The Sun has little time for Europe. With the exception of the occasional assault on the European Union, the affairs of our European brothers are generally ignored.
This was the fate of Austria until three weeks ago when the Sun reported on the secret cellar revelations of Josef Fritzl and sparked a streak of consecutive days of continuous coverage.
No one would doubt that the actions of Josef Fritzl are truely appalling and inconceivable to any right-minded reader. The facts of the case read like the plot of a gruesome, x-rated horror movie.
The Sun have gone to town on their coverage. Josef Fritzl has been described as the cellar monster, an evil beast, warped, an incest fiend, depraved, a brute, the rape monster, the devil dad who “spent up to a month venting his lust in fleshpots” on holiday in Thailand.
One wonders what purpose this overblown language serves. Is it designed to point out that, just in case we weren’t sure, that Fritzl’s actions are not acceptable? Or is it just the rantings of the inarticulate who cannot find a suitable tone to describe the outrage felt?
If anything such language undermines the reporting of the story. The unreality of monsters, devils and beasts is absurd and insensitive to some very real and horrific human suffering.
The Sun also attempted clumsily to forge a link between Fritzl and Hitler. Presumbly, and quite unnecessarily, this decision attempted to portray the events as even more shocking than first realised, to give fresh impetus to maintain the story for a few more days on the front pages and to produce more senational stories than their competitors.
And so on May 3 the Sun claimed that as a child of 3, young Fritzl may have been part of a crowd that saluted Hitler. Fritzl may have joined the Hitler Youth, although there is no evidence of this. But undoubtedly claims the Sun he must’ve have been aware of nearby Nazi death camps and this almost definitely was the reason why he was looking surly in a photograph taken when he was 16.
If this isn’t convincing enough (what more do you people need? Evidence?) the paper led on May 9 with the headline “Hitler made me do it” with the full story promised on pages 4,5, 6 & 7.
The full story it transpired was only that Fritzl was influenced by Nazi ideals of “strict discipline”, “the need to be controlled” and “the respect of authority”.
Essentially the only evidence the Sun produced is that Fritzl lived under Nazi rule during the late 30s and early 40s. An accusation you could easily level at a number of Germans, Austrians, Poles, Belgians, Dutch, Russians, French and others alive during that period.
Dominic Lawson, writing for the Independent, said of this ‘inventive’ theory: “As a heap of innuendo piled upon non sequitur, this explanation for what went on in a basement in Amstetten takes some beating”.
In all this hyperbole, the Sun did have one clear head who was able to look at the bigger picture. This was Lorraine Kelly.
In her column on May 3 she suggested a specifically created Austrian police unit should be set up to search every cellar in the country in case there were more horrors hidden away.
Using her extensive knowledge of Austria she claimed the whole case was endemic of a secretive, insular country still shaped by its occupation by the Nazis.
As Mark Lawson said in his Guardian column we Britons would be pretty offended if the Austrians used similarly unqualified, grotesque generalisations to suggest Fred West characterised our nation’s attitude to family and sex.
Furthermore, she expressed her fears that Fritzl would never face justice but just become “some sort of macabre celebrity”. I would have thought three weeks of intense coverage in a foreign newspaper examining every lurid detail will certainly aid the process.
Fortunately for Austria, the Sun’s interest is waning. Fritzl stories have now been relegated to much later pages and soon the trail will be abandoned completely. Then the Sun will have to find another ‘beast’ to shout about. Oh look here comes Peter Sutcliffe on the front page.