Saturday, 17 October 2009
Jan Moir and Stephen Gately: sorry borry won't do
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 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.