Gordon Brown's poor spelling and awkward telephone manner may have won him sympathy this week, as the British public begins to feel sorry for a prime minister facing "bullying" from one of the world's top selling papers.
The situation began when Brown hand-wrote a letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes, who's son Jamie had been killed in October during military service in Afghanistan. The British PM had misspelled both Jacqui and Jamie's names, as well as committing a number of further errors.
Following press interest in the letter, notably in The Sun, Brown rang Janes to apologize on November 8.
Janes found Brown's apologies to be unsatisfactory, and recorded the phone call. She then passed on the audio of the call to The Sun, who ran both the transcript and the audio on their website.
The next day, Brown defended his call to Janes in a press conference, making a veiled reference to his own daughter, who died in 2002 after being born prematurely.
The story has prompted a press furor in the UK. The Sun, with a circulation of over 3 million a day, is one of the most important papers in the country, and one that has traditionally sided with the Labour Party. With a national election next year, and Labour's popularity dipping in the polls, The Sun recently switched sides to support the right-wing Conservative Party.
However, the switch in political allegiances, plus the venomous nature of the attacks on Brown, has led some to suggest that The Sun may have misplayed their hand - causing a ground swell of sympathy for the besieged Brown.
Roy Greenslade, media blogger at the left-leaning paper The Guardian, points out that the majority - "by some margin" - of comments on The Sun's story have shown support for Brown. Greenslade writes:
Overall, the Sun has emerged from this sordid episode with its reputation more damaged than that of the prime minister.
Even enemies of Brown seem to have sympathy. The Daily Mail, a traditionally right-wing paper that courts a broadly similar, though not identical, readership to The Sun, ran a column titled "I loathe Gordon Brown's politics. But surely he doesn't deserve the mauling he has received for trying to offer condolences."
Brown, whose failing vision is speculated by some to have caused the mistakes in the letter, is beginning to cut a sad figure in British politics - to the point where even his enemies may hesitate to kick him when he's down. Even Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Sun, has sought to distance himself from the controversy. The Guardian reported that the mogul told Sky News Australia, "The editors in Britain for instance have turned very much against Gordon Brown, who is a friend of mine. I regret it."
Probably the most appropriate description of Brown's state, however, came from outside the UK political world at The New York Times. In an article on the prime minister's troubles, the paper wrote:
Some public figures seem to do no wrong, deflecting scandal and potential misfortune as adroitly as if they were sheathed in Teflon jumpsuits. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a Velcro politician, the kind who, it appears, can do no right.
And perhaps it is precisely this image that may help him rebound.
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