"I'm sending for Germaine Greer..." The death of the public media feud reveals how broken things are

Once upon a time, the big beasts of British bullsh!t talking used to fight in print


There was a time when British columnists were not as much of a united blob of consensus as they are now. In the 70s, 80s and through into the mid- and late- 90s, the commentariat — sounds like a Soviet term but with even fewer examples of free speech and nearly as much terror — took lumps out of each other in print and, on a few occasions, in person.

I was 11 and more concerned with the latest issue of 2000AD in 1995 when Suzanne Moore and Germaine Greer had a notorious printed conflab. Suzanne, who I know and has been very kind to me over the years commented on Greer — this section previously said she made reference to Greer’s womb but Suzanne says:

Germaine Greer’s counter-attack was vicious and she accused the columnist of having:

“… hair bird’s-nested all over the place, fuck-me shoes and three fat inches of cleavage.”

It was distinctly unfeminist in its tone and hardly retained the moral high ground for Prof. Greer. Suzanne Moore struck back with calm precision:

“If Germaine attacked me for my writing, it would be far more worthy than to attack me for my shoes.”

Greer had her final word to The Telegraph, which in 1995 was still a newsreader and had not yet become a comic for the chronically racist, saying:

"It's pretty painful when you have spent a goodly part of your life struggling to have children, to have this young woman - who is lucky enough to have two children of her own - suddenly announce that I had myself hysterectomised at 25 because I didn't want kids. How could she be so stupid? I think that level of incomprehension is inexcusable in someone who calls herself a feminist."

The ripples and echoes of that Godzilla vs Mothra style clash reverberated for years, in print, on TV arts debate shows, and sometimes at parties. However, 20 years later when Greer found herself at the heart of new controversies, Suzanne Moore was one of the first to come to her defence, referencing the old feud:

The trouble — okay, one of many troubles in 2020 — is that the contraction of the newspapers to a dismal rump is that controversies between columnists have become very rare. Instead, they tend to work as a chasing pack, almost all rushing after the same culture war talking points and often coalescing around the same opinions because they tend to read the same Twitter accounts as each other, attend the same parties and dinner parties, send their kids to the same schools, and vote for and like the same politicians, who they also invite to those dinner parties.

It doesn’t do to rock the boat much when your current perch at The Guardian could soon disintergrate and mean you need to make your money at The Daily Mail. It’s important to be a suck-up because feuds will find you with fewer places to hide as the media apocalypse continues.

That’s why Philip Collins, late of The Times, and deployed as a useful idiot there to rip down Labour, has found a berth at The New Statesman with a weekly column — The New Statesman long ago stopped being actually left-wing and whatever Collins said at The Times doesn’t matter because he’s pleasingly clubbable in the view of the almost uniformly bland editorial team at the NS [special exception of George ‘Champagne for my friends, sham pain for my enemies’ Eaton].

In Grime and British rap more widely, there is a tradition of the ‘send’, where MCs write battle rhymes specifically ‘sending for’ (calling out) another rapper. That’s what I want to see more of among the columnists. Hard-hitting and no-punches-pulled assessments of where their erstwhile colleagues are talking bollocks.

“I’m sending for David Aaronovitch/he’s a terrible twat/wrong on WMD/he said he’d eat his hat/hey Davey boy, what ever happened with that?”

I like a media feud. You can see me stoking them on Twitter most days. A newspaper environment where columnists will go for each other, rather than simply joining in with the bi-monthly beastings of Owen Jones, would be a far healthier one. But the supine set of column claggers who currently crowd our media are made of weaker stuff than the bolshy bunch that came before them. Shame — in every sense of the word.