You can't fool me, Janice: The British press' biggest bullies love to pretend they're the victims

... and slandering critics is just part of the game

omertà

/ˌəʊmɛːˈtɑː,Italian omerˈta/

noun

  1. (among the Mafia) a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police.

    "loyal to the oath of omertà"

I met the Mafia by accident when I was 20 years old. I was in Southern Italy, on the way to visit the villa of a rich college friend. As I stepped out of the train station, I realised two things: 1. Watching The Sopranos and Goodfellas does not actually teach you Italian and 2. I couldn’t see a taxi rank anywhere. In the one street town, the taxis had no good reason to be sculling around the station at 2 pm on a Wednesday.

After wandering around in eddying circles for about 40 minutes, I struck up a conversation with a guy who also seemed to be loitering. He was well-dressed, forties or fifties, with shades that looked expensive and the open white shirt and Blessed Madonna medallion of the ageing lothario. He was pleasant, spoke impeccable English, and after a while said he and his friends were going past the place where I needed to be dropped off. So I took the lift.

When I arrived, my friends wandered down to the gate and the local among them looked white as a sheet. “Do you know who those guys are?” she said, fairly incredulous. Reader… I was an idiot but I also realised something: The Mafia had no interest in a boy of 20. They did me a favour because we contain multitudes and that guy had kids of his own.

I am not 20 anymore. And my naivety about who the mafias are long ago faded. In fact, in my own trade, I can spot the mafioso types from a mile off. Most of them have a picture byline and a sinecure at a national newspaper that they have held since Tony Blair was the guy with the smile rather than the wraith with the long list of potential war crimes charges hanging from his arsehole like an oddly gregarious tapeworm.

People often talk about the ‘circle the wagons’ instinct of the media establishment, where the hacks dive in to praise each other’s work and offer blinkered defences of any and all infractions from the rude to the downright criminal, but it goes further.

There is, within journalism, a kind of omertà; you don’t criticise the family, even if the family has pistol-whipped you on the regular. You certainly don’t slag it off publicly or reveal its secrets (Journalists lie sometimes! Journalists are basically never impartial! Columnists use their position to settle personal scores! ..and create opinions on things they don’t give a shit about!)

Yesterday — despite knowing exactly what would happen — I decided to take a public stand on the latest piece of hand-wringing Helen Lovejoyist bigoted cant from Janice Turner, the Times columnist with a disturbing obsession with cataloguing other people’s genitals, which she would frame as protecting women and children.

The piece Turner published in Saturday’s Times was the unpleasant column equivalent of one of those shows where Stuart Maconie used to pretend to really get excited about space hoppers, only the subject of Turner’s reverie was the Section 28-era when villainising people across the LGBT+ spectrum was even more permissible in the British press. Oh, the halcyon days of denying people rights! Remember them? Oh and Spangles. Spangles were good, apparently.

My critique — “circling things with biros” as Turner dismissively dubbed it — as if I’d use biros for that! — led Turner to unblock me, although I didn’t tag her (why would I?) as someone had tweeted the thread into her timeline. As I expected she did not engage with the substance of my criticism but tried to frame me as throwing ad hominem attacks like video game fireballs before suspiciously familiar-sounding sock puppet accounts began a half-hearted campaign to frame me as a misogynist. Read what I said yourself and make your own conclusions.

The whole point of this newsletter is to deny the omertà of the British media and I won’t be changing that mission. Thanks for joining me and for supporting this effort. I think it’s extremely necessary and your emails (just reply to this one to chat with me) have helped keep me convinced. Have a great Sunday and ¡No pasarán!

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