The people versus the Daily Mail
It’s been a fascinating week for watching people use the internet to attempt to right injustices. Monday night saw law firm Carter-Ruck take out an injunction against The Guardian, solely because it was going to report that an MP was going to ask a question in parliament about an oil company which is alleged to have dumped toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Within 12 hours, Carter-Ruck’s client’s name was all over the internet as users merrily broke the injunction themselves with freely-available information. The name Trafigura is now shorthand for how England’s repressive defmation laws was overturned by several thousand unhappy citizens. Indeed, this was British law being overturned by the British sense of fair play. “Now look here, old chap, this is not on…”
The main instrument they used was Twitter. Its 140-character messages and “trending topics” chart kept the complainants’ fire burning, and the simple “pass it on” nature of the service saw anger spread rapidly. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is right – it’s an episode that will be referred back to in years to come. But it would have been nothing if people weren’t outraged by his paper’s gagging.
Come Friday, and there were twin outrages. Firstly, the tale of the Tube worker caught on video insulting a passenger at Holborn station – not necessarily a open-and-shut case, but it appealed both to the spirit of fair play and the widespread prejudice that London Underground employees are all bone idle and overpaid. By the afternoon the worker had been suspended, the video had been everywhere and the Evening Standard decided to lead with it, on the grounds that it’s easier to lead with something it got off the internet that everyone knows about anyway instead of a shocking and more complex story that had been its earlier lead.
But that was nothing, nothing compared to the case of Jan Moir. The Daily Mail columnist decided to opine on the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, who passed away at the weekend in Majorca. A post-mortem found that the 33-year-old died in his sleep from natural causes due to pulmonary oedema – fluid on the lungs, in other words.
Jan Moir, however, knew different.
Something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend, like a broken teacup in the rented cottage.
Consider the way it has been largely reported, as if Gately had gently keeled over at the age of 90 in the grounds of the Bide-a-Wee rest home while hoeing the sweet pea patch.
The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.
What’s your point, Jan?
Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this…. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.
After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.
Cowles and Dochev went to the bedroom together while Stephen remained alone in the living room.
What happened before they parted is known only to the two men still alive. What happened afterwards is anyone’s guess.
So, Gately died… because he and his chap found a fella they took a fancy to, and took him back to their flat? Seriously?
The troubling thing is not that a Mail columnist is a vile old bigot. It’s how many people at the Mail this hateful piece of nonsense would have seen this before it was published. That nobody thought – hold on, there’s something wrong with this. But then again, it’s the Daily Mail. The voice of hate. Jan Moir is not some maverick – this crap is par for the course in the Daily Mail. Why let facts get in the way of a good piece of stirring? The piece then went into a strange riff about civil partnerships and, bizarrely, brought into the frame the recent suicide of Kevin McGee, comic Matt Lucas’s former partner. What’s your point, Jan? The gays have defective brains?
Of course, young men do die suddenly of initially inexplicable causes. To suggest otherwise is insulting to those who are still mourning those who have passed away in such circumstances. Remember Christopher Price, the Liquid News presenter? Taken at 34 by a brain infection that’d gone undetected. Cameroonian footballer Marc-Vivien Foe died after collapsing during an international match in 2003 from a heart condition, aged 28. Last summer, a friend of mine, Mat, died suddenly at 35 from a blood clot which had gone undiagnosed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at his funeral, and he’s still missed today.
It happens. But not in Jan Moir’s world. She’s more interested into the circumstances of his final hours, which are none of her bloody business. I don’t recall this purience into the death of The Who’s John Entwistle, whose last hours were spent with an escort. But it’s those gays here, isn’t it? Jan Moir and the Mail can’t let them be without a sly dig.
And something very interesting happened. On one side, the same liberal types who got upset about Trafigura, who look at the Guardian and fume at the Mail a lot. On the other, people who listen to Heart FM, loved Boyzone, and saw Gately for what he was – a slick entertainer whose appeal crossed generations. They came together, and kicked up one heck of a fuss. “Jan Moir” trended on Twitter. The Press Complaints Commission website crashed under complaints.
More significantly – because the PCC is a pretty toothless watchdog – a Facegroup group was launched to get users to contact businesses and ask then pull their advertising from the Mail. Within hours – victory. M&S and Nestle had told the Mail to take their adverts off. When Nestle criticises your ethics, you know you’re in trouble. The Mail ended up pulling all advertising from the page – and changing the headline from “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” to the peculiar “A strange, lonely and troubling death…”
This is, as far as I can remember, the first time an internet campaign has hurt the Daily Mail. The first time the Mail has been forced to acknowledge that it provides house room for the kind of bigoted, reactionary nonsense that makes this country a more miserable place to live in. Because the Mail not only upset liberals. It alienated those who enjoyed Stephen Gately’s music and had no interest in his private life, from young mums to grannies. People who might actually buy the Mail. They were as offended by Jan Moir’s speculation as woolly liberals were. And together, the two groups scored a direct hit on a normally-impregnable target.
The Mail was forced to respond with a statement from Jan Moir, issued by its PR agency. Unfortunately, it shows how she – and the paper – still do not get it.
“Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately… in what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”
The gay community, eh? The buggers get you every time, eh Jan? And who orchestrated that internet campaign? Was it the gay community?
It’s revolting to see Jan Moir try to pass herself off as a victim. She’s the one who has pried into a recently-dead man’s private life – a man who has not yet been buried – and caused deep offence to those who admired him. She’s the one who’s paid money by the Daily Mail to spread this sort of nonsense. And today was the day people stood up to a bigot, and stood up to the Daily Mail. And scored a small victory.
The Mail likes to think it stands up for British values. Today’s internet campaigning wasn’t about Twitter or whatever. It was about those British values. It was about calling out an arrogant old institution which wielded power without responsibility, and forcing it to stop and think. It was about telling the Mail that it wasn’t fair to print bigoted nonsense like Jan Moir’s. And telling the Mail’s advertisers that they shouldn’t be seen endorsing that unfairness. We can’t hope that the Mail will suddenly turn into a bastion of liberal values. But hopefully it’ll learn something from today. Fingers crossed.