The onset of the McCann case predates my work as a true crime author by about seven years. When I first heard about it I was in the process of quitting my job as a Data Team Lead at a large pharmaceutical company, moving north and working in a new field – the media.
The media played an enormous role in publicizing the McCann case. One cannot and should not interrogate the McCann narrative without acknowledging the media as a sort of partner at best, co-conspirator at worst.
As a key player in the narrative, the McCanns became the main source of the narrative [in Britain], and if the media shaped the narrative so did the McCanns.
The part that is easy to miss is that the arch narrative also shaped many of the other players, not least of all, Madeleine herself. Madeleine, despite her cause trumpeted far and wide, is still missing. But was she really missing to begin with?* Is Madeleine still alive and still missing, or neither?
To understand the scale and scope of the impact of the McCanns on Britain, we need to examine the McCanns and the media. In 2007 the media landscape was in flux. A powerful ongoing narrative like the McCann case helped the media find its feet and find its direction. The irony is in learning to tell the McCann’s story across brand new platforms the media also proved how effectively it could be used as a tool for “post-truth.”
As a Communications Specialist in the country’s second largest media house in Johannesburg, South Africa, I’d be a worker bee inside a buzzing open plan newsroom. Yet certain aspects in the new role were the same as the old one – to filter through data, to determine statistical trends and relationships, and to effectively map and communicate these. The goal was to understand which news stories were gaining traction and why they resonated with audiences, and to use this data to build the media brand and improve our advertising income.
It was an exciting time, although a stressful time for media houses worldwide. Newspapers had to deal with a strange new player to the media landscape – digital media – and they didn’t quite know what to make of it. Some ignored the online dimension as a passing fad while circulations plunged. Others – like Times Media** where I worked – tried to do something with it. And social media, well that was a brand new peripheral thing that the mainstream media were even more in the dark about. My boss, until very late in the game, didn’t know about Twitter and when she did hear about it, wasn’t convinced there was any point to it. Even less, how an online news service might use it.
By car, I was around 13 461 km [8364.5 miles] away, give or take, from Rothley, in Leicester which is where the McCanns were based from September onwards. And yet the case often made headlines on my side of the world.
I recall at the time I couldn’t make up my mind what had happened to Madeleine, one way or the other. All of it was pretty confusing. There didn’t seem much more to go on at the time other than the expressions of the parents. Did they look like they were involved in their daughter’s death or disappearance, or didn’t they?
The first time I saw the McCanns they were on television standing outside their home looking rather glum while they had someone else speaking entirely on their behalf. I thought it a little odd, and I also thought the fellow representing them seemed a little odd. He seemed to really enjoy reading and conveying his message, and although he conveyed it well, it seemed…I don’t know…too well conveyed.
The couple standing alongside didn’t seem emotional one way or the other; if anything they seemed faintly annoyed. Surely when the media come to your door [apparently at your request], it’s a chance to make an appeal for someone you care about and a chance to make that appeal with all your heart. So why weren’t they?
I didn’t know then that various appeals had already been made at other times especially between May and August. I didn’t know then about the many special events dreamed up by the McCanns or the saturation of media coverage, such as the balloon releases on the 50 day and 100 day anniversaries of Madeleine’s abduction. I didn’t know then what was circling endlessly in the British tabloid media. All I knew was that announcement I saw in September of three people standing in front of the house seemed stilted and charming at the same time. In other words a bit off.
But then the tides of time swept me one way and the McCanns another. Now it’s 2017, and we’re at the ten year anniversary of poor Madeleine’s departure from this Earth. Yes, I believe Madeleine is dead, not simply “disappeared” and even less “abducted.” DOUBT will attempt to explain why that is, even though her parents have steadfastly*** claimed the opposite, and still do even today.
*Madeleine McCann was reported missing at 22:40 by an emergency call to police.
**Times Media in South Africa is related to Britain’s Times.
***On rare occasions in mid-July 2007 Kate McCann implied that she believed Madeleine was dead.
DOUBT will be available on Amazon in May