So, the ‘Sunday Times of London’ fired a man for an anti-semitic column, why was he paid in first place?

2By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

“The Sunday Times of London has fired the writer of an op-ed article denouncing the campaign by women of the British Broadcasting Corporation for equal pay after the column sparked widespread accusations that it was anti-Semitic and misogynistic,” we learned today. Now everyone is patting the newspaper on the back for making this quick decision.

The New York Times frames the story thus. “The article, by Kevin Myers, an Irish journalist with a record of provocative right-wing statements, was pulled from its website and the editor of The Sunday Times and the editor of the paper’s Irish edition apologized for the column.” Others wondered why this writer had a platform in the first place. They noted that he has spent a long time peddling “shock” that newspapers seem to think gets clicks. He has also peddled traditional right wing anti-immigrant views, claiming media “corrupted all useful debate on national identity, immigration and race, thereby doing irreversible damage to British society.”

So, now everyone is piling on, patting themselves on the back for fighting this sexism, anti-semitism and all manner of bad things. Let’s pause and read the offending statements:

“I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC — Claudia Winkelman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted — are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder, who are their agents? If they’re the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in their marketplace.”

Now let’s read some more condemnations. Kevin Lynch says he used to sub-edit this columnist back at the Irish Independent. He writes that Myers is “well-known in Ireland as a Holocaust denier, misogynist and all-round dangerous curmudgeon…He is an overpaid star columnist on the Irish edition of The Sunday Times who writes a weekly rant that is based solely on his own warped view of the world. There is no striving for balance or fact-based evidence with Myers: just an outpouring of bile and sermonising that is intended to offend, shock or outrage readers.

That’s interesting, so in Ireland they’ve known this for a long time? And the pay checks keep coming says Lynch. “He was poached from The Irish Times by the Irish Independent for a princely sum and then moved on to The Sunday Times in Ireland for an even greater fee. He earns several times more than the unfortunates who have to deal with what he writes.”

So why did it take until 2017 for this to happen? As the Irish Times notes, “Controversial columnist Kevin Myers will no longer write for The Sunday Times following the publication of a piece today containing offensive remarks about Jewish people.”  The statement from the newspaper noted: “Further to our earlier statement we can confirm that Kevin Myers will not write again for The Sunday Times Ireland. A printed apology will appear in next week’s paper.”

Other journalists have now come forward with their own stories of suffering anti-semitism. Joshua Zitser at The Independent notes “There’s nothing remotely controversial about this statement to me, because as a Jew, I’m on the receiving end of this type of remark all the time.” And Zitser reminds us that this isn’t the first time. “He has previously written in the Irish Independent: ‘There was no holocaust (or Holocaust, as my computer software insists) and six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich. These two statements of mine are irrefutable truths.'”

Wait, what?

What?

Oh, well yes. There’s a cached version of that article from 2009, although the website of the Irish Independent seems to have tried to erase it. So, wait, that means that all these newspapers knew how offensive this writer was and they kept hiring and paying? In 2008 he wrote “africa is giving nothing to anyone apart from aids,” and yet they kept publishing this. They kept promoting and giving a bigger audience and stage. Is this just about profit? Arn’t there lots of good columnists who aren’t offensive? There are.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 9.17.36 PM

Screenshot of the 2009 column at the Irish Independent

What’s really going on here is not just a question of “how many people edited this,” but an unfortunate tendency of newspapers to give platforms to offensive voices. This isn’t to be confused with critical voices. When a newspaper has a columnist, it stands behind the columnist, despite the claim that the views don’t represent the newspaper. Yes, the views do. You can’t distribute a column to thousands or millions of viewers and readers and then pretend “we don’t agree.” You do agree. A newspaper has a choice on who it runs and every word in every column ins’t “just opinion,” it is part of the newspaper and the newspaper does stand by it.

Yet, newspapers public racist trash all the time. I’ve highlighted many times how Israeli newspapers often publish racism, for instance columns claiming Russians have “alcohol and crime in their blood” (and claimed they aren’t Jewish) or articles claiming black people have skin color “stained with evil,” and have justified using racist terms for black people. They have published anti-hispanic cartoons, and called Jews of color “wannabe Jews.” But the offensive columns continue and so does the excuse that “it’s just one or two ‘crazy’ writers.”

Antisemitism in the UK is at a record level.  An article notes: “In the U.K. instances rose 42 percent in a year, with 1,309 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, compared with 924 the previous year. Of these, 24 percent involved abuse on social media.” If you do the math, the number of antisemitic incidents per capita in the UK is five times that of the US and Jews are twenty times more likely to be a victim of anti-semitism. Yet newspapers happily give columns to people who once wrote proudly of denying the Holocaust?

The reality is that we have to ask more about the venue and the audience. Recently two imams were accused of anti-semitism in California sermons, joining others in Montreal, Toronto and Denmark. Is the problem the imam, or the audience and the organization that gives him a venue? The problem of racism is not really racist columnists, there are lots of racists out there who, if given the opportunity, might like to be a well-paid columnist. The problem is the newspaper and the audience who remains silent.

Unfortunately many people have remained silent. Kevin Lynch says that it may have to do with the concept of the journalists fraternity. “We journalists are a tight bunch: we never like to see one of our own in a spot of bother. But My Arse is not one of us. His banishment from mainstream media would be a good thing.” When you critique a newspaper or a columnist you are often accused of being against free speech of “de-legitimizing” the media. But critique of racism in media isn’t against free speech. People can be racist in their home or on their personal computer. Free speech doesn’t mean a right to have a column in a newspaper (which is a privilege) and a newspaper doesn’t have an obligation to publish everything. In fact newspapers have an obligation not to publish everything and have more of an obligation to reduce hatred in society, not encourage it. It’s time newspapers take responsibility for why they keep employing hate-mongers.

 

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