Famous friends

Jonny Depp lost his libel case against The Sun this week: a judge ruled that when the paper called him a “wife beater”, it was stating a fact.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the actual article that sparked the lawsuit:

The Sun article was based on a blog post by the author in which she said that she was “genuinely happy” to have the actor cast in the film of one of her books; she was aware of the allegations of domestic violence – and the ‘legitimate questions’ of fans – but felt that, as The Guardian put it:

the circumstances of Depp’s divorce from actor Amber Heard last year were private and should be respected.

Rowling was, and presumably remains, a friend of the actor: she bought his luxury yacht after holidaying on it.

The reaction to Rowling’s defence of Depp by victims of domestic violence often assumed that she hadn’t experienced it, because if she had she would not give the actor the benefit of the doubt. But we know now that Rowling has been a victim of domestic abuse, which – as is so often the case – was perpetrated by her male partner.

The author didn’t use that experience to condemn Depp, however. She used it as partial justification for her anti-trans stance, even though trans women are overwhelmingly victims of domestic violence, not perpetrators of it.

Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Nobody checks anything

Yesterday, multiple newspapers reported the return of Woolworths, a retail chain that no longer operates in the UK. The story was in the Metro.It was in the Daily Star. It was in the Mirror. It was in the Brighton Argus, and Birmingham Live, and the rest of the UK’s local press. It was everywhere.

It was bullshit.

Not a single journalist at any of those titles bothered their backside to check whether it was true before publishing. It wasn’t. The story was based on tweets from a fake account that couldn’t even spell the company name properly. That was enough for acres of coverage.

This is how too much journalism works now. All you need is a Twitter account and a logo and nobody fact-checks what you’re saying or investigates who you actually are; if it’s going to get clicks, it’s going to get published. It’s harmless when we’re talking about pic’n’mix, but this is exactly how anti-LGBT+ groups and right-wing lobbyists get coverage too. Far too many supposed “alliances” and “institutes” are little more than social media fronts for people who are extremely dodgy. They can only do their jobs because too many journalists aren’t doing theirs.


Let them eat handbags

The UK appears to be having one of its periodic outbreaks of idiocy when affluent people claim that they could absolutely feed a family of 12 on 23p a week and have money left over. So Twitter is currently full of people claiming you can buy a chicken in Aldi for £2 (this, clearly, is the branch of Aldi in Madeupshire) and that with that, a carrot and the Blitz spirit you can eat like kings for a fortnight.

You can’t.

Jack Monroe literally wrote the book on this stuff: she’s been helping people make tasty and nutritious food on low budgets for years. And she’s absolutely furious at the people sharing selected bits of her advice as if it’s evidence that struggling to afford food is the result of personal failings, not poverty.

As she wrote two years ago:

Again, having choices around the food you eat is a privilege. Not having to shop exclusively from the white labels of the value ranges, or raiding the battered old veg at the end of the day at the market, is a privilege. Not mentally calculating the pennies difference in every item that goes into your shopping basket is a privilege, and one that millions of people in the UK (and across the world) increasingly do not have. Access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and the means with which to buy them, is a privilege.

And it’s not just buying core ingredients. All those kitchen cupboard essentials, the seasonings and the spices and the stock cubes, have to be bought too. You need pots and pans and utensils and something to cook on, and the money to pay for the energy to cook with. And so on, and so on, and so on.

One of the problems with this blame-the-poor narrative, which returns far too frequently, is that you absolutely can survive on sod-all money when your cupboards are already stocked, all your bills are paid and you’re only doing it for a week. But all you are doing is having a holiday in somebody else’s misery. Poverty means not just buying your food from the bargain aisle – an aisle that, when I was living in a leafy suburb, was always picked clean by affluent women of a certain age who’d block the area with their trollies until they’d had their pick of the reduced items – but being unable to pay bills, replace the clothes your children have outgrown or gone through and all the other things that demand what little money you have.

Not only that, but being poor is expensive. You can’t stock the freezer, assuming you have a freezer, with bulk buys because you can’t afford to buy in bulk. You can’t get the best price on energy because you’re on a prepay meter. You can’t buy things that last because they are simply too expensive.

If you were a satirist, you’d struggle to come up with a better villain in this than Nick Clarke, who suggested that parents struggling to feed their children should not only skip their own meals, but “sell assets”. What assets? “Handbag, pearls, mobile phone?”

Imagine being so removed from reality that you think the poor are bouncing around with designer handbags and strings of pearls. Poor people don’t have “assets”. They have debt.

