Bag MenAs I write, the teenager claimed to have perpetrated the Boston bombings is either being killed or being arrested by policemen. I can’t tell, because the journalists conducting the “live” news don’t seem to have a sodding clue. I might as well be listening to them in Spanish.

Posters on Reddit are facing justified criticism for fingering innocent men as suspects in the bombings. What might be overlooked, though, is the fact that it was not excitable netizens that splashed a 17-year-old track athlete across their front page but professional journalists of The New York Post. It was Gawker, Fox and CNN that published images of Ryan Lanza, who was innocently busing home as his brother stood accused of massacring children at Sandy Hook. It was ABC that linked Jim Holmes, a Colorado native who happened to be a member of the Tea Party Patriots, to the Aurora shoots that the police would attribute to a very different James Holmes.

This is not to absolve presumptuous investigooglers but to observe that the mainstream media has long been leading this pack of news-hungry hounds. This wreaks terrible effects on the emotions of the innocent yet accused, of course, and I expect it to have more destructive effects in time. What if a Bay Stater with a lot of testosterone and little intelligence had looked up from their paper or iPhone to see young Salah Barhoum jogging down the street, or if a headstrong Connecticuter had been eyeing the news while on the bus with Ryan Lanza? Someone is liable to be identified as the perpetrator of this or that atrocity and then face a beating or outright execution from vigilantes as they go about their business.

The frenzies of news updates that follow these events are bad for all of us. I kept tabs on Twitter as shots rang through Sandy Hook, and studied it as carnage was erupting in Aurora. What took place in those events? I’m damned if I know, and I suspect I’m not the only one. The media, both old and new, whips up a storm of facts, rumours and downright lies and then blows us to the site of its next tempest as the debris begins to settle. We are left unsure of what took place, still less of why, and remain dazed, giddy, and excitable – in no mood for reflection.

Rolling news has not merely affected the manner in which we observe events, but the types of events we observe. Why have we been so consumed by news of shootings in Connecticut, Colorado and Pretoria? They were almost wholly irrelevant to us. This is not to claim that they are uninteresting, or that one should not take an interest in them, but that we are being conditioned into following events according to their ability to generate rapid and sensational developments: the 20/20 cricket games to the slower, more complex and yet often more significant progression of events elsewhere. This could make us more impatient, more ignorant and, considering the grim nature of these spectacles, more insecure.

As I have been writing, the police have arrested the teenager. I hope it can be determined whether he is guilty, and, if so, why and how he managed to commit the act. To this end, I hope that people will be calm and patient enough to reflect on such inquiries, and their implications, with appropriate care. We need silence. We need space.

ReevaIt will not come as a surprise to hear that the front page of The Sun bears a gigantic image of a half-naked woman. She pouts towards the viewer, with one hand playing with her streams of blonde hair and the other toying with the string of fabric that sits between her ample breasts. Something distinguishes this particular bombshell. She is dead.

In an unsurprising yet nonetheless gruesome move the U.K’s bestselling newspaper has decided to illustrate its coverage of the slaying of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of her boyfriend, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, with a huge photo of the woman in a bikini. I was already growing tired of articles that simply referred to her as “his model girlfriend”. True, the status of the killer is the reason for the death to be newsworthy but you’d think the victim deserved to be named. These dubious moral standards, though, seem almost saintly in comparison with The Sun’s leering, near-necrophiliac exploitation of her body.

This depraved opportunism sits within a long tradition of Sun front pages. The most notorious are, of course, the sneer of “GOTCHA” with which it announced the sinking of the Belgrano and the deaths of hundreds of young Argentines, and the headline of “THE TRUTH” beneath which it announced a pack of lies about Hillsborough. Last year’s entry into its abhorrent annals was a gigantic photo of the mutilated corpse of Gaddafi, above which a headline roared “THAT’S FOR LOCKERBIE”. Grotesque as it is to be so celebratory over anyone’s mutilated carcass, the fact that we still have no good idea of who was behind the 1998 bombing made this especially toxic.

One can fret too much about the tabloids. The fact is that while papers like The Times and The Guardian sell fewer copies they are read by people who are far more influential. Broadsheet readerships tend to be smaller but more select and, thus, the mistruths and illusions they promote are more dangerous. It is nonetheless disturbing to observe the gallons of sewage with which the tabloids flood the middle and lower classes.

