Et pourquoi de nombreux experts et autorités exploitent-ils nos peurs pour promouvoir leur propre agenda?
We have witnessed two different operations around the abduction of the three-year-old girl from an Algarve holiday apartment. There has been the secretive Portuguese investigation, apparently marred by infighting between police organisations.
Il y a eu l'enquête secrète portugaise, apparemment gâchée par des querelles internes entre organisations policières.
And then there has been the public “who’s to blame?” inquiry, where campaigners and pundits vie to use the case as a vehicle for point-scoring and finger-pointing. Some crusaders blame the Portuguese for not sharing Britain’s heightened state of paedophile-phobia. Others question why the British parents dared to leave their children asleep in a
Le message de toutes les parties est que ce crime unique montre en quelque sorte que l'innocence est menacée partout et que seule une armée d'experts en protection de l'enfance peut la sauver.
The effect is to spread anxiety in a way that seems detached from the actual case. What difference, for example, could a British-style sex offenders register make to the unprecedented abduction of a child from a Portuguese holiday camp? Some of those criticising Portugual’s laws, which preclude giving the UK media details of the investigation, seem more concerned to turn the McCann family’s tragedy into a British public spectacle, an emotional national experience. Everybody from Premiership footballers to a Downing Street spokesman has got involved this week. Such displays might make some feel better over here, but can make little difference to the case over there. The self-promoting child protection industry’s eagerness to seize upon the McCann abduction can only reinforce fears that our children are not safe anywhere from the internet to the Algarve. We are told that this is “every parent’s nightmare”. But who is helping to give parents those nightmares, warning us “it could be you”? All agree that nothing is more terrible than child abduction. So why make its impact even worse?
Mick Hume - Spiked - 16.05.2007
In my part of London there are posters up in windows asking us all to ‘Help Find Madeleine’ and advertising the phone numbers to ring if we ‘have any information about Madeleine’s whereabouts’. Apparently many thousands have been distributed by newspapers and other organisations and displayed across the UK. In the fortnight since Madeleine disappeared, we have seen football crowds waving banners for her and people all over the place wearing yellow ribbons around their wrists. Internet sites are clogged with messages from those keen to express sympathy and say how upset they are. While British celebrities and footballers make appeals and offer rewards for Madeleine’s return, the message from most of the media was summed up by the front page of the Sun newspaper last Saturday - Madeleine’s fourth birthday - which told her tortured parents: ‘We share your pain.’ The television news has largely been given over to the story, with presenters sent to the Algarve to front broadcasts and ‘special correspondents’ reporting on the latest minute developments as if it were a military campaign. Even MPs and government ministers have now felt the need to get involved in the campaign for Madeleine’s safe return.
I feel for Madeleine’s family as anybody must. But at the risk of being accused of callousness, what is this public outpouring really about? It has nothing to do with the progress of the case in Portugal. We know from the rare occasions when a child has been abducted in Britain that such high-profile outpourings of public emotionalism have little bearing on the actual investigation. But at least in those cases one might claim that appeals for information and publicity are relevant to the local police work. This time, however, the posters appealing for our help in finding her are a very long way from the crime scene in Portugal. That gap helps to make clear that such displays are really about something over here rather than over there. The McCann case has been turned into the latest public focus through which people in a fragmented Britain feel able to come together in a collective display of emotion, to show that we share one another’s pain and are on the side of good. Those pictures of the little girl are on show in windows where a church or community group poster might have been in the past - or more pertinently, perhaps, where an England football flag might be displayed these days. It is about a public display of belonging, of feeling part of an emotional collective at a time when there seems little in society or its values to hold people together. It was inevitable that lonely politicians would get involved in this media-shaped attempt to make a connection and bring people together.
