This Guardian opinion piece is so wrong it borders on sickness

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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18 thoughts on “This Guardian opinion piece is so wrong it borders on sickness

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      “Joe”, by Laura Bates and by The Guardian. The newspaper may be sued separately, for having repeated the writer’s offence.

  1. Pete

    Didn’t the statement from David Babbs explain there were sexist comments, but that they had not been published on the petition? I’m not saying it explains away this snafu, but you make no mention of that.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      There’s something of a disagreement about this. Initially, it seems the claims were made about the petition itself – but when it was pointed out that the petition doesn’t actually have more than one comment which could be interpreted in a sexist way, the focus moved to Twitter. In his Guardian article, David Babbs says the petition was being used as a springboard for these remarks.
      The trouble with that is, another Vox Political reader ran a check on recent tweets mentioning Laura Kuenssberg and the abusive words that were being associated with her, and found only 10 with any relevance. While it is reprehensible that any such comments have been made, that’s not exactly a torrent of abuse.
      I’ve covered this in previous articles.
      The piece that is the subject of this article goes one step further, by associating the petition with any abusive comment made about Ms Kuenssberg, whether it was consciously linked or not. That is beyond the pale.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It’s not a letter of comment; it’s a demand for correction and clarification.
      The very first point makes it clear that the Graun has laid itself wide open to legal action for defamation so they should jump to it.

  2. Spaull

    One small correction. There were 35,000 signatures on the petition, but only around, I think, 880 actual comments.

    Otherwise, spot on. It is good to see people calling out the Guardian’s lies. After being a reader since the 1980s, and having been getting more and more frustrated with it over the past couple of years, this is the last straw for me. I will not visit the site again until there is evidence of major improvement.

  3. casalealex

    Why is it that apologies – shamologies – are all that is required to negate harmful and deceitful utterances from the media and those who abuse positions of influence? Their politically motivated words have been used to deliberately sway public opinion, whilst any shamology hardly gets a hearing. This is the age of sham free speech for some!

  4. Mark Serlin

    The guardian is complicit in censoring a wholly justified complaint by masquerading it as stupid, lazy journalism.
    There are no winners here.

  5. ian campbell

    keep it up it is even more relevant with bbc charter NOTE now 50% out to competetive tender proposed 100%, total privatisation with no editorial control
    BBC becomes an agency wake up object now

  6. Andrew Lloyd

    Joe, the supposed person who started the petition, was contacted by 38 Degrees and it was only in agreement with him that the petition was removed. He is therefore unlikely to be suing anyone for libel. He also himself issued a statement decrying the “misogyny” and “sexism” Kuenssberg received on social media.

    Finally, the petition was removed not for abuse received on the petition itself but for abuse Kuenssberg was receiving elsewhere which 38 Degrees thought, by association, was damaging their own reputation. I agree this behaviour is bizarre and 38 Degrees have now opened themselves up to precedent. Any future petition is liable to be so derailed by attracting abuse.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Your logic is faulty. Joe agreed to take the petition down, to stop it being used as an alleged focus for abuse – but there is nothing inherent in the petition that makes it abusive or misogynistic, as the caption on the Guardian piece states. So the Guardian is libelling him (and 38 Degrees, actually) and is in an extremely actionable position.

      Yes, 38 Degrees removed the petition because of a perception that it was being associated with abuse. This did not mean Ms Bates could freely associate any unkind remarks about Ms Kuenssberg with the petition, as, unfortunately, she has. I hope you agree that this behaviour is just as bizarre as the actions of 38 Degrees.

  7. Mike Sivier Post author

    Some of you may have noticed I fell a little behind in moderating comments during the run-up to the local elections, partly due to the flood over the anti-Semitism allegations. I have been working my way through the backlog and today I found this, from someone calling himself ‘Ratdoll’:

    “Mike silver you are a stupid little man. If you are Jewish you should remember that arab terrorist organisations want to kill all Jews anywhere in the world so being in the UK wont keep you safe. The Nazis would also have killed you or your parents for being Jewish. By the way ISIS, Hizballa and Hamas would aslo kill you if you were Chistian. But it seems you are so stupid you probably dont underatand what Im talking about. So carry on trashing Israel.”

    Charming, isn’t it? I’ve responded, saying it is worth knowing that sectarian abuse isn’t limited to people who hate Jews. It also shows that Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t have a monopoly on abuse directed at her for a reason tangential to her activities. I’m not going to blame Ken Livingstone or Naz Shah for the abuse directed at me by ‘Ratdoll’ – I think ‘Ratdoll’ is to blame.

    That’s why the article by Laura Bates is so appalling. She doesn’t ascribe responsibility to the abusers; she lays it at the feet of the people who are trying to stop abuse (of her position, by Ms K).

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I did.
      They’ve corrected the caption but say Laura Bates is as entitled to publish her opinion as anyone.
      My issue with that is, her opinion is being presented as authoritative. It isn’t.

  8. yarmouthboy

    Having signed the petition in question, I have read the resulting comments above with interest. I agree with the comment that the Gruan has being sliding down in its editorial rigour of yesteryear and seems to have “lost” its political direction with the now reduced Lib Dem voice in national political issues. (Correct me if I am wrong but it seems that way to me). The days of Peter Preston were emulated initially by Rushbridger but sadly seem to be replaced with a more right wing stance. Poor or deliberately deceitful articles approved by sub-editors not being properly managed seem to be on the increase. I get the feel of an “anti-Corbyn” influence at the Gruan which is probably (?) being encouraged by the Blairites. On the question of the Laura Kussenburg issue, to me (again) I suspect political interference from the Tories to remove or at least dilute the strength of public opinion against her by using one of the most tried and tested form of defence in such circumstances- sexism! Had she been non white British most probably other types of “ism” could have been usefully employed. Seems ( again to me) like there are consequences by creating a level playing field in order to discourage “isms” but the outcomes are not always what people believe they should be.

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