Wednesday 2 August 2017

When the Biter is Bit: Further Reflections on the Downfall of Kevin Myers

Kevin Myers speaking to Seán O'Rourke on RTE radio yesterday
By many accounts from across the political spectrum — including that of my great friend Anthony McIntyre Kevin Myers is decent and friendly in real life. I am willing to accept that this is true.

The problem with Kevin Myers as a journalist, though, is not that he has, by his own admission, "a weakness for facile terminology." Rather, the problem is that his style of argument is making casual inferences from isolated observations and intuitions to utterly glib, unfounded conclusions, many of which are indistinguishable from sneering fascist bigotry. Myers’s recent column was not an aberration. Pseudo-intellectual shock-mongering has been his modus operandi for decades.

However, the response by both the Sunday Times and the Irish Independent to the controversy was equally pernicious. Retraction was not merely a cynical get-out-of-jail-free card played by newspapers that happily traded for years on Myers's bigoted bile. Worse, it is disturbingly close to an Orwellian post-hoc cleansing of the public record. As a result, it is now much harder for ordinary people unfamiliar with the workings of the web to read for themselves the entire article that got Kevin Myers fired.

As the rise of the alt-right shows, bigotry does not die when it is "retracted" and suppressed. On the contrary, it thrives in the shadows. Moreover, as Norman Finkelstein contends in his compelling exposition of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, suppression inevitably deprives the general public of the ability to think for themselves, to understand the issues, and to make up their own minds. It suggests not only that we don't trust ordinary people, but also that we lack the intellectual confidence in our own ideas and in our ability to convince them otherwise. Publishing a cogent rebuttal would not be a case of "dignifying" Myers's fatuous, facile claims – it would scrutinise and demolish them.

Kevin Myers seems a broken man now. On RTE radio yesterday, he said, “I’m not sure if there is any redemption for me.” I don't enjoy seeing anyone suffer, but given that Myers spent the bulk of his career gleefully stoking popular prejudices against easy targets – single mothers, immigrants, Travellers – I can’t say I have much sympathy for him. Indeed, as he himself accepts, he is very much "the author of his own misfortune".

The biter was finally bit, but this ignoble end has been many decades in the making.

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