It is a story famous for being a story.
A 13-year-old commentary without end found in column inches, TV footage, opinion pieces, documentaries, published books, social media posts and the interminable gawking of an international audience transfixed as if this is a big screen drama.
Aspects of the coverage of the Madeleine McCann disappearance have always left me feeling uneasy. This ‘story’ is about the disappearance of a child and the pain and anguish of a family. That is the starting point. In fact it is the only point.
And yet a mother and father have found themselves vilified in this time. The disappearance of their daughter and the sole focus on finding her has been lost in debates about their behaviour on the night Madeleine disappeared.
Rolling news channels can’t leave the subject alone even when there is little new to discuss. The media’s apparent inability to move on leads to the endless rehashing of hackneyed lines in an editorial policy of coverage for coverage’s sake.
There are the endless two-ways with reporters trying to stretch not a lot of information into the broadcast version of war and peace. Various experts are wheeled out to discuss issues barely even tangential to the central issue: the disappearance of a child.
At some point Madeleine is lost in a fog of soap operatic noise as all and sundry become commentators on a private anguish.
The collective effect of all of this is that Madeleine McCann becomes but a cue for filling pages and airtime. At some point the danger is that we become desensitised to the human tragedy as everyone takes the impertinent liberty of ‘having their say’. There is no such thing as private anguish for the McCann’s for their world is but a stage for public consumption.
And then there are the conspiracy theorists, bigots and wannabe investigators of the twitterati all wading in, sustaining the sense that this is not about a child but merely a platform as a vehicle for mouthing off. The bashing of a keyboard or the typing on a phone has launched a million views with little regard for a child or her parents. After all, isn’t this just a ‘good talker’?
It is easy to understand the anguish of other parents who live only with the memory of their missing child and feel an added frustration that the search for that child was barely mentioned at the point of disappearance.
Where was the media when they wanted everyone to focus on their missing son or daughter? I don’t have an answer to that. What I do know is that it is not the fault of the McCanns, despite attempts to pin them with some kind of vicarious guilt.
I hope the news from Germany is the beginning of the end in the search for closure for the McCanns. The development is viewed by them as significant so for once there is concrete information that justifies appropriate reportage. Let’s hope it does not play to type and continues to consume long after the limited facts of the most recent development are aired.
That is my hope but I’m not holding my breath.