Not even a little respect: The Times is a racist endeavour and it keeps getting away with it

The paper of record? Bollocks.

To borrow (and mangle) the words of Lady Bracknell, as imagined by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest:

“To lose one libel case, Mr Murdoch, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. And to lose a third suggests a deliberate campaign of racist distortion to encourage fear and suspicion in your readership.”

In December 2019, The Times paid damages and published an apology to a British imam, who had appeared on a BBC debate show with the Prime Minister. The paper had claimed he had made a series of extreme posts on social media. They had confused him with another man with a similar name.

In July, The Times apologised and paid compensation after wrongly connecting a Muslim banker with support for female genital mutilation. A link preview gave an inaccurate impression connecting the man in question with comments made by someone else entirely. The claim was part of an article by The Times’ chief investigative reporter, Andrew Norfolk.

And this week, The Times paid £30k in damages and was required to publish an apology to the campaign group, Cage, and its outreach director Moazzam Begg, after a story that falsely claimed that they had supported a man who stabbed three men to death in a Reading park in June.

An interesting aspect of the latest case is an email which is said to have formed part of the evidence. The journalist who wrote the original story wrote to editors:

“The below article was re-nosed in editing without consulting me to change the meaning of the top line.”

The implication is that a spin was added at a higher level. That makes sense considered with The Times history over the last 20 years of pushing unfounded, deceptive, or outright untrue stories about Muslims.

In a statement, Begg said:

“This appears to be a case of Times editors sexing up a Times journalist’s story to create a completely false link between a Muslim grassroots advocacy group and a suspected terrorist attack.”

Last summer, Brian Cathcart and Paddy French, published a paper which asserted that Andrew Norfolk has a history of publishing inaccurate reporting on Muslims.

Titled ‘Unmasked: Andrew Norfolk, The Times newspaper, and anti-Muslim reporting — A case to answer’, the 66-page report analyses three investigations by Norfolk published in The Times and concludes that they contained “serious inaccuracies”. Cathcart and French called for The Times to commission an external investigation into its standards. No investigation has happened yet.

Following the report’s publication, The Times came out swinging, with a counter-attack in its leader column. It dismissed the allegations as a “mischievous and ideologically-motivated attempt to smear a reporter long recognised as one of the bravest and most scrupulous in his field.” It went on to cast the concerns as an attempt to dissuade the paper from engaging in investigative reporting.

It was backed up by a screaming article from Spiked, ‘The smearing of Andrew Norfolk’, which spends a great deal of time justifying Norfolk’s focus on the ethnicity of specific offenders. A cursory look at any copy of The Times — a paper I review at least three times a week — will reveal that a white, presumably Christian man accused of a crime will be referred to as “a man” but anyone of any other ethnicity or religion will have that included in the headline. I’m sure that’s just a style thing, right?

Unsurprisingly, The Times glossed over the fact that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the relatively-toothless regulator, found that two of the three stories considered by the report were inaccurate (though it did dismiss other associated complaints).

IPSO ruled that aspects of Norfolk’s reporting on a case involving a ‘Christian girl’ placed with Muslim foster carers involved distortions of the facts. It has been claimed that the story was brought to Norfolk by the editor, based on information from “an oligarch”. John Witherow denied that claim at an employment tribunal involving a former Times news editor, Martin Barrow. Regardless, there were numerous incorrect elements in the story — leading to 250 different complaints — but IPSO ruled on one.

The Times ran a front-page correction in April 2018.

IPSO also ruled that a Times story that implied a report by the charity Just Yorkshire had led to the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, receiving death threats. The paper issued corrections to its online and print stories.

Andrew Norfolk won Journalist Of The Year at the British Journalism Awards (2014) for his reporting on the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal, as well as the Paul Foot Award (2012) and Orwell Prize (2013). Contributing to an episode of a BBC Radio 4 show called The Corrections last year, Norfolk said he would not have written the Muslim foster carers story in the same way if he had the chance to do it again. In fact, he said he would “not touch it with a barge pole”. However, his cabinet of awards seems to be protecting him quite well as he’s been connected since with The Times having to pay significant damages.

While Norfolk and his editors have focused on Muslims — backed by the boggle-eyed conspiracism of Anders Breivik’s favourite columnist Melanie Phillips — others in the paper have different but similar obsessions. For instance, Clare Foges — a former speechwriter for David Cameron — often writes corrosive comment pieces about travellers. I expect her to write more in the future. It’s an itch she’s never done scratching and it means putting an already disparage minority at further risk.

Currently, the rawest example of racist framing from The Times is around the highly controversial issues of deportation flights. Times story after Times story takes the position of the Home Office as gospel, with black celebrities and MPs who have criticised the policy framed as dangerous do-gooders. The journalists and editors composing these stories would claim they are simply reflecting what is happening and presenting different sides of the debate, but the spin is obvious.

Let’s go back to that email from the case that just saw Cage and Moazzam Begg win damages and an apology. The journalist who wrote that story — in its original story, at least — suggested that editors had “re-nosed” (i.e. changed the focus). This goes back to the usual claim from journalists that “no one tells me what to write”. In this case, it seems that no one told the journalist what to write, they simply changed it later in the editing process to ensure that it was in line with the over-arching editorial line.

The Times gets an easier ride than The Sun. That’s because it wears more respectable clothes. It speaks in the voice of the establishment — with all the airs and graces that come with that — but it’s not actually that different. It simply packages its prejudices in more expensively-constructed boxes and wrapped in more outwardly educated arguments. If you strip back the affectations and pare away with the wording used to get down to the raw arguments, The Times’ line on any particular story is often identical to The Sun’s take. If you were crude — and let’s face it, I am — The Times and The Sun are two cheeks of the same arse.