Will the news eat itself in the end?

TO misquote the old blues cliché: woke up this morning to find that something else awful had happened. It seems a monumentally bad thing is scheduled for every other day.

To those of us who like to keep up with the news, the habit is hard to break. A grim irony is that if anything is likely to break that habit, it is the news itself, with one awful occurrence after another.

How relentless the bad news has been: horrible happenings given their own shorthand: Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Grenfell Tower and, latest to a depressing litany, the attack on worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque.

With each fresh horror comes the reporting and the analysis, while just off to the side is the Twitter chorus, the barracking and the shouting.

Those inharmonious backing vocals to the news were ringing loud yesterday, with spats between, among others, the writer JK Rowling and that professional pain in the arse, Katie Hopkins. In any disagreement between those two, I am going to stick with the Harry Potter author (even though I didn’t stick with her novels), although sometimes JK does betray an addiction to the Twitter row.

After a white man allegedly drove a white van into Muslim worshippers gathering outside the mosque around midnight, Rowling reacted to a Mail-online tweet by saying that terrorist had been misspelled as “white van man” – igniting a probably unseemly row about whether we are unwilling to use the word ‘terrorist’ for far-right attacks, or only for Islamic terrorism.

Hopkins fired off the sort of brain-dead remarks for which she is infamous, and which do not need to be repeated here. The world would be a calmer, nicer place if self-promoting haters such as her were just ignored altogether. And while we’re about it, let’s all agree to ignore the foul Farage person, too.

In reacting to that Mail-online tweet, Rowling possibly jumped in too soon, as the Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick says the incident was declared a terrorist attack within minutes.

Hate is thought to have fuelled the alleged attacker here, and that hate in turn re-fuels Islamic terrorists, with Islamic State reportedly claiming that the attack proves how vulnerable Muslims are in Britain – an example of twisted idiocy almost too stupid to believe, except that believe it we must, because that’s the fractured world we live in.

But those fractures are made by extremists, not the ordinary people of all faiths and none. As someone who ticks the ‘none’ box, I sometimes feel that religion in all is varieties lies behind too many of the world’s upsetting problems. Yet such a view, hard to shake sometimes, is almost certainly unfair to those who use religion for blameless good.

Incidentally, and I do like an ‘incidentally’, after Tim Farron stepped down because it would be ‘impossible’ for him to continue as Lib-Dem leader and “remain faithful to Christ”, the Archbishop of York and others paraded this as an example of the harassing of Christians in modern Britain. Oh, not that again – surely Farron could have been strong enough to do both if he’d truly wished.

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme earlier, I heard the tail-end of a discussion in which a female speaker said she was proud to see the Daily Mail stick up for Christianity. The context was gone, but that snatch had me muttering “with friends like these…”.

The Mail is the favoured bogeyman for those broadly on the left (and the Guardian is the favoured bogeyman for those further out on the left). The Mail deserves that reputation; the Guardian doesn’t, as I argued here last week.

A story on the BBC website today reports that a fake Mail front page went viral yesterday, with a picture of Theresa May and the headline: “For the sake of the country… GO NOW.”

This apparently fooled many people, including journalists and politicians reportedly – although the typography was a giveaway. The ‘GO NOW’ was in a sans face, not one the Mail would use. This fake Mail was published by a Twitter account called Lying Tory Media, another sign of something being up.

As the news seems to become worse, we trust our media outlets less, or so it appears. I still trust the BBC and a few chosen newspapers, but other opinions are freely available – some of them, like that fake Mail page, put out there for mischievous reasons.

As for the most recent attack, the coverage has been as full-on as ever. This is perfectly understandable in terms of the shock and outrage, but sometimes it is possible to wonder if the relentless intensity of the coverage doesn’t add to the problem – and make further such attacks more likely.

Mind you, I have no idea how to unpick that knot.

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