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Shame of the Survivors
March 18, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

In 1996, sixteen children and one adult died in Dublane, Scotland after Thomas Hamilton walked into a school armed with four handguns. In 2009, journalist Paula Murray tracked down and befriended several of the survivors on Facebook, waited until they turned eighteen, and then wrote this article for the Sunday Express.

The Express have now pulled the original article from their site, hence the Flickr link. There's a post at Graham Linehan's blog which pretty much sums up my feelings on this. The UK Press Complaints Commission is looking into the story, but as Linehan points out it's not like they're known for savage tenacity or anything.
posted by permafrost (66 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now this is the kind of journalism that will keep people buying papers!
posted by Pastabagel at 8:32 AM on March 18, 2009


Evil.

Absolutely zero public interest, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's even badly written. The editor should resign and the PCC should perform their most severe sanction* and then disband for a genuinely independent body to handle complaints against the press.

Evil.

*A sternly worded letter I believe
posted by fullerine at 8:38 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This really makes my stomach turn.
posted by blucevalo at 8:40 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


So this journalist thinks that the kids who were lucky enough to survive should wear mourning for the rest of their lives? That they should never smile or laugh or goof around again? That they're not people, they're just a kind of living memorial to the kids that died? This article is profoundly fucked up.
posted by ourobouros at 8:43 AM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Someone used her own tactics against her and wrote this post, showing how easy this kind of journacrap is, how uninspired she is a writer ("Paula is looking for stories"), and that she ain't no angel either. ("Paula is is recovering from a night out. Oops")

(Insert generic "no wonder newspapers are going out of business" comment here.)
posted by lodev at 8:45 AM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


So after a traumatic event in childhood, people are upset that they are having perfectly normal teenage years?
posted by jbickers at 8:46 AM on March 18, 2009


I'd say this was the least tasteful article ever published, from concept to writing, but someone on here probably knows of something worse.
posted by JauntyFedora at 8:46 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently, newspapers can't die fast enough.
posted by tommasz at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I came here to say thank you for saying "befriended" instead of the moronic "friended."
posted by Krrrlson at 8:47 AM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


wow, what a shock, most of that stuff appears on most 18 year old's profiles.

Yes they should be more mature but hey that's up to them.

I hope The Express will be put under investigation for this callous article.
posted by nam3d at 8:49 AM on March 18, 2009


The blog entry to which lodev links is perfect. It's the most brilliantly appropriate response to Murray's actions imaginable. Not only is this woman a bully and a predator, she's also a hypocrite.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2009


It doesn't make this any less sickening, but I do think it is worth pointing out to our non-UK friends that the Express has not been taken seriously as a newspaper in Britain for a very long time. I don't just mean that it's a scandal-mongering tabloid, like the Sun, or a vicious voice of rightwing demagoguery, like the Daily Mail - sadly, those papers are taken perfectly seriously in the UK.

Rather, it has come to occupy a unique, hard-to-describe niche as a strange, usually rather bloodless sort of multi-page flyer consisting mainly of obviously ridiculous (yet not humorous) stories about dramatic weather that is about to hit Britain, conspiracy theories about the death of Diana, and reader offers for free cars or commemorative plates. Its owners appear to be harvesting what income they can from it as they run it into the ground deliberately.

Just worth mentioning insofar as I don't think the Express is a good indication of "why newspapers are doing so badly", or even a very good indication of what "middle Britain" likes to read. (They read the Mail instead.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I came here to say thank you for saying "befriended" instead of the moronic "friended."

Considering that she did not actually befriend these people, and merely made a Facebook connection, I'd say that the latter is correct in this particular case.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:51 AM on March 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Someone used her own tactics against her and wrote this post

Yeah, I saw that when I was rounding up links for the post. I briefly considered including it, before remembering that I'm not filthy, hypocritical scum.
posted by permafrost at 8:52 AM on March 18, 2009


"Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits — a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage." - Hunter S. Thompson.