One almost forgets that their supposed reason for existence is to provide news. Their raison d’etre is blind fear and futile resentment: exploiting rather than informing popular concerns and giving readers the impression of abject powerlessness. The Sun, then, promoted frightening yet fictitious stories of terrorist plots such as “Al-Qaeda…fitting women suicide bombers with fake breasts that explode” and screamed “TRAITORS” when MPs failed to back the domineering measures held to be essential in coping with the exaggerated threat. Such is their disdain for the truth and their readership that even the buxom lasses on the third page are organs of propaganda. In 2004, Zoe, 22, from London, expressed the opinion that “the world is better off without Saddam”. Thanks.

The soullessness extends beyond political reportage. The Daily Mail, for example, and its online empire, is noted for its exploitation of celebrities. The replacement of coverage of influential people with that of famous individuals is depressing for its vacuity but its obtrusiveness and prurience is also grim due to the callous attitude that The Sun’s front page reflects. So invasive is its portrayal of the stars that it has published 975 articles, all of them crammed with photos, devoted to the six-year-old child of Tom Cruise. This is nothing, though, compared to their plans for the unborn spawn of actress Evan Rachel Wood. This week, to her disgust, they published shots of her ultrasound scan.

I have observed the grim irony that the media institutions which pretend to represent social conservatism are themselves lewd, disrespectful and uncaring. They not only embody these features, though, but are among their foremost promoters in our society. Hugh Trevor-Roper, who had cause to detest Rupert Murdoch after he intimidated his employees into publishing the Hitler Diaries, speculated that the brash Australian loathed England and was on a mission to “moronise and americanise the population”. Even if this was not his intention it is, in large part, his achievement.

It is not enough to regret that our newspapers are a Ballardian mishmash of prurience and paranoia. The rot goes deeper. Our television schedules are filled with the vapid exploitativeness of reality programmes the tabloids have tirelessly promoted. Our performers expose and embarrass themselves for the publicity they offer. Our politicians speak in crude soundbites tailored for their headlines. They have bred culture that exists not to enlighten but to degrade: coarsening tongues, dulling minds and hardening hearts. It may be their more sophisticated and pretentious cousins that have helped to formulate the grand ideas that have thrown our society off a reasonable path but it is they that work to ensure that citizens are leering, sneering and often stupefied observers.

Jonah LehrerJonah Lehrer, the popular science writer who fabricated quotes to use in a book on, of all things, creativity, has apologised in a speech at a conference. He was, the New York Times informs us, paid $20,000. Man, I wish my sins offered such potential for reward.

Lehrer admitted at length that he had been dishonest, arrogant and thoughtless but insisted that he is trying to change his ways. The temptation to do wrong, he granted, would never leave him, so he asked his friends and critics to hold him to account. “What I clearly need is a new set of rules,” he said, before assuring us that if he continues in journalism, “Whatever I write will be fully fact-checked and footnoted. Every conversation will be fully taped and transcribed”.

When I’m blogging I can be so stirred by preconceptions and preferences that I misinterpret or overlook evidence. I have never, though, been tempted to consciously fabricate it and would guess that this is true of almost all of us who type away at these ‘umble websites. It is amazing that Lehrer, having granted that he is inclined towards self-serving lies over inconvenient truths, still thinks that he is fit to be a journalist. I have nothing personal him as a man. Most of us have temptations we are ashamed of and if I met him in a bar I would get a round in. A journalist, though? No. Would you trust a vet who had not only killed a hamster but admitted to bearing temptations to kill again? No, you would commend his honesty, scoop up little Marmaduke and head out of his office.

This is reminiscent of the case of Johann Hari, who, after being found to have inserted quotes from other peoples’ interviews into his own and attacked his peers under false names, apologised and said that he was going to undertake a course of journalism training. Again, I have nothing against Mr. Hari but journalism schools are heaving with people who have been trained. Honestly, it’s tragic how many of the poor fools there are. We must have almost as many journalism graduates as Kitchener had volunteers. Most of them, moreover, have never shown themselves to be inclined towards such deeds as Hari. Why should he remain in work?

