What the whole affair did do was let Americans see the notorious British tabloid media machine in action. The Daily Mail is one of the most tightly-run newspapers in print. It has over two million copies in daily circulation and its website has 28 million unique users. It's the second-largest-selling newspaper in the UK. It was, until the recession and plummeting ad sales ended the gravy train, a place where senior staff earned very high salaries and even middle-ranking staff who tried to leave were often offered huge incentives such as cars and bonuses to stay. The atmosphere in the paper has for years been notoriously poisonous, with staffers perversely proud of the screaming matches, verbal abuse and endless working hours, and their ability to endure it, albeit for the large salaries involved. Its long-standing nickname -- The Daily Hate -- was deserved both inside the paper and on its pages. There's a long list of settlements paid out to people slandered in the paper's pages -- in most cases, the payments were offset by the publicity and sales garnered by such content.
The Gately column was not unusual in tone or in intent. The line columnists take is not left to them, nor is it a matter of chance or dependent on whim or personal prejudice, unless that prejudice mirrors that of the paper. Under the "conservative" umbrella, the paper takes an unashamed stance on all news that veers generally to the right, but specifically to an ignorant, offensive, right. Gays, women, immigrants, minorities -- they're all are fair game, and Moir's column was a textbook example of how the hate is peddled. All of the media coverage of Gately's death focused to a lesser or greater extent on his being gay -- tabloids love a story and the moment there was talk of a club and a third party being brought home, it was open season. That would have applied to a straight celebrity, too.
Where Moir differed -- or rather The Mail, as to personify this shifts the blame -- was in choosing to take a nonsensical leap of logic and say his death was a blow to the notion of civil partnership and gay rights. Usually, such hate is better hidden, more insidious, so you come away from the paper with a sense not just of news, but an opinion. The aim was to make the link -- no matter how contrived -- between gay and sordid. The "them and us" approach that has served tabloids well. As it was, Moir's clumsiness meant the paper showed its hand.
The offending column was taken off the site and this week media commentator Janet Street Porter wrote for the same paper online, attacking Moir's column, defending Gately's honor and making nonsense of the paper's previous attacks. The online war heated up, with the perfect response from The Guardian's Charlie Brooker, who tweeted: "Jan Moir manages to walk the difficult tightrope between being a bitch and a cunt."
Moir is, this week, a national hate figure. Possibly, she will lose some sleep. Perhaps she might endure some well-documented public distaste. But this is not a victory, nor is it even a U-turn, this is standard policy by a cunning paper. It's unlikely but not impossible that we may be handed Moir's scalp, if the fervor gathers more pace, and The Mail needs a scapegoat, but far more likely she will continue as before, but with a wounded air of martyrdom. The phrase "political correctness gone mad" will surely come up, and in a year Moir will be writing something similar about someone equally tragic.
The glimmer of hope is how, in this digital age, reaction to such vile journalism can take off. Newspapers' lack of adapting to the Internet has hurt them badly. One can hope that the speed and skill of the online retaliation against poison like this will likewise have them reeling. And that is in our own hands.