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York ears are still ringing, if nothing else is

21 October 2016

“Vicious”: the Times coverage of the York bell-ringing row on Saturday, before the safeguarding matter came out

“Vicious”: the Times coverage of the York bell-ringing row on Saturday, before the safeguarding matter came out

IT IS difficult to write about the great bell-ringing row at York Minster. There are things that we don’t know, and there are other things we might know but cannot print for legal reasons. Between them, it would seem safest to say nothing, but this is not really an option open to a news editor when such a juicy story drops in, complete with an opening press campaign.

The Guardian even ran (online) a piece by one of the sacked ringers: “York Minster is widely considered to have one of the finest rings of bells in the world, and its team of ringers are well known across the country for the high standard of our Sunday service ringing.

“Our ringing peal is the fourth heaviest in the country, with the biggest bell weighing in at three tonnes. They require a great deal of skill to ring and are not suitable for new learners, with many of us honing our craft elsewhere before joining the minster band. So why have the dean and chapter suddenly decided to dismiss us? What’s the problem?”

That last sentence really was leading with the chin. The Chapter’s retaliatory uppercut — to announce that the whole thing had been based on safeguarding concerns — made the question look disingenuous, or ignorant at best. I have known the Dean, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, for long enough to be decently frightened of her, but the idea that she would do anything from Trumpish pique or megalomania is frankly incredible.

In this context, the carillon-player is worth quoting: he told the BBC that the chapter was “a bunch of control freaks”, and said: “No one dare speak for fear of being handbagged by the dean.” The report continued, deadpan: “He denied he had used inappropriate language when criticising the Church’s decision. ‘When I heard about this I was so shocked. I went on to Facebook and I said, “I am shocked and saddened that last night all 30 of the minster bellringers were sacked”. That’s all.’”

This is the kind of story which gives a lot of simple pleasure to outsiders, but, if you get close enough, is curiously unpleasant.


HOW different from the election in the United States, which is giving pleasure to no one. Its importance to the press column is two-fold: the first is that the existence of a press free of all but commercial constraints will tend to corrupt democracy. In this country it is only the Daily Express that approaches the consistently alternate reality of the American right-wing media, especially Fox News.

The second is the spread of this kind of discourse on to the internet, where anyone can join in. The consequence is a world where Donald Trump can simply use reports of reality as proof of how much his enemies in the media will lie to do him down. You have to read the raw transcripts of his speeches, but here is a part of his reaction to the publication of his earlier videotaped boasts about groping women:

“Let’s be clear on one thing, the corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They’re a political special interest no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with a total political agenda, and the agenda is not for you, it’s for themselves.

“And their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy.

“The establishment and their media enablers will control over this nation through means that are very well known. Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and morally deformed.

“They will attack you, they will slander you, they will seek to destroy your career and your family, they will seek to destroy everything about you, including your reputation. They will lie, lie, lie, and then again they will do worse than that, they will do whatever is necessary. The Clintons are criminals, remember that.”

This would be ludicrous in a playground, but coming from a man for whom a majority of American men say they are ready to vote (women think differently, by and large), it is still ludicrous — and yet, at the same time, quite terrifying.

The rise of Trump is, among other things, the consequence of the rise of advertising-funded entertainment as the prime content of the media. Where once Groucho Marx said “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others,” the modern media-mogul says to his audience: “This is the news. If you don’t like it, I have other news.” In this country, of course, we have only Brexit.

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