One of the recurrent themes of public apologies is the insistence that they will lead to personal growth. There is nothing wrong with this; it is a fine aspiration. Yet when these penitent souls have transgressed in positions of privilege one has to ask why they deserve to maintain their status, and when they have sinned in positions of power it raises of the question of why we should bear the risk of further misdemeanours. I would love to see a public figure who has misbehaved throw up their hands and say, “You know what? I was wrong. It seems I am not cut out for a position of influence. Ah, well, I will rejoin the 99.5% of the population who have normal jobs and quiet lives. Later, dudes!”

OrwellWith the exceptions of arms dealing and music criticism, is there a profession that is less reputable than that of opinion columnists? They have been growing awfully defensive of late. The retraction of Julie Burchill’s attack on transexuals provoked a lot of chatter about the freedom of speech, while the abuse that thuggish geeks dish out on Twitter has inspired great consternation about “trolls”. I don’t disagree with any of this. While Burchill should never have been published, the erasure of her column is silly, and the calls for heads to roll over it are hysterical enough that one can imagine their being repeated to shout down more worthwhile arguments. As for people who compose pro wrestling promos over Twitter, well – they are indeed a pain.

Yet I am not going to defend the freedom of opinion columnists without observing how miserably some of them are wasting it; nor defend them from abuse without observing how some of them have encouraged the boorish narcissism they now decry. Burchill is a good example. I am sure that we are all growing tired of hearing about her so I will strive to dissect her body of work in a grisly enough fashion that no one can chirp bright-eyed platitudes about the “fearless opinions” that made her rich and “contrarian thinking” that placed her on the side of Margaret Thatcher, abortion and the Iraq War. Such courage.

It is not her opinions that make her so obnoxious but the means by which she arrives at and expresses them. She takes whichever views will satisfy her prejudices and then frames them in tones of unhinged hostility. This often leads her to be both flatly wrong and hateful. The Irish, for example, she defined as “Hitler-licking, altarboy-molesting [and] abortion-banning”. I suppose it made a change for someone to libel the people of Ireland without mentioning cider or potatoes but, still, that is shameful. “If one is a Catholic,” she wrote a couple of years ago, “Surely double-speak and duplicity are second nature”. Surely? No. My Granddad, for one, is a member of the Catholic Church and I am not sure he has ever been dishonest. I would not let someone get away with saying that in my living room; how she got paid to write it for the mainstream media is beyond me.

Burchill is not a thinker. She can think, I am sure, but she has been so fêted for mindlessness that she has never had to. The target that she defines herself as opposing, then, is hypocrisy: the dullest of vices to criticise because one is, in essence, issuing ad hominems. Admired though she is for her character assassinations, even these have struck me as inept; reliant upon the force with which they are expressed rather than the incisiveness of their content. George Monbiot, for example, she described as being “spoon-fed…and…having no idea what real life is about. One might argue that a person who got into journalism in their teens and has subsisted off cocaine and bubbly since has as much right to brandish their working class roots as Snoop Dogg does to speak of life in the ghetto but one should also note that Monbiot has been attacked by gunmen in Maranhão; mutilated with a fencing spike at Solsbury Hill and afflicted with cerebral malaria in Lodwar. I am no great admirer of his journalism but “silver spoon”? That sounds far closer to “fearless”.

It would be unfair to treat her as an aberration. One could bring up the thuggishness of Rod Liddle, for example, who spent one blogpost describing Owen Jones as a “halfwit”, “pig-ignorant idiot” and, through the medium of a friend, “fucking…tosser” and followed it with another in which he expressed his wish that someone would collar George Monbiot “smash his spectacles and spit on his shoes”. One could speak of the indifference to the truth that Nick Cohen has displayed on multitudinous occasions. One could force oneself to think of Harry Cole, who unapologetically smears a fellow citizen as a terrorist.

I suppose columnists have to ask themselves what they exist to do. If it is merely to entertain none of the above should concern them. If it is to inform, edify and produce literature to rank alongside of that Orwell, Mencken and others, however, they should be ashamed of the tawdry and often unreadable obscurantism that characterises much of their professional class. This encourages censors and empowers thugs, and if we are going to aid them in facing either we should insist that they take a long, hard look at themselves.