One of the best descriptions of poverty I’ve ever read was by the late Terry Pratchett:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

Bullshit Media

“Pundit brain is a form of stupidity”

This, by Tom Whyman, should annoy the right people.

If the image of the pundit-brained journalist has been crystallized anywhere, it is in the early satire of Chris Morris: shows like The Day Today and Brass Eye where his anchor character was constantly drawing wildly over-confident conclusions from nonsensical infographics, howling at unassuming guests that they need to solve absolutely everything that’s wrong with the world, right now, and smirking gleefully to camera at the possibility of instigating a war.

Bullshit Media Technology


In response to the news that US writer Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended from his job for masturbating during a video meeting, Dr Jennifer Gunter pointed out on Twitter that “masturbating while on a work zoom/call is a choice. If Toobin was on mute he was still listening/watching the other participants and that’s still disgusting and violating. If the urge is so great, end the call. He knew that.”

There is some confusion over the precise circumstances: it’s been suggested that the writer was simultaneously having phone sex while taking part in the meeting, or that he was having phone sex during an interval between calls and accidentally rejoined the meeting too early. But whatever the explanation, his colleagues saw something they shouldn’t because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.

As you’d expect, many women who’ve experienced sexual harassment have opinions on this. And I’ve already seen some of those women having to limit their Twitter accounts because of a backlash against the completely uncontroversial statement that you shouldn’t be masturbating at work or during video calls with people from work. I’ve been on social media for decades so I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m seeing people – and of course, they’re men people – saying that there’s nothing wrong with having a surreptitious wank while talking to or listening to your colleagues. The only crime is getting caught.

I’ve written previously about the word “himpathy”, used by Kate Manne to describe the sympathy that’s extended to men rather than to their victims. That appears to be at play here, even though exhibitionism and masturbation are both well-known forms of sexual harassment.

CNN, back in 2017:

As shocking allegations of egregious sexual misconduct continue to emerge, one form of harassment has become a recurring theme.

It isn’t a physical assault, and it doesn’t necessarily involve men using sexual language. Instead, a powerful man masturbates in front of unwilling women made to witness the act.

Gunter linked to this piece, by Lili Loofbourow: The Myth of the Male Bumbler. It’s about the way some people rush to excuse men for doing inexcusable things.

Male bumblers are an epidemic.

These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?

The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?

It’s an act, of course. The men who claim to be baffled about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as if there’s no difference between complimenting a female colleague’s new hairdo and making her watch you masturbate into a plant pot, know exactly where the line is. They just don’t think the rules should apply to them.

There’s a reason for this plague of know-nothings: The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice. And men — particularly powerful men — use that loophole like corporations use off-shore accounts. The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.

Allow me to make a controversial proposition: Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be. And the bumbler — the very figure that shelters them from this ugly truth — is the best and hardest proof.

Breaking that alibi means dissecting that myth. The line on men has been that they’re the only gender qualified to hold important jobs and too incompetent to be responsible for their conduct.

…If you’ve noticed a tendency to treat girls — like the 14-year-old whom now-Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly picked up at her custody hearing — as knowing adults and men in their 30s — like Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr. — as erring youngsters, large sons and “coffee boys,” this is why.

Loofbourow continues:

This is how the culture attempts to normalize this stuff: by minimizing the damage to women and the agency of men.

…Economists have long and lazily attributed the exodus of women in various industries to their decision to bear children, but now this giant explanatory iceberg is floating up — this absolutely gigantic, widely denied story about how women are routinely driven from their industries because their male colleagues need to be free to use their professional power to indulge their sexual urges.

Bullshit LGBTQ+

Faith in the system

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A bigot does bigoted things that reflect badly on their employer, they get the boot, and the Christian Legal Centre tries to make them a free speech hero. Said centre is then handed its arse on a plate by a tribunal judge who points out the bleeding obvious: you can believe what you like, but you can’t behave how you like.

This week’s case features Karen Higgs, who worked at her son’s Church of England primary school as a pastoral assistant and who was sacked for railing against the same school’s relationship lessons very vocally online. “THEY ARE BRAINWASHING OUR CHILDREN!” You know the kind of thing.

The reason you can’t do this kind of thing is because it brings your employer into disrepute.

Every employment contract I’ve ever signed had one of those clauses. It’s a standard bit of boilerplate that means  that you can’t go around bad-mouthing your employer and expect to stay employed. For example, if you work for a restaurant and tell loads of people on Facebook that the food is shite and you hate the customers, you shouldn’t clear your diary for the next staff Christmas party. 

The Church of England makes it very clear that its schools value “All God’s Children”, not just the straight cisgender ones with straight cisgender parents, and it has a very clear policy on anti-LGBT+ bullying and how staff in primary schools should discuss issues such as same-sex parenting and trans parents.

