THE STORY HAS now more or less run its course, and will be duly pigeon-holed in the summer-madness box for the year 2000.
It will not be forgotten, though; Rebekah Wade will be remembered for the rest of her career as the woman who tried to take The News of the World back over the magic four million mark by "naming and shaming" a number of paedophiles, and disingenuously exhorting her readers not to take the law into their own hands.
There was much public outrage in support of all the paediatricians, podiatrists and encyclopaedia salesmen who were obliged to live in fear as a result, though this also carried the dangerous implication that if only the mob had got its facts straight, and merely terrorised convicted pederasts in defiance of the rule of law, that would have been perfectly all right.
And there is more lasting damage, too. For which of us, in the last few months, has not thought twice before demonstrating innocent affection for a small child? In the long roll of dishonour that shames the history of the tabloid press, it is hard to find a more sickening example of editorial cynicism in pursuit of circulation and personal advancement.
After all the commentators had had their say about the ethics of the case, they turned their attention to the literacy question. The blameless consultant driven from her home was, they opined, the victim of our lamentable educational standards; the blame lay with the succession of governments who have spent too little of the public purse on raising standards in schools. For how can we expect to walk the streets in safety when the vast majority of our fellow citizens is incapable of deconstructing the simplest Greek derivative?
This was feeble stuff. Maybe the problem does originate in schools, but not because we fail to
cram our eight year olds with Herodotus. Rather is it because so many products of anti-elitist education, having been taught, correctly, that human worth is not determined by exam performance, extended the principle into the belief that ignorance itself was nothing to be ashamed of, and that the desire or ability to use a dictionary was redundant in the modern world.
But it is also because children are not taught how to behave, or properly punished when they transgress. Encourage selfexpression in a vacuum, and you discourage the circumspection that inhibits violence.
A few weeks ago I ran into two friends, old-fashicmed rustic husband-andwife publicans, now retired. They had been having a merry evening in the company of another couple whom I had previously met only once; I remembered the wife's name but not the husband's, and tried to excuse myself, rather clumsily, on the basis of my being heterosexual. Thereupon Jack, moved by good will enhanced by much real ale, sprang to my defence. Wrapping a beefy arm around my shoulders, he announced: "No! Nick's not heterosexual! He's one of us!"
It was funny at the time. But what if The News of the World had moved its atten
lion from paedophiles to gays, and I had used that word of myself in the hearing of some young thug full of lager? I would now be in hospital.
Maybe Rebekah Wade has done us all a favour after all, by alerting us to the existence of the latent lynch-mob in our midst. People of little education will always suspect a substantial overlap between long words and perversion. That is nothing new, and has indeed been the stuff of cheap comedy for centuries. But self-righteous ignorance, combined with a simian grasp of civic duty and expressed in violence against the innocent, is a phenomenon we thought had died in this country long since. Instead we have revived it. For that, at least, we can say, Thankyou, Rebekah. The public had a right to know.