BurchillPolitical correctness is a term used so promiscuously, both by its defenders and opponents, that it can be hard to know the meaning of the concept. I have, as on many issues, stood in both camps and will try to offer a fair definition: it is the attempt to exclude inegalitarian sentiments from mainstream discourse. As a nonegalitarian leftist I often find myself opposing this trend because inequalities can be inexorable facts of the human predicament. To restrict their discussion is dangerously anti-intellectual.

This week, for example, we were told that criticism of Sharia courts is “racist”. Left-wingers have been insisting that they have “no problem with…Sharia law, nor its exercise by Sharia courts”. No problem, then, with courts in which a woman can be told that being struck by your husband is “not a very serious matter”, and which can be staffed by blokes who advocate female genital mutilation and the marrying off of girls while they are young. Political correctness, at its worst, mandates the denial of reality.

I am all for political incorrectness, then. The problem is that being politically incorrect is often confused with “being a git”. The two need not go hand in hand. The first and only requirement for a worthwhile commentator, beyond the ability to think and then express oneself, is intellectual honesty. One must expose the truth. If it will be gladly received, so be it; if it won’t that is too bad. These things are incidental to its being correct. The second virtue that I look for is sincerity. One can illuminate the truth while casting the beam of one’s attention round in the showy, frivolous manner of a controversialist but this is typically due to luck rather than judgement and is more liable to simply distract and irritate.

A third virtue that I look for is empathy. This is not to say one must be inoffensive. The fault of PC is that it encourages people to respond to fact claims with ire rather than arguments, and one cannot be truthful, sometimes, without offending others. Nor is it to say one should be hypervigilant in moderating one’s rhetoric. That only encourages hypersensitivity. Nor, indeed, is it a fundamental requirement. Mencken empathised with humans to the same extent that a butcher empathises with a flank steak but eloquence, wit and insight can make up for a lot.

Yet it is a virtue. I think you can guess what prompted this. Julie Burchill is a narcissistic bigot, largely famed for crude abuse and unreadable bluster about the most inane of subjects. She is known as a contrarian and disputant but has never made a truly thought-provoking argument in her life. In the screed that has resulted in so much controversy she defended a pal of hers from aggrieved transsexuals. She did this by calling them “shemales” and “dicks in chicks’ clothing”, and comparing them to the Black and White Minstrels.

I have never known a transexual nor given their experiences and orientation particular thought. It seems clear, however, that anyone prepared to undergo such laborious and frightening operations and then face such a potential for awkwardness, humiliation and abuse must have endured a lot of turmoil and arrived at strong convictions. Whatever the argument that one is making about their status or behaviour, then, to do it in a sneeringly unsympathetic manner does not make one an iconoclast but, well – a git.

This sort of poisonous pundit encourages the perception that unpleasant truths must be delivered unpleasantly. This seems peculiar. Policemen, when called to inform citizens that their loved ones have died, do not feel compelled to howl, “THEY’VE SNUFFED IT!” and start cackling. One should be sensitive to the fact that truths can frustrate ambitions, threaten self-concepts and raise disturbing implications to such an extent that they are understandably traumatic, and while this should not lead one to ignore or obscure them it should influence the manner in which they are presented. One should not, in other words, reveal them as if tossing the flattened remains of dogs into old womens’ laps; still less rub their noses in them.

The potential of words to damage and endanger can be overstated, that it is true, but they have that potential. If they did not carry such emotional force or social significance our right to use them as we wish would not be so precious.

Chocolate frostedComment is Free has published an article by Dr. Aseem Malhotra. Writing on obesity, he states

Professor Robert Lustig has studied the toxic, addictive and appetite-driving properties of sugar on the body, leading to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer…Sugar is the new tobacco…

Really? Hrm. I’ve run into Malhotra before, when he declared that…

It is estimated that diet-related diseases are responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide…

Googling one of the claims in his new article I was reacquainted with this “35 million deaths” claim. Following the publication of Professor Lustig’s article in Nature about the evils of sugar journalists began to blame them on this single macronutrient. Max Pemberton of The Daily Telegraph proclaimed…

According to a startling commentary in the journal Nature, by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, sugar…contribut[es] to around 35 million deaths globally each year.

