This week, our free and fearless press has been hot on the case of a 5-year-old girl who was placed into foster care. This seems a routine and innocuous story to major on, until it is also revealed that the girl was white and Christian, and the foster families - two of them - were allegedly Scary Muslims (tm). What also makes this interesting is that the story was broken by a reporter whose name might be expected to give it significant credibility.
Placed becomes Forced, with added Plight
That reporter was Andrew Norfolk, who had previously garnered some cachet through his work on the Rotherham grooming affair. So putting his name on the by-line immediately told readers not only that they should take the story seriously, but also that they could be confident in the reliability of the reportage.
The Times, which first ran the story, is behind a paywall, but the Mail characteristically lifted the copy: this reveals the real “disturbing questions” about the whole saga. Let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start.
“The parents of a Christian five-year-old forced to live with Muslim foster carers allegedly 'begged' a council to allow her to live with her grandmother”. Allegedly. The claim could not be stood up.
“The placements were arranged by Tower Hamlets council in east London, where children's services were criticised by Ofsted earlier this year”. This is dog-whistle code for Scary Muslims (tm). It is also telling readers the fostering decision was wrong.
“The council has refused to allow the girl to be placed into the temporary care of her grandmother, according to The Times”. No second source? Hmmm.
“Social workers said the child sobbed and begged not to be returned to one foster mother - who wore a face veil in public - as the household spoke no English”. Tower Hamlets council cannot discuss the case publicly, for obvious reasons, but have disputed the claim that the family did not speak English. Moreover, “It said the girl had been placed with an English-speaking, mixed-race family”. What was that about a “Muslim family”?
Must leave Muslims. Times praised. Council failure
Still, back to the Mail: “She also claimed her foster carer had said she should learn Arabic and had taken away her Christian cross necklace, The Times reported”. She claimed. The Times reported. Is all of this hearsay and single sourced?
“The child - who is white, was born in Britain and has a UK passport - was allegedly not allowed to eat a spaghetti carbonara prepared by her birth mother because it contained bacon”. Allegedly again. A lot of hedging, even for the Mail.
“She was said to have told her biological mother 'European women are stupid and alcoholic' and 'Christmas and Easter are stupid', prompting questions over cultural attitudes in her foster homes”. Was said to have told.
“Inspectors rated the council's children's services 'inadequate' and said there was an 'entrenched culture of non-compliance with basic social work standards’”. Another dog whistle to tell readers that whatever Tower Hamlets did was wrong.
So much for the allegations, many of which are hearsay and not backed up by the second source one might expect a Times reporter to have sought out - now we come to the usual parade of Tory MPs ready to shoot their mouths off for a little free publicity.
Mail bang to rights Photoshopping (h/t @DMReporter)
“Philip Hollobone, Tory MP for Kettering, said: 'What if it were a Muslim girl being looked after by a Christian couple and they insisted she deny her Muslim upbringing and become a Christian – how would the Muslim community feel about that?’” What Hollobone knows all too well is that whatever the Muslim community felt about that, such a story would not find its way into the Times, and certainly not the Mail. Not the Mail’s kind of people.
“Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, added”. That’s the whole problem - Andrew Bridgen is always there to add his two penn’orth.
And with that it was back to the nudge-and-wink: “The girl's biological mother was said to be horrified by her daughter's foster placements and their effect on the child … The girl was initially put in a household where her foster mother reportedly wore a niqab”.
Only after all of that does anyone bother to ask the question: “It was not clear why the girl was taken into care earlier this year”. Didn’t Norfolk, or any of those sounding off about the story, bother to ask? The responsibility on the council is to ensure the safety of the child. Fostering, as Esmat Jeraj has pointed out, is a complex business. There are all manner of reasons why the girl was taken into care, none of which have been raised as possibilities, let alone examined by the press.
So another question must be put: what is the motivation of the press in running this story? The thought enters that the Murdoch press, which has such a grim record of crude and bigoted Islamophobia at the Times’ downmarket sister title the Sun, has used the reputation of Andrew Norfolk to inflate a story about a temporary foster placement to combine an attack on an under-fire council with more Muslim bashing.
The problem the Times has in dissociating itself from such a conclusion is that the Mail most certainly has used the story that way: for the Dacre doggies, the dead giveaway came when they were caught crudely Photoshopping a stock photo of a woman in Islamic dress to include a full face veil.
What is all too clear from the reporting of the case is that readers of a supposedly upmarket newspaper have been given a highly selective account of something that the paper’s editorial staff would know to be potentially highly sensitive - and open to misinterpretation by those seeking to demonise minority communities.
That makes the whole affair yet another example of irresponsible journalism and blatant political opportunism, the combination of which serves no purpose except to fuel the egos of politicians and editors. And that’s not good enough.
[A judge has now ruled that the girl should live, for the time being, with a family member]