The furore that greeted this week’s Ephraim Hardcastle column in the Daily Mail was significant, but not surprising: dishonesty, sexism and casual racism, which is what was deployed against two people from University College London (UCL) for the crime of appearing on BBC Newsnight and adding to our understanding of the beginnings of the Universe, are the column’s stock in trade.
Wake up Peter, you've been fired
Zelo Street has observed goings-on in Hardcastle land once before, after it inferred that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was the victim of a serious sexual assault in Cairo in 2011, was somehow partly to blame for her predicament, because she was a “former swimwear model” who “had ‘form’”. And then there is the equally casual homophobia and other sundry bigotry.
Why does the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre allow this into his paper? Simples. This is part of his “conversation” with those Daily Mail readers, one of the ways in which he communicates the kind of values that he deems to be worth promoting, and those which, through the sneering abuse of the Hardcastle column, he clearly deems to be A Very Bad Thing Indeed.
The two UCL people – Hiranya Peiris and Maggie Aderin-Pocock – were also targeted because the programme on which they appeared was not only on the hated BBC, but is also edited by former Guardian journalist Ian Katz. David Price, vice-Provost for research at UCL, has complained about the article, and pointed out that such assertions as “White, male” scientists doing the research are wrong.
But Price misses the point: the Hardcastle column isn’t concerned with such inconveniences as mere facts. The “White, male” comment was thrown in because it fitted the narrative, which had already been decided upon. So who is behind this antediluvian excuse for journalism? Step forward Peter McKay, aka Peter McHackey, aka Peter McLie, aka The World’s Worst Columnist.
One of Ian Hislop’s first actions as editor of Private Eye was to sack McKay, because he was utterly useless. McKay is one of those dinosaurs who will be swept out when Dacre is finally prevailed upon to spend more time with his house in the Home Counties and Scottish Estate: his column rails against philanderers, but his past record of serial womanising is part of Fleet Street legend.
The Hardcastle column turns its nose up at drunkenness, yet McKay is a lush. It sneers at politicians who have family incomes of £300k, while McKay’s editor is trousering several times that amount. The Hardcastle column is so stuffed full of whoppers that it’s a miracle McKay’s trousers don’t spontaneously combust every time he files his copy. And that suits Paul Dacre just fine.
That is what passes for quality journalism. And that’s not good enough.