The most antagonistic, the most biased and the most prone to misrepresentation – Brian Cathcart argues that the Spectator isn’t posh and clever; it’s just a hate rag

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM), which tracks the treatment of Muslims in the press and broadcasting, has just published a monumental new survey, and it shines a brutally revealing light on the Spectator

It should be read by everyone who subscribes to the Spectator so they understand the degree to which they are subsidising and encouraging hatred and far-right ideas. And it should be seen by all those who treat the Spectator as though it was a respectable publication. 

Because respectable it isn’t. Long before the timeframe of the CfMM study it was publishing nakedly anti-Muslim ideas and fostering an image of Islam as foreign, hostile and relentlessly violent, or in the words of Rod Liddle in a column from 2015, ‘liberal, vindictive and frankly fascistic’. 

It was the Spectator that in 2018 published Liddle’s suggestion: ‘If you are an unpleasant person who enjoys macabre entertainment, wander down to Mile End and watch the women in full burka trying to cross the A11. That’s always good for a laugh.’ 

And a year later the Spectator published – and as usual, was happy to defend – Liddle’s proposal that the best day to hold a general election would be ‘a day when universities are closed and Muslims are forbidden to do anything on pain of hell’. 

Liddle is not alone. Plenty of other Spectator writers – Charles Moore, James Delingpole and Douglas Murray to name but three – have been given space to express and encourage hostility towards Muslims, even if they don’t usually employ the same thuggish language. 

Just jokes? Untypical? That’s where the new report comes in. 

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The CfMM tracked the output of 34 British media websites between October 2018 and September 2019 and analysed almost 48,000 articles relating to Muslims, employing a methodology designed and validated by external academic experts. 

The publication found to have the highest proportion of articles identified as antagonistic to Muslims – across all 34 outlets, ranging from the Times through the Tablet and Reuters to the Economist and the BBC – was the Spectator. No fewer than 37 per cent of Spectator articles mentioning Muslims were found to do so in an antagonistic manner. 

The Spectator was also the publication with the highest proportion of articles that misrepresented Muslim behaviour or beliefs, while in the category for the highest percentage of articles rated ‘very biased’ it was only narrowly beaten into second place (by Christian Today).

Of course, with research like this no matter how rigorous the methodology we must allow leeway for subjectivity, but when one small publication forces its way so consistently to the top of the listings the message is hard to miss. And the message is this: the Spectator doesn’t like Muslims and Liddle’s expressions of loathing and contempt are only the tip of the iceberg.

It doesn’t like Muslims in Britain and it doesn’t like them abroad, wherever they may be. It doesn’t like Muslim women and it doesn’t like Muslim converts. It doesn’t like Islam and it doesn’t like the Quran. This is not selective or intellectual, it is a sustained antagonism towards a faith and its mostly brown- or black-skinned adherents. Two terms describe it: religious intolerance and racism. 

The Spectator and its editor, Fraser Nelson, have denied this in the past and we may expect them to continue to do so. No doubt they will dispute the CfMM’s findings – if only in a casual, probably flippant fashion – and without engaging with detail. 

Denial is necessary to them because the Spectator still trades on its past standing as the civilised, literary expression of British conservative thinking. There are still subscribers who do not see it for what it has become and there are others in the media – for example, the producers of current affairs programmes who give Fraser Nelson airtime – who prefer to think of it as what it was.

But whatever way you look at it, the Spectator is not civilised and not respectable. You can point to individual pieces of racist sloganising by Liddle or others or you can look at its output in the round, as the CfMM report has done. The message is the same: today’s Spectator is a far-right organ of intolerance.  

Letting the Spectator into your home, in other words, is for me pretty much like decorating your coffee table with a book about race by Oswald Mosley. Reading it online is, in my view, not unlike surfing the Ku Klux Klan sites. And allowing Fraser Nelson into your studio is akin to me to giving airtime to a poshed-up Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

Read the full CfMM report here. 

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