The handling of Linda McCartney’s death and the shipment of a small
amount of uranium from Tbilisi, Georgia, to Scotland raise serious
questions for PROs and journalists. Both had one thing in common: an
attempt to avoid the hysterical interest of the media in celebrities and
all things nuclear.
First, the background. Sir Paul, we are told, let it be known that his
wife had died in Santa Barbara instead of at their Arizona ranch so that
the family could grieve undisturbed. The British Government claims that
it was for security reasons that it kept secret - until an American leak
blew the gaff - its deal to take custody of about ten pounds of
ex-Communist uranium to prevent it from falling into the hands of
And the consequences? The McCartneys preserved their privacy - if that
is how to describe media bulletins about Sir Paul’s feelings and
releases from family photo albums - but brought down on themselves
conspiracy theories about euthanasia. They stoked the media’s prurience.
The Government installed the uranium and a bit of nuclear waste inside
the Dounreay plant with no more inconvenience than a few boring pictures
of a nuclear container travelling through Caithness. But it was roundly
condemned by leader writers for its secrecy and will probably not be
trusted again on nuclear matters, if it ever was.
On this basis, both the McCartneys and the Government can argue that
their overriding objectives were secured. If their PR aim was to keep
control of the situation, they succeeded admirably. Indeed, the
McCartneys kept the media eating out of their hands. And the Government
avoided the lie-down protests by greenwar activists who need time to
mobilise their media and choreograph their demonstrations for our TV
screens. Both can probably live with the downsides.
What’s more, Mr and Mrs Joe Bloggs probably have every sympathy with the
McCartneys and the Government. They don’t see why families shouldn’t
utter little white lies to protect themselves from the ratpack or, even
if they have been brainwashed against nuclear energy, why the Government
shouldn’t keep mum about its removal of potentially destructive material
from the terrorist black market in secret - at least until it is safely
stored in Scotland.
Having said all that, I would prefer to live in a society where the
McCartneys and the Government could be open and respectively grieve and
behave sensibly without having to run the gauntlet of a media which not
only seek to report the facts but provide the opportunity, where they
don’t encourage it, for all kinds of photogenic stunts. But that is not
the real world in which we live. The media positively encourage
subterfuge. They are in no position to grumble about it - but they will,