Last night on Sky News we briefly discussed why the media gave a much higher profile to the Madeleine McCann case than the Shannon Matthews disappearance. There are, I'm sure lots of factors, but one was the fact that for the media, the McCanns were very much "people like us", or should I say, people like them. The Matthews family were nothing like the media classes in appearance, lifestyle and outlook. I really think there is something in this. Let's take the analogy further.
My fellow panelist, Peter Whittle, asserted that the reason David Cameron was given more or less a free ride by the media in his first eighteen months was because he belonged to the "people like us" class. Was this part of the reason the media were so keen to promote him, and do down David Davis after his conference speech? Not consciously, but I do wonder if there was something subconcious about it.
Why was the coverage of the New Orleans floods slightly underdone by the US media? It might it have been different if it had happened in Manhatten, where "people like us" live?
Harriet Harman was given a comparatively easy ride by the media when she sent her kids to a selective school. Could it have been because many media people were facing the same dilemma?
I could go on, but you see my point. That's where the internet comes into its own. It's more difficult in the blogosphere to go along with 'people like us' stories, because the truth is that there are millions of people out there who will expose the phenomenon's hypocrisy.
There is one positive effect of the "people like us" phenomenon. In Dewsbury it brought a whole community together. The people on the estate where Shannon Matthews lived came together as one to try to help find her. It gave their community a spirit which it patently hadn't had before. Why did they come together like that? Because Shannon Matthews came from a "family like us".