THE News of the World and The People seem to have perfected a new blood sport — gay-baiting. It is rather like fox-hunting, except that with gay-baiting nobody seems concerned about the barbaric cruelty of it all. The location of the victim is usually ascertained using information purchased from some greedy rent-boy or alternatively a trap is set by a deceitful journalist. Then the hyena pack moves in for the kill.
The selective use of quotes, the ludicrously sanctimonious tone and the liberal use of emotive adjectives ensures that readers are left in no doubt that homosexuals are exotic, alien and have no place in the ordinary world of “good” people (i.e. the readers of these foul rags). The reasoning seems to be that if you tell people often enough that gays are evil, eventually they’ll come to believe it.
The past month has seen the usual clutch of gay exposés, all of them awash with antagonistic adjectives. Take The People’s 20th August offering “Queen Mum’s priest in gay sex scandal” which, within the first three paragraphs, contained the words “perverted”, “vile”, “seedy”, “sordid”, “kinky”, “filthy” and “corrupt”. Then on 27th August we were regaled with “Top Lawyer exposed in Rent Boy Scandal” which described the victim as “sordid”, “kinky”, “bizarre” and “squalid”; on 3rd September The News of the World’s contribution was “Beast sends gay filth on Prestel” (“perverted”, “seedy” etc.).
What was not clear from the stories was how they were obtained. Do readers of this tittle-tattle have any idea of the lengths to which the journalists go in setting up the victims? Have they any inkling of the lying, trickery, deceit and sheer premeditated nastiness that goes into creating the weekly diet of gay-baiting? Are they aware of the amounts of money paid out to prostitutes and liars in the pursuit of exposés? Tabloid readers must face up to the fact that in buying these papers they play a major part in encouraging the malevolence which passes as journalism.
The editors of The People and The News of the World, Patsy Chapman and Wendy Henry, seem concerned only with their fat pay cheques and not with the havoc and destruction they wreak in the lives of their victims.
The tragedy is that while the tabloids constantly blame unpopular minorities for the lamentable state of our society, it is they themselves who are the arch-promoters of perverse values. The family fanatics who fall over themselves to protect children from any positive mention of homosexuality seem indifferent to the hatred and intolerance being instilled in their off-spring by the Murdochs and Maxwells of this world. Could this strange paradox have anything to do with the fact that nearly all the agitators for “traditional values” are Tories and all the tabloids are likewise?
Those politicians who imagine that accusing opponents of sexual misdeeds is an easy way to power must be having second thoughts at the moment. If you present yourself as the party of “family values” claiming the moral high ground, you had better watch out that there aren’t any sexy secrets in your own closet.
The Tories have repeatedly discovered, as they present themselves as morally superior, that own goals are very easily scored. The side has been let down by the likes of Harvey Proctor, Cecil Parkinson and now Ross Harper, president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association (“Scots Tory resigns after ‘spanking’ allegation” — Guardian 9 Sep). When it happens to them, the Tories get on their high horse: “It is essential that it should become a form of criminal defamation to expose the private deeds of persons if they have absolutely no bearing on their competence or honesty in public life. The Press Council should be given the right to prosecute those whose conduct destroys the lives of people whose affairs are strictly private matters, and nothing to do with their status,” said Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Tory MP for Perth and Kinross (Sunday Telegraph 10 Sep).
The Tories are learning that those who live by the exposé are likely to die by it, too.
They’re having similar problems in the USA, where a spate of gay revelations in the Republican party has caused their spokeswoman Leslie Goodman to declare “It was a personal matter and none of the public’s damned business” (London Standard 30 Aug). It will be difficult therefore for the Republicans to exploit the plight of Democratic Congressman Barney Frank. Mr Frank is an openly gay politician who, it is claimed, “used the services of a male prostitute, Stephen Gobie, who rewarded his benefactor by setting up a sex-for-sale operation in the basement of the Congressman’s Capitol Hill home.”
According to opinion polls, Congressman Frank’s constituents would re-elect him tomorrow despite the “scandal” which was revealed by the Moonie-owned Washington Times. Americans seem bewildered by the issue; they are torn between the desire to punish ‘moral culpability’ and the need to stop the hypocritical destruction of their most effective public servants.
The Standard quotes “an expert on political ethics”, Michael Josephson: “It is difficult to know when a private act will put a public life at risk. We are in a period of moral tumult right now. We are becoming aware of our frailties, but also of our ideals. It’s a very important process from which we will begin to choose our values.” The Independent (9 Sep) put it more directly: “The country may howl about the decline of standards, but their own standards are no less sordid than the people who represent them.”
The Independent conjectures that “What must disturb Frank most is Gobie’s appetite for money and notoriety. As Gobie recently told a local reporter: ‘I’m an open person. I’ll listen to all offers’. One, may presume he has other steamy stories to tell and no scruples about telling them.”
It seems that the greedy, back-stabbing little traitor, so beloved of tabloid editors, is an international phenomenon.
Another issue this affair is bringing to the fore is the political power of the gay community in America — “A potent, and hyperactive political lobby” according to The Independent, or “the new muscle of the homosexual lobby” as The Standard called it. “Its strength is seen in dozens of ways from Chicago’s Mayor Daley riding at the head of a Gay and Lesbian Pride parade to the unprecedented underground clinical testing of unproven drugs for Aids at the behest of militant gays,” reported The Standard’s Washington Correspondent.
