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.