It has seemed as if everybody wants a piece of the action in Portugal for their own purposes, with child protection experts and policemen and lawyers flying out from the UK to stake their claim. Many have sought to seize on the abduction inquiry - and prey upon wider fears about children - in order to promote their own agendas. This has prompted a lot of ugly point-scoring and finger-pointing. So within hours of her disappearance, even though nobody knew for certain that Madeleine had been abducted or why, campaigners were out in force demanding a crackdown on a supposed army of British sex offenders holidaying abroad, or a new global offensive against an alleged international paedophile ring. While some sought to blame the ‘incompetent’ Portuguese, others pinned the blame on the ‘irresponsible’ parents for leaving their sleeping children locked up while they had dinner.
Ils n'étaient pas enfermés, justement...
The effect has been to spread more feelings of fear and guilt and bitterness. Just below the surface of the universal sympathy, it has been striking how more than a few contributions to online discussions have turned against the McCanns. The assumption that everybody must want Madeleine returned to her family turns out to be not strictly true; some contributors to readers’ discussions have argued that, whether she is found safe or not, she and her siblings should be removed from her parents and placed in official care. It just shows how thin is the veneer of unity in reaction to a tragedy like this. When people’s public reactions are based on unthinking ersatz emotion, divorced from any real involvement with the family or the case, they can just as easily turn against the parents as in their favour - especially at a time when parent-bashing has become so much in vogue.
Who exactly was meant to benefit from the mass outbreak of voyeurism at the Vatican this week, as the world watched Madeleine McCann’s parents praying with the Pope? (Or as a BBC headline put it, in a Lloyd-George-knew-my-father moment, “Pope meets Madeleine’s parents”.) I am sure the McCanns, devout Catholics, will have drawn spiritual succour from their blessing. But what did the rest of us get out of effectively peering over their shoulders as the story topped the news bulletins? As the sober report in The Times described, “their audience lasted all of 30 seconds”. Then it was “the inevitable press conference”, which lasted rather longer. Gerry McCann said that the meeting in a packed St Peter’s Square had been “more personal than I could ever imagine”. Just them and the millions in the media audience. Mention of a butterfly landing on Kate McCann moved Clarence Mitchell, described as “a family spokesman”, to tell the press that this had almost made him weep: “It was as if Madeleine was with us, and was a good omen.” Such superstition is now the stuff of news. The emotional Mr Mitchell is in fact a British Foreign Office liaison officer.
Before the Vatican trip the McCanns had already visited the modern confessional box of the media interview. The front pages of Saturday’s papers read: Guilt will Never Leave Us (Sun); The Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Mirror); The Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Mail); Our Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Express); We Will Always Feel Guilty (Star). The quality papers, too, made headlines from the quote, a show of unanimity unseen since President Bush declared “war” on terror after 9/11. The public focus on the story has little to do with any progress in the case in Portugal. It almost seems as if the less that is happening over there, the more it is in the news over here, a stream of Madeleine stories that keep people in the emotional maelstrom. The McCanns insist that they have drawn strength from all the coverage.
Castrate this sick debate
Mick Hume - Spiked - 14.06.2007
Even Madeleine McCann’s desperate parents have, it seems, had enough for now of the month-long media circus surrounding the disappearance of their four-year-old daughter, and have said they will adopt a lower profile while they try to come to terms with their loss.
Plenty of practical arguments have been put forward, on spiked and elsewhere, against the demands and proposals for a new ‘crackdown’ (see Sarah’s Law can’t protect us from fear, by Mick Hume). For a start, there is no evidence that Sarah’s Law would make children any safer – indeed, the legal right to know if convicted sex offenders live locally would have done nothing to protect Sarah Payne herself, abducted and murdered by a paedophile many miles from her home. If we are to have a public register of sex offenders, why not of convicted murderers, wife-beaters, racists, drunk drivers, drug offenders or burglars? What about the principles of criminal justice that say offenders should be punished for what they have done, not what they might do or fantasise about doing in the future, and that those who serve their sentence have paid their debt to society? And leaving aside the contentious issue of whether ‘chemical castration’ works (and whether giving volunteer offenders a few mood-altering drugs deserves that dramatic description), when did free societies become comfortable with the notion of using medical treatments to ‘cure’ crime? As we argued on spiked since the Sarah’s Law controversy began seven years ago, these measures are all worse than useless when it comes to protecting us from the biggest danger to our children’s freedom: fear. Seen in this context, it is arguable that the government’s compromise on a sort-of-Sarah’s-Law will give us the worst of both worlds. It will reinforce the notion that we are besieged by a spectral army of predatory paedophiles and that Something Must Be Done. Yet at the same time, its insistence that most information must be kept secret, and the threat to prosecute single mothers who make public information they are given about a boyfriend’s record, can only further feed public fears and paranoia about invisible paedophiles. The Sex Offenders Register itself is perhaps the worst culprit here, a blunt instrument that is widely perceived as a secret list of 30,000-odd dangerous perverts, yet includes not just rapists and violent paedophiles but everybody from flashers and downloaders of illegal internet porn to teenagers who have under-age sex and women teachers who seduce young men.
