Satan

The New York Times has published a detailed investigation into Rupert Murdoch’s empire, arguing that “Murdoch and his children have topped governments on two continents and destabilised the most important democracy on Earth.”

It’s a long read but here are some key claims:

Fox News has long exerted a gravitational pull on the Republican Party in the United States, where it most recently amplified the nativist revolt that has fueled the rise of the far right and the election of President Trump.

Mr. Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun spent years demonizing the European Union to its readers in Britain, where it helped lead the Brexit campaign that persuaded a slim majority of voters in a 2016 referendum to endorse pulling out of the bloc. Political havoc has reigned in Britain ever since.

And in Australia, where his hold over the media is most extensive, Mr. Murdoch’s outlets pushed for the repeal of the country’s carbon tax and helped topple a series of prime ministers whose agenda he disliked, including Malcolm Turnbull last year.

While Australia burns, Murdoch’s media outlets continue to spread climate denial; across the world his columnists and talking heads have fuelled far-right, anti-islamic, anti-semitic and anti-LGBT+ hatred; and his networks have enthusiastically spread white nationalism.

Murdoch isn’t in the news business. He’s in the propaganda business.

NYT:

A March study by Navigation Research, a Democratic firm, found that 12 percent of Fox News viewers believe that climate change is mostly caused by humans, compared with 62 percent of all other Americans. At the same time, 78 percent of Fox viewers believe that Trump has accomplished more than any president in American history, compared with 17 percent of other Americans.

This is the future liberals want

What’s in this picture? Is it (a) a tasty-looking meal? Or is it (b), an Orwellian nightmare pushed by sinister “vegan extremists”?

Let’s ask Sun columnist Dan Wooton, who tweeted the picture and wrote:

This is the plant based meal being given to all guests at the Golden Globe Awards this year. No option with meat at all. No choice. Welcome to Hollywood in 2020 where vegan extremists rule. 🤮🤮🤮

It’s worth pointing out that Wooton wasn’t even at the Golden Globes, so what we’re seeing here is a grown man getting upset about somebody else eating vegetables on the other side of the planet.

There’s a lot of it about: last week we had various middle-aged men whingeing about Greggs introducing a vegan version of its steak bake (a version which, I’m told, tastes like a bridie; if it does then it may well be the best snack-related news I’ve heard this year so far).

This outrage is entirely predictable, so much so that it’s become a PR strategy: as PR Week reported this time last year, upsetting florid-faced middle aged media figures is a key part of many food firms’ PR strategies. But it’s still pathetic that in 2020, “real men don’t eat vegetables” is still seen by some as being edgy and sticking it to the libs – particularly when the people so outraged about vegetables are so quick to damn people who care about considerably more serious things.

As comedy writer James Felton put it:

Hi I’m a boomer. You may remember me from such hits as “aww does the widdle millennial snowflake need a safe space because he’s so offended”. Today I’ll be losing my shit because a shop I don’t visit is selling a vegan steak bake I am under no obligation to buy.

Boobs from a burger? Now that’s a whopper

The picture above is of the Impossible Whopper, a meat-free burger from Burger King. Like many vegetable, seed and nut-based products, it contains phytoestrogens – structures that are similar, but different to, the estrogen in people.

Here comes the internet.

The above claims, and many like them, are currently circulating on social media. Let’s not get pedantic about the ignorant phrase “a standard hormone replacement therapy shot to become transgender” and focus on the big claim here: this burger will make you female!

Spoiler: no, it won’t.

The article that kicked off this particular panic is from a site called National File, which claims:

the Impossible Burger is a genetically modified organism filled with calorie-dense oils that can make a man grow breasts if eaten in sufficient quantity.

Man boobs aren’t caused by plants, nuts, seeds or soy. The main cause of gynecomastia is obesity, particularly in older men. If you have a largely burger-based diet of any kind, meaty or meat-free, it’s very easy to pack on the pounds: a Whopper is around 660 calories (630 if meat-free). Add large fries (430 calories) and a large Coke (310 calories) and that’s more than half the daily recommended calorie intake for an averagely active and healthy man.

