When journalists propagate hate

Safya Khan-Ruf - 31 07 17

The editor of The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens, has been forced to personally apologise over an antisemitic article which appeared in the Irish edition of the newspaper, generating a horrified backlash from readers and public alike.

Yet as many have commented, the writer in question had a history of making controversial comments, including over the Holocaust, and there are questions why the piece was ever allowed to pass.


Irish journalist Kevin Myers was sacked yesterday for the article “Sorry, ladies – equal pay has to be earned”, in which he added offensive comments about two high-profile, female Jewish presenters. The piece centred on the ongoing public battle over the gender pay gap at the BBC.

Kevin Myers’ appalling piece
“I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkelman and Vanessa Feltz… are Jewish,” Myers wrote. “Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price.” 

Myers also described how men most often worked harder, took fewer sick days and seldom get pregnant. The piece was removed from the website but was included in the Irish print edition of the weekly paper.

Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said the comments “were unacceptable and should not have been published. It has been taken down and we sincerely apologise for the remarks and the error of judgment that led to publication.”

Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of The Sunday Times Ireland, also apologised over the antisemitic article, but did not mention the sexism.

“It contained views that have caused considerable distress and upset to a number of people. As the editor of the Ireland edition I take full responsibility for this error of judgment. This newspaper abhors anti-Semitism and did not intend to cause offence to Jewish people.” 

However, the fact remains that the piece was published and editor and sub-editor must have deemed it acceptable.

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber pointed out the “undiluted antisemitism and misogyny” contained in one paragraph. But while many are discovering Myers now, this is not his first notorious piece.

Controversial History

Myers was already notorious for denying the Holocaust ever happened. In 2009, he published a column in The Independent called: “There was no Holocaust”.

In it, he claimed that six million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis, and that those who died were not mostly burnt in concentration camps. The article remained online for years before The Independent removed it on Sunday, noting it did not “comply with our editorial ethos”.

Many minorities feel discriminated against in the UK and having such ideas in the media only helps develop hate and stereotypes.

Joshua Zitser, a journalist at The Independent, writes he was not shocked about the casual antisemitism of Myers’ piece.

“I have on more than one occasion nonchalantly been reminded that it makes sense that I’m a journalist because, you know, “the Jews run the media”.

It is often accompanied by a smirk and insistence that the individual is not anti-Semitic but, on one occasion, an Ivy League alumnus justified it by listing all of the Jewish Hollywood directors and actors he could call to mind,” he said. 

Antisemitism is not the only type of discriminative attacks Myers has delved into. In 2008, he wrote a piece for the Irish Independent: “Africa is giving nothing to anyone –­ apart from AIDS”. This was later deleted.

His history with sexism is also documented online. In 2005, Myers wrote for The Irish Times – on his Irishman’s Diary column – about single mothers:

“And how many girls – and we’re largely talking about teenagers here – consciously embark upon a career of mothering bastards because it seems a good way of getting money and accommodation from the State? Ah. You didn’t like the term bastard? No, I didn’t think you would. In the welfare-land of Euphemesia, what is the correct term for the offspring of unmarried mothers? One-parent offspring?” 
Hate through the media

Many on Twitter have questioned how the piece got through editorial without being scrapped in the first place.

It is interesting to see the response of The Irish Times editor – Geraldine Kennedy – who published the column on single mothers in 2005. She argued that the newspaper had to provide a forum for debate and give a platform to minority and sometimes, unpopular views.

“Kevin performs a very important function in this newspaper by challenging many of today’s orthodoxies in the same spirit as The Irish Times has always questioned the prevailing views of the day,” she wrote.

“The mindset which sees innocent children as bastards still exists in 2005, unfortunately, and I felt it should be revealed.” 

Kennedy did also apologise for the offence caused to any women, children or readers.

But giving a platform to a person spewing hate is not the solution to creating a balanced position, the same way that giving a microphone to a climate change denier will not fix global warming.

Controversy sells … or does it?

Myers was hired to be controversial and when that is the job, each week, a newspaper or any other media platform has to decide if the output is too controversial, not controversial enough or just right. (In the era of fake news, this may seem somewhat ironic, of course)

Inevitably, the nature of the job means things can go beyond what is acceptable: a piece that is not provocative or challenging, but simply crude and shock-bait. But still, that looks pretty paper thin in this case.

Jemma Levene, Deputy Director of HOPE not hate, said she welcomed the decision to sack Myers:

“The swift action The Sunday Times took in taking down this article and sacking Myers is welcome, but we struggle to see how this vile piece made it through the editorial process. Moreover, any apology can only be sincere if addressed to all those offended by the article.

“The public outcry on this issue demonstrates that this was offensive not just to the Jewish community, but to all those who stand up to prejudice and hate. 

Following his sacking, The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has called for all “decent publications” to refuse to work with Myers. The Sunday Times has announced it will review its procedures to examine how the lapse in editorial judgement occurred.

While some may have commended a quick response (even as others called into question the lack of editorial judgement), Myers is not the only one living off hate.

The likes of Katie Hopkins are using similar tropes to make money, dehumanising refugees and calling them “cockroaches”, supporting use of gunships or even meeting with far-right extremists who want to harass NGO rescue ships.

Katie Hopkins’ despicable comments on refugees

Geraldine Kennedy was right to believe newspapers must provide a forum for debate, but hate and hurtful stereotypes should never be up for debate.


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