How low can you stoop?

As you may have heard, Jan Moir, a columnist for the Daily Mail, wrote a vile, hate-filled column ladling serves-him-right spite all over the (at the time) unburied coffin of Stephen Gately.  I was going to do a take-down of the column itself, but many, many people have beaten me to the punch, so there seems little point.  I especially recommend Charlie Brooker’s piece in The Guardian, which says everything I would have wanted to, but with the added bonus of humour, a quality I would probably have struggled to include.

I also recommend, by the way, that you follow the advice he offers at the close of his article about complaining to the Press Complaints Commission.  As he points out, the Mail has been positively unstinting in its desire to encourage outraged readers to complain en masse every time a broadcaster coughs, so it seems only fair to treat them in the same way.  Which is the worse failing, after all: to make humorous references to the sexual activities of a man’s granddaughter on his answerphone; or to insinuate that a grieving mother is deliberately ‘spinning’ the facts of her son’s death?

This is the thing, you see.  If you write for a newspaper that regularly uses its privileged position to whip up public mobs, you can’t then complain about people on twitter ‘orchestrating’ a ‘campaign’ to target you and the commercial interests of the paper you work for.  It’s like the old saying has it – live by the sword, die by the sword.  Not, of course, that this has stopped Ms Moir from attempting to complain in these terms, or from producing a statement which seeks to justify her actions.  I have taken the decision not to reproduce the whole of her statement – parts of it seem to me to be almost as vile and hate-mongering as the original article it is attempting to defend – but it is available if you follow the link.  Nonetheless, there are a number of aspects of the piece that I feel compelled to comment on.

Stephen, as I pointed out in the article was a charming and sweet man who entertained millions.

Then why write an article attacking him before he’s even cold in the ground?  If you were so keen to point out what a ‘charming and sweet man’ he was, then why not just write an article saying that?  If you really felt that other issues had to be raised in connection with his death, then why not wait until his partner and friends and family had at least had the chance to lay him to rest?  To not do those things, you see, makes you seem heartless and cruel – which is what, I suspect, is at the root of most of the thousands of complaints that have been registered against you.

However, the point of my column […] was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, his death raises many unanswered questions. That was all.

That was all you were trying to do?  So why the section where you look forward to the deaths of ‘troubled’ celebrities?  And why, if you were only interested in the ‘unanswered questions’, did you refer to answered questions, like the cause of death.  The headline of your article – which I realise was probably written by a sub-editor and not you – told us there was ‘nothing natural’ about Mr Gately’s death, which would seem to be a factually inaccurate statement.  Possibly this is why the headline was changed on the online version of the article.  Or maybe whoever changed it felt that the dog-whistle – tipping off the readers to Stephen Gately’s ‘unnatural lifestyle’, without actually coming out and saying homosexuality is unnatural – was a little too blatant.

Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything. However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death […] did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.

So where did you qualify in medicine, Ms Moir – or should that be Dr Moir?  When did you examine Mr Gately’s corpse, or, at the very least, read the medical notes of the autopsy?  Because you do realise you need both of these if you’re going to challenge the findings of the pathologist?  You do realise that whenever any autopsy is carried out, the sole reason is to establish whether ‘what took place in the hours immediately preceding [… a] death’ had a bearing on it?  That this is precisely what the pathologist and the coroner were looking for, and didn’t find?  Because if you do realise all that, and you’re continuing to try to claim otherwise, not only in your article, but now in your defence of that article too – well, it doesn’t show you in a very good light, does it?

The entire matter of his sudden death seemed to have been handled with undue haste when lessons could have been learned.

Undue haste?  So you have evidence for that, do you?  You have evidence that the autopsy and the inquest happened much faster than they would normally?  Or that the desire to expedite things in order that his body could be repatriated to his grieving family was ‘undue’?

And what lessons could have been learned, exactly?  That people with undiagnosed health problems sometimes die out of the blue?  Hasn’t that message already got pretty well out there?  Unless, of course, you’re talking about some kind of ‘moral lesson’ – that this is what happens to you if you dare to be young and carefree, or you dare to go for a fun night out when you’re on holiday, or you dare to do both of those things, and then compound the ‘offence’ by being publicly gay?  Are these the lessons you’re talking about?  Because, if they are – well, isn’t it a problem for you that so many people around the world do these sorts of things every year, and almost none of them die suddenly?  Wouldn’t that mean that you were trying to use an exceptionally rare example of someone who dies after doing those things – and as a result of an unrelated medical condition, let’s not forget – to try and frighten people into living by a ‘moral’ code they would otherwise reject?