As the paedophile panic has continued regardless of all these holes in the case for further crackdowns, however, it has become clear that there are wider issues that need to be addressed. It is not a matter of opposing this or that aspect of the campaign. There is a pressing need to question the very basis of this unhealthy obsession, and try to castrate the ‘paedo’ debate altogether. What does it really say about the perverse mindset of our society that so many should now want to turn child sexual abuse into such an all-consuming political issue? It looks like a morbid symptom of a culture afflicted by an epidemic of paedophile-phobia – a condition that has been spread from the top echelons of the state downwards. Of course, as Frank Furedi points out in his latest Really Bad Ideas column, these things are not genuine ‘phobias’ or mental illnesses (see Really Bad Ideas: Phobias, by Frank Furedi). What we might call paedophile-phobia is more a sign of a cultural and political sickness in a society that has lost its sense of purpose and direction and turned in on itself, always focusing on the darker side of human experience and fantasising about the basest behaviour being the norm. A culture that tends to interpret everything in terms of vulnerability and victimhood inevitably sees children as in need of ever-more protection.
The public obsession with paedophiles is also an expression of how deeply many of us now mistrust each other, and indeed ourselves, in a fragmented society of insecure individuals. The paedophile becomes not just the shadowy stranger out there, but the beast within the community, within the family, maybe even within you. This is the fear the government’s latest ‘awareness’ campaign about abuse at home can only feed. It is already having a destructive impact on not just adult-child but also adult-adult relationships, as men feel wary of volunteering to work with kids and children are ‘protected’ from unsupervised contact with grown-ups. Stranger danger? There seems little danger of many children even meeting a stranger today (see Who would be a boys’ football coach?, by Josie Appleton). When it comes to spreading these fashionably poisonous prejudices about the human condition, leading voices on the ‘other’ side of the paedophile debate - such as those in the child protection industry opposed to a fully-fledged Sarah’s Law - are at least as bad as its proponents. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), for example, is a semi-state institution dedicated to publicising the alleged threat posed to children by their parents in its multimillion-pound ‘Child abuse must stop. Full stop.’ PR campaign. The NSPCC has welcomed the new emphasis on raising ‘awareness’ of familial abuse, and the proposal to limit access to information about paedophiles – because it fears that otherwise dangerous gangs of ‘vigilantes’ could drive the perpetrators ‘underground’. Here the prevailing view of what people are like is lowered further still, to the point where the paedophiles too become the victims of human passions. These professionals fear ‘the mob’ (aka the public) even more than they do violent perverts. This is the flipside of misanthropy in the abuse debate: either we are all viewed as potential paedophiles, or as a mob-in-waiting of ignorant bigots eager for an excuse to daub ‘Paedo’ on a paediatrician’s door. No doubt some would like to be able to inject people in order to suppress those feelings, too. In any case, the consensus in high places is that one way or another we are not to be trusted and all need to be supervised by the experts, with the help of the police and the thought-police.