National File:

eating four of the vegetable burgers daily would result in a human male growing breasts

Even if the claim was true, which it isn’t, if you’re eating four fast food burgers a day it’s not cleavage you need to worry about. It’s a coronary.

National File’s article is based on a piece by a doctor, but the doctor isn’t a doctor of humans and his article isn’t in a medical or scientific publication. He’s a South Dakota vet, writing for a trade publication (Tri-State Livestock News) written for and funded by the meat industry – an industry that isn’t too happy about Impossible Burgers and other meat-free products.

You can see why a meat industry magazine might want to try and discredit meat-free food. But why would a political site be so keen to run with the story too? The answer, inevitably, is that the site is connected to the lunatic fringe of the US far right, which is why this story is all across US right-wing media (and why it’s been republished here on the likes of the Daily Mail, which spent over 300 words repeating the claims before quietly admitting that there’s no evidence for any of them).

The story’s author has previously written for the far-right fantasy factory Breitbart and is a regular guest on the Alex Jones show. Yes, the same Alex Jones who famously claimed that the US government is using a magical, Pentagon-funded “gay bomb” to turn people gay:

“The reason there’s so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation, and I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so that people don’t have children”

That was in 2010. A few years later Jones claimed that the government was “putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay… the majority of frogs in most areas of the United States are now gay.”

It’s easy to laugh at this, but gay frogs are part of a wider far-right theory called The Great Replacement: brown people and feminists and gay people and trans people are a conspiracy against Honest God-Fearing Straight White Folks to feminise the men (via the aforementioned chemicals in the water supply that turn the friggin’ frogs gay, plus soy milk and meat-free burgers and “gender ideology” and the “gay agenda”) and outbreed the women. The theory’s supporters include senior members of the Trump administration.

When you read it in that context, the Whopper Gives You Tits story isn’t so funny.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Bigots

Today’s story of JK Rowling and an anti-trans tweet is a good example of how lazy reporting reinforces bullshit.

If you missed it (and you probably didn’t; it’s been all over the media today): last night, the author tweeted in support of the anti-trans activist Maya Forstater, claiming that her defeat in a tribunal was an attempt to “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real”. #IStandWithMaya, she wrote.

That’s been reported as Rowling supporting free speech, but it isn’t.

It’s Rowling telling her 14 million followers to support a bully.

Forstater wasn’t forced out of her job; her employer chose not to renew her fixed term contract. She wasn’t told she couldn’t state that “sex is real”; she was told that she didn’t have the legal right to create a hostile and humiliating environment for her co-workers.

Forstater has said publicly that her case was intended to establish a legal precedent: the precedent she wanted would give anti-trans activists the legal right to be as abusive as they liked towards trans colleagues without consequences.

That isn’t how this is being reported. It’s being reported as “cancel culture”, the sinister “woke mafia” picking on a national treasure.

But Rowling has form for this. She was an unapologetic follower of anti-trans activist Magdalen Berns, who claimed that there was a Jewish-funded conspiracy to turn the world trans and that trans women are “fucking blackface actors” who “aren’t women” but “get sexual kicks from being treated like women. Fuck you and your dirty fucking perversions… you pathetic, sick fuck”. She’s publicly liked anti-trans tweets claiming trans people are “men in dresses” and when called out on it, she had her PR team claim that it was a “clumsy and middle-aged moment” because she doesn’t want to upset her significant LGBT+ fanbase.

By misrepresenting what the Forstater case was actually about, Rowling is fuelling anti-trans sentiment. The reporting over this is perpetuating the myth that women are being silenced by the sinister trans lobby while giving those women global press coverage for their supposedly silenced views.

Here’s journalist Laurie Penny.

