Alex Massie

The Importance of the Reverse Ferret

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I'm pleased to see that Jack Shafer is calling the New York Post's sudden admiration for President-elect Barack Obama a fine example of the time-honoured tabloid tradition of the Reverse Ferret. (See TDL here and here for more on the importance of ferrets to tabloid newspapers). But there's nothing terribly surprising here: Obama is enormously popular and the NYP publishes in a city that voted for the new guy overwhelmingly. It would be nuts to be anything other than gushingly enthusiastic about the new President's prospects.

Remember too that the tabloids can't live on cynicism and manufactured outrage alone. No, they need a thick streak of sentiment too. Hence their enduring love for have-a-go heroes and rags-to-riches stories. Mawkish gloop sells too.The news business is, as Rupert Muroch might remind you, also part of the entertainment business. And what that means is that, sometimes at least, the punter is king: what the mugs want, the mugs get. It never pays for a tabloid to move too far from public opinion. The best tabloid editors - and Kelvin McKenzie, originator of the phrase "Reverse Ferret" was, in his own gruesome fashion, one of the best - never forget this.

Right now, Obamamania makes commercial and political sense. It's also cost-free since, of course, the President-elect hasn't had time to disappoint anyone yet. Consistency may be a virtue, but it's not one much honoured by tabloid newspapers. And nor should it be.

[Hat-tip: Englishman in New York]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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