The permanent paedophile panic has come to symbolise much that is wrong with the mindset of our society: the degraded state of public and political debate, the self-loathing and mistrust that now shapes influential views of our humanity, and the contempt with which the authorities look down on the public – especially those suspicious parents. Britain is in danger of becoming known as a nation of paedophile-phobics. Of course paedophile panics are not really a peculiar British characteristic - America has experienced many similar episodes, and the Italians are now caught up in a wild ‘Satanic abuse’ scare similar to those that took off over here a few years back. But perhaps Britain does lead the field in turning paedophilia into a sordid national and political obsession. It is as if, amid all the troubled discussion of what ‘Britishness’ might mean today, some have decided to show the world that we can still get more hysterical about the abuse of children than heartless Johnny Foreigner. Don’t it make you proud?
Why the Amber Alert makes me see red
Mick Hume Thunderer - The Times - 14.08.2007
Nobody should blame Madeleine McCann’s parents for doing whatever they can to keep publicising their missing daughter's case. But sympathy should not mean we have to support their latest demands for more child protection laws, based on the suspect US "Amber Alert" system. In a video interview with the campaign's new "Don't you forget about me" slot on YouTube, Kate McCann calls for a faster co-ordinated Euro-response to reports of a missing child, and says Amber Alert puts America's laws "well ahead of the game". After Sarah's Law, will the next crusade be for Maddie's Law?
Let’s hope not. An Amber Alert system would likely do more harm than good, reinforcing society's overblown anxieties about child safety. It originated in the US after the abduction and murder of the nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996. It starts from the recognition that a swift police response is essential (of 40 children abducted and killed in America in a year, 74 per cent were dead within three hours). But Amber Alert turns that into a media-driven PR exercise, with warnings flashed everywhere from the news to text messages and highway signs.
It seems strangely appropriate that Amber Alert is based on a system developed to disperse information after a nuclear attack, since child abduction appears to have replaced the Bomb as the object of a paranoid national obsession.
US officials claim loudly that 800,000 kids go missing a year. In fact almost all are runaways or result from custody disputes. Yet the official Amber Alert mentality has impressed mistrust of strangers upon the public psyche, as parents queue to have police photograph and fingerprint their children in readiness for when they, too, are abducted. There have been moves to introduce similar systems here, such as the Child Rescue Alert in Sussex. Its first big test came after the reported abduction of a girl in 2003. She turned out to be safely asleep, and the planned text messages and motorway warnings failed. Yet the pointless PR stunt was hailed a "brilliant success" anyway, because it helped to raise public awareness – aka anxiety – about child abduction.
It is understandable that the McCanns should want to do something "rather than sit back and not do anything". However, when it comes to new laws the rest of us should try to separate their private pain from the public interest. Mrs McCann says that she asks herself why she thought it was safe to leave her children in bed and go for a meal. "But it felt safe. You don't expect a predator to break in and take your daughter." No, and we are right not to expect it, even 100 days after Madeleine's disappearance. Let's remain alert for warning signs that society's sense of perspective has gone missing.
The increasingly strange case of Madeleine McCann
Mick Hume - Spiked - 15.08.2007 -
The global crusade around missing Maddie seems more and more detached from the local police investigation in Portugal. Back at the start of June, a month after Madeleine McCann disappeared, I suggested that, rather than gawping at her parents meeting the Pope, we might be better off looking at ourselves and asking 'what it says about our society that a family tragedy can be turned into a public spectacle, which, unless something dramatic happens, looks set to run for longer than Big Brother this summer'. A hundred days after her disappearance, as Madeleine returns to the headlines in the UK and the campaign around her spreads further afield, I am afraid that now looks like a severe underestimation; in terms of both scale and timescale, the public spectacle surrounding her has far outweighed the fading star of reality TV. (1)
Almost from the moment Madeleine was reported missing, there has been a stark divide between two things. On one hand, there is the actual police search for a missing four-year-old in Portugal, shrouded in secrecy by that country's laws. On the other, and having little or nothing to do with the case itself, there is the 'Maddie' phenomenon – a very public outpouring of mass emotionalism, led by the media but involving everybody from British prime minister Gordon Brown to thousands who have put posters in windows and posted messages on the internet. This has gone far beyond normal expressions of sympathy into the realm of emotional exhibitionism. That divide appears starker than ever in the latest round of publicity. The investigation itself is now clearly focusing more than ever on events in the McCanns' holiday apartment on the night that their daughter disappeared. Tiny blood specks reportedly found there in a recent search have been sent to the UK for analysis. But before the results are known, the Portuguese police have this week stated publicly for the first time what anybody familiar with similar cases has surely thought – that it is most likely Madeleine is dead, and that she died on the night she disappeared.
