how this pattern is changing, with The Guardian’s Comment Is Free project, a place where journalists and bloggers (including Justin) mingle freely, as another example. It is a shame, though, that when a newspaper commentator does cover a story inspired by a blog, the result is an article that mimics the type of posts written by the sort bloggers who I usually try and avoid.