Foxed

When Fleet Street Fox announced she had very exciting news and would tell us next week, I guessed that meant she had a weekly column. (Or, as I tweeted to her, had been given a baby elephant. Given what followed, I think a safer guess would have been a mini-mammoth.)

Fox wrote last Friday:

FINALLY I can tell you why today is a Big Exciting News Day!

(I am squeaking with joy while typing this.)

I HAVE A COLUMN!

From today the Friday version of this blog will be hosted on the Daily Mirror’s website.

I clicked, I read, I was massively disappointed, I figured “well, it’s a Daily Mirror column” and I tweeted mild congratulations to Fox.

Sarah Ditum outlined quite well why I didn’t like Fox’s column, which was about the bitchery of two women celebs who’d watched a certain privacy-breaching video recording:

David Walliams makes a joke about the tape, [Amanda] Holden sniggers, and host Alan Carr gigglingly urges the conversation in that direction – the exchange lasts about 90 seconds, and the men are just as active as Holden. In the same way the Tulisa sex tape has been portrayed as an amusing instance of female sluttiness, rather than the betrayal of a very young woman by a vicious ex (as Tulisa explained, in a composed and affecting YouTube response), the actions of the men who shared the stage and the sniggering with Holden are ignored – they get off lightly in Barbara Ellen’s take too. Who gets the blame? The women in the picture. Because men are just so nice, aren’t they?

The Fox’s second example of lady scapegoating comes from disgusted Twitter reactions to the brilliant Vagenda writer Emer O’Toole’s display of armpit hair on This Morning. (The Fox claims that all the bile came from women, but one of the tweets pictured seems to be from a man, so bang goes that generalisation. Again.) “I too felt a little queasy… and caught myself thinking that she wouldn’t be able to get away with it if she weren’t pretty,” writes the Fox – and even though she goes on to argue that women need to give up the pretence of physical perfection, she also stresses that “It’s not going to change any time soon, because humans have been removing ‘uncivilised’ body hair since the days of Ancient Greece.”

I wouldn’t expect to like or agree with most Daily Mirror tosh on “what are women like”. I was disappointed because the column was just boring Daily Mirror tosh – when I know and follow the Fox as a political blogger. (You may say I’m a dreamer) If the Mirror had been pleased to hire her as a columnist because of her blog, why not let her write about the kinds of things she writes about on her blog? (What big bills you have) Would a man who’d made his name as a political blogger be hired and told to write about things like how bitchy Amanda Holden was and what a scream it is that some women don’t shave? (A total shower) Somehow I doubt it.

But. The bottom line for all of us who who can’t live on inherited wealth and who didn’t get the kind of education where you naturally make the right connections to get the sort of job you really want, is – bills have got to be paid. If that means writing tosh for money, well, you write it. Hopefully you do well enough that you can move on to writing better stuff for better papers.

I was not expecting a twitterstorm over the column. I agree with Sophy Ridge:

The column that Fox wrote wasn’t either bad or good enough to deserve such widespread condemnation. Yes, it was published pseudonymously. Anyone with any understanding of the reality of sexist abuse online understands why women bloggers often opt to be pseudonymous, and there may be other reasons beyond avoiding the worst of the sexist abuse. Unless use of a pseudonym is causing harm, I see no good reason to ever expose someone simply for writing under one.

Jemina Khan did.

It creeps up suddenly; self-consciously you adjust your posture to close in a little on yourself. Your eyes drop downwards. Suddenly you feel very exposed. The shame we feel as women

Jemina Goldsmith Khan is the daughter of Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart and the granddaughter of the 8th Marquess of Londonderry: her father is Sir James Goldsmith, Anglo-French billionaire, magazine publisher and politician: one of her brothers is Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, the other is married to Kate Emma Rothschild, who is the daughter of Amschel Rothschild and Anita Guinness. Jemina Khan is Associate Editor of the New Statesman and European editor-at-large for Vanity Fair. She lives in the web of privilege.