Yet at the same time as the investigation has become more clearly local and focused, the Maddie phenomenon has been spreading further and further. The McCanns have launched a new 'channel' on the YouTube website, called Don't You Forget About Me. They say this is about reaching a younger generation with the Find Madeleine message and 'crossing borders', because 'the internet reaches the whole world'. The attempt to globalise the campaign, and raise awareness about missing children, has even reached into the White House, winning a message of support from First Lady Laura Bush who asked us all to 'Please tune into this new YouTube channel and join the...important effort to protect children in our global society.' In practice, of course, there is nothing that 'the whole world' or 'our global society' can do to help find a four-year-old missing, now presumed dead, in a Portuguese resort. The only impact this PR campaign can have on the investigation is to prompt more false sightings and start more wild goose chases around the world – most recently in normally-sensible Belgium. The Maddie phenomenon has become an emotional totem, a moral statement that 'the whole world' can sign up to in order to show that they are on the side of Good. The yellow wristbands are badges that show the world you care. It does not matter that the message on the wristband – 'Look for Madeleine' – is of no practical use. For many wearers, the real message is more like 'Look at me'.
The McCanns have certainly encouraged the spread of the moral crusade around 'our Maddie', through their highly professional PR operation. But the striking thing is the willingness of much of the media – not normally noted for its sentimentality – to follow their lead and jump on the bandwagon. What is more, the latest wave of coverage shows it has gone way beyond the sort of tabloid human interest story that some love to sneer at, and been taken to the heart of the liberal media establishment. (2) Like anybody else with something to promote these days, the McCanns have been giving a series of cross-media interviews to showcase their new YouTube initiative. Among other things they have appeared on the BBC's Heaven and Earth TV show, been interviewed by the magazine Woman's Own, and done a long interview for the Guardian, bible of the British liberal intelligentsia, which clearly recognises the Leicestershire doctors as two of its own. Noting that the interview was to publicise Don't You Forget About Me – set up 'in partnership with Google, YouTube and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children' – the paper declared that this website 'could become the focus of hope for thousands of families'. Where Madeleine is concerned, it seems, hype is not confined to the popular press. Gerry McCann is also due to appear as a guest speaker at the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh TV festival.
The media determination to claim a stake in the Maddie phenomenon even started an extraordinary top-level turf war this week, as the heads of news at BBC and ITN exchanged angry messages about each other's coverage of the supposed Belgian 'sighting' of the missing girl, with each side vying to take the moral high ground over the Maddie affair. Nor is it by any means just the media. All manner of public figures, from pop stars and footballers to Mrs Bush and even the Pope, have made a show of signing on to the Maddie crusade to demonstrate that they are on the side of the angels and to make an emotional connection with an audience. In the UK, Gordon Brown and his people were pushing it from the top of government even before he formally took over as prime minister. There have been reports letting it be known that Brown was in tears when he met the McCanns, and that he has frequently raised the issue with the Portuguese authorities. The Foreign Office has been helping to manage and promote the PR campaign. They arranged the McCanns' high-profile trip to the Vatican, where one 'family friend' quoted as making emotional statements to the media was in fact an FO official.
