Socially approved

Sunday we read a piece by Gaby Hinsliff about the disproportionate rage directed at BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg.

Yesterday I read this in the Guardian from last July: Yvette Cooper ‘sick to death of vitriol’ directed at Laura Kuenssberg.

The Labour MP Yvette Cooper has launched a staunch defence of the BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, as she called on Labour to be a “broad-based party” and its supporters to stop engaging in “vitriolic abuse” online.

Cooper defended Kuenssberg, regularly under fire for perceived political bias, as she set out a potential strategy to put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street and attacked the US president, Donald Trump.

She said Trump’s approach to politics and social media was “normalising hatred” and the problem was not confined to the right wing.

Today I read Helen Lewis on the subject:

During the bit of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to Labour conference where journalists were just beginning to drift off, Buzzfeed Political Editor Jim Waterson posted about a story on The Canary. The pro-Corbyn “alternative” site had posted an article by Steve Topple headlined: “We need to talk about Laura Kuenssberg. She’s listed as a speaker at the Tory Party conference.”

As Waterson put it, “It took me two mins to call the event organiser and find out this is bollocks. She’s not speaking at Tory conference. Already going viral regardless.”

She’d been invited to speak – as had a lot of people, because that’s what happens.

There are two problems here. The first is the way that The Canary – an independent, reader-funded “alternative” news site – uses Kuenssberg as a traffic-driver for hate-clicks. This is a flimsy story – leftwing journalists speak at Tory conference, and vice versa – even if it were correct. Which it isn’t, as the BBC press office soon made clear.

The BBC is a target, BBC reporters are targets, but Kuenssberg is especially a target. Now why might that be do you suppose?

BBC editors receive constant complaints from politicians and their teams about their reporting. Why? Because they reach so many people. What is reported on the BBC matters.

However, it’s not hard to spot that some BBC staff get more flak than others. Those in front of camera are instantly recognisable, and so make better targets. So – let’s be honest – are women. There is a strain of misogyny which delights in being told that there are some women it’s OK to hate.

A huge strain. That joy in Socially Approved hatred of women seems to take up most of the oxygen in trans activism these days, which means it’s also taking over the left as a whole, especially when combined with the right-on hatred of Hillary Clinton.

The media should not give license to that impulse, and neither should anyone who calls themselves progressive. Internet arguments over the exact calibration of condemnation given to vitriol against Diane Abbott vs Laura Kuenssberg miss the fact that both left and right are united in finding some women acceptable targets for sexist abuse. Do as you would be done to.

The demonisation of Kuenssberg, which the Canary has taken such delight in, has had real world effects. The BBC political editor was given a bodyguard for Labour party conference, presumably as a result of threats. When the story was reported, a sizeable section of the online left, instead of believing that the BBC would make a sensible decision based on duty of care to an employee, decided to question whether it was an anti-Corbyn plot. Where were these threats? Why won’t you tell us what they are? The tone was conspiracist, which is frankly boggling to anyone who has ever clicked on the replies to a Kuenssberg tweet. The hate for her is real, it is often wildly divorced from anything she’s actually done, and it often takes overtly misogynist forms.

In fact, look at one of the first responses to the Canary’s own tweet of the story.

Same old same old.

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