Fleet Street Fox doesn’t. Now I know her real name, I found she was a news reporter for the Sunday Mirror since 2002, and before that worked for the Daily Mail (though I also found a couple of items in the Guardian), now divorced, her ex-husband works for The Sun.

None-the-less, there is a solid human reason for Jemina Khan not to care for tabloid journalists in general, nor for Fleet Street Fox in particular: a few years ago her brother Zac Goldsmith began an affair with his current wife, Alice Rothschild (sister to Kate, married to Ben), while he was still married to his first wife. The Sunday Mirror journalist who wrote about it – name-checking Jemina Khan as part of the story simply because she lived nearby – was, yes, Fleet Street Fox.

This was one of the best journalist reactions I read to the Johann Hari/David Rose scandal last year:

The worst journalists are the ones who don’t get it.

The ones who shrug when they hear a contact has had their life threatened after they printed a lie; the ones who think because they survived one screw-up they’ll survive the next one; the ones who think power equates with being bullet-proof.

Despite common belief, such journalists are rare. It’s exactly the same as in any other industry where there is always one person in your office whose lack of general human decency makes them stick out. In a newsroom the remaining 99% of the staff might be sociopaths but they generally know roughly what morals look like, not least because otherwise we could not do our jobs.

If you don’t know right from wrong yourself it’s impossible to interview someone with empathy, hard to get the right quote, difficult to see past your own ego to the story and the people in it. If every journalist were like the caricature many people believe us to be we wouldn’t be able to spot human interest, much less feel it, and newspapers would not have sold millions of copies for 300 years.

As journalists who used work for the Daily Express and The Times have succinctly expressed to me, if you’re a journalist and you want to work for a big newspaper, the odds are you are not going to be able to find a job in accordance with your personal politics, because most newspapers in the UK are right-wing.

Having outed Fleet Street Fox, Jemina Khan defended her venom against this blogger/journalist, claiming that “scavengers” like Fox are why Leveson is needed.

That the various horrors exposed by the Leveson inquiry as standard practice (in newspapers owned by, for example, Rupert Murdoch, Viscount Rothermere, and Richard Desmond) are actually the fault of rogue journalists and private detectives, not at all the fault of the rich and powerful men who own and edit them, has been the line taken by every single one of those men from day one.

While I sympathise strongly with George Michael’s attitude:

and wish he would testify about how the background to this story was apparently obtained – allegedly through straightforward blackmail of the man concerned by News International employees.

still the most exciting thing about Leveson is that it may actually change something about the web of privilege. David Cameron and seven other Cabinet Ministers have had to apply to be core participants in the next stage of the enquiry. News International may have to sell off BSkyB. Jeremy Hunt’s career may be finished.

David Cameron and the rest are powerful in a way in which Jemina Khan is not. And I don’t want to diminish how really horrible it would be to find yourself the target of a feeding pack of tabloid journalists. But Helen Lewis (an editor at the New Statesman) defended Jemina Khan’s privilege with the standard line that it’s “not her fault”.

and crucially misses the point about privilege: it’s not a question of “fault”, it’s a question of having advantages which you get to think of as just natural and innate to you.

“Hey, I Worked Hard to Get What I Have!” is one of six things Cracked.com observantly notes rich people need to stop saying. There are doubtless multiple reasons why Jemina Khan is associate editor of two internationally-known publications and Fleet Street Fox is a tabloid journalist turned blogger who’s just published her first weekly column, but one of those reasons is fairly big and obvious, and it’s spelled privil£g£.

Personal resentments aside, I was listening to Martin Clarke, editor of the Mail Online, give evidence for part of this afternoon: and you’d never know, from his very smooth testimony about the Mail, that this is how that newspaper really operates:

Craig Silverman, today:

“The (Daily) Mail Foreign Service, which did the piece for the paper, is really just an umbrella term for copy put together from agencies. My news desk isn’t sure where exactly it came from.”

So it appears his byline was slapped on a story he had nothing to do with. A story that his editors seem to have no information about, that came from unnamed agencies, and was rewritten by… well, whom?

