Churnalism at its finest

Courtesy of none other than the always resplendent Daily Mail. I regularly visit the Daily Mail site, for no other reason than to keep up with the constant stream of lazy and inaccurate “journalism” that it provides. It never fails to provide a giggle. The particular piece that has provoked my ire today, however, isn’t funny. It’s just offensive, irresponsible, and downright stupid.

On the 6th of January, the Daily Mail carried a piece about Marian Keyes, who had published a brief note in her monthly newsletter. In the note, she apologised to her fans for her absence, and told them that the reason for this was that she had been struggling with depression, and that this particular bout had been particularly crippling. That article is linked here, and I’ve saved a PDF (as the Mail has a habit of reviewing and changing pieces once enough criticism has been heaped upon them). The article is a fairly by-the-book piece of “churnalism”, inserting chunks of her note into a brief biography (no doubt gleaned from a quick wikipedia search). All in all, a bland and unoffensive piece which filled some space. What has really annoyed me, however, is a follow up piece, published on January 7th.

Written by Helen Weathers, this diatribe is titled “Author Marian Keyes has fans across the world and a husband who adores her. So why is she so depressed she can’t eat, sleep, or write a word?“, (link here, saved PDF here). The title does much to reveal the author’s attitude towards Keyes and towards depression, and the article continues as one would expect, attacking Keyes for daring to feel depressed when her life is apparently so easy. With statements such as “who wouldn’t wish to swap places with the 46-year-old chick-lit queen“, “Keyes’ achievements are enough to make those less talented feel depressed about their own lives“, and “A feeling that is perhaps best alleviated by picking up one of her pastel-hued, feel-good novels“, it is clear that Weathers holds no sympathy for Keyes or indeed for anyone suffering from depression. As the article goes on, she wonders why the lovely house and wonderful husband haven’t done anything to alleviate the depression, which she further undermines by highlighting the words “crippling” and “hell” as if they are patently untrue.

“All the plaudits, fan letters and riches her books have brought her  –  including a pied a terre in London and a house near the sea in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, which she shares with her husband Tony Baines  –  offer no protection from this ‘crippling’ disease she says is making her life ‘hell’.”

Continuing in the same vein, she points out that just three months ago, Keyes wasn’t feeling depressed (based on the fact that her newsletter of three months ago was cheerful). Then follows a re-hash of the note which Keyes wrote, and a not-so-sly stab at her readers. We continue by delving into the life story of Marian Keyes, making sure to point out the many problems she experienced as she grew up, and the desperate lack of self esteem that she can’t quite shake. The second half of this article is composed almost entirely of direct quotes from Keyes herself (from previous interviews, web posts, etc.), which is summed up with the tremendously insightful note that perhaps her self esteem problems, poor body image, and low self worth could be a contributing factor in her depression. Thank the Lord we have someone to make that vast cognitive leap, or else we would still be scratching our heads as to what could possibly be wrong.

All told, the article is a shockingly insensitive, badly informed, piece-meal space filler, and it’s a geniune shame that the only thing that Weathers could do to fill the space was to attack someone who’s having a hard time. Perhaps if she had spent half as long on Wikipedia reading about depression as she did reading about Keyes herself, she would have been able to put together a more informative and useful article. Perhaps she would have realised that depression is a problem that affects people regardless of their situation, and even when they have nice houses and stable incomes. Perhaps she would have realised that being unable to eat, sleep, or write is a common problem for people suffering from depression, many of whom are rendered literally unable to move by the depths of their despair. Perhaps she would have realised that to say something like “what have you got to be depressed about, look at all the good things you have” is absolutely shockingly ignorant, and only serves to demonstrate her lack of research and, dare I say it, intelligence.

I had thought that my respect for the Daily Mail was at an all time low when I read yet another “fat is great, a pox on all skinny women” article, but it has, in fact, sunk even lower. Weathers’ article represents an even deeper low, because it’s not only inaccurate, but it’s quite frankly rude.

One can only hope that Keyes finds whatever help she needs to lift the clouds that are currently obscuring the sky. And I for one will hope that Weathers never has the misfortune to experience real depression, lest we have to suffer through an article about that too.

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