Exploitative piece is like a Victorian freak show disguised as a public health story
65ST CARL DEAD AFTER ICE CREAM
‘Britain’s fattest man has died – hours after ordering an apple crumble and ice cream from his favourite takeaway.’
So begins the Sun’s coverage of the death of one Carl Thompson, at the age of 33, at his home yesterday in Dover, Kent.
The Sun also saw fit to publish a nearly full-page photograph of the recently deceased Mr Thompson, in case readers wondered what an obese person looks like.
But as the piece notes of Mr Thompson:
“He began eating heavily to numb the pain after his mum died of breast cancer in 2012.”
It quotes Mr Thompson, from a front-page Sun interview in April, saying:
“I just can’t stop eating. I’ll eat anything that’s put in front of me. The bottom line is I could die if I keep going the way I do.”
For someone to keep eating like this for years until they reach 65 stone suggests a serious fault in their mental health.
To its credit, the Sun includes the above information and a small column from a reporter, noting the paper arranged for five hours of addiction counselling for Mr Thompson.
Unfortunately, this only increases the sense of exploitation by the paper you have in reading the piece.
We are invited to gasp and perhaps chuckle at Mr Thompson’s size by means of the photograph and the grinning headline and introduction.
Then we are given heart-wrenching quotes from a local Pizza take-away owner saying Thompson was ‘full of life’ and optimistic about receiving help.
Finally an old quote from the deceased foretells his own death.
Highlighting cases such as these can be defended on several grounds. But newspapers should make up their minds if they are drawing attention to a public health issue or reproducing the affect of a Victorian freak show, for the general amusement of its readers.
Trying to do both at the same time, or use one as a cover for the other, makes you want to go and take a shower.
Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter
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