If Paula Murray tattooed this on her body by herself, using only a dirty needle and old newspaper ink, that might pass as an apology. Twelve point Courier, Paula, no Comic Sans.
posted by adipocere at 8:54 AM on March 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


How dare those eighteen year olds act like eighteen year olds, they almost died once.
posted by pwally at 8:59 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lord, that is one fucked-up article. A pinnacle or nadir of something foul.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2009


Sometimes I think that one of the drawbacks of UK law is the lack of a right to privacy. It's one of the few things we've sort of developed in the US that helps us out in situations like this. That, and we made litigation profitable. It's usually a bad thing, but in a case like this in the US, lawyers would be lining up and begging to take on the class-action defamation lawsuit.
posted by koeselitz at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2009


Fucking terrible. You'd have to be pretty slimy to write for the Express in the first place but Paula Murray has to win some kind of award for sheer soulless sociopathy. Ick. Here's hoping they get their offices burned down by one of the pitchfork wielding mobs they're so fond of.
posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's usually a bad thing, but in a case like this in the US, lawyers would be lining up and begging to take on the class-action defamation lawsuit.

Too adult. We must honor the memories of those poor children with a suitably juvenile retaliation. I propose poop and flaming bag.
posted by mannequito at 9:05 AM on March 18, 2009


Of course, the fuckers are probably looking at their webhits and jumping up and down with glee right now.
posted by Artw at 9:06 AM on March 18, 2009


Someone used her own tactics against her and wrote this post...

I love it. She and the Sunday Express should be ashamed of themselves.

So this journalist thinks that the kids who were lucky enough to survive should wear mourning for the rest of their lives?

Exactly. From her article:
"On his page [redacted] -- who was shot twice and described as "extremely lucky" to survive -- says he enjoys playing guitar. He has posted pictures of his eighteenth birthday celebrations but makes no mention of the tragedy thirteen years ago."
As his father states, he wants to move on. Great job, "journalist," in churning the waters and making public their trauma.
posted by ericb at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


She must be the inspiration for Rita Skeeter!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:10 AM on March 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


It's usually a bad thing, but in a case like this in the US, lawyers would be lining up and begging to take on the class-action defamation lawsuit.

Your point about privacy is interesting (if tricky in a Facebook context), but sadly I doubt this article is defamatory. The quotes seem to be accurate, and Paula Murray is entitled to her view that the quotes shame the Dunblane dead. This view is a) fucked-up, b) insulting and c) disingenuous, but not libellous.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 9:12 AM on March 18, 2009


Dunblane - not Dublane. Just sayin.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 9:12 AM on March 18, 2009


I'm in a weird mood right now, considering one MeFi's post to the monkeysphere in a now-deleted FPP.

I feel bad for Paula Murray, for the victims of the shooting, and for the maligned survivors, and the last thing I want to do is pile-on Murray, though she needs as much as anyone to see why what she wrote was wrong.

I'm going to look for something of my own to clean now. This just makes me unbearably sad.
posted by mistersquid at 9:13 AM on March 18, 2009


It's usually a bad thing, but in a case like this in the US, lawyers would be lining up and begging to take on the class-action defamation lawsuit.

Aren't defamation lawsuits easier to bring in the U.K. than in the U.S.?
posted by ericb at 9:14 AM on March 18, 2009


For years this should be used as an example for why privacy is no more a question of what you know and what you don't know, but a question of what you do with what you know.
posted by Free word order! at 9:17 AM on March 18, 2009


...sadly I doubt this article is defamatory. The quotes seem to be accurate, and Paula Murray is entitled to her view that the quotes shame the Dunblane dead. This view is a) fucked-up, b) insulting and c) disingenuous, but not libellous.

Probably true, in that the teenagers most likely wouldn't win a libel case on this matter, but it's worth noting that the truth of the claims isn't an absolute defence: cherry-picking true facts to create a misleading impression can still be libellous under UK law.

So, for example, if it could be shown that one of the teens had a Facebook newsfeed that showed them to be overwhelmingly sober, conscientous and responsible, and the Express selected the solitary quote that made them look like an obscenity-spewing pisshead, they could well have a case - even if the Express didn't publish anything false.