As for the public response to the McCanns, the mixed attitudes now becoming evident confirm that their case has assumed symbolic importance removed from the actual facts of the investigation. There has been from the start an air of the untouchable surrounding Madeleine's tragic parents, with much of the media apparently outraged by any questioning of them or suggestion that theirs was a lost cause. At the same time, however, the couple are being criticised increasingly openly, not only by the Portuguese media's wild allegations that they were somehow involved in Madeleine's disappearance, but more broadly for acting irresponsibly by leaving their children in bed while they went to dinner round the corner. This schizophrenic attitude towards the McCanns reflects the dual symbolic status they have assumed in our media-shaped culture today. First, they are seen as symbols of victimhood, and there is no higher source of moral authority nowadays than to have suffered pain and loss. This automatically places them on a pedestal of virtuousness – witness the slightly disturbing standing ovation they received from other holidaymakers outside a Portuguese church last weekend. Almost inevitably, like other high-profile victims before them, they are now being drawn into using their moral authority to front political campaigns. Thus they have used their new website to call for the introduction of more child protection laws based on the US 'Amber Alert system'. As I have argued elsewhere this week, such a system would likely do more harm than good, intensifying the unhealthy public obsession with the spectre of child abduction. But the McCanns' victim status means we are not supposed to question calls for some sort of 'Maddie's Law'.
At the same time, however, they are also seen by some as symbols of suspect parenthood – and few offences are deemed to be graver than that today. The pressure to conform to a tightly-policed version of 'good parenting' explains why the McCanns can now be criticised for making the perfectly reasonable assumption, shared by millions of other parents, that it was safe to leave their children asleep in a hotel room for a short while. The ease with which the spotlight of suspicion now falls on parents also explains why some are ready to give credence to stories of their involvement despite the lack of any evidence. As we noted on spiked from the start of this sad case, outbursts of ersatz public emotionalism can be unstable and untrustworthy things. Because it is not rooted in any real relationship with the family, it can easily swing from pity to outrage and back. Those who are really making an emotional statement about themselves rather than the McCanns can do so just as easily through spitting bile as crying tears.
It is surely time that we all stopped trying to put ourselves in the McCanns' shoes, and instead tried to put the Maddie phenomenon into some sort of perspective. It is perfectly understandable that her haunted parents should want to carry on with the campaign, that they should refuse to leave Portugal and go back home without their daughter, that they should say they want to do something 'rather than sit back and not do anything'. The rest of us, however, should take a step back and finally try to separate the terrible case in Portugal from the moralistic global crusade being waged around it. Gerry McCann says they wanted to set up the website 'to channel all this good feeling into something that will benefit other people'. That is a noble sentiment. But some of us do not get such a 'good feeling' about a wider society where many seem to think simply being opposed to child abduction is a cause for public displays of self-congratulatory self-righteousness. Neither do we all accept that a global campaign to raise 'awareness' – ie, anxiety – about child abduction will benefit others, least of all put-upon parents. And nor do we think it is a crime to say that, more than three months after a four-year-old went missing, normal life must be allowed to go on.
(1) Mais c'est du jamais vu ! Les parents d'une enfant disparue arrivent au Vatican dans le jet privé d'un milliardaire qu'ils ne connaissent pas, ils sont reçus par l'ambassadeur britannique et au cours d'une audientce font bénir une photo de l'enfant par le pape.. Si encore l'enfant disparue était la seule dans ce cas sur la planète ! Tout cela est extraordinaire et c'est pourquoi le public est intrigué.
Mick Hume Thunderer - The Times - 11.09.2007
What were they supposed to do with this blood DNA evidence? Ignore it, on the basis that two doctors from a Leicestershire village seemed like thoroughly decent people? The formal suspect status means more misery for the McCanns. But the Portuguese are following their normal procedures, allowing them to put more serious questions – and giving the McCanns the right to refuse to answer. However, all of this foreignness appears unacceptable to many British observers. In some eyes, Portugal is Europe’s banana republic and not to be trusted, the police seen as divers and cheats like that Cristiano Ronaldo. Why, one officer was even caught having a two-hour lunch break in the midday heat! And their secrecy laws go against the British tradition of turning private tragedies into public spectacles. Perhaps we should boycott holidays on the Algarve in protest, as one Sun reader demands online: “Time to show are [ sic] support for the McCanns and are [ sic] country!”
