On Friday, as the Boston marathon bombing suspects were identified, British conservative tabloid newspaper The Daily Express ran the lurid headline “Chechen ‘threat to Britain’” and wrote:
The rebels have plagued their Russian masters with murders, bombings and beheadings. But the Boston marathon carnage raises the threat of more overseas attacks, with everywhere – including Britain – a potential target.
There was no actual evidence in the short Express piece to justify the headline or lead, however, other than vague mutterings about antipathy over Afghanistan. No quotes from police or government officials either, just an un-named “security source”.
Today, another British tabloid – the Daily Mirror – has a story that’s been picked up by a lot of rightwing bloggers in the US: Boston bombers: “FBI hunting 12-strong terrorist ‘sleeper cell’ linked to brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev” which says:
More than 1,000 FBI operatives were last night working to track down the cell and arrested a man and two women 60 miles from Boston in the hours before Dzhokhar’s dramatic capture after a bloody shootout on Friday.
A source close to the investigation said: “We have no doubt the brothers were not acting alone. The devices used to detonate the two bombs were highly sophisticated and not the kind of thing people learn from Google.
“They were too advanced. Someone gave the brothers the skills and it is now our job to find out just who they were. Agents think the sleeper cell has up to a dozen members and has been waiting several years for their day to come.”
Notice the anonymous source and the haziness of that source’s connection to the investigation? In UK tabloid-speak that’s code for “we’re making shit up”. Two people who were previously questioned in connection with the investigation but never arrested may indeed have been arrested now – for immigration violations. Even that’s shaky, so don’t quote me on it. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is saying “All the information I have is they acted alone.” Look, an actual named source with a provable connection to the investigation!
Look, these British tabloids have their own domestic agenda - feeding off and increasing the decade-long British fear of eastern Europeans which has led to all kinds of bigotry aimed at immigrants from Poland, Romania and other nations in the UK. (PDF)
Now as before, the tabloids present immigration as a problem. They often don’t stop at criticising immigration policy, it impugns the integrity of the migrants themselves. Repeated associations of East European migrants with crime, benefit shopping, and a host of other unsavoury activities, particularly when those activities are sensational, portrays these migrants not as upstanding workers trying to eke out a living but as dangerous social parasites preying on their well-meaning hosts. Racialisation occurs when those migrants are collectively disparaged with reference to a combination of cultural, social, and/or biological traits. Here again we don’t find the crude racism of epithets, slurs, and insults; rather, racialisation gets packaged as innuendo and inference.
The sort of racialisation found in the tabloids does not rely on somatic differences but instead invokes and valorises various cultural and social attributes of the migrants. This is a kind of cultural racism: criminal tendencies, uncivilised behaviour, and moral deficiencies are indiscriminately imputed to the migrants…the tabloids have consistently if unevenly resorted to racialised framings in their reporting on these current migrations. However, for the tabloids it is not shared whiteness operating as a basis of inclusion, but rather cultural difference operating as a criterion for exclusion.
This tabloid bigotry has been the mirror of Conservative Party fear-mongering and institutionalized discrimination in an attempt to win votes from the large middle and working-class bigot pool who are all too ready to believe what they are told. The same people voted for Thatcher when she promised them loadsamoney and bashing hippies.
The tabloid press in Britain has its own agenda of bigotry, which it is now keen to connect Boston too – because fear sells newspapers. Read with extreme caution, if you bother to read at all.
Of course, the myths the tabloids are peddling are untrue. Peddling untruths is what British tabloids do best and we should all try to remember that.