It didn’t require much imagination to work out that Mick Jagger wouldn’t be looking great this morning. As the world knows, L’Wren Scott, his partner for the last 13 years was found dead in her New York apartment on Monday, in circumstances that have been widely reported as suicide. But anyone who couldn’t quite picture what the singer looked like at this moment of profound shock need only turn to the front pages of the UK’s biggest-selling newspapers.
Several of them actually boasted about the fact they had obtained photographs of Jagger as he was told of L’Wren Scott’s death. The Daily Mail’s front page showed Jagger, his mouth set in a rictus of grief, alongside a headline declaring: “Moment Mick heard L’Wren was dead“. What looked like the same picture appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror (“The moment Jagger heard girlfriend of 13 years had hanged herself”) and the Daily Star (“Moment Jagger was told of lover’s suicide”).
Whether this was the precise moment that Jagger heard the news or a short time afterwards, as seems more likely, hardly matters. It’s as if the intense public debate about media ethics over the last three years never happened. Fourteen months after the Leveson report accused sections of the press of wreaking “havoc” with people’s lives, some editors are behaving with the same callous disregard for grief which was highlighted during the inquiry.
They haven’t even abided by the editors’ code of practice, drawn up by the toothless Press Complaints Commission, which states that publication should be handled sensitively in cases of personal grief or shock. Instead, today’s front pages show that the popular press has reverted to its pre-Leveson position: people who venture into the public eye for any reason give up their right to privacy in perpetuity. They’re public property, even when a close friend or relative dies in the most shocking circumstances.
There is a line in the editors’ code about reporting suicide, which says “care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used”. But some editors clearly feel that publishing a link to the Samaritans at the end of an article that mentions suicide leaves them free to speculate about how and why someone has taken his or her life.
The Daily Mail reported that Scott “appeared to be enjoying success” but really suffered from depression, invoking a classic stereotype about ambitious women. If she was reluctant to be known as a famous man’s girlfriend when she was alive, her death unleashed a tide of casual sexism which has already prompted complaints on social networking sites.
Once again, publishing a story about a “celeb” has overridden decency, compassion and the editors’ own guidelines about intruding into private grief.