Is the Hysterical Media Overreaction to Michaella McCollum’s Homecoming a Cynical Ploy to Create the Perfect Celebrity?

Posted: August 17, 2016 in Current Affairs, Media
Tags: , , , , , ,


In August 2013, a then 20-year-old Michaella McCollum Connelly and her Scottish accomplice, Melissa Reid, attempted to smuggle eleven kilos of cocaine through Lima International airport. Having being arrested, the pair initially lied about having been kidnapped and coerced, before eventually admitting their guilt and serving more than two years in Peruvian prisons notorious for their hellish conditions.

Had McCollum been caught by Irish customs and not Peruvian, the amount of time she would have spent in a decidedly nicer prison closer to her family would have been roughly the same, with a distinct possibility of not doing any jail time at all. With it being the Tyrone native’s first offence and Irish law making clear distinctions of hierarchy between couriers at the bottom and dealers at the top of the drug offenders list, it would not have been a surprise to see McCollum receive an entirely suspended sentence had she been apprehended at Dublin airport and not Lima.

Alas, it was her misfortune to get caught in the South American country and thus serve her sentence, first in Virgen de Fatima prison and then in the notorious Ancon 2, where conditions include 30 prisoners to a cell, no clean water, inedible food and where violence and, indeed, murder, are no strangers.

For most people, this 27 month-long sojourn through the nightmares of the Peruvian penal system would be punishment enough for McCollum’s crime. A monumental error of judgment was punished by the former night club dancer spending a large chunk of her youth in the most depraved conditions imaginable, thousands of miles from the support of family or friends. Such a punishment would quench the thirst of most justice junkies and the general public apathy to McCollum’s recent return to these shores would seem to support this.

But there is one organ holding onto an almost pathological rage borne of perceived injustice when it comes to all things McCollum and that’s the Irish Independent.

From the moment the Peru Two, as they were soon christened, came to all our attention in 2013, the media coverage of McCollum and Reid has been less than complimentary. While much, if not all, of the initial criticism was largely justified, most outlets have tended to gradually tone down their coverage of the two young women, acknowledging the considerable price they paid for their youthful naivety. But like Japanese Holdouts continuing to fight the Second World War into the 1970’s against an invisible enemy in the Pacific Theatre, the Indo is simply unable to countenance a truce in its one-sided war on McCollum.

Although unerringly consistent in its vitriol from day one, the Indo outdid itself in an opinion piece on August 15th, written by Suzanne Breen. Presumably due to the dearth of meaty issues with which to raise ones’ ire in today’s near-perfect Ireland, Breen decided to use the horror of McCollum walking through Dublin airport to vent her considerable spleen.

In an opinion piece that wasn’t so much judgmental as an outright incitement to hatred, Breen began: “McCollum looked a million dollars as she walked through Dublin airport…’

Wearing a plain black top and jeans, McCollum looked no different to any of the other millions of clothes-wearing passengers who travel through the nation’s airport every year. If this is what a million dollars looks like, then the recent Sterling crisis has nothing on the travails of the US currency.

Warming to her theme, Breen then further upgrades McCollum’s appearance to that of an ‘up-and-coming young actress or supermodel’ before claiming to know the contents of McCollum’s suitcases (‘her two bulging suitcases – this time filled with chic outfits I’m sure’).

Ah yes, those global fashion hotspots; Paris, Milan, New York….and Lima. Ignoring Breen’s barely-concealed attempt to advertise her wares as the world’s first human x ray machine, the sentence seeps with malevolent aggression, a pointless and groundless assertion that could just as easily be made of an 80-year-old nun or a five year-old child.

Perhaps momentarily forgetting where she works, Breen then goes on to lament the strong media presence at the airport, adding as it does to the former prisoner’s public profile, a profile which, Breen argues, will lead to the ruination of an entire generation of our youth.

‘Rather than being deterred from following the same path that she did, they are far more likely to want to hurtle down it now, and who could blame them?, argues Breen. And perhaps she’s right. After all, what youngster doesn’t dream of spending 27 months of their prime in a cockroach-infested hellhole on the other side of the world? Up and down the country, no doubt the same conversation can be heard:

‘It’s your 21st birthday next year love – how would you like to celebrate it? Glitzy party? Themed night out? Weekend in an exotic European capital with your friends?’

