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Eleanor's comment: Clarkson and Meghan
I was Clarkson's Editor for over a decade but I was horrified by this column. It should never have run. I've been on LBC and ITV talking about racism in the UK press, this is my take
Like many of you I was shocked and horrified by the Jeremy Clarkson column in the Sun over the weekend which said Meghan Markle was “worse than Rose West” and said he fantasised about “her walking through the streets naked being pelted with excrement to cries of shame”. I know he was referring to Queen Circe in Game of Thrones, but in no way is it ok to call for this to happen to any woman, let alone Meghan Markle, a woman of colour who has already accused the British tabloid press of misogyny and racism… It is hard to read what Clarkson wrote and note the fact that it was ok’d to be published probably by at least two senior editors at the biggest British tabloid, and not conclude that there is a serious anti Meghan, racist, misogynist agenda in the British media. I’m glad that the column has now had record complaints and been taken down and that 60 MPs have called for the Sun to apologise. I hope this is a watershed moment.
I’m afraid this really got my goat because this is something I have been banging on about for a while: In March 2021 I resigned from the board of the Society of Editors because the then Chair went on the radio to defend the British tabloid press against accusations of racism and bigotry (over the Meghan stories which she has now cited in her documentary with Harry on Netflix as part of a racist campaign of hate against her) without checking with his board (including me) that we agreed with his position. I disagreed violently which is why I resigned: I wrote then that there IS structural racism in the British tabloids, partly because of the lack of diverse representations in their newsrooms (less than 1% of editors in the UK press are black or bame). Back in March 2021 I wrote this in my resignation statement:
“In August 2020 Women In Journalism which I then chaired published research (HERE) showing that in the week that we monitored Britain’s premier news outlets not a single newspaper published a front page story by a black reporter; and in that time only one black person was quoted on the front page of a newspaper (even though this was in the weeks after the Black Lives Matter protests).
Our press becomes not a true reflection of society but a distorting lens if those making the decisions and writing the stories are not representative of the broader population. The chronic lack of diversity in British newspaper newsrooms and the lack of representation of BAME groups in decision making amounts in my view and those of many others, to structural racism in the media. This is not to accuse individuals of racism but merely to remark that the lack of a broader perspective and representation of non-white views can result in unfairly slanted coverage. Often segments of our media do operate a double standard when it comes to race and I believe it is the duty of the Society of Editors to come out and say so. If there is no agreement even on the scale of the problem we are dealing with then it is hard to have confidence in the decisions of the board going forward to remedy it. That is why I resigned”
It is massively depressing to me that two years later, while the Netflix series Harry and Meghan is the biggest trending thing on TV and the issue is super live, that Jeremy Clarkson should show clear as day the misogynistic, racist agenda of the British tabloid press and that no-one at the company where I worked for 23 years (not on the Sun but on the Sunday Times) stopped Clarkson writing the hateful stuff, or has come out to apologise about it. Yesterday I went on LBC with Nick Ferrari where I said if there had been a black editor on the Sun Clarkson’s column would not have been allowed to run. And I then went on ITV news to discuss this because I am horrified by my old industry, and hope this is a water-shed moment for change, when it finally realises the error of its ways and gets its house in order.
I was glad to see that Jeremy Clarkson issued a bit of an apology (even his own daughter condemned him) and admitted he had ‘gone too far’. I wonder if his column was connected to the fact that he’d attended a boozy lunch with Camilla our now Queen Consort on the Thursday before the column appeared… it seems likely!
I was saddened by this because I edited Clarkson for at least a decade at the Sunday Times - both on the News Review, and on the Sunday Times Magazine. I always liked him personally (he did hilarious impressions of senior executives!)and was pleasant and good to deal with. Particularly if we had to say to him, ‘Sorry mate you’ve gone too far” - often the purpose of an editor - and we all need one - is to save columnists from themselves. I edited AA Gill for a decade too and sometimes I’d say to him - ‘I’m cutting that, or changing this - trust me!’ And he did. That is why the fact that Clarkson’s column appeared in the Sun is so worrying. He can be edited. No one did that which means they must have thought it was okay to run a column asking for a vulnerable woman, who has already said the media almost drove her to suicide, to be paraded through the streets naked and have shit thrown at her. That is misogyny of the vilest form. And I don’t think Clarkson would say that about a man. And it is particularly egregious given the earlier form of the tabloids when it comes to racist and misogynist coverage of the Duchess of Sussex.
I am writing this because after I resigned from the Society of Editors the post had nearly a million hits on LinkedIn and I received thousands of messages from people of colour around the world thanking me for speaking out on the racism in the UK press. It was humbling. That is why I am saying this again. Not in our name.