Alice Smelley of The Daily Mail agreed…

A growing number of American scientists believe the sweet stuff contributes to 35 million deaths worldwide each year.

Fox News was not going to be left out…

…scientists said that sugar consumption tripled worldwide over the past 50 years and now is contributing to 35 million deaths a year.

The same assertion was propounded on the websites of Time, CBN, Shape Magazine, 4th Estate, The Orlando Sentineland the University of California. There was one main problem with it. It was bollocks. Pardon the acidity of that remark but there is no way to sweeten my judgement. If we turn to the first sentence of the Nature article we are told

Last September, the United Nations declared that, for the first time in human history, chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes pose a greater health burden worldwide than do infectious diseases, contributing to 35 million deaths annually.

I am sure that you have grasped what these journalists did not: the “35 million” statistic refers to all deaths from heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These include those caused by genetics, alcohol, tobacco, fat intake, nutritional deficiencies, stress, asbestos and radiation, among other factors. The implication of these journalists’ claim, then, is that someone who died last year after a lifetime of smoking a packet of fags a day could have evaded their demise if they had not been drinking orange juice.

The obvious point to make here is that we are poorly served by our journalistic class. The people who have made and repeated this claim either had reading comprehension that would not earn you an AS Level or failed to read the article that they were referencing. I’m not saying I am perfect but, then, I am neither paid nor widely-read. We should not stand for this miserable laziness.

The other point, however, is that I dislike the vehemence of Malhotra’s rhetoric. To say sugar “leads to” these diseases is a bit like saying that alcohol leads to violence. It depends on the form in which it is consumed. The heavy consumption of refined sugars is damaging, yes, but if you consume sensible amounts in the form of whole foods you are doing yourself good. I hope that a doctor is not claiming fruit is bad to eat.

I am not defending the state of modern diets. The food industry, as Dr Yonni Freedhoff discusses, promotes sickly sweet and nutritionally worthless products and people throughout the West and, increasingly, the world have grown attached to them at the expense of their insides. The problem, though, is not merely with sugar but with processed foods. Demonise the former and I’d fully expect it to be replaced with bad fats and refined starch. This is not to say people should not attempt to reform but that more emphasis should be placed on the positive case for the consumption of nutrient-dense whole foods that are more liable to fill us up; make us feel good; save us money; do the world a favour and reduce the need for people to get so worked up.

Arguing with a certain form of commentator is like running head-down into a wall. I like discussing things with all types of people but when dialogue is bound to be so fractious that it descends to the level of an argument I tend to find it tedious. If I wanted to fight I would have taken up Muay Thai. Sometimes, though, people display such bad faith and on such a scale that confrontation must be faced.

A few years ago I wrote for a blog named Boris Watch. Its founder is a bloke called Naadir. He is a good chap: a social democrat of some form who describes himself as “religiously unmusical”. He was also, as he admits in his biography, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir for three months when he was 18. All sensible people know this is not a big deal. Maajid Nawaz, Ed Husain, Shiraz Maher and other “anti-extremist” figures are all former members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and remained so for considerably longer. David Aaronovitch, John Lloyd and the founder of Harry’s Place were all Communists. I have done, said and thought a lot of things that I regret. Haven’t you?

Now, Harry Cole is the protégé of Paul Staines and helps to write his Guido Fawkes blog. He is also, according to his Twitter biography, a Contributing Editor of The Spectator and a columnist of Daily Star Sunday. He enjoys cattish arguments with left-wing folk and some of them have been with Tom Barry, who writes most of Boris Watch’s content and runs its Twitter account. One day, Cole must have gone looking for material to smear him with and stumbled over a detail about the founder of the blog

It is possible that Mr. Cole was not lying. He might have been very careless or pathetically illiterate. Either way, he repeated the charge in August and I stepped in to correct him…

He ignored this. Yesterday he repeated the charge for the third time, though on this occasion he was not merely claiming that Naadir is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir but that he is a terrorist…

This would have been libellous even if he was a member. (It takes work to libel someone from Hizb ut-Tahrir.) As he is not it is a despicable smear. It was said, around the time of the McAlpine affair, that child abuse was the worst crime one could associate a man with. Terrorism is, perhaps, the only one that equals it. Men have endured dreadful suffering merely for being suspected of deserving such a charge. If one made the accusation that its seriousness deserves the evidence for it would have to be substantial, and, indeed, it would have to be supplied to the police. That it can be idly made without a care for its truth is evidence of the self-satisfied carelessness that post-McAlpine commentators impute to Twitter users but that infects our media classes. The only difference is that they are more likely to smear the powerless.

