There is a very macabre dance around Madeleine McCann, as we mark the second anniversary of her disappearance. There are no law enforcement agencies on the case. Instead, alongside Kate, Madeleine’s mother, two retired detectives are poring over recently released Portuguese police files. Last night’s Cutting Edge was called Madeleine Was Here and — to keep yesterday’s pre-transmission front pages furnished — revealed a suspect from deep within the files; a man who was, according to witnesses, watching the McCann’s Praia da Luz apartment.
Gerry returned to the apartment block and some reconstructions were filmed. Last week, the McCanns appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with a computer-generated image of how their daughter would appear now.
To keep the chances of finding her alive, the McCanns have to keep the story alive, and Cutting Edge observed the McCanns at home: a picture of determinedly amiable domestic life emerged. But the family is uncomfortably beached between a desire for privacy and a desire for as much publicity as possible to find Madeleine.
This presents a problem for them, and for documentary-makers and journalists. The dripfeed of information (like the new suspect) and access to the McCanns is controlled by the family and their press representative Clarence Mitchell. The journalism of the Cutting Edge documentary was thus skewed to whatever the McCann’s agenda was. It was hard to see what material Cutting Edge had uncovered itself: it seemed to just record whatever the McCanns wanted us to see.
Oprah quite reasonably asked them how their marriage had survived the last two awful years. The documentary, despite its access and illusion of family intimacy, didn’t dare ask such things. When I asked Mitchell and the documentary-maker the same question at a screening on Wednesday, I received a curt dismissal: that wasn’t the intention of Madeleine Was Here, apparently.
But that doesn’t mean my question, or indeed any question is invalid just because it doesn’t fit with the McCann/Mitchell agenda, especially when TV cameras have been invited into their home to show how jolly nice everything is under the circumstances.
Kate and Gerry McCann may well feel their privacy has been invaded, but then they want the media to do their bidding on their terms. It’s a mess — a very unhappy, tragic one. The McCanns need the media and the media needs the McCanns, but it’s a scrappy, compromising relationship for both sides. Let’s hope it yields the desired result.
in the Times Online