Writers don’t use words by accident

There’s been a bit of controversy over a new film, Girl, which is about a trans woman. It’s interesting to see how that’s been reported: almost without exception, the trans movie reviewers and reporters who’ve made legitimate criticisms of the film (such as a shocking scene of self-harm they worry might be imitated) have been described as “trans activists”.

One such “activist” is Out.com’s director of culture and entertainment and former Los Angeles Times reporter Tre’Vell Anderson. Anderson is not amused by the New York Times report of the controversy, which described the criticisms as:

trans activists and others who consider its scrutiny of a trans character’s body so dangerous that they urge no one to see it.

That’s a blatant misrepresentation of what people are saying, as well as of the people who are saying it. The criticism suggests that the film may be irresponsible, that it could risk copycat behaviour. Anderson:

The danger in this lies in the message it sends to the little trans and gender nonconforming kids that might stumble upon this film in their Netflix queue at the top of the year and do what kids do: follow suit.

Nobody is demanding the film be banned, or that the filmmaker be silenced. But characterising the critics as “activists” – a pejorative term in this context – is an attempt to silence the critics. Anderson again:

On Wednesday, Erik Piepenburg of The New York Times called the critiques a “firestorm,” invoking language that has long been used to keep critics who aren’t straight white men at bay. Piepenburg referred to us not as critics or reporters, but instead as “trans activists.”

Frankly, this is a thinly-veiled effort to dismiss, ignore, and invalidate perspectives and critiques that differ from those dominated by newsrooms that are overwhelmingly white, cisgender, heterosexual, and male. Asserting that the pushback the film has received, including not making it to the Oscars foreign language shortlist, is the work of “activists,” erases the necessary and effective work of journalists and career film critics. Left in its place is the impression of a host of negligible, pesky, and unfounded opinions, now seen in the nation’s paper of record as extreme and unreasonable.

This is something that happens time and again in mainstream media whenever trans-related issues are reported on by cisgender people: any trans person with an opinion, no matter how well informed, is described as an activist. The people on the other side are never characterised as “anti-trans activists”, even when that’s exactly what they are.

The reason “activist” is pejorative here is because it suggests that, as Anderson explains, “my vantage point… is purely an emotional response and, therefore, must be uninformed.”

This isn’t limited to trans people. People who don’t agree with the status quo are often described as activists,  zealots, militants, extremists. It’s a form of “poisoning the well”, a debating technique that attempts to undermine the other person’s argument before they can even make it.

Anderson doesn’t say that the label of activist is inherently bad, but I’d argue that it usually is used in a pejorative sense. An angry trans person on Twitter isn’t a trans activist; a trans person writing to complain about a newspaper article isn’t an activist; a trans film critic with a nuanced analysis of a film isn’t an activist either. And yet that’s how they’re described in mainstream media reporting. To categorise people as such is to dismiss them, to suggest that what they have to say is worthless.

This can’t be accidental. When you’re a writer of any kind, you know exactly what words mean and the power they have.

Green sheep, bendy bananas and boys having periods

It’s Sunday, the day when the UK press likes to post multiple anti-trans articles. I want to look at  one from last week. It’s the story that virulently anti-trans MP David Davies described on Twitter as the “latest example of barking mad trans-activism”: the idea that eight-year-old boys will be told they can have periods.

The story has legs: I’ve seen it turn up in Sky News Australia and the Monserrat Reporter. Talk radio hosts have used it as evidence that “the world’s gone mad” and of “bonkers Britain” and the usual columnists have weighed in to moan about the excesses of trans activism.

Is it true?

Here’s the document the coverage refers to (pdf). It’s a presentation by the neighbourhoods, inclusion communities and equalities committee of Brighton & Hove council on the subject of period poverty, the horrible situation where some students don’t have access to sanitary products because their parents are broke. This has an effect on their education because some of those students stay home when they have their period instead of attending school.

In the 3,000 word document, trans people are mentioned exactly once, in a description of the period positive educational approach. The document notes that:

  • Trans boys and men and non-binary people may have periods.

This is undeniably true: irrespective of how you identify, if you have the appropriate plumbing then you may have periods. And that means you can be affected by period poverty.

