Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Somalia is starving...but what's that on the horizon? Is it a bird? Is it an aid parcel drop? No, it's...the Daily Mail's Liz Jones

The Golden Latrine almost choked on his crunchy nut cornflakes this morning at the news that the Daily Mail is sending Liz Jones to cover the Somalia famines.

For those not in the know: Jones is a former editor of Marie Claire, now in the lucrative employ of the Daily Mail. Her deeply confessional columns about her eating disorders, her failed marriage, her facelift , and lately, the running of an animal sanctuary reveal a woman so self-obsessed that her ego has developed its own gravitational field, sucking everything else into its orbit. So self-parodic are some of her columns that I have often wondered whether if she isn't just some journalistic in-joke.

To try and search for an equivalent, sending Jones to Somalia is like sending Rod Hull to cover the House of Representatives' debate on the US debt-ceiling or, um, Lindsay Lohan to explore child-trafficking in India.

Jones announced her latest assignment in the most obnoxious way possible in a piece for the Mail entitled 'The caring professions? They just don't seem to care at all' (read it here). Starting with the blindingly obvious ("I don't scrape and scrabble at the coal face of the NHS very often" - hardly a surprise for a £200,000-a-year columinist), she rails against the injustice of her local GP refusing to give her the numerous jabs she needs to fly out to the Horn of Africa. Despite the fact she's given them no notice. And she's not registered with them, so they don't have her notes.

If there's one person who could make the Somalia famine about herself, it's Jones. As she tells the GP's receptionist: "'I mean, it's a global crisis. Millions of people are dying and you won't put yourself out to allow me to be seen by a nurse, not even a doctor, for five minutes?'" The correct response, we are told, would have been: "'Sod the protocol – everyone needs to know about this famine, Miss Jones, so I am going to speak to the GP and see what we can do.'"

Throughout the whole piece there's the reek of entitlement and a hysterical sense of self-importance. The cherry on the cake comes when Jones compare the receptionist's shocking rudeness (i.e. completely understandable inabilty to help) to the abuse at the Winterbourne View care home in Bristol, revealed by Panorama in their recent shocking expose. I am a talkative man, but sometimes even I am lost for words. (For those are interested, there's a more extensive, point-by-point demolition of Jones's piece by doctor and Sirens author Brian Kellett here).

While Jones's belief in the importance of her vocation is touching, let's be clear - Liz Jones is not a medical practioneer or an aid worker, she's a journalist. She can write what she sees, raise awareness of Somalia's suffering and, who knows, maybe inspire a few Mail readers. But the suspicion remains that for Jones, this is "misery tourism" - a "cheap holiday in other people's misery," as the Sex Pistols put it. As Ros Cowards says: "I've noticed some journalists and travellers seem to seek out places of extreme suffering almost as a way of trying to quell discomfort about their own personal dissatisfactions and unhappiness. And as we know, Jones is very, very unhappy."

To given Jones her due, she's a talented prose writer and, hell, I'm all for people spreading their journalistic wings. But I'm just not sure she's got the political savvy or the empathy needed to report on Somalia. Read this sympathetic interview with Deborah Ross, and you're left with a portrait of a woman hopelessly lost in self-absorption. In the past Jones has covered Bangladesh, but this famine deserves our best reporters, not our best paid.

Edit: Thanks to @nickrowan27 for pointing me in the direction of the sublime spoof Twitter account @LizJonesSomalia, which offers frequent updates on Jones's progress in Somalia. Sample tweet: "I'm not trying to be crass - I know there's a water shortage, but wetwipes cost about 17p a pack. I'd offer to share mine but I need them."


a Swede in Sudan said...

Loved reading this Thom, keep up the good work. Also it's just painful to think that someone so unknowledgable and blundering is going to be sent into one of the toughest humanitarian situations around. But who knows maybe it will enlighten some Daily Mail readers into having a heart. Stranger things have happened. Sof


Thanks for the support Sof. Since you're someone who actually works in the humanitarian sector, I'm especially glad you enjoyed it.

As I said to another friend, the truth is that I'd love Liz Jones to prove me wrong and for her to mail back incisive, searing reports of Somalia's suffering that inspire people to take action. Mail readers are a weirdly sentimental bunch, and she could do real good, but has she got it in her? I'm pessimistic, but as you say, stranger things have definitely happened.

I took a peek at your blog too. Sudan looks so beautiful, and I loved the report you wrote for South Sudanese Independence! Tom