This, of course, annoyed me and my reaction was suitably confrontational…

He responded by asking where he’d lied and offering to provide me with an address for his lawyer. I reminded him of the significance of being a former member of an organisation, and noted the hypocrisy of denouncing Boris Watch for associating with Naadir while contributing to The Spectator, a magazine that publishes Shiraz Maher…

His response was pathetic…

You have to work in anti-radicalisation to prove that you are not a radical? That is simply dumb. Cole, it seems, was realising how untenable his position was as he ended the conversation…

It is interesting how much evidence of his low intellectual and ethical standards Cole manages to squeeze into less than 140 characters. He is not, it seems, troubled by disseminating falsehoods so long as his activities do not put him in danger of being sued. Nor does he consider justifying his rigour and integrity to be as important as “work”. What should be more relevant to a journalist’s career?

I have written a lot on the bullshitting and the bitchiness that are prominent features of the nation’s journalistic class. The young Mr Cole is, it seems, a product of this culture. Such is the shamelessness with which he pursues his silly feuds that he thinks little of smearing an innocent man as a terrorist. Such is his indifference to the truth that he makes no effort to justify this horrible charge. He should retract his claims and apologise. Otherwise he will remain a liar, and his status will remain an indictment of our intellectual culture.

Nick Cohen claims that Amnesty International is…

…afflicted with a mental deformation: the racism of low expectations; the belief that human rights are “western” rights, and those who support them know little of the global “south”…

Five seconds on their website could have proved this wrong but so do Cohen’s own sources. Later, he quotes from an interview with its secretary general. I listened to this interview and found him saying…

I do want to push back on the idea that human rights are a western concept, because if you are a journalist in Africa who is being harassed or if you are an indigenous person in Latin America who is in a prison or if you are a woman in South Asia who doesn’t have basic rights you wouldn’t be thinking of this as western rights…

He promotes the opposite view to that which Cohen attributes to his organisation. The Observer columnist, then, has been dishonest. Sadly, Comment is Free deleted my blunt but civil comment that revealed this fact. Publishing dishonest articles is, it seems, okay with them but exposing their mistruths is verboten. This – as the following shall prove – has really ticked me off.

I used to be an intolerant bastard and many is the commentator I insulted for the crime of disagreeing with my opinions. I hope I’ve grown out of this: conservatives, liberals and leftists may all be enjoyed and admired when they are sincere, impassioned and conscientious. On the other hand, all of them are irritating and destructive when they are pretentious and irresponsible. The extent to which rhetorical carelessness and even dishonesty is tolerated, when it is produced by people who are elevated to positions of influence, vexes me. We often hear that we’ve become too tolerant and this, to some extent, is fair. One of the things we should be more intolerant towards is bullshit.

Nick Cohen is among the worst offenders. Cohen is not merely wrong, he is consistently untruthful. Worse than this, he is untruthful and then fails to take responsibility for his actions. He lied about Walt and Mearsheimer, and then rejected my comments on his post when I attempted to correct him. He libelled Nick Davies and, in the Guardian journo’s words, it “took weeks of pressure to get him to [apologise]”; something “most journalists would have freely offered to do as soon as they realised they were wrong”. His attack on Ed Miliband was a masterpiece of disingenuousness. He claimed that he opposed a no-fly zone over Libya when, in fact, he supported it; insisted that “the Labour leadership” accused David Cameron of writing propaganda for the EDL when it was a single MP and implied that Miliband avoids criticising Hamas when he had done so, months earlier, in the same paper Cohen wrote in. All of this was by way of claiming that he is a “non-Jewish Jew” who tries to “divert the attention of [the] racists” he is too cowardly to oppose. If someone had ineptly smeared a black politician as an Uncle Tom there would be anger but as Cohen insulted Miliband in flowery terms, with reference to literature, it was held to be fair comment.