When I wrote that ‘he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine’, I was referring to the drugs and the casual invitation extended to a stranger.

Really?  So this wasn’t yet another example of dog-whistle writing, then?  You were entirely unaware of the fact that very many bigots express the opinion that homosexuality is becoming more common because famous gay people like Stephen Gately ‘set an example [… for] impressionable young men […] to emulate’?  You were equally unaware that these same bigots use this as an argument for saying that homosexuality should only ever be reported on in negative terms, such as, for example, insisting that, should a gay man die at a young age of natural causes, the coverage should stress that there are ‘lessons to be learned’ about the dangers of his choices?  It never once occurred to you, as you sat writing words like these in a column in which you criticised a famous gay man for the dangers inherent in his choices, that you might be interpreted in this way?

In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships – the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting – have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.

Really?  You are saying you would have written an identical column if Stephen Gately had been straight?  That, had he had a wife and not a husband, you would have sat down and written in your column that his death ‘strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth’ of straight marriage?  Really, seriously, you are claiming that you would have written those words?

Well, even if we believe you, the key problem is that you never actually have written about straight marriage in this way.  Given this, I’m sure you can see why people might worry that you were being homophobic when you chose to include these comments in a column about the death of a gay man.  It looks for all the world, you see, like you are criticising gay people and civil partnerships in a way that you have not criticised straight people and heterosexual marriage, which is pretty much a letter-perfect definition of what anti-gay bigotry would look like.  All of which makes your concluding remark

I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones

very hard to understand.

You could perhaps mount a partial defence of your column by saying that the bigoted and homophobic undertones were not deliberate, and that you were genuinely sorry to find that people had interpreted your column that way.  I think you would still find that a lot of complaints had been made against you – the effect of the context in which your work appears, I’m afraid; bitter experience has taught many of us that Daily Mail columnists are very often deliberately and brutally homophobic, even to the extent of using the sad death of a young man to peddle their hatred – but you would have at least had the comfort of knowing that you had done whatever you could to mitigate the hurt you had caused.  But to say that it’s wrong to suggest that the homophobic and bigoted undertones are there in the first place?  Well I’m afraid that just makes it look like you’re trying to deny the existence of something we can all see exists, and that you’re only doing so because you’ve been caught out.

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10 Responses to How low can you stoop?

  1. Lucy McGough says:

    If he took drugs, that might have contributed to his death. But having sex with strangers normally leads to STIs (if done without protection), rather than sudden death.

    The article was ridiculous. It implied that being gay can lead to you randomly dying on a sofa. It also suggested that all gay people are celebrities who lead the toxic celebrity lifestyle – booze, partying, drugs, casual sex – that Mr Gately seems to have been sucked into.

    Jan Moir seems to be living in a universe governed by Providence, where doing things Jan Moir disapproves of causes sudden death.

    I know loads of gay people, and none of them have ever been found dead on a sofa. Not even once.

    “Heath Ledger’s death strikes another blow to the myth of happily-ever-after heterosexual relationships . . .”

    Somehow, I can’t see that being written in an article . . .

  2. Jenna says:

    Nicely done. This is a nice, intelligent take on Moir’s lameness.

    I posted my response to the piece on my blog at but I couldn’t resist using a swear word.

  3. cb says:

    I agree for what it’s worth. The apology seemed to lack so much grace as to make it seem like it was rubbing salt into sores. If anything though, the amount of outrage has heartened me.

  4. Adair says:

    Moir’s original article doesn’t even make *sense*. It just rambles all over the place and either doesn’t connect one idea to the next or makes spurious connections. Maybe she consciously tried not to commit herself to any one viewpoint and so she actually feels justified in saying she didn’t make homophobic points. I unfortunately have enough experience with right wing crazies to realize many of them believe what they’re saying even when what they’re saying obviously contradicts what they just said.

