A week in journalism is a long time: the reporting of the trial and verdict of Max Clifford
As another high profile trial commences, with jury selection today (Tuesday 6th May 2014) for 12 charges of indecent assault allegedly committed by Rolf Harris, I would hope for better reporting than we have seen of the Max Clifford trial.
This piece by Martin Robbins from the New Statesman on Saturday 3rd May, is without doubt one of the best that I have read about the Clifford trial. As Robbins states:
violence against women is routinely reported in a sort of pale abstraction, with their voices invariably reduced or silence altogether. More air time was given to Clifford's prancing behind a Sky reporter than to the accounts of his victims.
This was indeed the case, in terms of not only air time but also column space devoted to all manner of things Clifford-related other than his crimes, which in some cases are totally ignored or given fleeting euphemistic reference. On Monday 28th April the jury, after 8 days of deliberation, finally delivered its verdict of guilty on 8 counts of indecent assault, not guilty on 2 and undecided on one. This is undoubtedly a watershed moment as BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw tweeted:
So, finally a trial as a consequence of Yewtree has resulted in a conviction, we would expect a plethora of expert commentators, on what is a landmark case about historic sexual abuse, dispelling rape myths and stereotypes and providing serious analysis. Given that the verdict was made public in the afternoon of 28th April on the 8th day of jury deliberations, it would not be too much to expect Radio 4's flagship PM programme to already have an expert or two lined up. So who should they interview? David Mellor, former Conservative MP who had been exposed by Clifford some twenty years ago. Mellor, after conceding that the “women had the guts to give evidence” went onto describe Clifford as a “sleaze ball” and then aggrandised himself Frankenstein-esque as having “invented Max Clifford” because it was what he did to him “back in 1992 that really put him on the radar.”
The rest of this particular segment then became all about Mellor who could barely contain his glee about his nemesis's downfall; the Schadenfreude was almost palpable (Mellor also told Sky News “may he [Clifford] rot in hell”). There was no sense of justice having finally prevailed in what is a seismic shift in the legal landscape.
Finally, after Mellor had vented about Clifford, we got to hear the words from one of the women at the centre of the trial. She stated that she felt “so relieved and so pleased that justice has been done” and described Clifford as “an opportunist; he saw a vulnerable person and took advantage of somebody who is a child, it was awful. It was a nightmare and had huge implications for me as a young person.”
Later on that evening, to further add insult to injury, Channel 4 News deemed it appropriate to interview rape and sexual abuse denier, Barbara Hewson, who has in the past called for the lowering of the age of consent and referred to "poor persecuted old men" in the wake of Savile. Hewson appeared alongside former tabloid editor, Neil Wallis. As one Tweeter expressed, “hardly the dream team.” No experts from the numerous organisations who work tirelessly with and on behalf of survivors of rape and sexual abuse then? No, because we can't have the public hearing unpalatable truths about not only the extent of sexual violence against women and girls but about how this impacts on the lives of those affected and others around them. Newsnight also covered the verdict in a highly inappropriate manner which can be read about here.
It was bad enough that social media took to eclipsing the trial of Max Clifford with cheap Carry On style jokes about the size of his penis (there is still a so called 'parody' account dedicated to this at the time of writing) with Ally Fogg having capitalised on this by coincidentally penning a piece dedicated solely to penis size on Friday 21st March (note that this particular aspect of the evidence used in the trial was made public knowledge on the Tuesday of that very same week), which he denied had anything whatsoever to do with the Clifford trial. It was with great surprise, not to mention disappointment, that Grace Dent followed very much in this vein with a piece in Indy Voices, on the day of the verdict, entitled How fitting that Max Clifford ended up at the centre of a story that he had no control over. Again, there is a tone of delight permeating throughout, not to mention the recurring phallic obsession:
There was a curious moment during the trial of Max Clifford where the nation seemed fixated by the brevity of the (sic?) Clifford's penis'.
The whole of the first paragraph is devoted to this. In the second paragraph, Dent ends with:
But Clifford's fall from grace penis-wise seemed perfect.
[Clifford's] penis size was being ridiculed on Twitter, a modern news source that he had no control over - felt rather fitting.
