Lucy Meadows was found dead at home three days ago. She was a primary school teacher living and working in the north-west of England, who commenced her male-to-female transition during the 2012/13 Christmas break, intending to start the new term in January as her new self. She had full and overt support from the school and many parents.
The national tabloid press soon took up the 'story'. In particular, the Daily Mail was assiduous in informing its readers what it thought about male-bodied teachers who embark on transition in schools for younger students, pushing the view that it was a selfish act committed without proper regard to the children's sensibilities. I understand that the particular Mail article on this topic, the online version, has now been edited so that Lucy Meadows is no longer directly named. One wonders why such editing was necessary, if the article was, in the first place, a fair and reasonable piece of reporting done strictly in the public interest.
The authorities have not yet said what the cause of death was, but they are not suspicious of foul play: that hints at natural causes or suicide.
At the time of my writing this post, the online BBC News website has not
mentioned her death, except to direct those interested to an external article
published by the online Huffington Post. The BBC do however feature an
article on the cancellation of a Pooh Sticks contest. Pooh Sticks is a game where persons drop floating sticks into a river and watch them get carried away by the current. It's simple and light-hearted. Suicide is where a person takes their own life, usually because of a reason important to them. It can be simple, but is not light-hearted.
The press are resurgent. I knew they would be. I knew that the evidence given to Lord Leveson would count for nothing in practice. The press will push boundaries. It's done to make money from a business sector that is contracting but very, very far from dead.
What, in essence, has changed in the last twenty years or so? What can possibly change in the future? If 'free speech' means that newspapers can destroy people's lives for the sake of a 'story', then it's not worth having 'free speech'. There is no merit in something that leads to unhappiness and possibly death. Surely it would instead be better to have a right to tell the plain unembellished truth, and not more than that. Not opinions. Nor beliefs. Nor speculation. Just the basic truth. To apply in any medium: newspapers, TV, radio, the Internet. In blogs too. Just what is absolutely true. With penalties for publishing anything else. Boring? Not entertaining? Wouldn't sell? What are the right priorities then?
I can't help thinking back to Diana, Princess of Wales. She died in 1997, hounded to the end by people looking for a story - and pictures to go with it. Some think she courted that attention, and attempted to use the press and other media to hit back at her husband. Others see her as a victim of obsessive and oppressive press interest that just grew over the years, so that the news industry became a voracious pack animal, rabid beyond cure.
Whether he was a likeable man or not, I was most impressed by the eulogy Earl Spencer gave in Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997 to his dead sister, on the day of her funeral. Here is the part that comments on the pressure exerted on her life by the press and its satellites:
There is no doubt that she was looking for a new direction in her
life at this time [her last days]. She talked endlessly of getting away from England,
mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hands of the
newspapers. I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good
intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a
permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling.
own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to
those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. It is a point to
remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was
this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in
the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.
She would want
us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys William and
Harry from a similar fate and I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We
will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive
you to tearful despair.
Words that might apply to others.
After her death, the press did back off somewhat. You might also think that they simply shifted their focus, and looked for new targets, so that the kind of people who read tabloid newspapers for their salacious content, and kept the industry alive and well, would carry on buying. It was fortunate that new targets came forth. Targets such as Lucy Meadows. Otherwise many professional writers would have been out of a job. And shareholders would feel disappointed.