This has got nothing to do with any sinister agenda: it’s an attempt at inclusivity. And yet what seems to me like a perfectly rational and humane point – that period poverty can affect students who do not necessarily identify as female – has been used once again to attack trans people, and young trans people specifically. Scoring a political point is more important than any child’s welfare.

What we’re seeing here is an old trick with a new target.

It’s sheep we’re up against

Exaggeration and falsification have long been used by newspapers to attack people they don’t like and anything that’s happened since 1953. For example, in 2014 Mail Online readers in Australia finally got a story we Britons have known about since 1986: the evils of politically correct forces demanding children sing alternatives to “baa baa black sheep” because the black bit might be racist.⁠1

It was a real story — a couple of Australian kindergartens had indeed changed the lyrics for fear of causing offence — but it was an isolated incident, just as it was in 1986 when a single nursery (Beevers Nursery in Hackney, London — a private nursery, not a council-controlled one) rewrote the song as an exercise for children and the newspapers went mad.

The English story made the Daily Star and then The Sun and the Sunday World, and then the Daily Mail embellished it by claiming Haringey council, not Hackney, had ordered playgroup leaders to attend racial awareness courses where they were ordered to make children sing “baa baa green sheep” instead.⁠2

As the saying goes, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It was completely untrue, and Haringey council attempted to sue the newspaper but had to drop the legal proceedings for lack of funds. The Mail version of the story made it to the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Liverpool Echo, the Yorkshire Evening Press, the Birmingham Post, the Sunday People, the News of the World, the Sunday Mercury, the Carlisle Evening News and Star, the Yorkshire Evening Courier, the Ipswich Evening Star, the Sunday Times letters page, the Hendon Times and the Sunday Telegraph.

The story continued to spread, this time with Islington council being blamed, and it turned up in the Economist, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Daily Mirror and the Sun. The story was used in political broadcasts by the Social Democratic Party, and it came back from the dead in 1998 in the Sunday Times. Over the next five years it would pop up from time to time in various newspapers. In the two decades since it began, only two newspapers have printed corrections admitting that it isn’t true.

Sheep weren’t the only fabrication. Stories about manhole covers being renamed were invented by the newspapers, as were supposed bans on black bin bags. Other stories about “super-loos for gypsies” or special treatment for gay people were pretty dodgy too. 

According to the Media Research Group of Goldsmith’s College in the University of London, British tabloids ran some 3,000 news stories about such “loony left” ideas between 1981 and 1987; the vast majority were either partially or wholly fabricated and were targeted against the handful of London councils under Labour control.⁠3

Very similar stories were fabricated about the European Union too, most notably by a young journalist called Boris Johnson. Between 1989 and 1994 the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent filed knowingly exaggerated and sometimes entirely invented stories about supposed EU madness, creating a whole new genre of Europhobic scare stories. Other journalists were appalled, but the stories were very successful and ultimately helped pave the way for 2016’s “Brexit” vote to leave the EU.⁠4

It’s not reporting. It’s propaganda. And it works.

It works because most people remember just the headline — and that headline can have tremendous power. In a series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Ullrich Ecker of the University of Western Australia tested the effect of misleading headlines on people’s perceptions on hot issues such as genetically modified crops. As The New Yorker reports:

In the case of the factual articles, a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details… In the case of opinion articles, a misleading headline, like the one suggesting that genetically modified foods are dangerous, impaired a reader’s ability to make accurate inferences. For instance, when asked to predict the future public-health costs of genetically modified foods, people who had read the misleading headline predicted a far greater cost than the evidence had warranted.⁠1

Everybody remembers the headlines about the EU’s bonkers ban on bendy bananas. It was completely invented, but the stories were a key part of a long campaign against the EU that ultimately resulted in the UK voting for Brexit.

Most tabloid stories about trans activists or the sinister trans lobby are fictional too, but by the time they’re fact-checked – if they’re fact-checked at all; there are so many of them few people have the time – the damage is done. Throughout the land, breakfast tables vibrate to the sound of readers harrumphing about political correctness gone mad.

anImage_2.tiff

1 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2796447/lyrics-baa-baa-black-sheep-changed-kindergarten-teachers-racial-overtones.html

2 Curran, J.; Petley, J.; Gaber, I. (2005). Culture wars: the media and the British left. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 85–107. ISBN 0-7486-1917-8

3 John Gyford; Steve Leach & Chris Game (1989). “Political change since Widdicombe”. The changing politics of local government. Routledge. pp. 310–313. ISBN 9780044452997.