Trans people, and trans women in particular, have for years been under attack by dedicated cohort of the British press, egged on by a small group of transphobic extremists. Transphobic views have been normalised in Britain. That’s the context for JK’s comments today.

It’s not what you believe. It’s how you behave

One of the many similarities between anti-trans activists and anti-LGBT evangelicals is their belief that they have an absolute right to be nasty to anybody they disapprove of.

Inevitably, that means some of them lose their jobs for breaking the terms of employment or find their employers unwilling to renew their contracts when those contracts expire. Those people then go running to the papers and to lawyers. The right-wing press here and in the US hails them as free speech martyrs who will be vindicated in court, and when they lose – and they always lose – the same papers are spookily silent or claim conspiracy.

Yesterday, Maya Forstater’s case for unfair dismissal was rejected by a tribunal. Forstater worked for an organisation that campaigns against inequality, and her contract was not renewed when it emerged that she’d been using offensive language about trans people and advocating against their rights.

It’s important to understand what this judgement is about. The full document is here. It is not about freedom of belief.

You can believe anything you like. It’s how you act on those beliefs that matters. So for example you might personally think Dave from accounts is going to hell because of his sexuality, and that’s perfectly legal. Standing up on your desk shouting “FUCK YOU DAVE YOU’RE GOING TO HELL”, not so much.

The claimant alleged that the decision not to renew her contract – a contract, remember, with an organisation that promotes equality – was discriminatory because behaviour her co-workers found offensive was driven by anti-trans beliefs that were “philosophical beliefs” and therefore protected under the Equality Act.

The tribunal found that they were not, and in particular they failed item (v) of the”Grainger criteria”, which define what counts in law as a philosophical belief:

it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

It’s a long and considered judgement but here are some key takeaways:

It is important to note that if a person is guilty unlawful harassment of others that conduct is likely to be the reason for any action taken against them, rather than the holding of a philosophical belief.

Under the Equality Act, it is harassment to engage in “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic” when that conduct violates the other person’s dignity or creates an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” for them. Deliberately and aggressively misgendering a trans person or banging on all day about how you hate trans women would meet that definition.

It would also fall foul of Article 17 of the EHCR, which says that your rights do not allow you to “engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms” of others. So for example if you refuse to accept the correct gender of someone with a gender recognition certificate, which gives the holder the right to be recognised as their correct gender, you are breaching Article 17.

In this case, the tribunal noted that when the claimant was told her behaviour was offensive to her co-workers and asked to stop, she said “since these statements are true I will continue to say them.”

Behaviour, not beliefs.

…the Claimant’s view, in its absolutist nature, is incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others.

…if a person has transitioned from male to female and has a Gender Recognition Certificate that person is legally a woman. That is not something that the Claimant is entitled to ignore.

…The Claimant’s position is that even if a trans woman has a Gender Recognition Certificate, she cannot honestly describe herself as a woman. That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society. It is incompatible with the human rights of others.

The case is significant because anti-trans activists expected it to set a legal precedent that would allow bigots to bully trans people in their place of work. That’s backfired.

It’s also significant because it was a waste of an estimated £80,000 in crowdfunded donations – donations that would have made a huge difference to charities that work to help vulnerable women and girls.

Behold the awesome power of the sinister trans lobby!

Despite the valiant efforts of many trans candidates in the General Election, the number of transgender and non-binary UK politicians remains zero. As PinkNews notes, there are now more UK MPs who believe that there is a Muslim conspiracy to make people transgender than there actually are transgender MPs.

The zero MPs elected by the much-publicised transgender lobby amounts to – you guessed it – zero percent of the 650 MPs who sit in the chamber.

The result means that there are now more MPs who believe that transgender people are part of an extremist Muslim conspiracy to destroy the West than MPs who are transgender.

It marks the 57th consecutive general election with no openly transgender people elected.

