Saturday, 23 March 2013

Whose agenda, Mr Dacre?

By now you'll have heard the news that trans teacher Lucy Meadows has died after harassment and 'monstering' at the hands of the kind of scum who make up what passes for the Fourth Estate in this country: you know, 'proper' journalists. The kind who sneer down their noses at bloggers because they think making an innocent woman afraid to leave her house by the front door is more morally serious work.

It's not entirely clear, at this point, that Lucy Meadows killed herself. Emails Lucy sent to a friend indicate that she was not in a good place, psychologically. Harassment of the kind she suffered was bound to take a toll. My initial thought on the case, as I scrolled through tweets on my mobile phone on Thursday night, was that it seemed like a suicide to me. That may be hard to prove: a completely separate article in the Guardian mentions, in passing, the significant change in the balance of proof needed for UK coroners to return a verdict of suicide that slipped through in the 1980s. But whether Lucy killed herself or not, and whether or not that is proved in a court of law, the fact remains that the final years of a woman's life were turned into a living hell by the kind of people whose venality has been so thoroughly exposed by the Leveson Inquiry. Not surprisingly, the majority of people - who are decent, and who don't like to see a person hounded to their death - are angry. Two petitions have been started calling on the Daily Mail to fire its top troll, Richard Littlejohn, a man responsible for one of the most vituperative denunciations of Lucy Meadows, and whose utter moral decrepitude is summed up succintly by Angry Mob here, and more humorously by Stewart Lee here (from about the five minute mark). Although the harassment that Lucy complained about concerns journalists other than the man Viz magazine mocks from time to time as 'Littledick', (because the chequebook-waving assemblages of ambulatory faecal matter who descended on Accrington are at least engaged in more legwork than the ridiculously-remunerated 'columnist' who files his unfunny and hateful screeds from his no-doubt impeccably neoclassical faux-mansion in Florida without deigning to set foot on British soil), the author of the Tolstoyan epic 'Hell in a Handcart' has became a kind of lightning rod for public anger over the affair. In some ways this is fitting. Those who make a living by fomenting rage among the populace can hardly complain when they themselves become the object of such rage.

That's not how the Mail sees it, though. Just as they did when decent people expressed rage at the way one of their lesser columnists, Jan Moir, used the death of Stephen Gately's partner to engage in sneering homophobic innuendo, the Mail claim to be the victims of 'an orchestrated twitterstorm'. Cynically, they use the intervention  of 'former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell' as a way of implying that those outraged by the vile behaviour of the Mail and its operatives 'have agendas to pursue'.

But who is really engaged in an 'orchestrated' campaign? Who really has an 'agenda' to pursue? Here are a few suggestive facts.

First, the Daily Mail publishes vastly more stories about trans people than any other newspaper. Twice as many as the Guardian. For a paper which claims merely to be reporting the news, that's a suggestive statistic. Newspapers usually converge in what they consider newsworthy: when they don't it's usually because the paper has a particular axe they want to grind. Could the Daily Mail, which claims only its critics 'have agendas to pursue', be pursuing an agenda of its own with regard to trans people?

Second, here's a picture of the way that the Metro (a free tabloid paper usually read by commuters, published by the same stable that produces the Mail) reported Lucy's death. Notice anything?

Yep. The death of a woman is relegated to a side column. The main story on that page is sensationalist nonsense about a 'girl posing as a boy' to get sex - a story which fits in with the pernicious narrative that trans people are 'deceptive'. For good measure, we also have a story near the bottom of the page which downplays the fact that a boy whose genitals were set on fire was gay, making his killing a homophobic attack. The two stories with LGBT people as victims are made much smaller, much less prominent, than the story which allows the paper to present LGBT people as dangerous predators.

One might, perhaps, see in this signs of something resembling a...what's the word? Ah, yes. An agenda. 

But then, you don't have to take my word for it. You can take the word of Paul Dacre, the current editor of the Daily Mail. Here's a telling detail from the transcript of Dacre's being questioned at the Leveson Inquiry. The questions, (Q) are being put by Robert Jay, Q.C. The answer (A) comes from Dacre himself. It's one word. It's not the word of which Dacre is so fond that Private Eye magazine gleefully note his employers refer to his speeches as 'the vagina monologues', but it's a telling word nevertheless.

Q. Some would say that the Daily Mail's world view, or at least part of it, propounds the virtues of family life, of traditional matrimony and traditional values.  (a) Is that fair, and (b), if it is, if someone's morality doesn't fit into that pattern, is it something which youwould feel free to comment on and, if necessary,criticise?

A.  Yes.

And there you have it. The editor of the Daily Mail admitting, under oath, that it is his paper - and not his critics - that has an agenda. An agenda to defend 'traditional matrimony and traditional values'. An agenda that led to the monstering of Lucy Meadows, that led to her vilification in the press and which, this week, at the very least contributed to her final days being miserable in ways that the pampered Messrs Dacre and Littlejohn can barely imagine, and, at worst, was a contributing factor in her death. 

There is a discussion to be had about the role of the media in Lucy Meadows' demise. There is a debate to be had about the treatment of trans people by the media. It would be nice if Mr Dacre were to join that debate. But so far he, and his acolytes, refuse to do so. Instead, they prefer to bleat that their critics 'have an agenda'. Don't be so coy, Mr Dacre.

This one of your critics, at least, has no agenda. I'm just trying to survive.

The only agenda in play here, Mr Dacre, is your own. 

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