4 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/15/brexit-boris-johnson-euromyths-telegraph-brussels

Mining the culture wars for clicks

Have you seen the gender neutral Santa story? Of course you have. It’s been everywhere. The tale that 1/4 of people want a gender neutral Santa has appeared in my news feeds so often I could recite it from memory, so I will.

A new study found that 25% or 26% or 27% of people – the numbers vary from report to report – want Santa to be gender neutral.

If you’ve reported it like that, you’re on the naughty list.

The “study” was a survey by a graphic design company of a few hundred customers. Those customers of unspecified demographics were specifically asked what gender a modern Santa should be, and given the choice of male, female, or gender neutral.

This is not what you would call a reliable poll.

Nevertheless, the story is everywhere. It’s on BBC Three and in the New York Post, on News.com.au and PinkNews, on Fox News and Newsweek and in the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

This kind of bullshit infests the media, and it has consequences. As Joseph Earp writes in Junkee:

Throwing out these distorted figures and studies feeds the right-wing lunatics who believe that members of the LGBTQIA community are secretly plotting to take over the culture. And it encourages a pile-on of hatred towards the community from those who consider themselves to be part of the ‘sensible centre’ (whatever that means.)

I’m not sure that Earp is right about the intent of the graphic design company, which “knowingly weaponised the ire of the mainstream media”. I suspect they just thought they were being funny and/or cute.

But there’s no doubt about the malicious intent of much of the reporting. Somehow a bullshit story about a fictional character is evidence of the evils of LGBTQ people generally and trans people in particular.

When the story reaches the likes of the Daily Mail or Breitbart, which of course it has done, it’s presented as the latest example of political correctness gone mad, of the sinister trans lobby pushing its values down ordinary god-fearing people’s throats.

This tweet is by no means unusual.

i’m all for same sex marriage, trans operations, etc,but the LGBTQ+ community is deadass starting to shove their way of life down people’s throats. equal opportunity for shows & movies is great, but not every movie needs a gay lead & Santa doesn’t need to be gender fuckin neutral

This happens time and time again. A story with little or no connection to the LGBTQ community is presented as the latest example of their unreasonable demands and used to demonise them in the media and on social media. It’s already made its way into anti-LGBTQ opinion pieces, and it’ll continue to circulate for years to come as an example of those terrible LGBTQ activists and their unreasonable demands.

Children who behave badly don’t get Christmas presents. Sadly there’s no such penalty for journalists.

“We” didn’t miss anything

This week, The New York Times made a podcast called “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It”. Esquire’s Charles P Pierce is not amused: who, exactly, does the NYT mean by “we”?

To take the simplest argument first, “we,” of course, did no such thing, unless “we” is a very limited—and very white—plural pronoun. The violence on the right certainly made itself obvious in Oklahoma City, and at the Atlanta Olympics, and at various gay bars and women’s health clinics, and in Barrett Slepian’s kitchen, and in the hills of North Carolina, where Eric Rudolph stayed on the lam for five years and in which he had stashed 250 pounds of explosives for future escapades.

Pierce – rightly, I think – argues that the problem isn’t that these things aren’t noticed, or flagged up. It’s that the people who warn about them are ignored by a largely urban, white, straight media class.

One of the best examples of that is the rise of the hard right in online spaces, where women and minorities have been yelling about the problems for many years now. Because the abuse didn’t affect people who weren’t women or minorities, media didn’t give a shit. This has been going on for a long time, and its reach is enormous.

Here’s Matt Miller, also in Esquire, on how online trolls have poisoned Star Wars fandom.

These “trolls” are the anonymous, despicable beating heart of America. They are holding up a mirror to our society. They are insuring that the worst of us have a voice to incite real change. They elected an amoral, racist golden toilet for a president. And that same sickness has bled into something once as harmless as a children’s space movie.

Something that’d be funny if it weren’t so serious is the way anti-trans people so frequently follow the same script: starting off by being hateful towards us before – surprise! – being hateful to other groups too. So the anti-trans legislators in the US start with us and then target cisgender women and trans men’s reproductive freedom. Anti-trans cultural commentators turn out to be misogynist. Anti-trans voices variously include domestic abusers, racists and anti-Semites.