Also, for all the vitriol Paula Murray is (deservedly) getting, I think the real target here should be the editor of the paper. They're the one who decided to front-page it, they're the one who signed off on the headlines, they're the one who (presumably) directed Murray on what tone and angle to take. They, ultimately, should take the most blame for this disgusting bit of work.
posted by flashboy at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aren't defamation lawsuits easier to bring in the U.K. than in the U.S.?

Hmm, nothing she said was untrue (I assume), or even particularly damaging (most 18-year-olds behave in the same/similar manner. The issue would be more about whether it was in the public interest to print information about these people's private lives. It's obvious that what happened in Dunblane is in the public interest, and some things about their lives may be - maybe.

But this shit? No way. It's pointless shitting on people telling them how they ought to be thinking, feeling and behaving. A nice cross between permitragic Dianism media exploitation and psuedomoralistic shock.

I would say 'fuck her', but then she's probably already decimated that paper's circulatiom (a la The Sun and Hillsborough?) and probably is looking for a new career right about now.
posted by Sova at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm really shocked at this article. A full page spread in the Sunday Express, covering death, tragedy, and fast living.

And not one word about Princess Diana. What is the Express coming to these days?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is an excellent piece about her
posted by kenchie at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Though it's a little bit old, for none-UKians this gives a pretty good idea of what the weird world of Express land is like...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:45 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


wow. this is one of the most profoundly disgusting things i've read about in quite some time. what kind of scumbag does this? the fact that multiple people thought this had some value and was ethically okay to do/print boggles the mind. news media often benefit from tragedy, but this is pure, totally unnecessary exploitation. or, what everyone else already said.
posted by snofoam at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2009


You know you've overstepped the line when you're making Peter Sotos look classy by comparison.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:02 AM on March 18, 2009


I'm torn. On the one hand, this is appalling. On the other, I welcome anything that accelerates the decline of the Express and Richard Desmond into ignominy, irrelevance and eventual bankruptcy-via-lawsuit. What to do?
posted by inire at 10:03 AM on March 18, 2009


Aren't defamation lawsuits easier to bring in the U.K. than in the U.S.?

True, but as someone pointed out, I guess this isn't defamation, since it's true. I guess the UK's recourse in matters that would be governed in the US by a right to privacy is to sue predicated on breach of confidence. Or, of course, since the EU has regulations about the right to privacy, you could go to the EC; but that seems like a ridiculous hassle.
posted by koeselitz at 10:03 AM on March 18, 2009


I simply can't comprehend the stupidity behind this journalist's reasoning. It reminds me of Gompa's brilliant comment on TV presenters.


This massacre happened on my birthday. I had two small children and was profoundly shocked. I stopped celebrating my birthday that year and always make some excuse to hold a get together with friends and family some other day. Sometimes people insist and I feel slightly embarrassed about explaining that I still feel really sad about an event that happened 10 years ago where no-one I knew even remotely was involved. But I do.
posted by Wilder at 10:10 AM on March 18, 2009


sorry, Mefites! Meant to link to this other brilliant comment by Gompa
posted by Wilder at 10:20 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


According to the Wikipedia article behind the first link, the Dunblane massacre set off an even more deadly one:

A month later, Martin Bryant killed 35 people in the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia. The chief defence psychiatrist in the case has revealed that the Dunblane massacre, and in particular the early treatment of Thomas Hamilton, was the trigger in Bryant's mind for the Port Arthur massacre.[13]

Bryant was a (startlingly good looking) ~29 year old with an IQ of 66, who nonetheless managed to kill 35 and injure 21 with relatively few total shots fired, many of them single shots to the head under difficult conditions.
posted by jamjam at 10:32 AM on March 18, 2009


Where's the fucking media frenzy about this then? Oh, it's not like someone cheated at University Challenge or said naughty things about an old sit-com actor.
posted by fullerine at 11:02 AM on March 18, 2009


Mmm, The Express... Just about second only to the Mail for crass, tactless and evil reporting.

