I am not a misogynist. I am not a person who uses Nazi-style justifications for my actions or comments. I do not support without question the worst excesses of the press, though I worked in newspapers and other types of media for some decades.
Except that apparently, I am all those things, and possibly worse, at least according to the huge number of people calling me out on Twitter for a posting I made there.
At the weekend the Mail on Sunday published a truly vile story about Angela Rayner, the shadow Chancellor. The paper claimed that she deliberately crossed and uncrossed her legs when sitting opposite Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Question Time to distract him.
There was more, and another implication I am not going to take further. The story was sourced to the usual unnamed Tory MPs, and it made mention of her working-class background, single parenthood at 16 and a claim that, with such a background, she could not hope to compete in proper debate with Eton-educated Johnson and was forced to adopt such tactics.
It was a truly horrible, misogynistic, snobbish piece, one of the worst examples of gutter journalism I can recall. Gutter? No, the piece was halfway down the sewerage system, which is where it belonged.
As it happens, I used to know the writer, the paper’s political editor, Glen Owen. I worked with him. When he departed for the MoS I did wonder if he realised what he was getting himself into, even if the money was almost certainly much more than we were paying him.
I tweeted this:
Two things are clear enough from this Tweet. One, it is obvious I thought the piece was awful and made no effort to defend it. Two, I wondered how someone who, when I knew him years ago seemed fundamentally decent, could bring himself to write such a thing. Presumably he was forced to, unless he has changed to an extraordinary degree since I worked with him.
The instant outrage on Twitter was extraordinary and continues a good day or more later. I must have approved of and agreed with the piece. I was defending him. Journalists have “no morals, ethics, integrity, conscience, a spine”.
It got worse. I was using the excuses made by the Nazis – “I was only following orders” – to defend him. The outpourings, now running into many dozens of tweets, went on and on, more and more vicious. Some were obscene. The Nazi thing came back. And a mention of Harold Shipman.
At one point I tried to defuse the situation. I wrote:
“Can I just make this clear. I am in no way excusing what Glen Owen wrote re Rayner in the MoS. I would never have written it. And I would never have been asked to. But I was approached to join the Mail many years ago and declined.
Glen made a decision and ended up in a place where he was forced to see his name attached to rank misogyny. This is the way some papers work. You have a family, mortgage. I am just saying the Glen I used to know would not have wanted to write this. It is how these papers work.
So please stop flaming me for something I did not write. We are on the same side in this. And I hope Rayner, a senior politician in a party to which I beling, gets some recourse out of this.”
(Note misspelling. I generally never mistype. I was very angry.)
You would think that would do the trick, wouldn’t you? It was like trying to put out a house fire with a wet tissue. The ranting went on and on. They said I was trying to backtrack on my earlier comments because I was ashamed of my support for Owen and the piece.
Hard to see how you can conclude this, from any of the above. The people flaming me on Twitter had either not read anything I actually wrote or deliberately misread it to take offence and start a fight. There is no other explanation.
I have come across a fair bit of prejudice against journalists. They tend to rank low in many people’s estimation. They are seen as venal, dishonest, and prepared to write anything for money.
You try to get over it. But this sort of Twitter pile-on is extremely distressing. The outpouring of hatred from people who have never met me is chilling. I have to tell myself they don’t know where I live. This is just sick or deranged people enjoying taking their anger out on someone, a Twitter mob.
I have never written anything for any publication I have worked for that I did not believe, often after some research, was not true. I have never been ordered to write something I knew not to be true. It just never happened in the places where I worked, nor would it.
There have been a very few times where senior editorial figures have disagreed with or disapproved of the direction I wanted to take a story. On each occasion I opposed any attempt to change what I wrote, and my view prevailed.
I have only been involved in such a Twitter pile-on twice before. The first was when I criticised Jeremy Corbyn, who has an awful lot of well-organised supporters on Twitter. The flaming went on for days. As a former financial journalist, I was clearly extremely right wing, and a supporter of unfettered free market capitalism. (I am neither, as anyone who has read anything I have written here will appreciate.)
The second time was when I queried whether I needed to take up Wordle, and find yet another way of wasting time on the Internet. Admittedly, they were rather more polite this time. They said I didn’t understand Wordle and was probably incapable of doing so. There were a lot of them.
You really would have thought that someone was questioning their religion.