Even the political commentators admit that they have no idea how this case will be concluded, but it may serve as a catalyst for sorting out some of America’s ludicrously contradictory ethical dilemmas.
The revelation that American actor Michael Glaser’s family has been devastated by Aids has brought on another bout of the objectionable “innocent or guilty” idea of people with HIV. The once-respected Sunday Times opined (27 Aug) that there were “people whose lives have been invaded by a deadly enemy, not through drug abuse or homosexual contact, but through a blood transfusion”.
The Sunday Times was taken to task over that by Dr Trevor Bentley of Wetherby who wrote in its letters column the following week: “Is the implication that (those infected through blood transfusion) are especially in need of sympathy and understanding, whereas those who have contracted HIV in some other way don’t deserve it? Anyone who has HIV deserves all the caring and love we can give them.”
This kind of compassionate thinking has no place in the hate-filled world of Brian Hitchen, editor of The Star, who wrote (29 Aug): “Just how many innocents like the Glasers are there in Britain? How many families have been sentenced to death by faceless blood donors who were drug addicts or permissive homosexuals? And how long are we going to support spurious Aids charities for those who brought this awful curse upon themselves?”
One might be tempted to ask how long the few thousand people who buy The Star will continue to support a spurious newspaper.
That’s-telling-him Department: Report in The Times of the Murdoch lecture at the Edinburgh Festival (26 Aug): “Ms Jaci Stephen, the television critic of the London Evening Standard questioned Mr Murdoch’s wish to rid British society of the barriers which caused so much damage. ‘How do you tie that view with publishing a newspaper that represents the very worst in every prejudice, that is really at the root of rotten British society?’”
The battle over gays in the Church continues to be fought abusively in the tabloids, more politely in the serious press.
The sad case of Canon Brindley has now rumbled to a halt. You will remember that News of the World reporter Chris Blythe lied his way into the Canon’s confidence and then set him up with a hidden tape-recorder. Anti-gay members of the General Synod (of which Brindley was a prominent member) waited until the persecuted clergyman was down before they put the boot in — hang your heads in shame Jill Dann and David Holloway — and the Canon is a ruined man.
The Rev Malcolm Johnson wrote to The Independent (15 Aug) in reply to one of those self-righteous members of the Synod: “Would Mr Reid and his fellows have pursued Brian Brindley had the fantasies been heterosexual? … I also find it impossible to believe Mr Reid when he says this affair has nothing to do with persecuting homosexuals, because in his recent book Beyond Aids, homosexual acts are throughout described as ‘buggery’ and hardly a page goes by without him insulting lesbian and gay people. Who does he think he is kidding?”
Mr Brindley’s parishioners also came to his defence in the same issue of The Independent. Elizabeth Utting, Canon Brindley’s former churchwarden, wrote “on behalf of the congregation”: “We at Holy Trinity have been left bereft of a good parish priest whom we have known and trusted as pastor, preacher, teacher and friend for over 20 years. We are not interested in church politics or the Synod. We should all prefer Canon Brindley to return to us as our parish priest.”
I had made a complaint to the Press Council about the activities of The News of the World in the Brindley case, but at the request of the Canon I have now reluctantly withdrawn this. I do not wish to provoke further vilification, but in effect the NoW has intimidated us into silence.
But before we leave the whole story, one has to ask how safe it is to criticise The News of the World without risking the same treatment for yourself. The Rev Malcolm Johnson has been a leading critic of The News of the World’s reprehensible tactics, and he duly got the treatment (27 Aug) in a non-story headlined “Emma’s Odd Vicar Says Let Gays Wed.” Mr Johnson, who officiated at the much-publicised “wedding” of Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, is referred to as an “oddball” because he blesses lesbian and gay relationships. The “story” itself says nothing and has no point; its only apparent purpose is to smear and humiliate Malcolm Johnson.
Patsy Chapman disgraces the trade of journalism once again by using her position of power to try and destroy critics of her vicious rag.
John Smith of The People wrote (20 Aug): “Channel 4 invited me to . . . confront a bunch of homosexuals who objected to me calling them poofters. However, when the little darlings turned up at the London studios their behaviour was so arrogant, objectionable and aggressive that the producers …scrapped the whole idea. Excitable creatures these poofters.”
The Press Council has repeatedly rejected complaints about newspapers’ use of abusive terminology for gays, but this might change. Raymond Swingler, assistant director of the Council says, “The issue is far from static and the offensiveness of the terms you mentioned could well be reviewed by the council.”
The answer seems to be: keep those complaints rolling.
Tabloid stories about gays are almost invariably negative, but the headlines which go over them are even worse. I’m beginning to wonder whether tabloid sub-editors (the people who invent the headlines) don’t undertake training courses to increase their offensiveness skills. Perhaps the courses are geared around “Effective smearing for subs” or “Fine-tune your stereotyping”.
Just look at a few of the headlines from the past month and note that each contains a negative word to set the tone: “Pervert Priest sacked” (People 27 Aug); “Beast sends gay filth on Prestel” (NoW 3 Sep); “Fear of lesbian friend” (NoW 3 Sep); “Gay Mum and Dad made my life a misery” (Star 8 Sep); “Warder at Myra Jail in a Lesbian Wedding” (with the most tenuous connection between the women involved and the ‘evil’ Myra Hindley, who is pictured with the word “sadistic” — Sun 7 Sep); “Bisexual Brando made my life Hell” (Sunday Mirror, 3 Sep); “Gay Shame of Top Teeny Heart-throb Jason” (People, 10 Sep).