LIES AND LIE DETECTORS
The Portuguese police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann say they have no grounds to arrest or charge Robert Murat. This has not deterred the British press from their dogged pursuit of the man who they have nominated as "prime suspect" in the case.
Today the Sunday Express reports on its front page that Murat has refused to take a lie detector test. The inference many will draw is that he is refusing to co-operate with an aspect of the police investigation. However, buried deep in the story, is the salient fact that it was the Sunday Express itself that was proposing to carry out the test.
It was, in other words, a newspaper stunt and the Express must have known Murat would refuse to participate. Who can blame him? Apart from anything else, lie detector tests are notoriously unreliable, especially, perhaps, those carried out by British newspapers with an agenda.
Still, it is all grist to the Express's mill. "What do YOU think?" the paper asks at the end of the story, "Does this prove he's guilty?".
This really is the worst of British journalism. Papers can make just about anybody look bad, if they put their mind to it, by a mixture of inference, 'nudge, nudge' suggestion and selective use of facts.
It doesn't matter that much to papers like the Sunday Express whether Murat is innocent or guilty, or whether the investigation proceeds smoothly and successfully - they can and do wring headlines out of xenophobic attacks on the alleged incompetence of the Portuguese police.
Whatever the police say, the papers will not let go of Murat until another suspect comes into view. It was, after all, a newspaper that reported him to the police in the first place. The unthinkable alternative would be to admit that they have nothing new to tell us about the investigation. Their obsessive and disproportionate interest in Murat, together with their amateur sleuthing, can not be helping the investigation and may well be hindering it (as has, it is said, the massive reward on offer). But the sad fact is that the papers couldn't care less.