‘All good suggestions Mum, but actually I was thinking more along the lines of scrapping it out with 30 violent prisoners for a square inch of floor space in which to attempt to get some sleep in a cockroach-infested cell in Peru’.

‘Ah, fair enough love. After all, you’re only young once!’

Having displayed a phenomenal ability to see through suitcases, Breen then trains her magical eyes on the future to tell us what’s in store for McCollum.

‘Back home’, continues Breen, ‘the future looks rosy. A book with film rights is more than likely in the pipeline. The chat show circuit also beckons…’

Perhaps Breen will be proven right but there is, as yet, no indication to gauge the accuracy of those crystal balls that seem to have taken up residency in her eye sockets. Instead, in her only interview to date, McCollum has spoken only of future plans in the context of studying psychology and helping young people in difficulty. The evil swine.

Breen redeems herself immeasurably by going on to acknowledge that McCollum is not, in fact, the late Columbian drug lord, Pablo Escobar (he of the 4,000 murders, Columbian civil war instigator and supplier of 80% of all cocaine worldwide for over a decade.) But this conciliatory tone is short-lived as Breen assures us that McCollum is ‘no innocent abroad either’ (whether the guilty verdict in McCollum’s trial in Peru played any part in forming this opinion or not is unclear.)

Further character assassination comes in the form of Breen highlighting how McCollum lied when first arrested and thus presumably became the first person to ever fabricate a story in the hope of avoiding punishment. Such fiendish behaviour will no doubt land McCollum a role as the next arch-nemesis in the Batman series.

Breen’s poisonous piece carries on in this vein with no discernible point, other than to highlight how unhinged one can appear when covering a figure you and your newspaper have taken a pathological hatred to. In a supporting piece syndicated from the Belfast Telegraph, the Indo carried the headline ‘Anger as Michaella McCollum celebrates return to Ireland with ‘hero’s homecoming’ party’ – in which it described how the 23 year old…. walked through arrivals! With no evidence of any party or celebrations having taken place and the ‘anger’ coming from a DUP politician (when aren’t they angry?), it’s a remarkable hatrick of unsubstantiated lies in the one banner headline.

In isolation, Breen’s piece can be dismissed as trashy tabloid-lite fare, but in the overall context of a clear editorial assault on a young woman who has done time for her crime, it leads one to question the rationale for this witch-hunt. It borders on disturbing how obsessed the Indo is with McCollum, completely inventing ‘outrage’ of its own and then attributing it to a largely apathetic public.

On a professional level, one wonders how Breen squares with herself this descent into catty name-calling, when not so long ago she found herself at the center of one of the most important landmark cases in British journalism history (in 2009 Breen refused to reveal the source of a Real IRA tip-off about the shootings at Masserene Barracks in March of that year. She avoided a custodial sentence by invoking her Right to Life under the European Convention on Human Rights after the terrorist organisation made threats on her life.) From issues of such gravitas to this…..

But regardless of the Indo’s motive, it is hilariously self-defeating to continue this obsessive public shaming as each time they carry a hatchet piece like Breen’s, McCollum’s public profile grows that significant bit bigger. In fact, so dunderheaded is the indo’s coverage of McCollum, one wonders if there isn’t a cynical genius to it all.

If the 23 year old were to become a ‘reality’ TV star as the Indo seem hell-bent on making her, wouldn’t McCollum make that most perfect of subjects; a young, attractive, wealthy TV star that the media would have zero compunction crucifying? If the tabloids and tabloid-lite’s such as the Indo, can ruin the lives of many others whose only crimes are to date fellow celebrities and wear ‘provocative’ clothing, imagine the mana from heaven every sadistic showbiz editor would feel if McCollum placed herself front and center in the celebrity firing line? No matter how venomous the bile, each assault could be contextualised and ‘rationalised’ by McCollum’s 2013 faux pas.

It should be hoped that McCollum doesn’t fall for this trap, if for no other reason than to save the public from yet another c-list ‘celebrity’ clogging up the column inches with Earth-shattering news of their latest manicure. But mainly because it would, one suspects, lead to untold frustration on the part of trashy tabloid types up and down the land – like ravenous piranhas eyeing a piece of meat dangling over their heads – becoming apoplectic with ravenous rage as their prey remains tantalisingly out of reach.

Yes, Michaella McCollum Connelly, you made a gargantuan mistake in 2013 that ruined your life for two long years. But please, don’t make an even bigger one now, for the consequences will last considerably longer.


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