For some strange reason I am quite a fan of a little programme called "News Watch" on BBC News 24. It goes out at 7.50am on Saturdays, which seems to fit into one of my prime attention span opportunities. It's presented by Raymond Snoddy, who acts like a little terrier in calling to account BBC executives on behalf of the viewing public.
This week, the programme majored on the coverage of the death of Jade Goody. I was interested to see that the piece included some quotes from James Landale, who is BBC News 24's chief political correspondent (See him below reporting from Westminster while drenched to the skin during a thunderstorm.) I didn't realise that he is fighting cancer (roughly the same type that Menzies Campbell survived).
After the programme I belatedly found this piece in the Mail, which James Landale wrote a few weeks ago:
I can no more criticise Jade for her choices than any other healthy person.
If she chooses to end her life exploiting her celebrity to provide for her two young boys' future and raise awareness of cancer, then so be it. Few can disagree with that.
But those who follow the Jade Goody coverage with such seemingly prurient interest should, I believe, examine their motives.
Yes, this is a powerful, compelling story of human tragedy - but how much are people drawn in also by the prospect of witnessing death?
How much are people succumbing to exactly the same appetites as those who once took their picnics to attend a public hanging?
Perhaps they are not quite modern-day tricoteuses sitting with their knitting before the guillotine, or day-trippers to the Coliseum watching the lions at work. Cancer rarely provides such a quick, violent death.
But perhaps some of those people obsessively following the Jade story - photo by photo, detail by detail - are betraying the same instincts as those who slow down on the motorway to stare at some poor wretch hanging out of their windscreens?