Thursday, August 3, 2017

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When The Biter Is Bit: Further Reflections On The Downfall Of Kevin Myers

Alfie Gallagher revisits the Kevin Myers controversy  on his blog Left From The West.

By many accounts from across the political spectrum — including that of my great friend Anthony McIntyre Kevin Myers is decent and friendly in real life. I am willing to accept that this is true.

The problem with Kevin Myers as a journalist, though, is not that he has, by his own admission, "a weakness for facile terminology." Rather, the problem is that his style of argument is making casual inferences from isolated observations and intuitions to utterly glib, unfounded conclusions, many of which are indistinguishable from sneering fascist bigotry. Myers’s recent column was not an aberration. Pseudo-intellectual shock-mongering has been his modus operandi for decades.


Kevin Myers speaking to Seán O'Rourke on RTE radio yesterday
However, the response by both the Sunday Times and the Irish Independent to the controversy was equally pernicious. Retraction was not merely a cynical get-out-of-jail-free card played by newspapers that happily traded for years on Myers's bigoted bile. Worse, it is disturbingly close to an Orwellian post-hoc cleansing of the public record. As a result, it is now much harder for ordinary people unfamiliar with the workings of the web to read for themselves the entire article that got Kevin Myers fired.

As the rise of the alt-right shows, bigotry does not die when it is "retracted" and suppressed. On the contrary, it thrives in the shadows. Moreover, as Norman Finkelstein contends in his compelling exposition of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, suppression inevitably deprives the general public of the ability to think for themselves, to understand the issues, and to make up their own minds. It suggests not only that we don't trust ordinary people, but also that we lack the intellectual confidence in our own ideas and in our ability to convince them otherwise. Publishing a cogent rebuttal would not be a case of "dignifying" Myers's fatuous, facile claims – it would scrutinise and demolish them.

Kevin Myers seems a broken man now. On RTE radio yesterday, he said, “I’m not sure if there is any redemption for me.” I don't enjoy seeing anyone suffer, but given that Myers spent the bulk of his career gleefully stoking popular prejudices against easy targets – single mothers, immigrants, Travellers – I can’t say I have much sympathy for him. Indeed, as he himself accepts, he is very much "the author of his own misfortune".

The biter was finally bit, but this ignoble end has been many decades in the making.

2 comments :

Niall said...

It's odd considering his past bilibous rants that this one undid him. It would seem the Likud party has stretched its tentacles right to the top.

Joe Dalton said...

Being familiar with Myers’s waspish bite, I at first found it amusing that the UK had suddenly discovered him. His provocative writing style certainly merits criticism. He deserved everything he got for that “mothering bastards” column among many others and certainly deserves criticism for this latest effort. I find the opprobrium he has faced this week very unsettling though. I do think there is a big difference between him aiming his invective at large non-personalised groups of people, who I would hope are intelligent enough to jog right on from it, and being the subject of intensive personalised scorn as Myers now is.

Many in Ireland, where he is of course well known, who have been the target of his invective may be enjoying his discomfort. Call me soft but I really am not enjoying seeing a clearly broken man being kicked while he is down. Some of the twitter mob won’t stop until they drive him to suicide.

Much of the attacks on him in Britain, where he was until this week relatively unknown, are based on complete ignorance. The Irish Independent and Sunday Times have behaved in a cowardly fashion. Having published the article, the Sunday Times should at least have given Myers the opportunity to respond to the criticism. By pulling the article Myers wrote on the semantics of the word “Holocaust” eight years after publishing it, the Irish Independent have helped create a false impression that Myers is a Holocaust denier. Anyone who read the article in full, or any of his writings, would know this is ludicrous.

Even if you disagree with every word Myers has ever written, I still think there is something rotten about him being publicly humiliated in this way.