You're not a columnist, Jackie Weaver! The British media is the same as *that* Handforth Parish Council Meeting
Yeah, I went with this analogy. Read the standing orders. Read them and understand them.
|Mic Wright||Feb 6||4|
An interview on Woman’s Hour — thankfully not on one of the days when Emma Barnett was in the chair — and a Sky News package followed articles from practically every English language newspaper and website has turned Jackie Weaver, chief executive of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, into a temporary household name.
Soon enough she’ll be a distant memory, a faded meme like ‘Fenton!’, the Cat Bin Lady, or even Bean Dad (remember that one? That was just over a month ago). The gaping maw of the modern media gobbles up memes so quickly, jumping on them with takes and explainers and columns from people who entirely miss the point, that the heat fades from them so fast.
But I’m nothing if not a hypocrite so I’ve superglued the Handforth Parish Council meme onto this edition of the newsletter, using its temporary power boost to draw parallels between some middle-aged people in Middle England screaming about rules, optics and ‘politeness’ with… some middle-aged politicians and media columnists… uhh… obsessing over rules, optics and ‘politeness’.
When the bumptious Brian Tolver, chairman of the Handforth Parish Council, boomed, “You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver!”, I heard echoes of every columnist, newspaper editor, and tinpot politician who shouts down criticism and dissent with threats, bullying and appeals to authority. The bullies of the British media are just like the bullies of Handforth; they simply have a far greater reach.
Yesterday in The Daily Mail, Richard Littlejohn — the living embodiment of racist flat roof pub energy — invented a group of Black Lives Matter protestors ripping down a statute of Captain Tom that doesn’t even exist yet. Like the puce faced participants in that parish council meeting, he and his readers are addicted to outrage and will find it anywhere, feeling they can prove their hypothesis that ‘Britain has gone to the dogs, mate’ even if it requires inventing enemies and issues wholecloth from within the diseased territory of their imaginations.
Littlejohn extrapolated his rantings from a single tweet made by Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown, a black, gay cleric whose objection to the tone and focus of Captain Tom commemorations rather than the man himself has brought the full weight of the media, political and church establishments down upon him.
To Littlejohn a black man and a gay black man no less, publicly having an opinion that diverges from The Daily Mail’s iron orthodoxy cannot stand and is clearly the spark for a wave of insurection. He invents the Middlesbrough branch of the Stop Trump Coalition to conclude that section of his ‘comedy’ column and writes:
Finally, I would like to remind members that the bus to London, to join the demonstration against the outrageous proposals by the Johnson junta to erect a statue to the white colonialist Captain Sir Tom Moore, leaves from the car park at the Riverside Stadium, 8am sharp Sunday. Parmos and vegan alternatives will be available . . .
When he’s not living in a villa in Florida, Littlejohn resides in the mid-70s, a halcyon time in his imagination when men were men, women were more afraid, and gay people knew their place — as camp characters on sitcoms and the punchlines of Littlejohn’s jokes. Not that the arrival of the 21st century encouraged him to evolve. In 2004, during his stint away from The Daily Mail as a Sun columnist, The Guaridan conducted a ‘Littlejohn audit’:
In the past year's Sun columns, Richard has referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to 'homophobia' and six to being "homophobic" (note his inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery. This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns – an impressive increase on his 2003 total of 82 mentions.
But it’s not just the blantant bigots like Littlejohn who indulge in the newspaper equivalent of screaming at Jackie Weaver, telling her to read the standing orders. The Times referred to Robinson-Brown’s single tweet — which did not attack Captain Tom himself and subsequently deleted — as a rant. The headline has subsequently been changed to refer to ‘Sir Tom cult remarks’ (still a strikingly tabloid rendering of the story for the so-called “paper of record”) but the body copy remains unaltered.
This paragraph in particular gives some indication of why The Times is joining in with the bullying of one man for having an opinion that diverged from the consensus or at least the consensus that the newspapers claim exists:
A gay rights activist and author of the book Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer, he has called for the church to “associate queerness with holiness” and criticised “ignorant white Christian men” in online debates about LGBTQ rights in the church.