Being viciously anti-trans and in some cases anti-LGBT and anti-feminist didn’t stop a number of other clowns from being elected either.

So much for an all-powerful, well funded sinister trans lobby. Yet again we have zero trans or non-binary MPs, zero trans or non-binary judges, zero trans or non-binary newspaper editors, and zero trans or non-binary political columnists. Despite our awesome power we haven’t even been able to secure reliable supplies of HRT.

It’s been interesting to see the mental gymnastics the anti-trans crowd have been putting themselves through over the election results. They claim that Jo Swinson lost her Scottish seat because she was in favour of gender recognition reform. They don’t seem so keen to point out that the candidate who beat her was from the SNP – a party whose manifesto was explicitly in favour of, er, gender recognition reform.

They’re not bigots. They just want gay people dead

As expected, the launch of the SNP’s LGBT+ manifesto has upset the worst kind of people.

Among them is the anti-trans pressure group Women Make Glasgow, which is followed by a who’s who of anti-trans people in Scotland including many prominent names from the pro-independence movement and mainstream journalism. The group copied in SNP politicians Joanna Cherry and Joan McAlpine into their response to the manifesto announcement because they believe they are kindred spirits.

The group is predictably outraged about proposed gender recognition reform. But it’s interesting to see what else it’s upset about: improving the treatment of LGBT immigrants, and providing PrEP medication for gay men.

This is homophobia straight out of the 1980s. It’s saying that HIV is your own fault and the NHS shouldn’t give you medicine.

So far, none of the account’s 3000+ followers appear to have a problem with that.

PrEP can prevent HIV infection and can be life-saving for men and women who have HIV. It’s a very safe and very effective public health measure – and prescribing it has absolutely nothing to do with the manufactured panic over gender recognition. It is purely about saving people’s lives.

Anti-trans activists generally try very hard to hide homophobia. The party line is that they are not homophobic (“I support equal marriage!”) and are purely concerned with women’s safety. That way you can reuse every bigoted argument once used against gay and lesbian people and link arms with the US anti-abortion, anti-LGBT religious right while claiming that you disagree with everything they stand for but support their stance on “gender ideology”.

But many anti-trans activists are in full agreement with the religious right on much more than anti-trans issues. The columnists who rail against trans people frequently expose themselves as racist, islamophobic, anti-semitic or islamphobic, or use “reasonable concerns” about trans people as cover for fundamentalist beliefs that are anti-LGBT and against women’s reproductive rights. The bloggers who are absolutely, definitely not homophobic rail against inclusive education in primary schools and abuse lesbian women who disagree with their bile. And groups claiming only to campaign about women’s rights argue that the lives of people with HIV aren’t worth saving.

It was never just about trans people.

How to break the news (and a country)

If you haven’t already seen it, this photograph is a PR nightmare for the Conservatives. It shows a 4-year-old boy with suspected pneumonia forced to sleep on a Leeds hospital floor because of a bed shortage. It’s an image that’ll resonate with any parent, but it’s particularly heart-breaking for anyone who’s taken their child to A&E in a similar situation: it was just a few months ago that my own son was being investigated for and later treated for pneumonia, so I’m particularly aware of how awful and frightening the wait can be.

It’s the kind of image that can change the path of elections, so the Conservatives have reacted very strongly. What’s interesting about that is the way they’re doing it. They appear to have activated a very powerful misinformation machine to spread outright lies.

Let’s make something clear first. There’s no doubt that the image is genuine. The Chief Medical Officer at the hospital has already apologised. The Chief Executive has made a personal apology to the child’s mother.

That’s not what people are seeing on social media. On Twitter and on Facebook they’re seeing the same message from multiple unconnected accounts, many of which have lain dormant for some time:

A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital – the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back on his trolley.

Here’s how it looks on Twitter.

The same cut-and-pasted text has since been retweeted manually by minor public figures such as former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen. But the initial rush of publication has come from what appears to be a centrally co-ordinated network of social media accounts.