I am not a partisan defender of these figures; indeed, with the exception of the estimable Davies I think they all deserve serious criticism. Yet this fact is never an excuse for dishonesty. Nor am I a partisan opponent of Cohen. Our views diverge on all manner of subjects, of course, but not on all subjects: I’ve come to agree that Islamic supremacism is a grave threat that too many are blind to; I agree that sensitivities have been prized over freedom and I’m down with the idea that anti-semitism is too common. Even when Cohen is right, however, he is wrong – wrong, that is, in his attitude.

Commentators who allow themselves to become bullshitters have a way of framing arguments in a manner that ensures that questions of significance can be debated without ever being answered. For Cohen, for example, all the problems he identifies are armaments in his campaign against the liberal establishment. He is inspired, it seems, not by a recognition of the need to challenge social ills but to criticise other people who have failed to. The result of this it that no one challenges social ills but lots of people argue with eachother pointlessly. Cohen attacks liberals for ignoring theocratic and totalitarian outrages but rarely exposes them himself. He insults people who fail offer up solutions but he doesn’t give practical advice of his own. Futile as his war against the liberal-left might be, however, it is prosecuted with a ferociousness that apparently blinds him to the need to be truthful. In the second essay I’ve linked to he charges Richard Dawkins with “steer[ing] clear of religions that might kill [him]”. Both admirers and critics of the Oxfordian atheist should scoff at what a preposterous falsehood this is.

It is these kinds of bullshit that make the media classes so stiflingly unpleasant: both the low-level carelessness with which facts are treated and the broader speciousness with which arguments are framed. Commentators enjoy an eccentric form of pageantry, in which they behave as if their slapdash arguments are valuable and their pointless and distracting conflicts significant. All that we can do in opposition to this is to strive to uphold the truth: insisting that accusations be substantiated; that arguments be logical and that debates be relevant. I’ll admit that I won’t always be successful in this but here’s a promise: I’m not going to delete your comment if you tell me that I am mistaken.

Half the Daily Mail’s website is devoted to lamenting the degradation of our culture. The other half is devoted to softcore pornography. That is not, I fear, a great exaggeration. It’s almost comical how blatant their filth-purveying is. Yesterday, for example, they printed photos of a woman’s naked breasts and bottom, both of which were being fondled by a half-naked man. Why? Well, the bloke is on X-Factor. Hey, kids! You know you fear your parents catching you with nudie pics? Just engineer a tenuous means of presenting them as news and you’ll be fine!

What is creepier is their practice of sexualising barely pubescent teenagers. Tabloid Watch writes of a leering report – replete, of course, with photographs – on the “womanly curves” of a 14-year-old girl. “Flesh was on show,” it panted, as she wore a costume that “scooped to just above her derriere”. The report was edited but due to the outrage of readers and not professional ethics. As I’ve written, they have previously featured a 15-year-old in “mean-looking bondage heels”, who, they wrote, stared into the camera “lavisciously” before “slip[ping] into a pair of leather hot pants”. On a different occasion they reported on a girl who had modelled in a bikini at the age of twelve and inspired “a deluge of twisted emails from ‘strange men’”. They preceded to print the photos. It is clear that the editors have an amoral desire to appeal to any demographic they can reach. This apparently includes the dirty raincoat brigade.

Another socially conservative publication is the Daily Express. Their owner, Richard Desmond, likes to pose as an upright sort of gentleman. When the Irish Daily Star published photos of Kate Middleton topless he threatened to withdraw his financial support from it. Desmond is, however, also the owner of the Star, which is crammed with upskirt photographs and nipple slips. Infamously, his Northern & Shell company is also the parent to Red Hot TV and Television X. This week, the latter is broadcasting Fetishly Insane, Filthy Favourites and Fantasies of Rubber.

I think of this because I’ve been reading Alan White’s “open letter to Melanie Phillips”. He notes her observation that the U.K. “accepts — even expects — that the very young will be sexually active” and points out that she omits an important fact.

You fail to mention a relatively modern institution which appears to have done its utmost to promote the prematurely-sexualised culture which you describe. It is the website of the newspaper for which you write.

Even the most incisive of journalists rarely bite the hand that feeds them. Thus, conservative writers who work for these papers avoid reference to their sordid output and associations; preferring to rail against the bogeyman of liberalism.

