Magazine article The Spectator

Dancing on Graves Is What Journalists Do

Magazine article The Spectator

Dancing on Graves Is What Journalists Do

Article excerpt

There's no need for Jan Moir to apologise for speculating about the death of the boy-band singer Stephen Gately says Rod Liddle. Why have we become so censorious and hysterical?

I have to say that I don't particularly like newspaper and magazine columnists, as people. Smug, not terribly bright, usually cowardly, lazy, always self-obsessed, self-important and narcissistic - forever brimming with themselves, a collection of mass-produced ornamental thimbles overflowing with foaming vomit. I don't excuse myself from most of these character traits, by the way, so I suppose you can add self-loathing to the list as well. I don't really have any friends who are columnists (except for James Delingpole, who I speak to on the phone sometimes, when he's feeling enraged or suicidal) and the Fleet Street writers I particularly admire - Laura Barton, Alexis Petridis, Craig Brown and our own Jeremy Clarke - seem, from their writing, to be not quite part of that gibbering throng, although maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.

My argument isn't that columnists aren't good at what they do - some are very artful indeed, although it can be a thin and vapid art, not even a 'half-art', as Orwell rightly described photography. It's just that personally I don't like them very much; on the increasingly rare occasions when I am required to mix with people who do the same job as me, I experience the peculiar and frightening sensation that I am being eaten alive by mice. And I put down my drink and run and promise myself that I will be a better person henceforth and maybe try to get a job with the Forestry Commission, like I always wanted.

We have lots of columnists now because this is how things are; the good stuff about journalism - reportage - has been left behind, bullied out of existence by the internet (which, ironically, is actually useless for accurate, intelligent reportage, but that's another story). Instead we have this moronic inferno, a high-pitched fugue of endlessly self-referential squeaking, the sonar of a thousand bewildered but nonetheless blithely confident pipistrelle bats, all mothless. And so we have the Jan Moir affair.

Moir writes a column for the Daily Mail - by all accounts a very good column, for the Mail pays better than any of its rivals, and Moir is its most avidly read writer by some margin. I'd never read much of her stuff until this week, the week she came under the cosh from her columnist colleagues on every other newspaper, especially the liberally inclined newspapers. She may also have a Press Complaints Commission case to answer, given that 22,000 people complained about the piece in question. Hell, all those complaints, whipped up by Twitter and Facebook and the infinity of bloggers - amounting to a massive 0.4 per cent of the Daily Mail's readership. The PCC will need to re-evaluate the way in which it takes action, because these days a roll call of 22,000 complaints is very easy to amass, as Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross (via the offices of the Daily Mail! ) will tell you.

Moir had suggested that there might be something more to the death of the boyband singer Stephen Gately than the 'sugar-coated' encomiums which had appeared in every morning newspaper. She was right about the sugar coating; as always, when a minor and not terribly talented celebrity dies, we had all that fatuous stuff about his incredible, life-affirming genius, how out of the blue it all was. …

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