The same message is being posted to carefully selected Facebook groups, as Marc Owen Jones explains (with screenshots as proof). Facebook groups are a very effective way of targeting voters of particular demographics, not least because nobody outside the group usually sees what you’re posting there.

In one example, Jason Crosby pastes the tweet on the FB group for “Seaham Have Your Say”. Seaham have your say is a page with 24k followers serving the North Eastern coastal town of Seaham. His post gets 91 comments and 26 shares.

And it’s making its way to the right-wing press. Here’s Allison Pearson of the Telegraph.

Pearson also claims that the mother of the child is upset that “Corbyn politicised it”, which is at odds with the claim that the mother staged the photos for political reasons. [Update, later that day: Pearson has now deleted the tweets without explanation or apology, presumably after a word with a libel lawyer.]

To reiterate: the hospital has already apologised. From the BBC:

Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Our hospitals are extremely busy at the moment and we are very sorry that Jack’s family had a long wait in our Emergency Department.”

She added: “We are extremely sorry that there were only chairs available in the treatment room, and no bed. This falls below our usual high standards, and for this we would like to sincerely apologise to Jack and his family.”

What we’re seeing here is deeply disturbing. In response to a story it doesn’t like, the Conservative Party – or more likely, a separate organisation with plausible deniability of its connections to the Conservative Party – is trying to bury it not with spin, but with outright lies and defamation. Those lies are coming from a range of sock puppet accounts on multiple social networks and their message is then amplified by tame journalists.

This is no different from the fake-news chants of Donald Trump: the goal is to delegitimise the media, to push the narrative that everything you read critical of The Party is a lie. And it’s a key tactic of fascist politics, which is why it’s so frightening.

Fascism does not begin with jackboots. It begins with creating a “them” and an “us” and then delegitimising the institutions that limit state power such as the judiciary and the press. They ridicule the judges, claiming they represent special interests and are “enemies of the people”, as The Daily Mail put it. They accuse the press of bias and of lying, accusing them of speaking on behalf of the “them” against the “us”. If the press is not compliant, it is threatened into silence (this week alone the Conservatives have threatened the licence of Channel 4 and the funding of the BBC) or dismissed as fraudulent.

Our current Prime Minister is connected to former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, a proud supporter of far-right extremists who wants to “destroy the state”: “I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment,” he says. Delegitimising the press is a key part of that strategy.

The US Holocaust Museum famously lists 14 early warning signs of fascism. They are:

  • Powerful and continuing nationalism
  • Disdain for human rights
  • Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  • Supremacy of the military
  • Rampant sexism
  • Controlled mass media
  • Obsession with national security
  • Religion and government intertwined
  • Corporate power protected
  • Labour power suppressed
  • Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
  • Obsession with crime and punishment
  • Rampant cronyism and corruption
  • Fraudulent elections

How many can you tick?

We don’t have all 14 yet, but many of the items in the list should give us pause. More than any other party, The Conservatives seem to be taking us down a road that we’ve seen many other countries travel. We know all too well where that road can lead.

When the media promotes conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories aren’t just the preserve of cranks. The Sunday Times ran a long campaign claiming that AIDS was the invention of a “gay lobby”; as recently as 2009 The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson claimed that the link between HIV and AIDS was contentious and that “debate” on the subject was being silenced by a “strong and vociferous lobby”.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, much of the UK press chastised those who sought to “silence” Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and dangerous claims about the safety of the MMR vaccine, coverage that brought a fatal, preventable disease back into our classrooms.

Just this weekend, The Sun published a far-right conspiracy theory claiming Jeremy Corbyn was part of a shadowy network of hard-left extremists – an article it quickly and quietly unpublished.

So we’re hardly in uncharted territory if sections of the media promote conspiracy theories today. They do, particularly around trans people. This week, they’re claiming that Big Pharma is paying the Liberal Democrats to force gender recognition reform into law, thereby turning all our children trans, because reasons.

