Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sean Hoare: the archetypal Englishman

Sean Hoare is the former News of the World reporter who died yesterday, probably due to drink and drugs. Wracked by guilt, he was the first reporter to go on the record about the culture of lawbreaking and destruction in the newsrooms of the Sun and its Sunday sister.

I call him the archetypal Englishman because his rise and fall - going by this account by Nick Davies and other comments - encapsulate what has happened to English, and to a lesser extent British, society since Thatcherite free-market capitalism took hold.

Capitalism turns humanity into a commodity to be bought and sold. Sean Hoare was one such commodity, while the celebrities about whom he wrote were even more clearly commodities, goods to be flogged in ruthless pursuit of money.
He came from a working-class background of solid Arsenal supporters, always voted Labour, defined himself specifically as a "clause IV" socialist who still believed in public ownership of the means of production. But, working as a reporter, he suddenly found himself up to his elbows in drugs and delirium.
He was a born reporter. He could always find stories. And, unlike some of his nastier tabloid colleagues, he did not play the bully with his sources. He was naturally a warm, kind man, who could light up a lamp-post with his talk. From Bizarre, he moved to the Sunday People, under Neil Wallis, and then to the News of the World, where Andy Coulson had become deputy editor. And, persistently, he did as he was told and went out on the road with rock stars, befriending them, bingeing with them, pausing only to file his copy.
He made no secret of his massive ingestion of drugs. He told me how he used to start the day with "a rock star's breakfast" – a line of cocaine and a Jack Daniels – usually in the company of a journalist who now occupies a senior position at the Sun. He reckoned he was using three grammes of cocaine a day, spending about £1,000 a week. Plus endless alcohol. Looking back, he could see it had done him enormous damage. But at the time, as he recalled, most of his colleagues were doing it, too. 
Enough people are saying similar things about Hoare to convince me. So why would a good socialist, rooted in decent values, end up hounding and befriending famous people for a gossip page? How have our values become so distorted that this rubbish counts as news? I certainly wouldn't want to go back to the deferential social structures of the pre-War period, but I am old-fashioned enough lefty for the phrase 'false consciousness' to be popping into my mind. Hoare isn't a perpetrator of this stuff: he's a victim. An entire society has grown up in which the private lives of vacuous stars has appropriated the name of 'news'. It's destroyed Hoare's life, but it's also distorted our society.

Like Hoare, we've all become addicted to vicious destructive tittle-tattle. The purveyors of this filth do it because it's a) cheap and b) because they despise us. They think it's what we want, and all we're capable of following. They treat us with contempt and in doing so, their predictions become true. I met a couple, one of whom wrote for the Sun and the other for the Mail. In person, they seemed delightful. Charming, thoughtful, intelligent. They spoke of their jobs with a glorious sense of irony, as though it was all jolly larks. This of course makes them cynical disgusting scum. These papers ruin lives, from celebrities to the grieving parents of Milly Dowler or - as in the Mail a couple of weeks ago - the parents of the girl killed by a falling branch 'because' her teachers were on strike.

Sean Hoare sounds like a kind, caring, considerate and intelligent man who had a lot to give society. Instead, he devoted himself to propping up a morally and politically bankrupt society and publication. That someone so good can do so much that is bad should make us all pause to reflect on how he - and we - have come to such a pass.

And if you think that I can't possibly mean you, think again. If you know the names of people famous for nothing, if you think you know who killed Maddie McCann, if you get a thrill from the tabloid front pages even while you're reaching for the Guardian or the FT, then you're a part of it. Irony is not a defence.

We killed Sean Hoare - and we've poisoned ourselves too.

1 comment:

Blossom said...

Hoare's death is tragic. Whilst much is being made about his addictions, it helps to paint him as unstable and (I hate this term) 'troubled'. But it would appear he was tormented by what he was involved in.

Sadly, the vast majority of us live in a society that, while we may not be happy with it, we accept it, go along with it. We moan publicly about the way things are, but we buy into the attitude that 'if you can't beat them, join them.' As you say, we may tut and say it's terrible when somebody's privacy is invaded for public consumption but this invasion sells papers. It may prick our consciences a little when we read details about someone's life, although we'd hate this invasion to happen to us, yet we can assuage our guilt by seeing it as acceptable, because it's what everybody does.

The two reporters you talk about meeting, seem to rise above their own consciences by seeing that it's just a game that they're playing by the rules - again, 'everybody is doing it'. This suggests that news is just about entertaining, titillating; not informing. And whilst they are being glib about it, they do not have to dig deep into their consciences about the emotional devastation they have helped to create. If what they do is a game, then the damage is not real to them.

It is highly possibly that Sean Hoare entered journalism idealistically hoping that he was going to inform and report. Journalism should, after all, be a profession that exposes corruption, and informs the public of what is happening around them that is newsworthy. It must be soul destroying to enter journalism with these ideals to find out, years later, that you have sold out to the system, that you are providing dross that appeals to the lowest common denominator, rather than quality reporting that could change things for the better.

Hoare was extremely brave to break the story about phone hacking. One can only imagine he felt compelled to do this and he must have known that the price he would pay, both personally and professionally, would be extremely high. But I suspect that he felt that he needed to try and 'right' some of the evils of his profession. It seems terribly sad that whilst people like Hoare struggle with their consciences, there are others in this profession who are just interested in covering their own backs, protecting their profits - practising damage limitation.

Maybe I'm naive, but I like to believe that everybody has an internal barometer somewhere inside them (no matter how deeply it may be buried) that causes pangs of discomfort when we are doing something that we know we shouldn't. This includes the reading of sensationalist rubbish, as well as the reporting of it. One needs the other in order for each to survive. It could even be argued that the reader is more to blame than the reporter. They have contributed to the destruction of somebody's private life, or helped cause further pain, but without getting their hands dirty. Imagine some bitchy neighbourhood gossip spouting poison about one of her neighbours. If she's talking to a brick wall, she's harmless, if a little weird. Give her an audience and she has the potential to wreck someone's reputation. Papers are nothing without their readership.

We did indeed kill Sean Hoare with our demands for sensationalism. And we have poisoned ourselves by no longer listening to our consciences that tell us we should not be prying into others' business for our own amusement. It may be seen as more acceptable now, but that still doesn't make it right.