I remember it well, and never thought it would an incident manipulated and clawed at by anyone in the media in the future, but then we do have some ridiculously offensive mainstream print media in this country... And I guess the Express needed to try and move on from just having news about the Royals killing Diana on the front page.

Oh, and what Linehan said!
posted by opsin at 11:22 AM on March 18, 2009


THE PORT ARTHUR MASSACRE CONSPIRACY

The internet is weird. People are weird.
posted by flotson at 11:28 AM on March 18, 2009


Er, I could spend some time trying to craft a witty yet insightful comment. But that's just not what I want to do; I really just want to add my voice to the list of people complaining about the sheer... wickedness of this article, this paper/editor, and this journalist.

So let me get this straight: some teenagers (to whom an unimaginably, unfathomably awful thing happened in the past) are behaving utterly normally and legally. And then this... woman feels it's appropriate to drag these kids onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper, with the sole justification being that they swear a bit and go out drinking?

Now, this on its own is already so profoundly... unjustified, disgracefully disrespectful and invasive that it breaks new ground in the annals of British tabloid depravity - but this is coming from a woman WHO POSTS ON FACEBOOK ABOUT HER DRINKING EXCESSES? And it's in a newspaper WHOSE PROPRIETOR PUBLISHES HARDCORE PORNOGRAPHY? Sorry; apologies for the shouting. But dear Lord the hypocrisy is just breathtaking.

I've written a complaint to the PCC, I've notified Private Eye ('cause if they're not already on to this I think it'll be a story they'd like to run with), and I'm working out what else to do. One thing I'm going to do is email that Scottish MSP ("I've got to say I'm not happy". Really?

Paula Murray: c'mon, let's hear from you. Justify it. You wrote the piece. You participated on getting these kids in the public eye. Respond to these criticisms. You've already forfeited your membership of the homo sapiens club in my opinion, but there may still be one or two people left in the world prepared to cut you some slack...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Plaintext version of the article.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:45 AM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's disgusting stuff, and looks likely to do serious harm to the Express. Which is good.

You might all like to know that it's probably going to be the first UK national daily to close as a result of the print slump, unless the Independent goes first.
posted by WPW at 12:29 PM on March 18, 2009


However sleazy this story, the Hillsborough story mentioned by Sova was even worse, just stunningly distasteful and dishonest. It's good to know that The Sun's circulation suffers as a result to this day, but it sadly didn't kill Kelvin MacKenzie's career.

Dunblane is a small town and other media outlets haven't reacted strongly so the Express may well emerge relatively unscathed, we'll see.
posted by malevolent at 12:35 PM on March 18, 2009


The article would probably be actionable in the US, despite its truth, under a "false light" theory of invasion of privacy.
posted by palliser at 1:35 PM on March 18, 2009


Dunblane is a small town and other media outlets haven't reacted strongly so the Express may well emerge relatively unscathed, we'll see.

TBH I hadn't heard of this story until this morning, when it popped up on MeFi, Twitter and Facebook. I suspect that it may have just taken a little while for some kind of critical mass to build and tommorow the papers will be full of it.

That or it will just fizzle.
posted by Artw at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2009



I'd say this was the least tasteful article ever published, from concept to writing, but someone on here probably knows of something worse.

Yup.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2009


This is horrid. Shame on Paula Murray and the Sunday Express.
posted by dejah420 at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2009


I've written a complaint to the PCC...

Sadly, Hartham's Hugging Robots, I don't think that will help in this case. As best I recall, the PCC cannot investigate third party complaints.

The story has to be about the complainant before they'll "investigate". (Not unreasonably - though it's frustrating in this case.)

I've actually won a PCC finding against the UK Express. The paper was forced print a retraction to a crap story it ran about me - it took almost 2 years and an immense exchange of letters. But I also agree it's likely that the Express will go under before this latest horror gets dealt with.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:30 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I'm sure that when they look back at what they have done in 10 years time they will be cringing in embarrassment."