This isn’t just cranks on social media. It’s Radio 4’s Today Programme and the Murdoch Press.

Here’s the Sunday Times’ explanation.

Ferring Pharmaceuticals donates to the Lib Dems.

True. It’s done so for years, to the tune of about £1.5m.

It markets the drug Triptorelin

Also true.

“which is used to block puberty among adolescents”.

That’s a deliberate distortion. Triptorelin is not primarily prescribed as a puberty blocker. It is a cancer drug, and it’s used overwhelmingly for cancer patients – thousands of them, compared to the few dozen for whom it’s used to treat precocious puberty or as a puberty blocker.

Now, Ferring doesn’t appear to be a very nice company. Pharmaceutical firms rarely are. But it’s not mainly in the puberty blocking business. It’s in the cancer business, which is much more profitable. The entire market for puberty blockers in the NHS is worth around £90,000 a year, but it spends more than £2 billion on cancer treatments.

Let’s think for a moment. Which is more likely: a corporation that makes cancer drugs spending £1.5m as an insurance policy for a market sector worth £2,000,000,000 per year, or a corporation that makes cancer drugs spending £1.5m to make all the children transgender so it can bring in £90,000 a year?

Aha, the anti-trans lot say. But the market will grow. There are so many people trying to access gender clinics that the market for puberty blockers will soon be worth, like, lots and lots and lots. Maybe eleventy billion pounds a week.

More referrals does not mean more prescriptions. In 2014-2015, the number of under-15s referred to the UK’s only gender clinic for adolescents rose from 46 to 52 – but the number of people prescribed hormone blockers dropped from 41 to 32. Puberty blocking remains exceptionally rare. These drugs aren’t and won’t be handed out like sweets.

And remember, the alleged plot here is that the money from Big Pharma is going on lobbying for reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which has no connection with trans healthcare of any kind, let alone adolescent healthcare.

The argument, then, goes something like this.

  • Cancer drugs firm donates not to the political parties that will win the election, but to one that won’t
  • Political party that won’t win the election will somehow force the other parties to make paperwork slightly easier for trans adults, which they’d promised to do anyway
  • Something something something think of the children

Not mad enough? On social media, high profile figures with tens of thousands of followers decided to add yet more skulduggery to the equation.

  • Vladimir Putin wants all UK children turned trans, because reasons
  • Putin gives a gong to the boss of a cancer drugs firm, possibly with mind control technology inside it
  • Cancer firm donates not to the political parties that will win the election, but to one that won’t
  • Political party that won’t win the election will somehow force the other parties to make paperwork slightly easier for trans adults, which they’d promised to do anyway
  • Something something something think of the children

How did we end up with Vladimir Putin? Well, the boss of Ferring, Frederick Paulsen, has been awarded the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation. What more proof do you need?

Of course, Paulsen has been given some other honours. Maybe if we looked into that we could see just how big this international conspiracy really is.

Paulsen’s honours include:

  • The French legion of honour.
  • The Order of the Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan.
  • The Order of Merit Class I by Germany.
  • The Cross of the Order of Chivalry by Denmark.
  • The OBE, the Order of St John Service Medal and Freeman of the City of London.
  • The Scottish Geographical Medal.
  • The Companion of the Royal Aero Club of the UK.
  • An honorary professorship of the University of Dundee.

Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but clearly it isn’t just Putin. The international transgender conspiracy goes much deeper and includes President Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Queen Margarethe II of Denmark, King Wangchuck of Bhutan, The Queen of England, the Scottish Geographical Society, The Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom and the entire University of Dundee. Together they are united with a single goal: to get the Lib Dems into power to turn all your children trans.

Either that, or sections of the mainstream media will happily promote unhinged conspiracy theories that help create fear and distrust of trans people.

One of these possibilities is much more likely, and much more frightening, than the other.