In particular it says that primary schools should “promote a strong anti-bullying stance that shows that HBT [homophobic, biphobic and transphobic] remarks and behaviour are unacceptable.” Posting homophobic and transphobic things online is of course in direct conflict with that.

In her defence, Higgs claimed that it was okay to rail against same-sex marriages because while “I am aware that same-sex marriages are now recognised under UK law… I believe that is contrary to God’s law”. But while they may be bound by God’s law in their head, they’re bound by UK law at work.

As school governor Stephen Conlan told the tribunal: “You can post your beliefs without posting this sort of language and it is perfectly possible to communicate your beliefs without using such strong language.”

I feel sorry for the people of faith who these clowns claim to represent. The people demanding “religious freedom” to defame and demonise others don’t represent anybody but themselves. They’re not devout. They’re just dicks.

Bullshit Media

Some people never learn

One of the reasons so many left-leaning people were shocked by the election of Donald Trump was because to much of the left-leaning media, Trump was simply a figure of fun; not somebody worth taking seriously, let alone doing anything to try and stop.

I think they’re taking him a lot more seriously now. But they haven’t learnt their lesson. Boris Johnson was a national joke; now he’s a disastrous PM. Nigel Farage was a national joke who became one of the most significant political figures of recent times despite being almost unelectable. And now we have a new national joke, the deeply loathsome Lawrence Fox. The left-leaning press’s dismissal of him as a figure of fun is arguably just as dangerous as the right-wing press’s lionising of him. He may be a ludicrous, pathetic twat, but he’s a ludicrous, pathetic twat with influential backers and an increasingly large platform.

Journalist Mic Wright:

The right-wing media channels — not just papers but their talk radio counterparts and forthcoming TV channels — will give Fox acres and hours of coverage. He will be heard and he will be heard seriously by those outlets and the people who consume their output.

I take Fox seriously because he is a narcissist who wants desperately to keep getting the attention that acting has brought him and he will say anything to keep that spotlight on him. Fox, in the same way that mouthpieces like Darren Grimes have done, is allowing himself to be used as a megaphone by more publicity-shy bastards. In interviews, he has referred to his ‘policy people’… I wonder who they might be?

Fox is ludicrous and ludicrously stupid, but he has money, he has support, and he has a platform. That combination is a dangerous one.

Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Hating for ratings

How’s this for a TV show? We get a racist – a proper racist, ideally a knuckle-dragger from a really racist organisation such as the EDL or Britain First, someone who’s really loudly and proudly racist and spends loads of time being really racist to people on Twitter – and we pair him up with a nice middle-class Black woman. Then we get the two of them to sit down for a nice dinner and a chat and we film the whole thing.

Good, right? It’s a social experiment!

I haven’t even got to the best bit yet. It’s not just a chat. We give the racist guy a script of really racist things to say to the Black woman over dinner and we film her response. Maybe she’ll cry!  Maybe she’ll walk out! Maybe it’ll go viral!

No? How about we pair a neo-nazi with a nice Jewish lady?

Of course not. Trying to get a fight for ratings is disgusting, as we saw with the Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle shows. But that doesn’t mean TV production companies don’t keep trying to bring back the formula, which is essentially hating for ratings. For example, an Irish TV company is currently sending this to various trans women (and to other marginalised groups, such as members of the travelling community).

As one commenter on Twitter translated: “We’re making a show where we have members of marginalised groups sit down with people who think they shouldn’t exist, for entertainment purposes. Also we’re suggesting that marginalised people are the enemy, in the title.”

Earlier this year Evgeny Shtorn wrote about the importance of storytelling in regards to minority and marginalised people.

Considering how powerful storytelling is, we cannot pretend that the infrastructure built around it by media and researchers is always ethical and respectful towards those who constitute those stories… journalists were rude to me, disrespectful and abusive. Using my words or ideas without quotes, giving erroneous interpretations and false promises. Trans and non-binary people, homeless people, other migrants, people of colour, people with disabilities and a lot of others who I shared my concerns with, told me that they often experienced similar treatment from journalists, but also from artists, researchers and other ‘supporters’. It is called ‘cognitive exploitation’, and this is exactly the opposite to the idea of the empowerment of the community through storytelling.

…The problem is that after such an interaction most people retreat into their closet and don’t want to tell their stories anymore, despite those stories being so important to tell.

There was an example of this in England the other day: trans person and poet Jay Hulme was invited on BBC TV to discuss the government’s response to GRA reform.

