To: Kevin O’Sullivan, Irish Times Editor; John McManus, Irish Times Opinion Editor
I must write to you to complain about the article you published on the Irish Times website on Wednesday 4 January, entitled ‘The alt-right movement: everything you need to know’. Ordinarily, I would not write to complain about the publication of an article with which I disagreed, and would instead have written to challenge the viewpoints. But this was no ordinary article.
I do not need to describe here the parallels between the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement and the traditional fascist and Nazi movements. I certainly have no difficulties with the suggestion that this movement, given its insidious nature and the influence it appears to wield at least on the Western side of the Atlantic, should be exposed for the threat that it represents. But to do this requires a particular type of approach––one that is descriptive, analytical, and challenging to the underlying ideological assumptions of the movement. The Irish Times failed to do this as a first principle when it allowed for the article to be authored by a paid-up member of the movement. There was no pretence of impartiality, investigation, or interrogation here; instead, the author was allowed to uncritically present––and, indeed, celebrate––the language of this insurgent force.
In perhaps the most egregious and sickening element of the piece, an ethnic slur that has been used since the era of segregation in the United States of America was presented uncritically and, amazingly, without the use of the word ‘racism’ or anything close to it. This phrase imitates and caricatures the supposed vernacular of an ethnic group in order to portray it in its entirety as criminal; to ‘describe’ it without an acknowledgement of same is sheer propaganda.
In his follow-up piece ‘Why we published Nicholas Pell’s article on the Alt-right’ (Thursday 5 January), John McManus says that the publication of the article was justified in the aim of educating the public on this matter as an issue of current affairs. Leaving aside the questionable definition of these terms of abuse as ‘current’––as mentioned, some of these are long-standing––it is not explained anywhere as to how or why this ‘education’ is best performed by a member of the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement. Why not assign a journalist, with expertise in the analysis of extreme political ideologies, to write the article instead?
Moreover, Mr McManus says that the original article ‘at a minimum [decodes] a lot of the Alt-right movement’s language and at best it gives a clear indication of its thinking and ideology’. How? Its description of the language is entirely lacking in analysis and critique; its ideology is never addressed at all, except in reference to its relation to the prior reactionary phenomenon of paleoconservatism––a term that is largely unfamiliar to Irish audiences, in my experience as a political scientist, and is therefore rather unilluminating. In fact, it appears that the Irish Times failed in every aspect of the criteria it set out to justify this article’s publication.
As a long-standing Irish Times reader, I do not believe that the publication and its editorial team are ignorant of the dangers inherent in providing fascists and their supporters with platforms and legitimacy. The Times chose to take a gamble with its inclusion that the negative social impact of the article’s publication would not outweigh whatever benefits it was assumed would come from it.
It remains to be seen what exact consequences will emerge from this ill-judged publication, though it is certain that they will include the tarnishing of Ireland’s newspaper of record in the esteem of many. Hopefully, this is the worst extent of it, and that we do not also suffer an emboldened fascist front in Ireland now that they have seen the potential to seize even the most prestigious of media platforms available in the country.
At a time when ‘fake news’ is gaining ever more sway and the public’s faith is shaken in our civil institutions, the Irish Times has behaved very irresponsibly in gambling with its legitimacy.