    Unfortunately, the BS defense of an insulting statement on the homophobic front has become all too familiar to me since I moved to Salt Lake City last year a few months before the local semi-theocracy played a big role in banning gay marriage in California. One state senator said, “Increasingly, individuals with conservative beliefs are targeted by a left-leaning media that uses their position of public trust as a bully pulpit” about the backlash to his comments including, “Homosexuality will always be a sexual perversion. And you say that around here now and everybody goes nuts. But I don’t care…They’re mean. They want to talk about being nice. They’re the meanest buggers I have ever seen.” (That was just this February.)

    The Mormon Church itself is as bad when it comes to hypocrisy but tends to avoid the name-calling.

    It’s funny how the same hatred and ignorance and hypocrisy goes on on every level: Government, major religions, prestigious newspapers and public figures, down to non-prestigious newspapers and writers, then to blogs if they can’t go anywhere else. I have a friend in Florida whose friend got badly injured in an accident along with her mother, who died, and a local blogger took the opportunity to accuse the victims of being illegal immigrants and to get supporters flinging the same accusations. And it’s funny how some relatively low impact incident can cause a bigger uproar than something more important. I’m glad to be part of the fight against prejudice (although my head aches terribly whenever it becomes clear that the fight’s necessary), but sometimes protests feel like being swept up in something I can’t control and don’t entirely understand.

    And I’m totally rambling, because I have nothing more relevant to say. I’d like to add, however, that reading Moir’s claim that healthy young people don’t keel over felt like a punch in the gut, because my entire family has a genetic disorder that causes exactly that, and doctors didn’t even describe and name the disorder until a few days ago. I grew up knowing that my brothers and I might or might not have an unknown disorder that could kill us out of the blue (our father, in his late twenties and in the infantry, had an aortic aneurysm–luckily survived, but disabled from it). If someone lacks the compassion to (a) overcome whatever homophobia they were raised with, (b) avoid speaking ill of a recently dead young man, (c) avoid verbally attacking his family, (d) understand and admit they did something wrong, (e) not write gossip for the Daily Mail, I guess I can hardly expect them to have any sensitivity to those of us dealing with the terror of a potentially fatal, largely mysterious familial heart condition, but it does irk me that such bigots consider themselves to be on the family values side of thing.

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Lucy McGough – I know loads of gay people, and none of them have ever been found dead on a sofa. Not even once.

    Me too. :o) In fact, i even know gay people who go out and have a drink, and take some of the milder drugs, and have the occasional threesome, and none of them have ever died on a sofa either. It’s almost as though she was trying to frighten people without reason, isn’t it? ;o)

    Jenna – thanks. :o) Your post is excellent, btw.

    cb – i agree, the amount of outrage it generated is encouraging. And i’m particularly pleased by how rapidly the companies whose ads were appearing alongside the column asked for them to be removed – it would be quite nice if the Mail were to be forced by commercial pressure into being even fractionally less bigoted.

    Adair – i agree with everything you say. :o) Sorry to hear about your family’s health problems. As you say, it gives the lie to JM’s claim that young people never die. The sad thing is there have been fairly high-profile cases of the same thing over here that have been prominently reported in the media, but she managed to forget about those while she was writing her column.

  6. Louise says:

    ‘Moir’s original article doesn’t even make *sense*.’

    It’s the Daily Mail. I don’t think ‘making sense’ is a requirement.

  7. I too am pleased at the amount of outrage and subsequent coverage of that outrage. The amount of excellent spoofs has been great too.

    The response from the advertisers was great and it was amusing to see the article with white spaces around it where the adverts should have been. I have since noticed they have been filled with Daily Mail adverts. I guess endorsing their own hate-filled drivel is fine.

    I was wondering if Moir had ever heard of CRY – cardiac risk in the young. Maybe this postcard might be helpful. Maybe we should all send her one?

  8. Louise says:

    I vote you give her a slap.

  9. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the extra comments.

    Louise – regarding the making sense comment: well, quite. :o) On the point of slapping her – well, i would endorse metaphorical slaps only. I know the Mail thinks that corporal punishment is a good thing, but i’m not a fan of it myself… ;o)

    intothesystem – that would be a very good idea. :o)

  10. In fact I’ve just sent CRY an email to see if they are aware of the article and wish to comment.

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