Celebrities bleating about politics – it’s been discussed before. Elton John this week shook hands with George W Bush upon accepting some pointless award or other, less than a month after declaring the American President “the worst thing that has ever happened to America”. In so doing he embodied the ambivalence of “anti-war” liberals at the heart of the media spotlight; this insincerity was not lost on the electorate last month, and this story is no great surprise. Never mind – the last thing I want is for this site to turn into another “We really hate Bush & Blair” forum. Of rather more relevance was an incident involving Robert Kilroy-Silk, on page 10 of today’s Mirror.
Former UKIP MP Kilroy, who recently hit the headlines for racist comments about Arabs, had a bucket of slurry thrown over him while on his way to a Radio 4 debate, allegedly by an outraged Muslim. Kilroy’s righteous repost: “This is about trying to bully and intimidate people they disagree with.” I’m no defender of Islam (if I had my way, religion would have absolutely no role in public life; but that’s a debate for another time), but within seconds of reading the article it becomes clear that the attack is a hoax, a propaganda exercise set up by elements wanting to spread racial hatred and give credence to the notion that anyone actually feels that sensitively about what a tosser like Kilroy thinks.
Three factors would strongly suggest this is whole event was staged: firstly, the assailant is alleged to have shouted out: “God is great. You have insulted my religion. This is in the name of Islam.” The construction of this improbable outburst – three conveniently self-conscious soundbites for the price of one – first drew my attention. Secondly there’s the picture of the assailant. And at this point I so wish I had a scanner – because it’s a white man with a fluffy beard that’s so obviously fake it’s comical. And finally there’s the bizarre fact that, though we get a photo of a shit-smeared Kilroy and accomplice successfully apprehending the assailant, he then mysteriously “disappears”, and we’re told police are still looking for him.
I think Robert Kilroy-Silk actually genuinely and honestly believes that what he’s doing is right, and perhaps that’s what’s so frightening. His “cause” will only be helped by an event like this. But it’s at this point where the responsibilities of journalists come into question, and this is the main point of this piece. The Mirror, despite its counterproductive and patronising supersize banner-headlines and its blanket coverage of “reality television” shows, is nevertheless marginally the least offensive of the tabloid newspapers. They have allowed themselves all too easily to be sucked into publishing a piece that will only please the influential far-right elements in middle-England (as represented by UKIP), as well as fuelling misconceptions that affect race relations across the country and playing into the hands of groups like the BNP. If a normal person like me could spot the hoax after five seconds, it’s almost certain that the hack responsible (firstname.lastname@example.org) would have chosen to print his piece in spite of his doubts about its authenticity – a cheapening of journalistic integrity that is both unprofessional and dangerous.