To call this strange is a massive understatement. MailOnline doesn’t seem to be able to explain how this story ended up on its website.

Anna Blundy, September 2011:

Of course, the spike meant that I didn’t get to the next phase of feature writing for The Mail – being styled and photographed. There is a tacit understanding (whether true or false in actuality) that the editor of The Daily Mail doesn’t like women to appear on the pages of the paper wearing either trousers or dark colours. Last time I was styled for them someone came round with a rack of red and purple evening dresses and lots of matching satin shoes. Just have a look at the paper and you’ll see that this is something of a theme.

Anyway, the whole experience was so depressing that I pitched this here article to a magazine I thought might like it. The editor sympathised with my experience and had, indeed, once shared it, however, they couldn’t take the Mail-bashing piece because it might start people complaining about their own editorial practices. She said The Mail quite often bought pieces from her magazine, tried to get the journalist to rewrite in weirdy Mail style and from weirdy Mail angle (ideally starting what they would probably call a ‘cat fight’) and then spiked them if ‘the writer wouldn’t play ball.’

I won’t drag anyone else in here, but I have lots of journalist friends who have been invited to stitch themselves up, expose themselves far beyond what they intended and make themselves look stupid in words and pictures all for a bit of book publicity and a few hundred quid. I am not denying that we do this to ourselves, but the process is designed to produce an article that we did not initially know we were writing. It is a very complex deception. I now know that what they wanted from me was a piece saying; ‘How dare Janine di Giovanni and Alex Crawford leave their poor children to go away to war. They are women and should stay at home with the children.’ That’s not the piece I intended to write but that would have been the essence of the headline.

Juliet Shaw, A True Story Of Daily Mail Lies, January 2011:

But there was no way of defending myself. I couldn’t approach every single person who sniggered at me in the street or while I was doing my shopping and ask them if they’d read the article, and explain I hadn’t said any of it.

Obviously, I wrote to complain. They responded that they were happy the article was an accurate reflection of what I’d said and were standing by it. I wrote again, pointing out in detail the discrepancies. Again, they stood by their article and told me that they would not enter into any further correspondence with me and considered the matter closed.

Juliet Shaw continues: I certainly didn’t consider the matter closed. My name, image and brief details of my life had been used to fabricate a story which bore no resemblance to me or my life, then presented as fact, said by me, in my own words. It was damaging to me, my children, my friends and had a significantly negative impact on my life.

I emailed the other three women who’d been interviewed for the article – I found their addresses on an email the journalist had sent about the photoshoot. They each confirmed that they’d been horrified by the article, that it bore no relationship to anything they’d said and that they too had complained to Associated Newspapers and been similarly stonewalled. Sadly, after consulting solicitors they decided not to pursue any legal action because of the prohibitive costs.

These problems are not caused by rogue journalists: they are the fruit of a system that allows very wealthy and very powerful people to make use of the personal details of people’s lives to sell stories. Not, perhaps, with the deliberate intent of doing harm – but with absolute indifference to what harm is caused.

To go back to the particular story this started with, if you own the Daily Mirror it is certainly much more convenient to “blame a nation of girl-trolls”

It is safe for Jemina Khan to blame one journalist (and that one a woman) for the entire tabloid culture. But it’s not right.

If leaving a conference about the sending and receiving of information brings the news of yet another email telling yet another woman that she is on a hit list of women who will die because of their thoughts, if speaking about the threats women face in their work results in a journalist from the former Soviet Union sequestering herself with me because she has finally found an ear that will listen to how her boss, after making sexual advances on her, calls her a “dirty slut,” if one more woman is prevented, no, pulled, from a moment’s possibility of education, employment, or advancement and treated like property, an object of control, how can I say we are not, as a people, failing each other? (from Women Under Siege – One Threat Too Many)

It’s not that I blame Jemina Khan for taking on Fleet Street Fox as an enemy instead of Trinity Mirror plc. Indeed, that’s the long point of this long blog post: we’re wasting too much time blaming each other. Amanda Holden isn’t responsible for Justin Edwards’s betrayal of Tulisa Contostavlos: Justin Edwards is the one who should be held responsible for what he did, as she herself makes clear:

“It’s a pretty tough time for me, but I don’t feel I should be the one to take the heat for it. This is something he took upon himself, to put the footage online… I’m not going to sit here and be violated or taken advantage of.”

