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Thanks to London’s evening paper wars, commuters now have a choice of two freesheets to grab absentmindedly as they head home. Last night, those who picked up Rupert Murdoch’s thelondonpaper got quite a shock.
Its front page appeared to splash on the assassination of President George W Bush. A grainy black and white photograph taking up almost the whole page showed the President clutching at his chest, while frantic aides hustled him away. Stern type below spelled out the enormity of what had (apparently) happened: George W Bush: 6 July 1946-Tonight 9PM. Heh?

Bush londonpaper cover

Thanks to London’s evening paper wars, commuters now have a choice of two freesheets to grab absentmindedly as they head home. Last night, those who picked up Rupert Murdoch’s thelondonpaper got quite a shock.

Its front page appeared to splash on the assassination of President George W Bush. A grainy black and white photograph taking up almost the whole page showed the President clutching at his chest, while frantic aides hustled him away. Stern type below spelled out the enormity of what had (apparently) happened: George W Bush: 6 July 1946-Tonight 9PM. Heh?

Yes folks, it was all a fake. A sham. A stunt. The false front cover was bought and paid for by TV channel More4 in order to publicise its what-if docudrama, Death of a President, which aired last night.

Bush inside page

The cover was the coup de grace in an extensive ad campaign for the film, which postulates what might happen were Bush to be assassinated. The ads centred around images created by Channel 4’s in-house ad agency, 4creative (to be profiled in the November issue of Creative Review). A 48-sheet poster (below) and press ads depicted the moment that the assassin struck: an image which clearly referenced the 1963 shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Death of a President poster

The photographs on both the poster and thelondonpaper’s false front cover are impressive in their attention to detail and (except for the guy to the right of the President on the poster, who looks like he’s trying to do the funky chicken) utterly convincing. And that’s the problem.

A lot of magazines do false front covers – wraparound ads that retain the masthead to make them recognisable on the newsstand but which are otherwise created by the advertiser. That’s fine, if a little naff, when we’re talking about a trade title or some celebrity mag. But for a, if not serious, then at least genuine newspaper to allow it, and to do it in this way is more troubling.

4creative’s execution deliberately mimics the poster-style front pages that have become the norm for reporting major events in the press. The media savvy may have instantly made the connection between the front page image and More4’s posters and enjoyed the conceit, but many others would not.

For a whole variety of reasons, we have a real problem with the veracity of our media. Thanks to the combined efforts of spin doctors, partisan media outlets (Fox News, I’m looking at you), conspiracy theorists and assorted extremists, “the news” and “the truth” are further apart than they ever were. False front covers like this one do nothing to help bring them closer together.

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The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
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