Not once but twice in recent weeks I’ve learned of occasions when I was labelled by senior journalists in the mainstream media as a misogynist and a racist.
In one of those instances the offender was Wellington-based Ben McKay, Australian Associated Press’s New Zealand correspondent, who tried to have my blog posts excluded from political scientist Bryce Edwards’ daily online summary of political news and comment. I wrote about it here.
McKay is a virtual unknown in New Zealand, but more recently I learned I was described in exactly the same terms by a far more senior and influential editorial figure. A commitment of confidentiality prevents me from revealing who it was, but it was unrelated to the McKay episode.
I deduce from this that it’s now received wisdom within some mainstream media circles, even at senior levels, that I hate women and approve of discrimination against people on the basis of their race. This, after all, is what the words misogynist and racist mean.
In revealing this I am not seeking and don’t want sympathy. The terms misogynist and racist are so degraded by overuse that to me, they are meaningless. (They are also wholly unsubstantiated, although that doesn't seem to bother my accusers.)
However those words still carry force. Though they cause me no lost sleep they are terms of serious vilification which, if published, would probably be actionable in court.
What principally concerns me is not the attack on my reputation, but that such adolescent terms – let’s call them undergraduate-level – should be used so freely by people in senior editorial positions.
Journalism hinges on words. Used properly, they are precision tools. But a generation of journalists has emerged which doesn’t hesitate to use ideologically loaded terms of denigration to discredit people they don’t approve of.
Some of this can be put down to sheer ignorance – the inevitable result of an education system that produces journalists with only a rudimentary grasp of the English language and which does little to encourage respect for the accurate use of words.
To read any newspaper, even some of the more reputable ones, is to gasp at the amateurish writing and the frequency of solecisms that would in the past have been intercepted and corrected by sub-editors. It’s one of the great paradoxes of our age that the most thoroughly (I refuse to say “best”) educated journalists in history routinely produce work so shoddy that it should never have made it onto the printed page.
Ignorance, however, only goes so far as an explanation for the misuse of words. A lot of it is attributable to sheer prejudice and malice, most of it ideologically based. Hence the frequency with which we see the use of conveniently vague but disparaging terms such as far-right, alt-right, racist, fascist and misogynist – labels used to discredit any political position that doesn’t align with those of the political, bureaucratic, academic and media elites. (It’s another striking paradox that while we supposedly have a proliferation of malignant groups on the right, it’s almost unheard of for the media to describe any person, group or political party as “far left” – still less to suggest that anyone qualifying for that description could have less than wholly noble motives.)
The absurd and dangerous term “hate speech” should be seen in the same light. In the woke glossary adopted by the mainstream media, “hate speech” means any expression of opinion that upsets someone. But the term is used very selectively, since those pushing for the adoption of so-called hate speech laws are not remotely interested in protecting the feelings or opinions of people they dislike. On the contrary, they freely indulge in vile and repugnant invective against them. Hate speech laws are intended by their backers to run one way only: to shield people and ideas they approve of. It’s hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale.
Perhaps more to the point, the loaded phrase “hate speech” has been promoted with no regard for the real meaning of that word “hate”, which describes an emotion so extreme and intense that historically it has led to genocide and other atrocities. By applying the term to the expression of opinions that do no more than risk offending sensitive minority groups, the language activists have grossly misappropriated its meaning. But it serves the valuable purpose, for them, of providing a pretext for the outlawing of ideas they don’t like.
All this has implications for public trust in journalism. When readers can no longer rely on words being used with accuracy and respect for their established meaning, and when derogatory labels are used as lazy substitutes for accuracy and considered analysis, with not even a fig leaf of substantiation, journalism loses its moral authority. It risks being reduced to the level of propaganda, vilification and simplistic sloganeering.
The Nazis were very good at this and so is Vladimir Putin. It’s grimly ironic that the same techniques are now used in the Western media by people who smugly think of themselves as liberal. The “othering” of dissenters is an inevitable (and make no mistake, intended) consequence.
I wonder, do those impostor journalists who so freely use damning terms such as “misogynist” stop to think what the words actually mean? By labelling me as a misogynist, my accusers are saying I hate my wife, my daughters, my late mother, my sister and my grand-daughters, to say nothing of my women friends. Really? Try telling them that.
That such accusations are self-evidently preposterous doesn’t stop those who make them. And the frightening thing is that this virulent bigotry appears to have permeated the highest levels of the news media, where editorial gatekeepers decide what stories to cover and which opinions New Zealanders should be exposed to.