We didn't need this ritual humiliation to learn that DJs can be devastated, too
There was something unsettling about the reaction to the television appearance earlier this week of Michael Christian and Mel Greig, the two Australian DJs whose names are now, rightly or wrongly, linked with the apparent suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha.
Christian and Greig stammered and sobbed their way through an account of their “heartbreak” over the fallout from the prank surrounding Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge. The DJs had phoned the King Edward VII hospital, where the duchess was a patient, and had pretended to be Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. As the radio presenters expressed their regret, you could almost hear the “whoosh” as the pendulum of public opinion swung the other way.
That’s more like it, it seemed to say. The humiliators themselves humiliated, and publicly expunged of their guilt. It was a relief once the ritual self-mortification was over, and we could all go back to watching YouTube videos of monkeys in shearling coats, while we waited for the next mass hate figure to come along.
Social-media sites are often likened to a kind of Salem of public opinion – a place where witch hunts start in the time it takes to press the retweet button.
Occasionally, this is a fair assessment: when I tweeted last week that I had sympathy for everyone affected by Saldanha’s death, including the two DJs, I was immediately accused of being “crass”, “insensitive” and, in one case, “repulsive”.
However, in this instance at least, Twitter merely seemed to reflect what was being said or implied elsewhere: by those supporting the visibly distraught family; by the public at large; by the advertisers who pulled out of the radio station; and even by the very same news organisations that had run versions of the audio on their websites only a few days before, and had now decided it was an artless and hurtful prank.
Jacintha Saldanha’s death is unbearably sad, for her family and for her colleagues. But it is also shattering for Greig and Christian, who must try to rebuild their lives in the shadow of their possible role in it – a shadow that will linger long after the story has faded for the rest of us to the “awful case of the princess, the nurse and the DJs”.
But facts can get lost in the semiparasitic feeding frenzy that occurs in the aftermath of an event like this (and yes, hands up: articles like this are part of that same ecology). In this case, the things we don’t know yet far outweigh the things we do – beginning with the question of whether Saldanha’s death was actually a suicide. Neither do we know what security procedures the hospital had in place to protect the privacy of patients. We don’t know the nature of the support offered afterwards to either nurse. We certainly don’t know what else was going on in Saldanha’s life.