11 May 2007

Burying Bad News c.100,000BC-2007AD

As A Dodo is sorry to relay the bad news that Burying Bad News itself has died following an unsuccessful attempt by the new Ministry of Justice to announce a massive increase in the cost of the ID card scheme on the day that the media and every man, woman, child, cat, dog and budgie (except Gordon Brown) were paying their last respects to the glorious Premiership of Tony Blair.

Burying Bad News was born over 100,000 years ago, when news of Ug the Hunter's decision (having been advised by Thrug the Lazy) to dig his mastodon trap only one-foot deep – thus endangering the whole tribe - was released just after the neighbourhood volcano erupted, in a piece of news management so successful that it buried not only the bad news about the ineffective and dangerous mastodon trap but also the entire village and everyone in it.

Burying Bad News quickly became a popular method for damage limitation. At first it was mainly used among small groups, such as the time the bad news about burning down the village (itself only recently reconstructed after that nasty incident with the mastodon trap and the volcano) was announced on the day of the discovery of fire. Soon, however, the practice came to the attention of politicians and personalities in the public eye. It was not long before anyone who was anyone was Burying Bad News: Jesus's disciples announcing the financial collapse of their Christmas Club scheme on the day of his crucifixion, King Harold revealing his long-concealed "large-piece-of-wood-in-the-eye allergy" on the day of William the Conqueror’s victorious Hastings away match, and Galileo confessing he had been using his newfangled telescope to spy on his neighbour’s comely wife on the same day the newspapers were full of his claims about the Earth revolving around the Sun.

By the 20th century Burying Bad News had truly came of age. News of Neville Chamberlain’s ingrown toe-nail, which had been kept from the British public for fear of a causing a loss of faith in the government and a run on the Stock Market, was finally announced to the press on September 3rd 1939 as Hitler’s tanks rolled into Poland (a story that was itself almost kept off the front pages by a crushing defeat of the England cricket team in a friendly match at the hands of the St Barnston’s C of E Primary School 2nd XI).

In the 1960s, news that Paul McCartney had died at the age of 28 (knocked down on a zebra crossing in Abbey Road) was deemed of lesser interest to a nation in the grip of Beatlemania than the terrible news that Ringo had written his first song. And in the 1970s all sorts of bad news about three-day weeks, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the decline of Britain as an international power were buried under dire warnings of the possibility of new singles by the Goombay Dance Band.

It was with the arrival of Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 1997 that the dark arts of his spin doctors exalted Burying Bad News to the position of a new religion – as everything from Peter Mandelson's manifold "resignations" to the Prime Minister's desire to destroy the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction by invading the Moon was kept from the British public by being announced on the day of either a major plot twist in EastEnders or news of a David Beckham haircut.

However, when a leaked email from Labour spin doctor Jo Moore suggesting that the attack on New York on 9/11 might be a “good day to bury bad news”, the age-old ruse began to weaken. The media became ever more cynical about news management and Burying Bad News found itself frequently blinking uncomfortably in the public spotlight.

And so it was that on a day of national gnashing and wailing, as Mr Blair announced his plans to stand down in six weeks time, the news of a further £840 million increase in the cost of taking a digital fingerprint of every man, woman, child, cat, dog and budgie in Britain (and charging them for it) was released to jaded and mistrusting journalists and broadcasters who, desperate for some real news to report, pounced on the story like a herd of angry mastodons. And so it was that Burying Bad News passed away.

Burying Bad News will be buried on the day of a much more important story – like Tony Blair rising on the third day or Paris Hilton’s release from prison. It is survived by bad news broadcasting, especially on BBC News 24 and Fox News.