It’s become a bleak running joke in some trans circles when yet another vicious bigot turns out to be viciously bigoted against more than one minority. That’s the thing about bigotries. They tend to travel together.

I wrote about neo-Nazi ideology yesterday, and that’s a good example of the kind of thing that gets completely ignored until it explodes into real-world violence. It’s of particular interest to me because neo-nazis online are very specifically and openly attempting to groom “gender critical” – ie anti-trans – women because they believe these women are very close to being “red pilled” and becoming “tradwives”.

Red pilling, if you’re not down with idiots, is an idea from the film The Matrix: if you take the red pill you will see the world as it really is. The fact that The Matrix was directed by two trans women, the red pill is based on estrogen tablets and the whole sodding film is quite probably a trans allegory escapes these dolts, because neo-Nazis aren’t very clever.

And “tradwife”? A tradwife is a woman who rejects feminism and embodies “wifely” qualities of submission, chastity and domestic servitude.

The idea that any self-respecting feminist would be in cahoots with these woman-hating tools is mind-boggling, and yet here we are.

Again and again the most vocal anti-trans voices echo the tropes of the religious right and the alt-right, shaming women for supposedly inappropriate behaviour. reinforcing the biological essentialism that feminism fought so hard against and supporting serial abusers of women because their enemy’s enemy is their friend. To see feminist groups in open alliance with evangelical, anti-women groups is quite something to behold.

This isn’t just happening in anti-trans circles. Neo-nazis have deliberately targeted anywhere they think they can find vulnerable, angry people: not just forums of angry women but for young, angry men who can’t get laid, forums for people with mental health issues, forums where people are lost and desperately need somebody coming along to take them under their wing.

The problem with hate is not that nobody’s talking about it. It’s that by and large, the media isn’t listening to the people who are desperately trying to sound the alarm: women, ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, disabled people. And when rhetoric becomes reality, when online radicalisation makes a Christian shoot up a synagogue or a straight guy shoot up a gay bar or an “incel” drive a truck into a crowd of shoppers, they wail “how did this happen? How did we miss this?”

You missed it because you weren’t listening.

Local journalism isn’t working

We’ve known for some time that local journalism is in crisis, partly because people don’t want to pay for news and largely because media owners are trying to extract as much money as possible from their titles, accelerating their inevitable closure by sacrificing quality.

This is a problem because local journalism is about the only thing that can hold local councils to account. The nationals simply aren’t interested, even when they do local sites: for example Trinity Mirror’s Glasgow Live is very good at telling you if there’s a crash on the M8, but much of what it produces is rewritten press releases from property developers and restaurants.

In an attempt to address that, the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporters funds local journalism specifically to cover local politics. In Glasgow and its surrounding areas, the money goes to the publishers of the Herald and the Evening Times.

Let’s see how that’s going, shall we? In a piece promoted with the exciting news that Glasgow will get a new tree-lined avenue, The Evening Times reports on a new, sizeable development that’s just been given planning permission.

Get Living have approval for the development on derelict land to the east of High Street close to the train station, in a historic part of Glasgow.

It will create a new city centre residential community with a new public square.

Work will also involve a new tree lined avenue through the development connecting the Merchant City out towards the east end.

Exciting! And yet, as the excellent A Thousand Flowers blog points out, not so excellent. The development deals a fatal blow to the Crossrail project, which hoped to solve significant problems with Glasgow’s public transport.

…any future proposals to develop Crossrail have today been dealt a fatal blow after Glasgow City Council approved a major mixed-use development on the “High street curve” site that would be vital for creating the link. The £200m high rise plans – from Get Living Group (Glasgow) Limited – are for 727 build-to-rent homes, 99 student studios and more than 3,000 square metres of retail, leisure and business space on a former goods yard site.

The blog also points out the shady financial status of the developer, whose Glaswegian-sounding company is registered in one tax haven and has a parent company registered in another tax haven.

Still, a development of this size will include affordable housing, won’t it?

Won’t it?

Unsurprisingly, the Section 75 planning agreement between Get Living Group and the council makes no reference to affordable housing provision nor rent levels in the flats being developed. Get Living Group currently operate two similar build-to-rent schemes in London where flats are on offer for between £1,650 and £3,856 per calendar month, which provides an indication of the market segment that they will be aiming for.

