Friday, 16 October 2009

And this is journalism?

Inspired by this 'article' from the Daily Mail:

First of all, I'd like to make something clear. I'm not a fan of Stephen Gately (I had to be told who he was when the news broke), so I'm not writing this out of personal bias. This is a response to the shameful 'journalism' displayed by Jan Moir.

"Through the recent travails and sad ends of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and many others, fans know to expect the unexpected of their heroes - particularly if those idols live a life that is shadowed by dark appetites or fractured by private vice."

As far as I'm aware, certainly in the case of Heath Ledger, there were no "dark appetites" or "private vices" that contributed to his death - he'd been having trouble sleeping, was given prescription medicine by his doctor, and accidentally took too many. I didn't follow the story diligently, so feel free to correct me, but what's suspicious about that? Tragic, yes, but nothing more. So she gets off to a wonderful start, making inaccuarate insinuations about people who have no relevance to her actual topic. Nice one Jan!

We move on to her comments about celebrities who do have known vices:

"Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney; we all know who they are. And we are not being ghoulish to anticipate, or to be mentally braced for, their bad end: a long night, a mysterious stranger, an odd set of circumstances that herald a sudden death."

Well actually Jan yes, it is a little ghoulish to anticipate a bad end. It smacks of vultures circling in the desert. Maybe Britney will pull herself together, and live a long and happy life raising her kids. Maybe she'll die in a car crash. Yes, maybe she'll die because of her current lifestyle - but it is ghoulish, and frankly a little weird to be anticipating her death.

She then moves on to discuss the circumstances surrounding Gately's death (yes, finally reaching the point of her article, rather than background gossip - who says a journalist should get straight to the point?)

"All the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances. The Gately family are - perhaps understandably - keen to register their boy's demise on the national consciousness as nothing more than a tragic accident."

I'll skate over the comment about the Gately family... Actually no, I won't, because re-reading it makes me annoyed. The wording implies that the Gately family are involving themselves in a conspiracy to cover up the truth about the death. Really? Is she really suggesting that the family of a former popstar has enough leverage with the authorities to get them to falsify the postmortem? The police and the pathologist have said that there was nothing suspicious about the death. Call me old fashioned, but in such matters I do tend to trust the police. There is no evidence to suggest that there was anything suspicious about Gately's death, so speculation is offensive and demeaning. Of course, Moir then goes on to add ignorance to the list:

"Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again."

Well yes, actually. They do. Leaving aside the specifics of Gately's death for a moment, Moir has apparently never heard of Cardiac Arrhythmia, or Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, which covers a whole variety of medical conditions which, as the name might imply, causes people to drop dead suddenly and without warning. Essentially, it's an irregular rhythm in your heart. Postmortems will often reveal that there was an underlying cause - a particularly common one being coronary artery disease, for instance. Moving back to Gately, he apparently inherited a heart disorder... Does that sound familiar? Hmm? Jan Moir is a journalist, not a doctor; if a medical professional tells me that there is something suspicious about Gately's death, I'll listen. Until then, stick to what you know Jan, how about that? She goes on to remind us that Gately had been smoking cannabis. Well ok, I'm never going to approve of drug use - but it wasn't what killed him, so why do we need to know this?

After this come the comments about Gately's personal life:

"And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.
After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards."

Dochev was, apparently, an old friend. I'm a student. I've been out clubbing. I've ended up back at my friends flats afterwards. Guess what? I've never had sex after such incidents. Why should we assume that this was the case here? If they had met Dochev that night, then I could maybe see her point - although I would still disagree with this being sleazy. So long as it's all consensual, who cares? What I object to here is the ignorance (or worse, wilful obscuring of the facts). As I've said, Dochev was a friend. They knew him. Under the circumstances, I think it's perfectly reasonable to believe that there was an innocent reason for his visit. But I repeat: even if he did go back for a threesome, who cares?

But the final, and most offensive part of the article is undoubtedly the bombardment of bile she shows towards those in civil partnerships:

"Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships."

I'm sorry, what? What does someone dying of fluid on the lungs have to do with the fact that he was in a civil partnership? She seems to be spinning the story to promote an agenda against civil partnership - and while yes, she is entitled to her opinion that such unions are wrong, suggesting that they are all bound to end in disaster is not just wildly inaccurate, but offensive. How many 'traditional' marriages end in disaster? She cites the union between Matt Lucas and his ex-partner as well:

"Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened."

Lucas and McGee divorced, and McGee killed himself. That happens in heterosexual marriages as well - I know a couple where it did happen. The implication that this, and Gately's death, were a result of the fact that they were in gay marriages is staggeringly offensive.

Voltaire was attributed the remark "I do not agree with your opinion, but I will defend to the death your right to express it." It is a noble sentiment, and one I agree with. However, there is a difference between expressing an opinion, however controversial, and spreading malicious gossip. Moir's article is packed with inaccuracies, and opinion presented as fact. Even if you agree with the basic sentiment, it is a poor excuse for journalism.


  1. Since posting this, Jan Moir has made this statement:

    "Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately. This was never my intention. Stephen, as I pointed out in the article was a charming and sweet man who entertained millions.

    However, the point of my column – which I wonder how many of the people complaining have fully read – was to suggest that, in my honest opinion, his death raises many unanswered questions. That was all. Yes, anyone can die at anytime of anything. However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death – out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger – did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.

    The entire matter of his sudden death seemed to have been handled with undue haste when lessons could have been learned. On this subject, one very important point. When I wrote that ‘he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine’, I was referring to the drugs and the casual invitation extended to a stranger. Not to the fact of his homosexuality. In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships – the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting – have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.

    In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones."

    This doesn't exactly have a ring of sincerity to me. But I'll play devil's advocate. Suppose that everything she says in her statement is true; that still leaves her article as poorly written and irresponsible, which is hardly a great claim.

  2. Very well written, Dan. I couldn't agree more. And how dare Jan Moir use such a patronising word as 'mischievous' in the context of her response? I really dislike her tone of assurance and confidence, given that the things she says are utterly untrue.