Well, criticising liberals, on this and other issues, can be richly justified. It must be observed, however, that those responsible for many cases of moral and aesthetic corruption are not “liberals” or, indeed, people of any ideological inclination but “greedy, amoral bastards”. To fail to acknowledge this is not merely to undermine one’s own integrity but to render one’s oppositional efforts futile. I’m not going to lump myself in with staunch conservatives but on some issues we are of the same mind: the sexualisation of extraordinary portions of society, including children, is unpleasant and destructive. It annoys rather than amuses me that they are so hamstrung on the issue. How effective are moralists going to be if they are under the control of a bunch of pornographers? It’s like Greenpeace accepting donations from Shell. Or Neighbourhood Watch accepting it from Cosa Nostra.

Becoming emotional in response to Brendan O’Neill’s commentary is like punishing a irksome sado-masochist by giving them six of the best. Still, one can’t deny that the unpleasantness of his prose is something to behold. If you were a victim of Jimmy Savile, he claims, you should “keep it to yourself”. This, he says, is better than “pour[ing] every memory…into a hack’s expectant dictaphone”. Has it occurred to him that the victims could also tell the police, a psychologist or a loved one? Probably. But it would have put a crimp in his argument.

The Savile scandal, he moans, will “further dent social solidarity” by “promoti[ng] the idea that paedophiles lurk everywhere”. Shouldn’t victims be welcomed in coming forward to gives us accurate data from which to draw conclusions? O’Neill, apparently, has no such concerns for the truth. He goes on to criticise the notion that “our entire existences, our whole adult lives, can be shaped by the actions of one weirdo”. This is, he says, a “deeply and disturbingly fatalistic view of human life”. It is disturbing. But is it true? O’Neill doesn’t care. He doesn’t like it and this is enough for him to say it’s wrong.

Let’s be clear about what O’Neill is doing. He’s presuming to advise victims of abuse on whether to reveal their secrets or repress them; lecturing these people as to which course of action might be better for their health. In doing this, he has consulted no research; interviewed no experts and interviewed no victims. He has made no arguments, in fact, that can’t be seen through by someone with access to a list of fallacies. Does he care if his arguments are substantive or sit back and laugh like a /b/tard who posts rape fantasies on feminist blogs and giggles until the tears run down his spot-speckled cheeks?

What about the people who published the article? I don’t care if they agreed with O’Neill or not but did it strike them that an essay with the gall to tell rape victims how to react to their suffering should at least conform to high standards of intellectual rigour? Did they think that somebody might take the advice, and did they wonder if it would be healthy for them? Perhaps they thought this unlikely – and, yes, it is unlikely – but if that’s the case why did they publish it? I have a good idea. It’s so they could gather round their stats page and watch the hit counter rise, drooling like toddlers watching cakes rise in the oven.

What, however, if he is attention seeking, is the point of giving him attention? It’s because he’ll get attention whatever we do. Soon, in fact, there will be more Brendan O’Neills; more smug, sneering sophists who write essays tailored to offend. It earns their employers links and comments from people who, if they hadn’t been driven to anger, would have ignored them. As the papers strive to make their online work profitable it’s these links they will rely on and they’ll publish anything to get them.

The problem is that some people should be offended. Their values obstruct the search for the truth and the actions that it sometimes demands we take. The lesson, however, is not that there is something wrong with having values but that there is something wrong with values that obstruct truthseeking. If your partner starts to oversleep and miss appointments you should wake them up in time to meet them, not assume that sleep itself is wrongful and start playing the saxophone at midnight. If someone has a range of ideas that are important to them and some are dangerously mistaken you should confront those rather than pissing them off per se. One should not make arguments in order to offend but tell the truth in spite of people finding it offensive.

One can empathise with people who are mistaken or even unpleasant when it’s the result of genuine convictions. What I find repugnant in commentators is insincerity. I can’t promise that I’ll be correct (though I will try to be). I can’t promise that I’ll be enjoyable to read. All I can promise – and my fingers are too busy typing to be crossed behind my back – is that I won’t bullshit. And if I should break this pledge may I be sent to Hades, to have back issues of Living Marxism read to me. Forever.

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