I carry no flags for the police in Portugal or elsewhere. It seems that they were slow off the mark. They certainly appeared slower to treat the McCanns as possible suspects than the parent-baiting British authorities might have been. If reports of the police pressurising the McCanns under interrogation and offering a deal for a confession are true, it would be reprehensible – but hardly unheard of. What do you imagine the British police might do in a suspected child abduction/death investigation? The one certain fact is that we still have no idea what happened to Madeleine, and little idea what evidence the secretive investigation may have found. Against that background, pantomime exhibitions of ignorant emotionalism – with people here and in Portugal alternately cheering and booing the police or the McCanns – can benefit nobody. We are not going to find the truth about that lost little girl by losing our sense of perspective.
Six months after Gerry and Kate McCann's four-year-old daughter Madeleine disappeared from their Portuguese vacation apartment, the British couple have made a first tentative step toward returning to their pre-headline life. But it's uncertain if that option remains open to them. Gerry McCann, 39, a cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, England, returned to work on Nov. 1, albeit at a much reduced level. For now, he'll work only three half-days a week, and won't be seeing patients. Neither he nor his wife Kate, who's a general practitioner, have worked since their daughter went missing. That tragic event vaulted them, and the so far fruitless search for Madeleine, into a global media spotlight, especially after Portuguese police officially named them as suspects in September. Although Kate, also 39, continues to remain at home with their two other children, Gerry told reporters he wanted to "get back a degree of normality with a working routine." He said he felt that he and his wife had done all they could to help find Madeleine, and that an "infrastructure" to continue the search was in place.
Revenir à la vie professionnelle d'avant ?
But can they return to their old life and careers? "It would be very difficult," says Charlie Beckett, a media expert at the London School of Economics, especially if Madeleine's fate is never solved. Indeed, British press reports quoted some patients at Glenfield Hospital as saying they would feel uncomfortable being treated by Gerry McCann. If true, that may be an indication as to how perceptions about the McCanns have changed since Madeleine vanished last May. Back then, parents worldwide could identify with them. But three months into the unsuccessful investigation, as the McCanns kept up their high-profile media blitz, what started as a distraught couple's simple pleas to find their child morphed into a macabre media circus. Public perception was further changed when they became suspects.
"Now they are household names, and everyone's got their view of them," says Max Clifford, one of Britain's best-known public relations gurus. But, as City University journalism professor Adrian Monck adds, "they're not celebrities in the conventional sense," since Portuguese authorities — rightly or wrongly — still suspect they might know more about their daughter's disappearance than they have let on.
Quid de l'image ?
That leaves a public uncertain of what to make of them. Even some people who believe the couple had nothing to do with Madeleine's disappearance feel uncomfortable with the media campaign they've unleashed. That campaign has largely being underwritten by benefactors, including Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur. Branson donated around $200,000 to seed a legal defense fund. Meanwhile, the Find Madeleine fund has raised nearly $2.3 million from the public. Though the McCanns aren't using that fund for its defense needs, they did dip into it to make two mortgage payments before September — a disclosure that didn't help their image. Meanwhile, the investigation in Portugal seems to have stagnated, which means the McCanns could remain in suspect limbo for many months to come. That uncertainty is another factor that, for now, will make it difficult for them to pick up the threads of their old life and go back to their jobs. Eventually, if there is a break in the case and they are exonerated, there might be a payday for them. Though the couple has never indicated that they are willing to sell their story, they then could be flooded with offers of huge sums for an exclusive interview. A book contract would almost certainly be in the seven figures, and it's hard to believe Hollywood or television won't come calling, too. But taking that kind of money, if they chose to, could prove difficult. "It could backfire on them," Clifford says. "They can't be seen as cashing in on Madeleine." One option would be to divert the money into some sort of nonprofit organization dedicated to finding missing children. Kate McCann has reportedly given the idea of running a missing children's charity some thought. If they are seen as using the money earned in media deals to help children, says Clifford, no one will begrudge the McCanns' earning salaries. It may be the best career option they have left. (1)