In Flat Earth News, his go-to book on the machinations of the Fourth Estate, Nick Davies discussed the way in which one paper did its work: “it is a model of a certain type of reporting … a model which is particularly associated with the Daily Mail. This involves something like the work of a gardener, who digs out and throws away weeds and stones and anything else which he does not want and then plants whatever he fancies”.
What's so f***ing wrong with kicking brown women, c***?!?!?
What this meant could be put directly: “The story, in other words, is a model of the subtle art of distortion. Aggressive distortion”. And today has brought a text-book example of the genre, as the Mail has once again gone after Cambridge academic Priyamvada Gopal, but not because she isn’t white, you understand. The distortion begins with the headline.
“Cambridge University hits back at don who branded 'all white' porters 'racist' for not calling her 'Dr' as college insists there was 'no wrongdoing or discrimination' from its staff” it tells readers, continuing “Priyamvada Gopal, 49, will no longer supervise students from King's College. English lit expert said Kings' porters treat her differently because she is not white. King’s College hit back, saying it was 'matter of procedure, not discrimination’”.
The distortion? Dr Gopal did not take brand anyone “racist” for not calling her “Dr”. Yes, I know it’s there in the first line of the heading, but she didn’t. In fact, that was no more than an aside within her observations shared on Twitter two days ago.
So what’s at issue? This is all about the perceived issue of racial profiling, and indeed low-level racism, exhibited towards a wide range of individuals over many years. This is what she actually said about it: “With deep regret but with 17 years of consideration behind it, I have finally decided on my behalf & of other people of colour @Cambridge_Uni to refuse to supervise any students at @Kings_College. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH of the consistently racist profiling & aggression by Porters.” And there was more.
“My attempts to raise this with Fellows & with its management verbally and in writing have failed to elicit any changes. Hundreds of stories abound over the years. BASTA! Where you are in a position to tell them: if you can't be polite to me at the gate, I can't do any work for you, you should. I apologise to any future students affected and to @CambridgeBME but it is more than time to address this long festering sore. Until and unless it is, I will not do any more work for Kings”. She also provided a student testimonial.
“Some time ago, I received this from a Kings BAME student. 'I have recently heard about your awful treatment from the porters and gate staff at Kings, and so on behalf of the students of the college I would like to apologise for this unacceptable incident. I wanted to let you know that the issue of racial profiling and unconscious bias at the Kings gate is something we are aware of and are trying our absolute hardest to find some sort of resolution to this - we have collected testimonials of many other students and staff who have experienced horrible unfair treatment from the staff at the front of Kings, and the fact that I am still hearing of so many incidents makes me appalled’”.
This concluded “‘I am in the process of discussing the issue with college and hopefully there will soon be some sort of progress, but in the meantime [we are] urging students to talk about the issue, make sure such incidents are discussed and brought to people's attention, and so we also realise the severity of the problem.' Again, students speak to what their teachers and managers keep denying. I am SO sorry about this”.
The problem has clearly been going on for some years, and there is sufficient scope in what Dr Gopal has set out for the Mail to put some effort into investigating the matter. But instead, we get the usual “Dr Gopal, a vehement supporter of Jeremy Corbyn [bad] … She is a prolific user of Twitter [bad]”, and of course “She was also involved in a high profile row with eminent Oxford don, Nigel Biggar”. That’s Biggar, as in bigot.
When the Mail claims to be at the forefront of investigative journalism, and asserts that it isn’t racist, honestly, it is always useful to remember that it churns out slanted copy in support of bigots like Nigel Biggar, and rather than call out King’s College, just decides to blow the dog-whistle and kick the uppity brown woman instead.
That’s the selective distortion of the Daily Mail laid bare. It is, as Nick Davies told, an aggressive distortion. It is also a superb example of selective racism.
Under Paul Dacre’s less than benign editorship, the Mail always seems to end up siding with, and therefore supporting and empowering, the racists. No change there, then.