Saturday, 17 October 2009

Jan Moir and Stephen Gately: sorry borry won't do

Sorry borry is a phrase invented by one of my children to say when you’re being made to apologise but you don’t mean it. You don’t necessarily have to say the borry part to make it a full sorry borry - you can imply it by your tone of voice, or a look on your face or the fact that you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back.

Sometimes the sorry borry is a highly qualified apology – ‘I’m sorry I hit you because you were winding me up,’ for example. Or ‘I’m sorry I spilled milk over your homework because you were kicking me at the time.’

Quite often we’ll be watching the news and hear a government minister or a company boss making an apology that doesn’t sound 100 per cent sincere. ‘Hmmm,’ we’ll say. ‘That’s a ‘sorry borry’ if ever I heard one.’

Anyway for a spectacular example of the borryest of sorries, turn to Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir. Yesterday she wrote a hideously offensive column in the Daily Mail about the sad death of Stephen Gately, the 33-year-old Boyzone star who died in sleep at his holiday flat in Spain, shockingly and unexpectedly, from natural causes. Jan Moir’s article, published on the eve of his funeral chucked dirt in all directions - including, rather stunningly, at every young person who has ever died unexpectedly in their sleep. Charlie Booker did a wonderful job in The Guardian at pointing out how vile her thinking was. And then Ms Moir ‘apologised’ (or responded, or clarified, but on the day it was being touted as an apology)

She suggested that most people making complaints had not read her article: Sorry (borry) that you are thick and ill-informed.

She suggested that most people complaining were ‘in the gay community’ (Sorry (borry) that you are over-sensitive and feeling got at) Well I’m not actually gay, but if being offended by Jan Moir’s article makes me ‘part of the gay community’ so be it.

She repeats her allegations that Stephen Gately’s death may have been caused by his lifestyle (Sorry (borry), but I was right all along) On the basis of no medical knowledge or evidence at all she challenges the coroner and alleges a cover-up.

She says she’s only  disputing the ‘happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships - a mind-boggling sorry borry this one, as she has created this myth all by herself.

And her final sentence: ‘In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones., is basically ‘Sorry borry because you are all ganging up on me and that’s very naughty of you because I didn’t even hint at what you think I was saying.’

Well, as to the ‘heavily orchestrated’ campaign – this is how it works Jan. You write an article for a newspaper which is read by thousands of people, and the article is posted on the internet by that paper. People read it. They post links to it on Twitter. People like me who don’t read the Daily Mail become aware of your article. We read it. We post in on Facebook, with a little comment about your stupidity. Our friends read it. We might make a few comments on Twitter. We blog. That’s not orchestrated, it’s an organic cacophony of derision and protest.

I do object to Jan Moir’s overtones (hardly undertones)  of homophobia. Even she would not think it acceptable to be so blatantly racist or antisemitic, I assume.  But,  just as much, I object to her lack of respect. If she thinks there are questions to be asked about Stephen Gateley’s death, why ask them on the eve of his funeral? Why insult his memory, his family and his partner in this way?  Why insult the memory of every young person who has ever died unexpectedly of natural causes - I know of two such cases among my friends' families?

The Daily Mail is foremost among the commentators bemoaning - correctly - a lack of respect in Britain today. By publishing articles like this - and 'apologising' in such an insincere and self-justifying way - it is only boosting the disrespect culture.

More than a decade ago I was an editor on the comment pages of The Independent. A young girl had died after taking an ecstasy tablet at a party and her parents immediately mounted a high profile campaign against drugs. One of our eminent commentators wrote her column about the case. The parents were to blame for the girl’s death, she argued, they should have educated themselves about drugs, made sure there was water available at the party.

I was unhappy about the tone of the column. It seemed to me very harsh to be blaming grieving parents for their daughter’s death. The commentator had not spoken to the parents, nor put these questions to them. It seemed a misuse of the newspaper’s power to print her attack.

My immediate boss was at lunch. So I went to the editor, and asked him to read the column. He was Charlie Wilson, a real old school journalist, with a reputation for being tough and fiery. He read it, he agreed with me. We asked the columnist to write a new article about a different subject.

I’ve seen some journalists defend Jan Moir on the basis of free speech. I’ve seen others express surprise at the fuss: ‘it’s just an article’. But why use free speech to attack the bereaved? If we accept the need for laws against libel and inciting hatred, then we accept there are limits to free speech and we accept the power of the media.

I think it's great that advertisers asked for their ads to be pulled from the internet site. It's a free country, and it's their right to object to offensive content. I'm ecstatic that the article received so many complaints that the Press Complaints Commission website crashed and had to quickly add a special 'if you're complaining about Jan Moir' button.

So, Jan Moir and the editor of the Daily Mail, I’m saying to you what I say to my children. Sorry borry is not good enough.

UPDATE: One week and 22,000 complaints later Jan Moir wrote another column in the Mail. I suppose I could pick it apart and demonstrate her small-minded confusion again. But luckily McGuffin's superb blog on the tabloid press has done it already.


  1. Nicely put, Keren.

    For me, it was the "nothing natural" part - indicating (not bery subtly) that his lifestyle was unnatural which, unless I'm very much mistaken, is a somewhat bigoted approach to homosexuality which I though we had pretty much moved on from.

    And as for the "mischievous" comment, she really doesn't understand does she? I wasn't feeling in the least bit mischievous when I tweeted about it.

  2. Yes Marshall, that obnoxious headline 'nothing natural about Gately's death' which then got changed to call his death 'lonely'. Even though he was happily married, had a loving family and many friends. Yet another dig at civil partnerships I think - but we can't blame Moir for the headline because she won't have written it.

  3. I missed all this hoopla on my side of the pond, but what an outrageous article and a completely insincere apology. I know that you all have far better health care than we do, but does Ms. Moir really not know anyone who has died of natural causes at a young age? What a lucky person she must be.

  4. What's interesting is that yesterday everyone was calling it her apology, but now it's being called a 'clarification' or a 'statement' - not an apology at all. She's not sorry in the slightest.

  5. Keren, what a brilliant blog. How dare that revolting woman write such things. If I ever have trouble explaining to people why I've always hated the Daily Mail, I'll just point them towards her article in future. And if they need their hope in humanity restoring afterwards, I'll point them to yours.

  6. 'Sorry borry' has now entered the lexicon of our own family; excellent piece, Keren! And well done you for flagging up that op-ed piece in The Independent; if it hadn't been for you, that would have been another grieving family that would have been kicked when they were down. And if it's Leah Betts you're talking about, the awful irony is that it were the water wot killed her.

  7. It was a long time ago Fiona, and some of the details may have gone a bit blurry...

  8. Well said on the Gately front. I never read the Mail anyway.

  9. Great post. Read every word - which I haven't done with any of the other 21 blogs I've been catching up with tonight.

  10. Actually, I need to correct myself: Betts did die of dehydration...but others have also died from excessive hydration. She was the first ecstasy casualty, and her story is taught in PSHE classes...sorry diverting from the point, I know!

  11. I never read the Daily Mail, but I am shocked at the audacity of Jan Moir. It is a low, even for the Daily mail. My heart goes out to the family who are suffering. This is a great post, bravo!

  12. Good old Daily Fail - lets not let facts get in the way of a spot of homophobia.

    Good post sorry borry is a great expression!