This story represents a failure on multiple levels, and it’s exactly the sort of thing we need local journalism to report on. But what we’re getting isn’t journalism. It’s churnalism.

Update, 12 Dec: The ET has returned to the story, quoting one MP’s criticisms. Credit where credit’s due – but the time to question planning is before the applications are approved, not afterwards.

There’s something rotten in Auchtermuchty

This, from the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, is really alarming: the UK government is running a “psyops” propaganda programme from a mill just outside Auchtermuchty. The stated aim is to fight terrorism and Russian political interference, but it appears to be fighting the UK government’s local political enemies too.

On the surface, the cryptically named Institute for Statecraft is a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife.

But explosive leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The “think tank” is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.

But our investigation has found worrying evidence the shadowy programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials.

…David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine.

Update: on social media, allegations are flying that the newspaper has been hoodwinked by shady propagandists. More will no doubt follow…

“The men seem strangely cured, not like medicine but like meat”

I’m a big fan of Laurie Penny, and this piece about a cruise with cryptocurrency speculators is incredible. It’s not a tech story but a human interest one, and it reminds me very much of David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (posted here under a different title, “Shipping Out: On The (Nearly Lethal) Comforts Of A Luxury Cruise [pdf document]).

The whole thing is incredibly quotable but I particularly liked this bit:

John McAfee has never been convicted of rape and murder, but—crucially—not in the same way that you or I have never been convicted of rape or murder.

It’s a long read but it’s well worth settling down on the sofa with.

Comforting the comfortable, afflicting the afflicted

I’ve had the misfortune to share airtime with writers from Spiked magazine on a few occasions now. I’m not a fan: the magazine is reliably on the wrong side of any issue you care to think of, rushing to the defence of the world’s worst people. I fear that giving them airtime helps legitimise often appalling views, and I now refuse to go on a programme if they’re part of the so-called debate.

It’s the kind of publication that regularly churns out nonsense of the “surely the real racists here are the people calling racists racists?” variety.

Spiked writers variously argue that climate change is scaremongering, that feminism has gone too far, that women being abused on the internet need to grow a thicker skin, that trans people are dangerous to society and that Tommy Robinson is a true hero. It appears to have a very similar agenda to thinktanks such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs, organisations with opaque funding  pushing what can best be described as a hard-right agenda.

They remind me of the Sirius Corporation imagined by the late Douglas Adams: “a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.”

If like me you’ve ever wondered how a publication that began as Living Marxism became a mouthpiece and apologist for the hard right, a friend of climate change deniers and an enemy of equality, the answer appears to be simple.

Money.

Lots and lots of money.

I’ve always thought Spiked was a shill for somebody, but I didn’t know who that somebody was. Enter George Monbiot, who Spiked really, really hates. Writing in The Guardian, he notes that Spiked has received at least $300,000 from the Koch brothers. As he explains, the Koch brothers are:

…co-owners of Koch Industries, a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches. If their two fortunes were rolled into one, Charles David Koch, with $120bn, would be the richest man on Earth.

If you were making a story about corporate villainy, it’d be hard to invent a better pair of bad guys. And these particular guys are using their money to try and change the world through a three-stage model of social change.

Universities would produce “the intellectual raw materials”. Thinktanks would transform them into “a more practical or usable form”. Then “citizen activist” groups would “press for the implementation of policy change”… They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of academic departments, thinktanks, journals and movements.

Spiked’s editorial stance fits very well inside that: it fights for the implementation of policy change, change that just happens to be entirely in line with the objectives of its funders. Again and again it supports policies that would benefit rich industrialists and rails against policies that might inhibit their ability to make enormous sums of money.

Monbiot:

Above all, its positions are justified with the claim to support free speech. But the freedom all seems to tend in one direction: freedom to lambast vulnerable people.

And its political stance is consistent with that: if it’s good for vulnerable people, then Spiked is against it.

$300K is the figure Spiked has admitted to, but dark money gets its name because it’s hard to trace: it’s highly likely that there are other sums from other organisations that just happen to share the same agenda.