In another tweet in reference to Brexit he said of Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary: “I see ‘Kwasia’ Kwarteng is still speaking colomental claptrap.” “Kwasia” means “fool” in Twi, a prominent language in Ghana.
This is a common technique by the papers when they want to put someone in the stocks — selective quotations and loaded phrasing combined to rile up up the most radical of their readers. They know full well that picking those quotes, shorn of their original context, and combining them with the phrase “gay rights activist” is a loud enough dog whistle for a crashing wave of retired colonels to rock up on the Times letters page, demanding the return of national service, flogging, and the death penalty. Still, they’ll use a few more multisyllabic words than contributors to The Daily Mail’s mailbag so that’s a ‘win’, I suppose.
Contrast The Times’ coverage of a single tweet by a black man with its interview with Will Knowland, the Eton teacher fired for his refusal to remove a video that include a wide range of misogynistic, ahistorical, anti-scientific crap. He’s on the frontpage of The Times website today beneath the headline:
While the Church of England is applauded for investigating Robinson-Brown for the crime of having an opinion — something the ‘cancel culture’ obsessed columnists of the British media tell us is a disease of the Left — Knowland is allowed to posture as a hero. It now seems inevitable he’ll now become a doyen of the right-wing podcast circuit and make himself some fast money with a book and a YouTube channel where he slays ‘sacred cows’ by being unpleasant.
Tom Newton-Dunn — who published neo-nazi conspiracy theories on the front page of The Sun, put many prominent left-wing figures in the UK at greater risk because of it, and still has never faced up to it or apologised — was the man dispatched by The Times to talk to Knowland. He writes of the presentation that led to the teacher’s sacking:
The 33-minute lecture — named The Patriarchy Paradox and still up on YouTube — is undoubtedly very strong meat and would offend many. It attacks “current radical feminist orthodoxy” and celebrates men’s traditional role as protectors of women.
Among its propositions are that women “prefer the smell of dominant males, more masculine male faces, and men behaving more dominantly when at peak fertility than at other times during their menstrual cycle”.
I don’t want to belabour the point but…
One man writes a tweet that criticises the media cult around Captain Tom and receives abuse backed up by reams of media condemnation. Another man creates a 33-minute lecture that is little more than a misogynist rant wrapped in the excuse that it’s meant to provoke debate and he gets a soft-soap interview in The Times about his fears that censorship is on the rise. Qwhite a conundrum as to why that might be.
Compare this part of Newton-Dunn’s interview with Knowland…
With controversy comes offence. But freedom of expression should always top being offended, as long as it remains legal, Knowland says. “Why purely because one person finds it offensive should it not be game for discussion and debate? This is an important idea. Do we limit the range of ideas that we can study in educational institutions, based on one person’s line being crossed into the realm of offensiveness? If we start down that road, where do we stop? Do we not allow boys to discuss To Kill a Mockingbird, or Mein Kampf?”
… with the way that a single point of view from a gay, black cleric has put led to his picture being in every newspaper, his employers ‘investigating’ him, and the tactic approval of the media for wave after wave of online abuse.
Knowland was not fired for having an opinion. He was fired because, as a teacher, he posted a lecture that the school had not approved online after being told not to and then refused to remove it when repeatedly asked to do so. Teachers at any school are responsible for how their actions can reflect on the institution. Usually The Times would be among the first people to assert the need for rules but when there’s a chance to attack ‘wokeism’, well, game on…
If The Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Spectator and the cursed foreheads of Spiked, actually cared about ‘free speech’ as much as they purport to do in endless columns, YouTube videos, and broadcast appearances they would be standing up for Robinson-Brown’s right to an opinion as much as they rowed in behind Knowland. But it’s all a game and like chess, white goes first.
So, regardless of the thinness of the analogy, that is why the British media is like uproar at Handforth Parish Council; the rules are not applied evenly and angry white men shouting get the loudest hearing. The standing orders of British journalism are moral cant, hypocrisy, and bullying. Right-wingers exercise their free speech, left-wingers ‘hate their country’.
Saturday’s recommended reading:
From the recent archives: This long-read on Mark Fisher from Commonweal.
Thanks for reading. I’ve appreciated the emails I’ve received recently so don’t ever feel shy of pressing reply and sending me some thoughts.