First, a couple of caveats: I haven't read the article itself, just seen a grab of the front page in my twitter stream and read other articles on the same story. Obviously, the fact that someone has been killed (which I found out from the other articles, not from the Fail's headline) is awful. My deepest sympathies to Ms Horton's family and friends. None the less, the wording of the Fail's headline is very interesting in what it tells us about how they wants us to see the story. The headline in question is:Professor's Wife Victim of Teenage Migrant's Knife Frenzy
Lets unpack this a phrase at a time.
This lady is not notable for any of her own accomplishments. She's notable because she is the helpmeet of a professor. None of her own achievements are worth mentioning. She's not "Special needs teacher" or "Darlene Horton" or even "American". She doesn't need or deserve to be named because you won't have heard of her. She's not a person in her own right.
Young people are to be feared! You must always be suspicious of youth. Watch out for them! If you aren't vigilant they might get you!
Foreign people are to be feared! You must always be suspicious of anyone who you suspect of being Not British. Watch out for them! If you aren't vigilant they might get you!
is a very slippery
word in and of itself. Was the suspect a refugee? An Asylum Seeker? A person on work placement? A holidaymaker? We don't know. We know the suspect was Not British, though, and that's all that matters. The word implies they were non-white without actually saying so, but it's safe to assume that racists and xenophobes will see this and think "filthy foreigners, coming over here, stabbing our professors' wives". It also implies, without stating, that the professor's wife is British; it subtly sets her up in contrast to the Not British perp. From reading around the story it turns out she's not British, but the Fail don't think the people scanning their front page need to know that.
This implies a lot but actually says very little. Was the lady actually stabbed, or did the perp just frenziedly wave the knife about? Is she injured? Dead? We don't know from this headline. The uncertainty here is meant to draw you in, make you buy the paper - "see pages 12 & 13" is in small font under the huge text of the headline.
It transpires that this story is actually about Darlene Horton
, who died in the Russell Square stabbings. Some other headlines about this story include:
"London knife attack: victim named as Darlene Horton" (The Guardian)
"Russell Square Stabbing Victim Named As American Darlene Horton" (HuffPo)
"US woman stabbed to death in London named as Darlene Horton" (ITV)
and the very simple "Russell Square stabbing suspect and victim are named" (Torygraph)
The BBC are among those to actually dignify her with a name
, although even to Auntie, her only accomplishment is being a professor's wife. She turns out to be American, a fact that the Fail chose not to make a fuss about, presumably because her being Not British as well as her assailant being Not British would muddy the waters of who we are supposed to sympathise with. She turns out to have been a special needs teacher for 30 years, a fact gleaned from the fourth paragraph of the WSJ article linked above, which also makes a big deal out of her being a professor's wife for several paragraphs, but does at least mention that she had some accomplishments of her own.
The "teenage migrant" is described by the BBC as "a man who had emigrated from Norway in 2002". He just
qualifies as being teenage - he's 19. The beeb don't name the suspect, but several other news services do. The Standard describes him as "Tooting Teenager"
, which is interesting in itself. The Standard is a London paper, and so it expects its readers to make associations with Tooting that perhaps would not be obvious to those of us who are not Londoners (all it makes me personally think of is Wolfie Smith
). He's a Norwegian citizen, but pretty much every article I have seen mentions that he's "of Somali descent" because brown people are much scarier bogeymen than white Norwegians.
The Fail's headline is terrfiying in the assumptions it makes - women are only valuable when they are the wives of men, young people should be automatically feared, foreigners should be automatically feared, etc. But the thing is the assumptions they make are there in most of the rest of the news stories about this too. The Mail might be the most egregious example, but the entire press corps is guilty of pushing these assumptions, drip drip drip, on a daily basis, into the national psyche.
The question is does that reflect or perpetuate people's views? IMHO a little bit of both.