This isn’t just about a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be first against the wall when the revolution comes. It’s about the growing use of dark money to pervert media and politics. Dark money appears to be helping fund Spiked, and it appears to be funding the parade of think tanks that get so much airtime. It funds far-right rabble-rousers and social media astroturfing. Enormous sums of money are being spent to advance the interest of a tiny group of exceptionally wealthy people.

As Monbiot puts it:

Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

As Finley Peter Dunne famously said, journalism’s job is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. Dark money turns that on its head.

That’s not to say journalism shouldn’t have a viewpoint. I like John Harris’s argument:

Even partisan commentary can be rooted in the principles of good journalism, so long as it does not ignore uncomfortable facts, blindly offer support to parties or leaders, or distort actuality to score political points.

But that’s exactly what dark money wants to pollute. As soon as you accept dark money, all of your output becomes suspect.

This is important, and incredibly dangerous. We call the media “the fourth estate” after Thomas Carlyle, who wrote in 1787 that “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

In a civilised society the media is there to hold power accountable, not to act as its apologist or its cheerleader.

Oh lord, save me from sniggering bigotry

Imagine this.

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for black men to marry white women, then it should be OK for me to marry my pet pig,” he chuckles. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

No? Let’s try this one.

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for lesbian women to marry, then it should be OK for me to marry my dog,” he sniggers. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

No?

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for disabled people to get special parking spaces, then it should be OK for me to identify as disabled,” he snorts. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

Still not with me?

It’s 2018 and a publicity-seeking entrepreneur embarks on a high-profile court case.

“If it’s okay for trans people to change their legal genders, then it should be OK for me to change my legal date of birth,” he snorts. Newspapers and radio make it their light-hearted story of the week.

That one happened.

The guy’s intent doesn’t matter; it’s irrelevant whether he genuinely feels hard done by or if he’s using this to promote something. There is no substantive difference between the coverage of this story and repeating the “I identify as an attack helicopter” abuse trans people get on social media. It reinforces the trope that trans people are tricksters or mentally ill, that legal gender is something people change on a whim.

Meanwhile in news you probably didn’t see today, Reuters reports that UK doctors push one in five trans people to discredited “pray the gay away” conversion therapy and that LGBT patients experience “shockingly high levels of hostility and unfair treatment” in their dealings with healthcare professionals.

That’s trans folks’ light-hearted story of the week, and every week.

Not so hidden agendas

When is “random person has an opinion” news? When it’s a “concerned parent”. This is from yesterday’s Scottish Daily Mail.

 

The text describes how a “father-of-two” criticised the First Minister. “Edinburgh parent Richard Lucas…”

Now, Mr Lucas is indeed a parent. But he also has another role. He’s the head of the ultra-right wing Scottish Family Party. He left UKIP to create the party in order to “fill the void” left by the abandonment of “Judeo-Christian-inspired values of traditional Western civilisation”.

Their (or more likely, his: we’re not talking a mass movement here. The party has fewer than 2,000 Facebook followers) policies include getting gay people counselling to stop them being gay, to stop golf clubs being forced to admit women and to battle the evils of “feminist orthodoxy” and human rights. The party hates trans people and gay people and feminists and immigrants and women’s reproductive freedom and all the other right wing hate figures and argues that right-wing bigots should be legally allowed to beat their children and discriminate against anyone they disapprove of.

In other words, he’s a fruitcake who should be fired into the sun, the kind of arsehole who finds a home writing columns for the Glasgow Herald.

Or if you prefer pictures:

None of that, as you can see, made it into the Mail article. He’s just a reasonable parent with no particular axe to grind.

This is despicable journalism, and there’s a lot of it around. All too often people who run pressure groups are allowed to present themselves as ordinary people, and the journalists either don’t bother to find out who they are – which is shoddy journalism – or they know and keep it from their readers, in which case they’re no longer journalists but propagandists.

It happens on radio too, phone-ins populated by ordinary people who forget to mention that they’re councillors or candidates or head of fundraising for political parties or pressure groups. And you get it on shows such as Question Time, where representatives from “think tanks”, aka pressure groups with shadowy funding, advance the agendas of their paymasters.

This simply isn’t good enough. It’s poisoning the well of genuine debate and in many cases it’s giving bigots a platform they would be denied if their true affiliations were made clear.

Time for our next caller. Adolf is a painter from Braunau Am Inn, and he’s got some interesting views on the subject of immigration.