Predictably, a social media furore has broken out over Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman’s interview with Canadian clinical psychologist Professor Jordan Peterson.
Peterson’s denial that he is another Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t convincing, not least because some of his fans are responding to his critics by assailing them on social media. Indeed, the presenter herself has been a victim of this, forcing Channel 4 to intervene. We’ve been here before...
Let’s begin with the interview, broadcast on 19th January by the UK Channel 4 news programme. It’s too long to repeat in full, so an assessment of the main points will have to do. It opens with Newman asking why Peterson has said that “men need to grow the hell up”, to which Peterson responds that “there’s nothing uglier than old infants”. In essence, Peterson is discussing a possible “crisis of masculinity” here. The interview then moves into a discussion of what’s actually gone wrong. Peterson’s view of this is that young men are not being encouraged to develop appropriately.
Over its course, the interview moves into a space in which the predominant theme is the ridiculousness of the claim that there is a male-dominated ‘patriarchy’ and that Left-Wing activists can legitimately be compared to communist authoritarian states. Newman, for example, quotes a paragraph from Peterson’s book, stating that there are:
“…whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men. These are the areas of study dominated by the post-modern/neo-Marxist claim that western culture, in particular, is an oppressive structure, created by white men to dominate and exclude women.”
This statement is very similar to the line taken by Alt-Right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in that it shows that in some areas at least, Peterson believes the same things that Milo does. Given that Newman also challenged Yiannopoulos on a previous occasion on some of his ideas, this is enough to encourage her to begin a more detailed scrutiny of Peterson’s views. Peterson subsequently brings up the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’, in which he claims that agreeable people are paid less for doing the same job and that women are more agreeable than men – which Newman identifies as another vast generalisation. This question of agreeableness is one of the issues lying at the very heart of the interview. Peterson argues that the realm of physical conflict is “off limits” to women.
Newman then suggests that Peterson is a ‘provocateur’ and that he is like the Alt-Right that he hates being compared to. Peterson responds that he is so only in the sense that what he believes to be true can be provocative, not that he is deliberately being provocative. However, the interview moves towards its conclusion with Peterson’s theme from his book in which he calls for an injunction to be combative, like a lobster, in order to further one’s career and engage with the world. He states that the claim that the hierarchical structure of the West is a social construct of the patriarchy is untrue, again referring to the lobster. In essence, this whole argument is a ‘survival of the fittest’ theme. Where have we heard this before?
It is perfectly acceptable to identify Peterson as, perhaps, another Yiannopoulos. Perhaps he’s not so immediately aggressive and outrageous, but it’s clear that in some areas, he believes the same things. Interestingly, the interview concludes with Newman observing that online critics of Peterson get “lambasted” by his followers. This is exactly what happened with Yiannopoulos, right through from the early days when Milo first became prominent, the ‘Gamergate’ episode of being a classic example, but with many subsequent examples being exhibited since. However, to truly assess the impact of this, it is necessary to look, not at the interview, but at the fallout from it.
According to Channel 4 editor Ben de Pear, following the broadcast of the interview, Newman was the target of a range of vicious and misogynistic attacks on social media, some of them including the words ‘bitch’ and ‘c**t’. Ben de Pear chose to respond by calling in security specialists to assess whether the authors of these abusive statements could be identified and potentially prosecuted.
Such is the scale of threat we @Channel4News are having to get security specialists in to carry out an analysis. I will not hesitate to get the police involved if necessary. What a terrible indictment of the times we live in.— Ben de Pear (@bendepear) January 19, 2018
Journalism, particularly if it is seen to be either impartial, as in the case of mainstream media channels such as Channel 4 or the BBC, or leaning to the Left, is now under attack, and ferociously so. Led by the Alt-Right, Right-Wingers have now moved into a space in which the only legitimate media culture is one which either does not ask provocative questions or is actually Right-Wing in its flavour. The popular term ‘culture war’ is a very apt description of what is happening at the moment, and journalists, far from being neutral, are now being seen as targets. Female journalists, as seen by the treatment being given out to BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg, and now Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, are particularly singled out for online abuse.
Kuenssberg persuasively stated that such abuse was actually an attempt to ‘silence her.’ It didn’t work – politicians from all parties rallied round to support her. To his credit, following the interview with Cathy Newman, professor Peterson, tweeted:
If you're threatening her, stop. Try to be civilized in your criticism. It was words. Words, people, words. Remember those? "C4 calls in security experts after presenter suffers online abuse." https://t.co/z4UAVOSYuO— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) January 19, 2018
If anything though, a situation in which Peterson himself has to intervene is a testimony to just how vicious some of his fans, many of whom may very well be fans of Yiannopoulos also, have become.
As previous discussions with the Alt-Right and with climate change doubters, a community exhibiting a similar level of vehemence against professionals and their supporters, have demonstrated, the primary motive is to silence opinions and evidence that is seen as being counter to Right-Wing ideology. The recipient of such abuse has the choice to shut up, in which case the Right-Wing wins. The other alternative is to fight back, and this is exactly what Channel 4 has decided to do.
When people try to point out that a response is legitimate, supporters of Peterson, and of Milo and of Right-Wing, particularly Alt-Right, persuasions, try to argue, almost, that such abuse is ‘free speech’ and should be tolerated, if not accepted. Statements such as “name calling doesn’t equal threats” are the thin end of the wedge of this argument, potentially suggesting that online and in-work bullying is somehow acceptable. Another Twitter post said “but then again I’m an adult who handles greater problems than name calling” basically suggesting that people who complain about online abuse are somehow juvenile and should ‘grow up’. Yet another Twitter post read: “the ability to and preference for expressing anger and hatred via language rather than action is a central pillar of civilised society” – in other words, one could conclude, expressing hatred via language is perfectly acceptable.
Does this include situations in which journalists are just doing their jobs, asking provocative questions maybe, but doing so in an attempt to identify the real meaning of what is being said? Does this include hatred to ethnic minorities, or to women, or to gay or trans people, or Muslims or immigrants? Judging by the vicious tone in which some on the Right are conducting their conversations, you might think so.
If Right-Wingers think that journalists, or anybody else, are just going to tolerate being abused, are just going to stand there almost as if they have a sign on their heads saying ‘abuse me’, they are sadly deluded. Channel 4 has clearly demonstrated that they are not willing to tolerate this kind of abuse against one of their employees, and they are quite within their rights to pursue a prosecution.
If the Alt-Right don’t like that, that’s their problem.🔷