And concludes, just in case we missed the endless penis references:
Max Clifford is no longer cock of the walk.
Mercifully, there has been an element of gravitas that this unprecedented case rightly deserves, such as Kier Starmer's Guardian piece in addition to the statements from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis England and Wales, the NSPCC and Ending Victimisation and Blame. However, much of the reporting post-verdict has been highly inappropriate to say the least, with headlines referring to Clifford as 'disgraced' rather than the sexual assaulter and child rapist that he is, as Louise Pennington points out here. Martin Robbins highlights in his New Statesman piece how the media has gone to great pains to avoid discussion of Clifford's sexual violence and indeed much of the reporting has focused on his symbiotic relationship with the tabloid press rather than his actual crimes against children and young women.
The muted response during the hiatus between the verdict and sentencing was remarkable and in stark contrast to the recurring endless debates that have followed the acquittals of Micheal LeVell, William Roache, Dave Lee-Travis and Nigel Evans, where the issue of anonymity for rape, sexual assault and abuse defendants raises its hydra-like head each and every time with the alarming regularity of night following day, in addition to the habitual accusations of a 'witch hunt' being carried out by an over-zealous Operation Yewtree and CPS.
On Friday 2nd May, Clifford was sentenced to eight years. Et voilà, the hitherto predominantly cavalier attitude altered somewhat to a more sombre tone and one of gravitas, perhaps in light of the much longer sentence that had been anticipated, according to some pundits, in addition to Judge Leonard's damning analysis of Clifford in his sentencing remarks. Uncomfortable reading? As it should be. This is the reality for the survivors and survivors everywhere. Did this finally strike a chord with the media? On that evening's Radio 4 PM, Mark Williams-Thomas gave an interview, presumably as he was the first person one of the survivors contacted following his Savile exposé. However, still noticeably absent were women from Rape Crisis and other organisations who have expertise in this field.
The same day, this navel gazing biographical piece by Simon Hattenstone from the Guardian was published Max Clifford: the rise and fall of the UK's king of spin, a self-indulgent naval gazing account of the author's previous encounters with Clifford which finally references the victims (in the legal sense) in paragraph 44 out of a total of 64, after a fleeting mention in paragraph 12 where Hattenstone describes the women as:
eerily similar: immaculate long hair, beautifully turned out, the air of former models.
On Saturday 3rd May, up popped the smirking exultant UKIP loving Hamiltons in the Guardian which headlined with: Hamiltons toast end of PR king Max Clifford's reign with champagne featuring a picture of the pair grinning wearing their UKIP rosettes. Christine Hamilton, we're told:
did not feel delight over the saga ['saga'? This is not a Barbara Taylor-Bradford novel] because of the suffering of Max Clifford's victims
However, she then proceeds to inform us that she is glad “he's gone. Goodbye Max.” No personal animosity there then. Glad we’ve cleared that one up. Hamilton then recounts her experiences of Clifford adding:
When I came down [to the kitchen] this morning, I saw an empty bottle of champagne with 'Clifford' scrawled all over the label.
Toasting justice being served? Or personal revenge? You decide.
Thank goodness for journalists like Robbins, who writes:
Our failure as a society to face up to the true extent of these horrors feeds into the same culture of denial and selective blindness that allowed people like Jimmy Savile and Clifford to operate with impunity for so long. It lets them to be regarded as 'creepy uncles' when in reality they are ruthless and manipulative monsters, serial predators who destroyed careers, families and lives.
I personally wouldn't use the term 'monster' as it others child rapists and abusers who live in our midst, undetected with an air of normality that affords them the greatest cover, however, Robbins is otherwise spot on.
I have saved the worst until last. This Sunday, the so called "Sunday Sport" graced its front page with this and as is the wont of tabloids, the juxtaposition of sexualised images of women alongside headlines referring to rapists and child abusers:
As we have seen, the puerile sniggering about Clifford’s penis size is not confined solely to the gutter press.
 Even when Clifford had been found guilty of 8 of the 11 charges, a reporter asked him outside the court if he were the victim of a 'witch hunt' to which he nodded in assent.