Who'd marry Osama?

Matthew Reeves asks what you can glean from the news

Every story in the newspapers at the moment is about some insanely gruesome murder, or is just an over-ogled image of some young lady whose diet is more precise than the pixel tool used to tweak her. It's like they've been written by teenage boys. Even the biggest stories like Osama bin Laden's apparent death generate pages and pages of filler on the likes of the BBC News website. Their genius �Live Updates" bar is the news-gathering equivalent of how you used to change your font to size 16 to turn a couple of Wikipedia's paragraphs on �The Romans" into the one-page essay your history teacher demanded. I hope the Live Updates bar will remain there forever, and one day just read �Osama still dead".

Once the breaking news page has done the job its title suggests, the flurry of rewritten hogwash appears. Things like �Osama used youngest wife as human shield". You're probably thinking just the same as me. On the one hand, he was a mass murderer and creator of a highly violent ideology which spawned not only a climate of fear in Europe and America, but also much unjust prejudice towards Muslims. But, on the other, you can't deny he had a certain joie de vivre! However, now he's gone and used his youngest wife as a human shield, well, that changes everything. We expected better of him than that. In all seriousness, there's no need for us to read that story. And now it turns out it wasn't true anyway.

News organisations can just about get away with this kind of spinning-out of one thin thread of information into an elaborate narrative tapestry when the only drips of information come from the same government press office. It's when all the stories clearly stem from PR people that the news pages really start to look like a sham.

One paper stated authoritatively that the nice weather and the royal wedding helped boost Next's profits, but that they didn't really help Wetherspoons that much as the majority of people decided to stay at home to watch Will and Kate make it legal. And I haven't even started to ramble on about the piles of incongruous tripe printed about supermarkets. They're the folks who are too penny-pinching to support producers properly, but at the same time so stupid that they create a deal that easily allows just about any member of the great British public to do some quick and dirty barrel-scraping price-match arbitrage to earn a quick buck to spend on, say, M&S trifle and bunting.

What can you really glean from one newspaper's business column in a week? From what I can see, the British people like to sit around in new dresses, cooing over the second-prettiest millionaire's daughter in the country marrying some genetically-impaired, out-of-touch, balding guy from the comfort of their decaying home. The home that devalues with every step of the tax-funded horse parade they're witnessing. It is just me, or is living in a cave in Waziristan suddenly starting to sound appealing?

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