Friday, September 14, 2007

The McCanns, the Media and Madeleine

LIKE many people I have spent the last week pouring over the press coverage of the McCann case trying to get my head around the latest developments in the search for missing Madeleine.
Four months ago it seemed so clear cut. We knew a little girl - a gorgeous wee thing not much older than my own child - had been taken from a holiday apartment and was missing. Everyone, from the Pope to pop singers backed the campaign to find her and bring her home safe and sound to the family who so clearly loved her.
Of course, in the background, there was a great discussion about whether or not the McCanns should have left Madeleine and her siblings alone while they went out for dinner, but given the hell the family were still going through at the time we were prepared to say they had suffered enough for that particular indiscretion.
As the days passed and our hopes were raised and dashed time and and time again, it did start to sink in that in all likelihood gorgeous little Madeleine was not coming home. I’d say most people have accepted that, chances are she is dead. Mny of us have formed our own opinions about what may have happened. We’ve all discussed it - at home, in work, online. We’ve all read the papers and watched the news - shaking our heads in disbelief.
Some have condemned the McCanns entirely. They “look a bit suss”. Something just “doesn’t add up”. And sure, remember all the times when those leading the campaigns for the return of loved ones actually turn out to be the people responsible for their disappearance?
I’ll admit that as I’ve watched Kate and Gerry McCann play out their campaign on the international stage I’ve been a little stunned by their apparant lack of emotion. If it were me, I can’t imagine being able to function never mind give calm and collected interviews to the media. But then again, I’m all too aware that those interviews are just glimpses of the McCanns. They want to get their message across and they are doing that.
None of us know what goes on behind the scenes. When the cameras stop rolling there is nothing to say that Kate and Gerry aren’t being engulfed in unbearable grief. And we tend to forget that they have to go on, trying to behave relatively normally, because they have two young children who need mummy and daddy to be there for them.
And just as none us knows what goes behind the scenes in the McCann house, all the speculating in the world will not give us a definitive answer as to what has become of their little girl. Each day a new rumour starts.
Each day that rumour changes until all we are getting are mixed messages. Madeleine’s blood was found in the boot of a car. Except it wasn’t her blood. It was her hair. And it wasn’t an exact match, so it could be from the twins, or from a hairbrush or from her cuddlecat. And Kate, well, she read a page in the Bible about a sick child so therefore she must clearly be a cold-blooded killer.
The latest rumour, as I write this column is that the Portugese police will use “evidence” in her diary that shows she killed Madeleine and would reveal her “allegedly volatile state of mind in the days after Madeleine's disappearance in May”. Now, let’s just think about that for a moment. Her three year old daughter had just gone missing - perhaps kidnapped by a paedophile - and it is somehow wrong for her to have a “volatile state of mind”? What would they expect to find? A calm recollection of a day at the beach? Witty anecdotes about what the twins did that day? It screams to me of clutching at straws.
The facts with this case - those who condemn the McCanns would say - are a bit suss and always have been. The “evidence” of the police - as I see it doesn’t exactly scream cast iron either. But again, I’m willing to accept that we don’t know it all. We, as observers, know next to nothing about this case in the grand scheme of things and yet we all seem too willing (myself included) to voice our opinions.
There is a kind of public ownership to this case which disturbs me. And while all this furore is growing, we are getting away from the point. Madeleine - arguably only the truly innocent victim in all this - is still missing.
No body has been found. No leads are being followed to her whereabouts She is simply gone without a trace. So moving away from the blame game for a while let’s all turn our attention again to finding her. As a parent - indeed as a human being - I can not imagine anything so cruel and horrendous as having a loved one suddenly vanish from my life. To not know her fate, whether she is alive, dead, happy, scared - what is or was going through her mind - is heartbreaking. We will probably never know the truth about what happened - all we know is that a little girl has been lost. We should not forget that.

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