People who feel free to use their real names on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet, often claim that it’s the anonymity of Internet culture which allows such abuse.

Last night someone I don’t know tried to commit suicide. Reading her twitter feed, someone raised the alarm via Twitter, and got a signal boost – hundreds of people retweeted the plea for someone who knew this woman’s real name and address to get in touch, and someone did. Within a couple of hours of what could have been this person’s last message, suicide note by Twitter, an ambulance was on its way over. You don’t have to know someone’s name or see their face to care about them.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown points out that hate doesn’t need anonymity:

Four young men next to us laughed out loud for a while and then turned vicious, told each other what they would like to do to the “dirty bitches” who obviously had never been “f***ed senseless” by real men.

Our lunch was despoiled, but hey, we got to hear about, for free, dramatised scenes of modern sexuality – dirty talk, instrumentalised bodies (in all senses), violent male imaginings, and the unutterably dismal severing of sex from love and affection.

Louise Mensch has been up and about revealing the savage misogynist invective and rape threats whizzed over to her by unseen internet trolls. Many women in public life, including me, are similarly hounded daily. (My stalkers are particularly keen on female genital mutilation.) We all assume that these abusers are cowardly, only able to intimidate because they are anonymous and that it is all in their dingy and damp little minds. Not so. Those men at the restaurant felt no qualms at all about freely sharing their most perverse reveries. I can’t describe them here without a sense of violation.

I don’t have a neat tidy end to this blog post, because there isn’t one. I don’t call for sisterly solidarity. But fighting with Amanda Holden because of something awful Justin Edwards did is as misguided as blaming one Sunday Mirror journalist for a tabloid culture which regards other people’s sex lives as public entertainment.

===
Followup, 30th December

Today, Helen Lewis posted a personal blog putting some online criticisms of Caitlin Moran into context. I do generally feel – as I felt with Fleet Street Fox – that it’s really not good when feminists all fight each other. I’m not particularly a Caitlin Moran fan, I don’t follow her on Twitter and I haven’t read her book (and, fairly obviously, I don’t read her column, though it’s possible I might if it weren’t behind the Murdoch paywall). But I don’t see much point in relentlessly mocking a feminist when there are so many mockworthy anti-feminist targets out there and so few hours in the day.

I read Helen Lewis’s blog post, and I found I actually agreed with it, assuming the facts are as sourced: made me feel slightly guilty, in fact, that I’d just ignored all of the mockery of Caitlin Moran.

I’m watching Frozen Planet – the part where the musk-oxen form a protective circle around the calf against the two wolves. There are no heroes or villains in FP – the wolves need the meat for the cub, the musk-ox herd need their calf to stay alive – but I’d rather we were musk-ox protective towards feminists, and wolves only towards anti-feminists.

But then, Lewis didn’t act this way when Fleet Street Fox got viciously attacked for her first Daily Mirror column… and Foxy is as deserving of a musk-ox circle of angry feminists as Moran is.

Fleet Street Fox:

Even if they survive in most of the world girls are seen as less deserving of education, first aid, gynaecology, property, a driving licence, or the protection of the law. And before you stop and think how glad you are your country isn’t like that, here in the UK and in most of the developed world women are less likely to earn the same as men for the same job, to be elected to Parliament or to become CEO of a company. If one of us is raped, a jury will be asked to consider whether we were “asking for it”. In Britain there are 1.05m women on the dole, the highest for 25 years, because the recession is hitting them harder than men – women are more likely to work in the public sector which is being cut, more likely to work part-time, and are generally seen as more expendable by bosses.

…and your problem with this is?

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Filed under Equality, In The Media, Women

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