I’m going to ease back into this blog with the current internet issue de jour, the vile article written by Jan Moir in the Daily Mail about the circumstances of the death of Stephen Gately. The mean-minded idiocy of the article has already been illustrated by a plethora of other people – you can see it demolished by Charlie Brooker or satirised by the Quietus amongst many others. There was also a twitter campaign sparked by Derren Brown and Stephen Fry, asking people to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the article, which had such a response that the PCC website crashed for a few hours. In response, Moir and the Mail responded with a fairly weak “clarification” that basically said everyone had horribly misunderstood the article. You can see that clarification neatly dissected by The Third Estate.
Naturally, whenever there is an explosion of indignation at anything that appears in the media then other voices come in and mutter about freedom of expression and censorship. For instance, from the Daily Telegraph (which neatly avoids mentioning that Moir has been a columnist for them). And, of course, there is a real point here – that something expresses a view offensive to some people should not, in itself, prohibit its publication. However, I do think there was one part of the Moir diatribe that was so stupid, so wrong that it should not have been published. And as that part was the basis for the rest of the tawdry innuendo and insinuation that filled the rest of the piece, perhaps that would have fallen by the wayside. I’m sure Western civilisation would have struggled on somehow.
The hook to Moir’s article was that Gately could not have died a “natural” death, because “Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.” The point is correctly rubbished by Brooker, but surely the vast majority of the population don’t need to have it pointed out to them, it’s hardly arcane knowledge that its far from unknown for seemingly healthy young people to die for no apparent reason. As someone who has an interest in football, I could quote the tragic deaths of Daniel Jarque, Marc-Vivien Foe and Antonio Puerta in the last 5 or so years.
Now this sort of idiocy kind I of comes with the territory of the opinion pages of modern newspapers, where regular columnists offer their ill-informed opinion on a different issue each week, while people who actually know something about the subject are sidelined. But surely, even in a newspaper as egregiously ignorant of science as the Mail must have someone in place to edit or sub the piece who could point out the howler. That they don’t, I believe, renders the piece not fit for publication.
If Gately’s death was “natural”, and Moir has no grounds for challenging the coroner’s version that it was not, then all the speculation about his lifestyle evidences nothing beyond Moir’s prejudices. Ultimately, she is (as pointed out by the Daily Quail) simply alleging that he died of a fatal case of the gay.