In which I wonder at people

So… after the trial against her collapsed, Tulisa Contostavlos of N-Dubz and X Factor fame is finally allowed to talk about The Sun’s sting and subsequent article about her ‘drug shame.’

There are several hundred reports floating around and I’m not going to recount the entire back story when a quick Google could tell all. Still, I thought the Guardian’s interview with her (her first to a newspaper since the original article hit) was interesting for a couple of reasons.

You can read the interview here

For one thing, it explains a bit more about how she got taken in. On the surface of it the reporter’s con – that she was up for a Bollywood movie role involving Leonardo DiCaprio – sounds ridiculous. I’ve seen a lot of online comments opining that you’d have to be a simpleton to believe it (though the comments used some, uhh, stronger terms). When however she explains that a close friend of hers used to work in Bollywood and they tied their cover story back to people and companies he would know of and would therefore confirm were legitimate if she asked… still a lot of gullibility on her part, but you can see how the more detailed story wouldn’t have been as outlandish as it sounds in summary.

To be honest though, Tulisa herself is almost beside the point for me. She could be anyone and the ‘scandal’ in question could be about anything, the thing I worry about is what this says about press tactics in general.

What really struck me was how very far the reporter and newspaper were prepared to go to entrap Tulisa in this manner. They were at this for months, at enormous expense. I wonder if copies sold even covers the cost? They doggedly persisted even after she refused to step into several of their traps. They piled on the pressure until eventually they got her to finally bite at something (though Tulisa says she was putting on an act and just wanted the guy to play along, not to actually supply any drugs).

So what did they eventually get for all their toils? They got a story about how a celebrity knows a guy who can get hold of cocaine and made a phone call to him. That’s it. Not much of a shocker.

So was all that time and effort and money worth it? Is this really the bust of the century? I’d say emphatically not. The police don’t go to this much trouble when they’re investigating people believed to be deep into drug supply – yet a tabloid newspaper did it to go after a woman who’s not even a user, let alone a fixer or a dealer. She knows somebody who can get hold of drugs but so what? So does most of Fleet Street if stories are to be believed. It’s been alleged that cocaine use has been rampant at places like The Sun and News of the World for years (and even encouraged in order to get close to powerful/famous figures who also use). There are various circles in which cocaine use is widespread and blatant. There are much bigger fish to fry out there when it comes to high profile figures and drug use.

Yet they spent all this time and money not to go after anybody powerful and/or heavily involved in the drugs business, which genuinely would be a huge scoop or worthwhile bit of journalism. They went after Tulisa Contostavlos. A young woman of middling celebrity in the UK, who wasn’t doing anything at all wrong until they came in and waged a campaign to make her do so. Whether or not she was simply pretending as she claims, she clearly wasn’t truly involved in drugs – just desperate to fulfil expectations and win herself the huge prize on offer. Even if we don’t accept her defence and assume she was guilty of the crime alleged, it still amounts to a bit of personal foolishness aggressively coaxed out of her by a master manipulator.

Does that sound like the kind of criminal activity that would warrant a story with this time and prominence given to it? Not to me. I don’t see any good reason to spend such a huge bank of resources on entrapment when what you wind up with is that article. I will admit that as much as I loathe him and his tactics, Mahmood has uncovered some genuine stories in the past (like match fixing).  But this? You really can’t tell me that there’s any true public interest value in this.

All in all, I find it rather disconcerting. From the outside it looks very much as if they went after her out of some kind of vendetta or simply because they thought she was an easy target. (And snobbery makes her an easy target, because she’s considered low class and chavvy – see if an upper class cokehead gets treated to the same vitriol when they get busted for worse). It’s all too easy to imagine that the reason they persisted for so long while she continued to refuse to take the bait was simply because they’d already sunk so much into it and had to get something for their pains. Tulisa wouldn’t be the first person to annoy a tabloid then find themselves the subject of nasty stories, or targeted purely to fill pages and shift copies.

And yet the tabloid press would have us believe that the abuses of the past were some kind of aberration that management were all shocked to hear about. They’d have us believe that any kind of independent regulation as recommended by Leveson is unnecessary, that they can be trusted to uphold journalistic integrity and the public interest.

Well I don’t trust them. I think they’re a behemoth of unaccountable power and it’s frightening to see the way in which they choose to wield it. Tulisa’s just one more example of the human cost.





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