I was going to be on the BBC today having a chat about the GRA – but I pulled out yesterday, having been informed that it’s BBC policy to have a cis woman invited to speak on any segment about trans ppl – I’m not going on TV to be yelled at by a transphobe from the Daily Mail.

By “cis woman” the policy doesn’t mean a cisgender woman who’s supportive of trans people, even though such women are the majority (and were the majority in the GRA reform consultation too). It means the kind of woman trans commentator Shon Faye was expected to go on air with this week. Faye was one of several trans people invited on BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss gender recognition. At the last minute, the panel was expanded to include an anti-trans activist who has taken great delight in publicly misgendering her and who Faye says even shared a now-deleted defamatory petition implying she groomed children. Faye declined the invitation.

I have some experience of this. I’ve refused to go on multiple programmes because the approach was clearly going to be gladiatorial, not editorial; other contributors were not people with concerns about specific bits of legalese but members of groups who peddle hatred on social media. Taking part is therefore a trap for marginalised people: if you don’t robustly challenge the other contributors they get to lie, lie and lie some more; if you do, and worse still if you also dare correct the presenter, you’re dismissed as unreasonable and aggressive. And even the most innocuous appearance will have bigots descending on your social media.

It’s clear that the people commissioning and structuring these programmes are thinking about ratings, not the damage these narratives can do to marginalised groups. And they are doing damage. By presenting extreme views as mainstream, such as perpetuating the myth that the two sides of the trans debate are “trans activists vs feminists” rather than “most of the country vs a few well-connected bigots”, they’re fanning the flames of intolerance and positioning extreme views as if they’re mainstream. We’ve seen this before with the platforming of far-right views, of anti-vaxxers and of climate change denial.

The problem yet again is that the people making these programmes have no skin in the game. Their human rights are not under attack. Their safety is not threatened by the rise in hate crimes. Their ability to participate in society is not something producers think should be up for debate. To them, it’s just another item. To marginalised and demonised minorities, it’s our lives.

Bullshit Hell in a handcart Media

“The out-group must be crushed”

There’s a really good piece about QAnon in The New Republic.

The “nocturnal ritual fantasy”—a term coined by the historian Norman Cohn in his landmark study of European witch trials, Europe’s Inner Demons—is a recurring trope in Western history. And it is often a politically useful one. Deployed by the Romans against early Christians, by Christians against Jews, by Christians against witches, by Catholics against “heretics,” it is a malleable set of accusations that posit that a social out-group is engaged in perverse, ritualistic behaviors that target innocents—and that the out-group and all its enablers must be crushed.

…Q adherents are perfervid Trump supporters by necessity, as Trump’s valiant battle against ultimate evil forms the spine from which the many limbs of the conspiracy grow. But a recent wave of émigrés into the Q landscape consists of New Age moms and influencers with previously vaguer politics, whose interests, during the strained days of the Covid-19 pandemic, have migrated from crystals and wellness to taking down a world-straddling cabal of demonic pedophiles.

The section on the “satanic panic” of the 1980s is particularly apt.

It was gospel belief in the media and among ordinary citizens that rings of sex abusers were everywhere. Satan and his blood-drinking minions were peripheral players, but the panic is usually referred to now, through the mocking lens of self-assurance, as the “Satanic Panic.” We in the twenty-first century could never be so naïve.

Bullshit LGBTQ+

Celebs speak out

Minor celebrities: We must write an open letter to protest against online abuse of women!

LGBT+ folks: Like the vicious abuse some of your co-signatories and many supporters of your multi-millionaire pal have spent years dishing out to trans women, to the mothers of trans children, to cisgender women who say they support trans rights and to cisgender women who work in rape crisis centres and other trans-inclusive organisations?

Minor celebs: Not like that!


More than 50 public figures and anti-trans campaigners signed the letter published in The Sunday Times, which condemns the “insidious, authoritarian and misogynistic” opposition to Rowling on social media.

…the letter claims that Rowling “has consistently shown herself to be an honourable and compassionate person” – just days after the Harry Potter author promoted a website selling “f**k your pronouns” and “sorry about your d**k bro” badges mocking the trans community.

One of the signatories has been banned from social media for a years-long campaign of hate speech against trans women and any cisgender women who dared disagree with him, a campaign that cost him his career and his marriage; others have been criticised for making transphobic statements that were at best tone-deaf and at worst actively malicious. One of the signatories previously accused a gay journalist who supports trans people of being a “sucker of Satan’s cock”.

As Judith Butler said in her New Statesman interview the other day:

if we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it. It won’t do to say that threats against some people are tolerable but against others are intolerable.