A.A. Gill only makes the news when he’s done something awful. In 2009 he shot a baboon in Tanzania just to watch it die. The next year, for no apparent reason, he described Clare Balding as a “dyke on a bike”. And now he is at it again, shocked that Newnham’s Professor Mary Beard had the temerity to appear on a television show that wasn’t Channel 4’s exploitation masquerading as documentary ‘The Undateables’.
Food critics are rarely famous. Apart from these acts, which range from the stupid to the downright evil, nobody would ever have heard of AA Gill. He is a man with no redeeming features and few definable talents. He does, however, have one – controversy. It is a talent he shares with Samantha Brick, whose meteoric rise to infamy took place over the vacation. The Daily Mail website measures its success in hits, and nothing is more likely to bring in the punters than the kind of outrage only people like Gill and Brick can produce.
Brick’s work may well have been manipulated by Daily Mail sub-editors, but this does not mean that she had to go along with what her article mutated into. Nevertheless, in order to get her name in the public eye, she did, just as Gill periodically does something outrageous in a desperate attempt to make sure that some people have heard of him.
Worse, this fame is an end in itself. People like Gill and Brick have no plan to make use of their notoriety; all that matters is that they are noted. Likewise, all that matters to news websites like the Daily Mail (and some closer to home) is readership, simply numbers.
Journalism should not be about pure numbers, it should be about quality. Desperate self-publicity and the courting of controversy for the sake of readership rather than debate is not journalism, and we should pay no attention to it.