The doublethink that allows tabloids to campaign against online porn

A teenage rapist was excused by a judge because he had been "corrupted" by online filth. Where's the evidence?

Two fourteen-year-old children, separated by an ocean but united in the pages of the Daily Mail.

One, a British boy, tied a “Hello Kitty” apron around the eyes of a five-year-old girl and made her perform a sexual act on him. Wearing his school uniform in the dock of Cambridge Crown Court, he listened as Judge Hawkesworth blamed “the world and society” for allowing him to become “corrupted” by his exposure to sexualised material on the internet - further evidence of the need for the Daily Mail’s ‘Block Online Porn’ campaign.

The other, an American girl named Kylie Jenner, is famous for being the younger half-sister of Kim Kardashian, a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007. Kylie can be seen with her sister in the Mail “stripping off” to “pose in bikinis.” She is pictured “displaying her … trim figure for her two millions (sic) Twitter followers to ogle at.”

There are those who are concerned about the sexualisation of children, and there are those who think that it’s fine to print pictures of a 14-year-old girl posing in “skimpy bikinis” and “tiny wetsuits” to sell newspapers, but only an institution as morally bankrupt as the Mail could hold both views simultaneously. Only the sort of editor one can imagine stalking the newsroom with sparkling white semen stains decorating the crotch of his handmade trousers, sneering contemptuously at his own readership, sickened by the girls he pimps to them, his skin coated with a stickiness that no amount of scrubbing and showering can rinse away.

Judge Hawkesworth himself is now a victim of this schizoid doublethink. On Wednesday he “spared” a teen “corrupted by internet porn”, his sentencing a convenient hook for the Mail’s campaign; but by Thursday an article described him as a “soft sentence judge” - a headline later altered (note the URL) to refer to a “cheap sentence”. Hawkesworth’s fate is to be cast as a heroic villain, a dangerously-liberal conservative judge who endangers the children he protects.

The Judge deserves some scrutiny though, as this isn’t the first time he’s come to national attention for unusual rulings. In 2011 he gave a suspended sentence to a 26-year-old man who had groomed a 14-year-old school girl for sex, ruling that he was “simply a young man who was unable to control his sexual urges.” His argument invoked the myth of the self-guiding penis; the idea that men are helpless ballistic spunk missiles, a careless whisper away from deploying their payload over some innocent bystander. It’s an idea usually espoused by men trying to excuse their crappy behaviour; people like Brendan O’Neill, whose penis forces him to wolf-whistle at passing girls, and writes many of his columns.

Judge Hawkesworth blamed impulses in this latest case too, sympathizing with a young boy who, according to the Mail, “later admitted he regularly looked at hardcore pornography on a laptop at home.” “I’m satisfied it was impulsive and I believe you have become sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” the judge is reported as saying: “Your exposure at such a young age has ended in tragedy. It was the fault of the world and society.” Not the parents, nor the school, nor even the town – nothing so crudely specific.

The phrase, “sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” is syntactically dubious and semantically void. ‘Sexualisation’ is one of those terms like ‘big society’ that has become synonymous with “something I can’t adequately describe.” It is a mythical mental health issue invented by campaigners who feel that it’s ‘common sense’ that children are be damaged by sexually explicit material, but who are unable to define either the damage or the causes beyond terms that are so vague as to be meaningless.  In effect the judge seems to have invoked a new mental health condition for the purposes of giving the child a lighter sentence.

This condition - new to medicine - is brought on by exposure to a class of entertainment that covers everything from erotic fiction writing to water-sports via knee-jobs and macrophilia, but which emphatically does not include topless women (or 14-year old bikini models) in tabloid newspapers. It leads to the generation of ‘hormones’ – unprecedented in teenage boys - which in turn persuade  patients to do things like coercing a 5 year old girl into performing a sex act. If this model is true, and a majority of teenagers view porn, then only some miracle is preventing horny youth gangs invading nursery schools up and down the land.

“The case has fuelled demands for stricter controls to be put in place to stop children accessing online porn,” according to the Mail, who cite no examples. They fell foul of a PCC complaint by some bloke recently, and ended up removing an article that falsely inflated public support for an automatic internet filter. Still, their editorial line – one of them at least - has strong support from powerful politicians; people like the rising Conservative star Claire Perry, an MP who campaigns on her opposition to the sexualisation of children. I asked Perry on Twitter what she thought of the Mail’s regular bikini shots of Kylie Jenner. She didn’t reply. 

 

Kim Kardashian: "a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007". Photograph: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.