Saturday 17 October 2009

We've read your column, Jan, but have you?

It is not like the Daily Mail to opt for silence.

The ITN ten o'clock news led last night on the public reaction, and record number of complaints to the PCC, to Jan Moir's article on the death of Stephen Gateley, but you would search the Daily Mail today in vain for any reference at all to the controversy.

There are no reader's letters in the newspaper. There is no reference to the statement the Mail itself put out last night. There is only the obliquest of references as a short news story - 'Our mark of respect for Stephen' - about Boyzone attending the Stephen Gateley funeral ends with a short factual statement of what Moir claimed, with great certainty but no evidence, was quite impossible:

"A post-mortem examination revealed he died of natural causes".

That seems a telling silence. (The day after Peter McKay was challenged over homophobia by Iain Dale, the column ran a riposte). With the row worrying advertisers from Middle England's favourite M & S to the unusual sight of Nestle seeking to protect its own brand reputation from the toxicity of what was in the Mail, I do hope that commercial considerations are not inhibiting the newspaper from telling us what it really thinks. But it was striking too that its instinct was to argue that this was some orchestrated campaign from the 'gay community';

Many have proclaimed the episode as the second great liberal victory using social networking this week; others see some tension between the Guardian's right to report and challenging offensive views published in the Daily Mail.

Jan Moir should be able to express her views - but the free speech price of that is that her public reputation will be shaped by what others think of her views, while newspapers have to be able to defend what they publish as consistent with the commitments they have made (albeit that the toothless regulator, chair of editors' code committee Mr Dacre, will try to avoid adjudication if it can).

A great many people who read the piece thought it was factually wrong, spectacularly under-researched, bizarre in its non-sequitors and lack of logic, and quite probably malicious in its motivation.

So most people who had never heard of Jan Moir before now believe that she earns a very good living by spewing out spurious nonsense. (I fear, as she will not do anything as famous for years, that the controversy may perhaps now tempt the columnist further down the Richard Littlejohn/Clarkson route of defiantly courting notoreity, though it may be a pose with diminishing returns).

Of course, if anybody has threatened the columnist, that is disturbing and despicable, though many people have usedsatire to make the point effectively, as with the inimitable Mail imitators at the Daily Quail and The Guardian's Charlie Brooker.

For now, the columnist has been in damage limitation mode - taking the unusual step of issuing a statement to claim that this all an enormous misunderstanding, and that so many readers seem to have imagined some 'undertones' in the piece which could not have been further from her mind.

It is a defence of the piece - and very much not an apology - but it is a highly disingenuous one.

Alastair Campbell has already offered a sardonic commentary and an entertaining follow-up on hating the Mail.

But he did not note the contradictions between what the statement claims the piece said and the piece itself. If you are going to accuse your critics of not having read your column, it would be as well not to issue a highly disingenous defence which directly contradicts several of the arguments which you made.

Her critics have read the piece; it is beginning to sound as though its author has not.


Mail statement:

"Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything".

In fact, Moir wanted to be absolutely clear she did not accept this explanation.

Original article:

Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again. Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this.


Mail statement:

"In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships - the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting - have proved just to be as problematic as marriages".

Original article:

"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships. Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.

So Moir did mention heterosexual marriage in the piece. The problem is that she did so in order to challenge "gay activists" who argue that "they are just the same as heterosexual marriages", not to defend that view.

It is the bizarre non-sequitor to bring in the death of Kevin McGee which does most to cast doubt on her motivation.


But Moir's claim that she is on record supporting civil partnerships is interesting.

I don't know whether this has been sourced. (A quick attempt to find anything was swamped by the current controversy).

My question would be whether she could show us when and where she has argued for what she says she believes in the Daily Mail itself.

For this apparent paradox might not only be explained by the idea that everybody has misunderstood yesterday's piece. They also raise the possibility that the columnist simply churned out what The Guardian calls the "routine assignment for one of the Daily Mail's star columnists: a catty take on the death of Boyzone star Stephen Gateley" which her paper wanted.

So, in tribute to the Mail's entertaining habit of asking questions, however ludicrous, let us ask:

Could it be that she doesn't even believe it herself?

And would that make her piece less offensive - or rather worse?


Richard T said...

One question does spring to mind - did Jan Moir originate the column herself or did she write it to order? In other words did the editor or whoever say 'Jan can you dash off a thousand words on the iniquity of gay marriage and link it to the death of Stephen Gateley - bring in drugs and all the rest of the gay lifestyle'? We'll never know.

adrievdl said...

"But Moir's claim that she is on record supporting civil partnerships is interesting.

I don't know whether this has been sourced. (A quick attempt to find anything was swamped by the current controversy)."

A quick search on Google News archive brings up several references by Jan Moir to gays and civil partnerships, e.g.:

Telegraph, 6 December 2006
"Gay weddings are fine, but a gay divorce...

Since new legislation was introduced in this country nine months ago, more than 15,500 gay couples have done the decent thing and got married. The rise and rise of civil partnerships have pushed up sales of porcelain tea sets, Ralph Lauren cashmere blankets and quality Champagnes — none of your muck here, darling – and most people seem to be in agreement that the new laws were long overdue and a jolly good thing."

Telegraph, 2 October 2006
Rupert - unleashed and unloved
"Like the George Downes character he played opposite Julia Roberts in My Best Friend's Wedding, his most successful Hollywood film, Everett really is the ultimate gay best friend. Today, he's up, he's on, he's solicitous and hilarious in turn, before showing just enough of his vulnerable side to make you want to throw a cashmere wrap around those skittle shoulders and give him a great, big hug, especially when he tells you that nobody loves him any more. His is a fabulous performance."

Nothing there to suggest rampant homophobia, but perhaps she changes her tune to suit different employers.