Laura Kuenssberg, target of sexist abuse in a petition questioning her impartiality [Image: REX Shutterstock].

The caption under this image in the Guardian piece read: “Laura Kuenssberg, target of sexist abuse in a petition questioning her impartiality”. The statement is not only false; it is libellous. [Image: REX Shutterstock].

I feel a letter to the Guardian‘s corrections and clarifications editor coming on.

“Dear Sir, I read with interest the opinion piece by Laura Bates on the 38 Degrees petition questioning BBC political Laura Kuenssberg’s impartiality. I fear some corrections and clarifications are in order.

Firstly, the caption on the photograph of Ms Kuenssberg declares that she was the target of sexist abuse in the petition. She was not. The petition itself focuses only on Ms Kuenssberg’s alleged pro-Conservative, anti-Labour bias. The claim is defamatory against the petition’s author, who is identified as “Joe”, and the paper is exposed to possible libel action. An apology is, therefore, vital.

Secondly, the claim that the petition attracted abusive and sexist language among its supporters is not supportable. A copy of all the comments submitted to the petition is freely available and contains no references to any of the words Ms Bates mentions. Only one comment can be construed as abusive, out of more than 35,000, and it would be wrong to blame the creator of the petition for the actions of the signatory.

This is not to say that posts calling Ms Kuenssberg every rude name under the sun do not exist, of course. But it would be wrong to tie them to the petition. Her alleged bias has attracted a huge amount of animosity and people express it according to their own natures.

Ms Bates is right to say it is wrong that a female reporter attracts misogynistic abuse; such behaviour against any woman is wrong, no matter what she has done, because it is all about her gender, and not about her behaviour.

But her claim that the petition against Ms Kuenssberg may be ignored because of this tangential behaviour is outrageous and must be retracted.

Her claim that supporters of the petition are implying that misogynistic abuse “should be brushed under the carpet for the greater good” is easily countered by pointing out that she is saying Ms Kuenssberg’s abuse of her position should be brushed under the carpet in order to spite the sexist trolls. As justifications go, that’s not good enough.

Boil it right down and Ms Bates is saying anybody should be allowed to avoid censure for poor conduct if their critics react with harsh language. This is opening the door for huge abuses of power – as some have mentioned in the article’s comment column.

I wonder why your newspaper’s editors allowed this article to run at all.

To summarise: The caption is inaccurate and libellous – there was nothing inherently sexist or misogynist about the petition against Laura Kuenssberg.

The main assumption of the article is unprovable – there is no reason to assume that every reference to Laura Kuenssberg on the social media is a response to a petition about her.

And the main point of the article is outrageous – reasoned criticism of people in public life must not be suppressed because unreasonable people use harsh language.

Please rectify at your earliest convenience.

A petition calling for the BBC to sack political editor Laura Kuenssberg has been taken down by website 38 Degrees after it became “a focal point for sexist and hateful abuse”. The petition, which accused Kuenssberg of biased reporting against the Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, attracted abusive and sexist language among some of those supporting it, according to 38 Degrees executive director David Babbs.

While some have tried to argue that the problem is nonexistent, you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of abusive and misogynistic messages being directed at, or about, Kuenssberg.

Posts calling Kuenssberg a bitch, a whore and a slag are not hard to spot on social media. Others refer to her as a cow and a cunt. Some people write that they’d like to kill her. One post included a picture of a scene from Return of the Jedi with Kuenssberg’s face Photoshopped on to that of Princess Leia in the famous gold-bikini scene and David Cameron’s face superimposed on Jabba the Hutt. It describes her as “Cameron’s slave girl”.

While male political reporters have faced similar accusations of bias, they tend to come without the side helping of abuse. Supporters of the petition have reacted angrily to the criticism, describing talk of sexism as a “diversion” from the main issue at hand. But no matter how passionate you are about a cause, painting sexism as a distraction from what’s “really important” implies that such abuse should be brushed under the carpet for the greater good.

Source: The Laura Kuenssberg petition should be condemned – not just removed | Opinion | The Guardian


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