I hope everyone who makes it to age 28 looks back and finds some memory that makes them cringe with embarrassment. If not, you should probably be either getting out there and living, or terminating your banal excuse for a life.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


This woman ought to be shunned by all who know her.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:16 PM on March 18, 2009


PDFs p1 p7.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:36 PM on March 18, 2009


In 2009, journalist Paula Murray tracked down and befriended several of the survivors on Facebook, waited until they turned eighteen,

I was both fearing and kind of hoping that sentence would end differently. I dunno, like a massacre-survivor porno or something.

Which, come to think of it, might be more tasteful than the actual outcome.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:02 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's like that episode of South Park where they rip on Mormons. 'Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb'
posted by Bageena at 12:57 AM on March 19, 2009


> Someone used her own tactics against her and wrote this post

Yeah, I saw that when I was rounding up links for the post. I briefly considered including it, before remembering that I'm not filthy, hypocritical scum.

Um... thanks for calling me filthy, hypocritical scum. Nice.
posted by lodev at 4:04 AM on March 19, 2009


SHOCKING, that these kids don't live their lives revolving around the event. How dare they try to maintain some vestige of normalcy.
posted by Xere at 5:05 AM on March 19, 2009


Breaking News: Teenagers Enjoy Drinking, Swearing, Snogging. Full story at 11.

I think this Express "story" leveraged something interesting, though. Because the children were protected from the press after the massacre, in the collective memory of the public, the survivors are frozen in time and enshrined as a monument to innocence, grief and tragedy. This jars, radically, from the revelation that these children are no longer innocent little angles but perfectly normal teenagers living perfectly normal, ill-advised lives.

I can't help wondering, had the story been pitched in a different way, if the public outcry would be as vehement, even with the same "investigative" tactics:
Twelve Years On, Dunblane Survivors Live Life as Normal Teenagers

...For instance, Name Deleted, who was hit by a single bullet and watched in horror as his classmates died, frequently updates his page on the online social networking site Bebo with tales of nights out with friends from Dunblane. His page includes 23 chat up lines for meeting girls his age, but he still lists his status as 'single.'
In other words, I don't think it's the idea for this story or the Facebook tactic that's the problem here; it's the overt spinning to make this as sensationalistic as possible that is deeply, deeply predatory and objectionable.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:15 AM on March 19, 2009


Um... thanks for calling me filthy, hypocritical scum. Nice.

That was totally not aimed at you. My point was that since the bloggerhead post used Murray's Facebook profile to attack her, it would have been ethically dubious to use it in a post criticising her for using the Dunblane survivors' profiles to attack them. Sorry it came out wrong.
posted by permafrost at 7:01 AM on March 19, 2009


His page includes 23 chat up lines for meeting girls his age, but he still lists his status as 'single.'

Geez. In a collection of low blows, even that one is egregious. Why is Paula Murray pulling this stunt, anyway? Couldn't she just take the easy way out and follow Jade Goody's deathwatch like all the tabloid hacks?
posted by Spatch at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Couple more recent examples of British journalism at it's finest...

The Daily Mail website had an interesting take on Natasha Richardson's accident: "Natasha struck down by the eternal curse of the Redgraves. Scandal and illness have plagued the family since Sir Michael was revealed to be bisexual."

Seems as if The Sun have been buying up Natasha Richardson's death ("Liam Neeson 'shocked and devasted'") as a Google sponsored link to the paper

From Popbitch
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:15 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Couple more recent examples of British journalism at its finest...

Not to mention OK! publishing its "tribute issue" to Jade Goody, including her "last words", without bothering to wait for the poor woman to actually die.

OK! is owned by Richard Desmond, owner of the Express and a large number of pornographic magazines.

It really has been an abysmal month for the profession. On the plus side, The Guardian has forced the government out into the open on torture, and revealed Barclay's systematic tax avoidance, both sterling bits of public interest journalism.
posted by WPW at 2:04 PM on March 19, 2009


Update
posted by Artw at 9:21 AM on April 2, 2009


Amandel Platell seems to want to cease Paula Murray's crown with "A disturbing death and a tawdry lust for fame", going after the berieved of Ian Tomlinson for not greiving according to her rules.
posted by Artw at 6:02 PM on April 10, 2009


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