After Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, was released from HMP Onley yesterday afternoon, he made no bones about his attitude to the mainstream media. They, he proclaimed, told lies, and had let the British people down. And the mainstream media, suckers to the end, were so keen to see this dubiously reasoned message spread that they have spent the past 18 hours enabling it themselves.
While Lennon readies himself for his star turn on the next edition of Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), the press has been eagerly reporting the release, and the broadcast media, to its shame, has been giving it wall to wall coverage, including allowing piss-poor Walter Mitty impersonator Raheem “call me Ray” Kassam onto the Radio 4 Today programme to shill for Tommy.
Yesterday evening, there was a feature on BBC Newsnight. Kassam was allowed virtually free rein on the Today programme, suggesting a legal expertise he does not possess. Yet this is not the beginning of the sorry story: the tabloid press has been laying the groundwork for Lennon and his pals for years, smearing, demonising and often attacking Muslims, and in the process enabling the far right.
They have kicked in the door, only for Lennon and his acolytes to walk right in. Now they are enabling the far right. By peddling falsehood and misinformation, they enable Stephen Lennon to claim that they tell lies. Lennon’s fans then turn against the tabloid press and broadcasters. Thus the media creates the monster of which it then loses control.
This is not some kind of minority view; the far right is now causing increasing concern, with Peter Geoghegan’s response typical. “Wakes up. Turns on #r4today. Raheem Kassam talking in praise of Tommy Robinson. And the normalisation continues”. Adam Bienkov, not given to hyperbole, noted “Raheem Kassam given a platform by the Today programme to pose as a champion of free speech and justice. He is a fascist with zero interest in either”.
Barrister Adam Wagner was equally concerned. “Just listening to @BBCr4today. Why is no other guest countering @RaheemKassam on Tommy Robinson? Why is he being allowed to make out he's a legal expert commenting on legal policy? Why wasn't he described as as involved with Breitbart? What on earth is going on?”
Lib Dem peer Baroness Hussein-Ece was also unhappy. “I’m disgusted & [have] had enough of @BBCNews @BBCr4today headlining far-right fascist racists. Robinson is a convicted criminal, banned from every football stadium in the country”. Yes, well.
Then came the warnings, with Aaron Bastani observing “The far right are at their strongest since the 1930s, and media continues in failing to hold them accountable. In fact they barely see what’s happening” and Owen Jones telling “The BBC made Nigel Farage. He'd be nothing without them. And now the media is going to normalise the new far right of Steve Bannon and Tommy Robinson”. Quite. And here’s a thought to ponder.
Since Lennon turned up in Crewe last year to intimidate a local blogger, it is him - the convicted criminal - who has been given the red carpet treatment by the media. The local blogger, without a criminal record, is ignored. I’ll just leave that one there.