The debasement of journalistic integrity

 
 

Jan Moir’s Daily Mail article on Stephen Gately was a perfect example of tactless journalism, writes Paul Fennessy

At the time of writing, Jan Moir’s recent opinion piece on Stephen Gately’s death has elicited 25,000 complaints and prompted The Irish Daily Mail to distance themselves from the stance of its UK counterpart. It also led to a record 7,000 comments in one day on The Daily Mail’s website.

gatelyNeedless to say, Moir’s article was extremely disreputable. Her stark condemnation of Gately’s lifestyle was both ill-advised and presumptuous in the extreme.

At the beginning of her piece, Moir compared Gately’s death with those of Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger and describes them as stars that lived a life “shadowed by dark appetites or fractured by private vice”.

Immediately, it becomes clear that the article is a prime illustration of lazy and idiotic reporting. Her sheer arrogance in commenting with such authority on three individuals whom she had never met, and patently knew little about, epitomises the dearth of sensitivity and common sense currently afflicting journalism (and in particular the treatment of celebrities).

Perhaps Moir’s most controversial claim was that the death “strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships”. Unsurprisingly, many readers interpreted these sentiments as signifying her thinly veiled homophobia.

Speaking in reaction to the strong level of complaints which the article received, the columnist denied the accusations of prejudice levelled against her, affirming in a press statement: “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.”

It seems unlikely that Moir was deliberately articulating a homophobic view, as her statement attests; but this does not excuse her article’s extraordinary insensitivity. The fact that she was required to explain her comments is essentially an implicit acknowledgement that her piece was, at the very least, poorly worded. Her refusal to apologise for the article’s multitude of inadequacies will only serve to amplify the torrent of ridicule surrounding her.

Furthermore, Moir opines in her initial article, in a similarly ignominious manner, that “something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun out of proportion into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend.” For a journalist to accuse a professional coroner (who deduced the verdict that the death was from natural causes) of exaggeration constitutes irony at the basest level imaginable.

Elsewhere in the aforementioned statement which followed the controversy, Moir, in a considerably milder tone, describes the probability that Gately died of natural causes as “unlikely”. This blatantly contradicts the implications of her original article title which confidently asserted in absolute terms that there was “nothing ‘natural’” about Gately’s death.

Back in secondary school, my English teacher warned me against using sweeping statements which were not fully supported with evidence. Unfortunately, Moir has consistently ignored this basic principle of criticism.

Yet arguably the most unsavoury aspect of the piece was its timing. It was written just before Gately’s funeral and during its course, Moir frequently appears to attack the singer. She writes that Gately “could barely carry a tune” and also snidely comments: “although he was effectively smoked out of the closet, he has been hailed as a champion of gay rights”.

For a journalist to focus on a person’s shortcomings (while naturally neglecting to draw attention to the unprecedented level of success enjoyed by Gately with Boyzone) – so soon after their death – is quite plainly callous.

Nonetheless, this latest soulless piece of writing from Moir should come as little surprise. In the immediate aftermath of Jade Goody’s death, the journalist wrote a similarly disrespectful analysis of the ex-Big Brother contestant where she sardonically concluded: “it is not her fault that she came to represent everything that is ugly and asinine about reality TV. But a saint she ain’t.”

Am I the only one who finds this habit of Moir (admittedly among many others) to relentlessly bait recently deceased celebrities to be more than a little disconcerting? Although it could be contended that famous people have willingly exposed themselves to scrutiny, surely respect for the dead should always be prioritised in such circumstances?

On the other hand, Moir is evidently not without talent. She was awarded the Lynda Lee-Potter award for outstanding woman journalist of the year in 2005. In addition, her writing style is sufficiently accomplished to warrant the lucrative contract which The Daily Mail granted her, in order to prize her away from The Daily Telegraph.

In her defence, Moir belatedly apologised to Gately’s family for the timing of the article in her column last Friday. But although she expressed the view that he was “talented” (as opposed to someone who could “barely carry a tune”), she maintained that his death was “sleazy” and defended her article wholeheartedly.

Accordingly, the journalist’s talent risks being perpetually overshadowed by the overt lack of dignity that she has demonstrated throughout this recent saga. She must completely renounce the article or risk being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Jan Moir’s original article can be read at http://short.ie/janmoir.

Advertisements