Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Jan Moir Doesn't Have a Clue (updated twice)

Yesterday and for the second time this week (the first time had to do with Trafigura, and the PR-illiterate law firm Carter-Ruck trying to gag The Guardian and then Parliament (no less) around the publication of the Minton Report), Twitter and other social networking sites flexed their cyber-muscles and ostensibly made a difference in British public life.

It all start with a despicable article by Daily Mail hack Jan Moir about the recent death of Stephen Gately. The article was originally titled "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death".

Within half a day, a Facebook group had been created (counting close to 23,000 members at the time of this update; that's more in three days than in the past five years!), the article was retitled "A strange, lonely and troubling death..." at the same time that all adverts were removed from the page, the Press Complaint Commission's website had crashed from receiving over 21,000 complaints, and the mainstream media was picking up the story (see Charlie Brooker and Roy Greenslade).

Since this post was first published, a petition has gone online asking for Moir to be sacked (almost 2000 signatures already) and the Met have received a complaint. Strangely, while everybody is talking about it, the story has received fairly little media coverage (see link at the end) but another columnist in the Daily Mail has taken her colleague to task about her article.

Bowing (only slightly) to the unexpected pressure, Jan Moir, trying to justify her words, released a statement that proved highly patronising and at least as offensive as her article.

In her so-called apology, Moir uses the terms "orchestrated internet campaign" to categorise what happened to her that day. In my view, this shows how little of a clue she has of how new media works.

For what happened to have been orchestrated, there would have to have been someone with a masterplan behind it, having enough influence on 1000's of people. This is clearly not the case and Moir does not provide any hint as to whom may have been responsible for the said orchestration (not that lack of evidence would stop her, as her original article proves only too clearly).

No, what happened is that Moir's own bile has goaded people out of their usual inertia and made them to stand up for decency. The difference with the Neanderthalian times to which Moirs is so clearly harking back, is that while people used to be condemned to scream at the kitchen clock when coming across such inanity as hers, they now have the means to express themselves publicly and create a critical mass of opinion.

This is obviously potentially dangerous; a different kind of mob-rule; and I am sure that some of the comment were sadly just as bad as what they criticised, but this is now a force that has to be reckoned with and thankfully, so far, it seems a force for good.

I think that what happened yesterday however marks another watershed, and one just as positive. Possibly for the first time people have publicly and spontaneously united against a bigot. Yes, there has been demonstrations before but those are usually limited to a smallish interest group and are driven by some level of orchestration.

In this case, straight people, together with LGBT people, decided that enough was enough and made their voices heard. And in a way it had nothing to do with denouncing homophobia but rather plain crass stupidity and nastiness (which is of course what homophobia also is).

Of course, the demographics are still probably quite narrowly defined (probably mostly middle-class liberal) but I want to believe that this heralds the beginnings of a new social attitude where people won't stand for intolerance, no matter who the victim of it is. The signs of a more open and more welcoming society, ready to challenge its moral dinosaurs.

And that, Mr Gately, if nothing else, is a pretty nice legacy.

This post on The Media Blog makes an interesting point on the relation between old and new media coverage of the Moir, Trafigura and Balloon Boy stories. Stephen Fry has also published a long and very eloquent piece on the subject. See also this post by Patrick Harvie MSP (a Facebook and Twitter friend).

This post was first published on 17/10/09 at 9.44am and updated on 18/10/09 at 19:31.


  1. An excellent summary of events. It's sad because one would have hoped that such blatantly nasty media homophobia was on the way out in Britain. The article and 'apology' are very distressing and certainly provide further reasons not to purchase the Daily Mail. Well done to twitterers and those who complained to the PCC

  2. thanks you very much for the link and the kind words, Tavdy.

  3. "Increasingly, the cloak of freedom of speech is used as a defence for the kind of deliberate, gratuitous disrespect that Ross and Brand displayed... They fatally underestimated public taste, values and our strong sense of British fair play."

    Jan Moir, commenting on last year's Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row, which led to both Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, the men responsible for the prank telephone calls, being suspended.

    In fact, the publication of Moir's Gately article occurred one year to the day after the prank phone calls made by Ross and Russell in Russell's radio show.

    It would appear we do not merely have a bigot on our hands: we have a hypocrite as well.

  4. Perceptive and useful insight.

    Times - and technology - are changing and it is good that so very many are speaking out against ignorance and hatred.

    The irony is that from sad events comes good.

    Increased awarness of gay lives, and homophobia, is very positive compared to only a few years back.

    Boyzone themselves should be commended for their open, caring, stance.

    We must all keep an eye on the PCC adjudication which seems like it may happen. What odds on fudge and paltry rebuke?

    John Grice


Please leave your comment here. Note that comments are moderated and only those in French or in English will be published. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and to leave a thought.