Although this column is a byword for deductive reasoning, which leads the reader logically and indisputably from premise to conclusion, it is sometimes forced to fall back on inductive reasoning and use individual observations to build up general rules. Thus if every person that has ever been seen wearing a Burberry baseball cap is a prat, it is reasonable to conclude that all wearers of Burberry baseball caps are probably prats.
This week, however, neither deductive nor inductive reasoning is applicable. For this week we venture into territory where the normal rules are permanently suspended. With a foolhardiness against which all reason would counsel, we are going to discuss some of the differences between men and women.
This would, of course, have been impossible a few years ago, before the post-feminist settlement brought an uneasy peace. Now, it is permissible to discuss small disparities between the sexes without fear of retribution, provided it is understood that women are by and large more equal than men. Today, for instance, we may generally agree that women cannot park cars and men cannot understand that yes means no. Beyond that, however, it is unwise to tread. Nevertheless, on the assumption that boundaries are for pushing ever outward (the reason most often advanced for the dire quality of BBC comedy programmes), let us dare to take the argument a little further and explore a controversial explanation for the decline in our national quality press.
You may have heard that Stephen Glover, one of the founders of the Independent and a columnist on both The Daily Mail and The Spectator, is trying to raise funds to launch a new newspaper called The World. In common with all aspiring entrepreneurs, Glover is convinced that he has spotted a gap in the market. I agree with him – though, as he readily admits, it is a small gap. He bemoans the fact that Britain is alone among advanced economies in that it no longer has a serious newspaper. Both The Times and The Daily Telegraph, which once amply fulfilled that role, are stuffed with trivia.
Glover dates the decline to the price war instigated by The Times. To hang on to the extra readers it had acquired, he argues, the paper dumbed down and has since stayed in that lamentable state. He may be right, but there is another explanation, which dares not speak its name. Or at any rate did not dare until The Economist stepped forward and gave voice to the unspeakable.
“If The World is too high-minded, women will shun it,” declared the weekly. “They particularly like celebrity gossip, real-life stories and articles on leisure.”
According to a report in The Evening Standard, one of Glover’s partners in the venture, Francis Wheen, dispatched a letter of protest, which at the time of writing The Economist has yet to publish. At the risk of putting words into Wheen’s mouth, I imagine that his rebuttal was along the lines that there are many intelligent women with a lively interest in matters more cerebral than David Beckham’s latest hairstyle. Even so, The Economist had a point, and a good point at that.
Among the many topics of possible discussion that have been suffocated by the blanket of political correctness that has descended upon the land, is the influence of female readers on the editorial policies of quality newspapers. It is an irrefutable fact that at some point in the past ten years or so, editors made a conscious decision to appeal to that half of the population which they sensed were being neglected by the traditional content of their papers.
As it is reasonable to assume that if there were no difference between the sexes, and that women were just as interested as men in current affairs, political debate, analysis of the news, editorial comment, and, above all, serious and selective news coverage, there would be no need to provide something different for them. One size, or rather shape, would fit all. But there seems to have been a consensus that women wanted something different, or at the very least extra, and that was, yes, pictures of celebrities, gossip, and the bran tub of things superficial that come under the general heading of lifestyle. And so the bacillus of Hello! spread to the pages of the serious press.
The result is the dumbing-down that Glover so hates. For example, on one day last week The Daily Telegraph – “Britain’s best- selling quality daily” – gave prominent “news” coverage to Esther Rantzen’s search for a new love, the popularity among teenagers of tooth braces as a fashion statement, and Ray Davies, the “shy Kinks singer”, receiving a CBE at Buckingham Palace. Later in the week the paper offered a chance to win seats for an Elton John concert in Las Vegas and boasted an “exclusive interview” with the estranged wife of Rod Stewart. No discerning, educated man would be interested in any of the above.
And yet, could it be that there are ABC1 male readers who are so in touch with their feminine side that they enjoy looking at pictures of celebrities and reading about their lives? If so, you will understand why this column finds it impossible to reach a logical conclusion this week. For if you start from an incredible premise, you are likely to reach an unbelievable conclusion.