Killing the Age of Innocence: Newspaper Reporting of the Death of James Bulger
On 25 November 1993 the front page of the Daily Star featured pictures of two smiling young boys; the photos were captioned ‘Killer Bobby Thompson —Boy A’ and ‘Killer Jon Venables-Boy B’. The headline below the photographs queried, ‘How do you feel now you little bastards?’ On its inside pages the paper reported the guilty verdicts which had been passed on the boys for the murder of James Bulger. There was a discernible irony in the newspaper’s masthead slogan which appeared above its vulgar and vengeful headline; The Daily Star, The Newspaper that Cares.’ The death of James Bulger and the subsequent trial of his killers prompted widespread moral outrage and triggered an exceptional and overwhelming flood of newspaper coverage. For the most part, press reporting of the case was highly sensational and vilified Venables and Thompson as ‘monsters’, ‘freaks’, ‘animals’ or simply as ‘evil’. Even by the skewed standards of the British press, the ‘normal’ requirements of reporting were abandoned in favour of undiluted, vitriolic editorializing. The question ‘How Could It Happen?’ was asked over and over again, but the answers provided were generally unilluminating and revealed a good deal more about the values of the British press than the reasons for the killing.