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Press: Sexual politics at The Guardian; cash at the Herald

13 March 2020

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THE GUARDIAN has tied itself in knots about trans issues in a way that is illuminating about much wider trends in the media. There is a faction among the paper’s staff, which seems to be strongest in California, to whom any suggestion that there might be any clash between trans rights and women’s rights is itself “transphobic”.

This faction claims that “there is no debate,” and that to argue with them over this is to join the side that rapes or murders trans people or drives them to suicide. Feelings are running very high on both sides of the argument.

Stories crop up from time to time that have to be covered. The most recent flashpoint was an opinion piece by Suzanne Moore, who be­lieves that biological sex is distinct from gender. “I know from personal experience the consequences of being deemed transphobic by an invisible committee on social media. It has meant death and rape threats for me and my children, and police involvement. I also know that the most vicious stuff takes place online and not in real life.

“You can tell me to ‘die in a ditch, terf’ all you like, as many have for years, but I self-identify as a woman who won’t go down quietly.”

The next morning, a trans woman on The Guardian’s staff posted on Twitter to say that she was frightened to go to work as a result of the article; she overcame her fears enough to go to the paper’s open-leader conference and announce that she was resigning in protest. Uproar. Shortly afterwards, it emerged that she had actually handed in her notice three weeks before and had been leaving anyway.

The editor and the CEO sent round a joint email: “We are writing to reassure you that The Guardian is a welcoming and inclusive environment for all staff. . . It is never accep­t­able to attack colleagues whose views you do not agree with, whether in meetings, on email, publicly or on social media.”

So the next development is that Buzzfeed reports that 338 of the paper’s 1000-plus em­­ployees have signed a letter criticising the de­­­cision to run Moore’s piece, although their names were not made public. They demanded an answer by 11 March (as the Church Times went to press). Watch this space. Moore her­self wrote on Twitter that she had gone off to Amsterdam for the weekend and was taking psychedelic drugs to get some perspective.

And that was how International Women’s Day played out at The Guardian.

 

TWO stories, meanwhile, on the business of journalism from the Financial Times. The first was to note that The Independent, which is now 30 per cent owned by Saudi interests, and otherwise by a Russian oligarch (so much for our founding ideals of independence), is now more profitable than The Daily Telegraph. In the last years for which accounts are available, the web-only Independent made £2.1 million; the Telegraph papers, £900,000.

Then came the revelation that The Catholic Herald is being pursued by the diocese of West­­minster for £280,000 for dilapidations to the offices that it has been renting for the past 40 years, although £30,000 of this figure is rent that it neglected to pay. In 2017, the paper made a loss of £124,000.

Even more than The Independent and the Telegraph, this is a rich man’s hobby. “At the end of 2018, the Herald had £792,000 in debt which it said was ‘personally guaranteed’ by its owners with no third-party loans from banks or institutions,” the FT reported.

Beneath the story was a comment appar­ently from “Catholic Herald”, which blamed the whole thing partly on the diocese, and partly on “a completely different management and board at the Herald when Damian Thompson was editorial director.

“He has since departed along with former management that never dealt with the issue. So the issue is not of the current owners making, but the Thompson era regime where he proudly enjoyed calling himself a ‘blood soaked ferret of the Catholic Church’ who attacked the pope and extended his vitriol towards the Westminster diocese.”

I should point out that the original descrip­tion, made in this column, was of a “blood-crazed ferret”; also that I could not find any­one at the paper to confirm that this was an official view. The Tablet’s report, however, quotes William Cash, one of the paper’s owners — “He said the dispute over the lease originated years ago under a completely dif­ferent management and board at the Herald when Damian Thompson, who recently left the company, was editorial director.”

I also treasure the difference of emphasis between The Tablet’s description of two owners: “the former Conservative MP Brooks Newmark and the award-winning publisher William Cash, who both own 23.5 per cent” —and the FT’s more detailed: “Spear’s magazine founder Mr Cash and Brooks Newmark . . . who resigned as a Tory MP in 2014 when he was found to have sent sexually explicit mes­sages to someone he believed to be a female party member — and Mr Cash bought out the Herald’s fourth shareholder Conrad Black. . . Mr Black spent several years in US prison for wire fraud and obstruction of jus­tice.”

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