Category Archives: rage at the system

Guest post- “The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations

This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.

My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturdayafternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.

It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.

If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.

—–

Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.

“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”

Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.

Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).

Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.

In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).

The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)

Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), andmy own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.

From the minutes:

“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”

—–

“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”

—–

“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”

And from my own notes:

TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”

—–

TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”

—–

TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”

Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:

“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”

I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.

What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.

I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.

It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.

Rory MacKinnon
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)
mackinnon.rorySPLATgmail.com
@RoryMacKinnon

 

UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.

__

ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:

“There’s a mistake here,the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”

ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…


Is stalking feminist praxis these days?

Content note: this post discusses stalking, harassment and transmisogyny

Last night, I went to the pub with my friends Roz and Sarah. Roz and Sarah are trans women, so piss TERfs off by just existing and being really awesome with it. Meanwhile, you all know about me–to TERfs, I’m the traitor for sororitising with the enemy.

We were followed to the pub. Our whereabouts was spread about TERf circles by text message, and they were rumbled when one of their lot tweeted, bragging about this information exchange. It was fortunate that our whereabouts were only made public after we’d already left and started our journey home, because otherwise, this could have become very dangerous indeed. As a woman, a vocal, outspoken woman, I have pissed a lot of men off in my time, too. These men literally want me dead. I know this, they’ve said it often enough. I don’t really want these men knowing where I am when I’m in a small group and vulnerable, because there is a genuine sense of danger here. I don’t doubt the same is true for my friends.

I also don’t doubt the TERfs know that this is true. We know for a fact that these people want trans women dead. They doxx and stalk and harass, trying to be the ones who give the order rather than the ones who pull the trigger. They try to block access to vital medical care, knowing this might kill people.

Now, I know that I’m not necessarily a safe person for trans women to be around. I have a high profile and a shitload of enemies. I sometimes worry that by talking to me, these women could be put in danger, draw unnecessary and unwanted attention. I thought I was being careful enough, but maybe I wasn’t. Me and my friends discussed meeting up that day via Twitter, and this is probably how our stalkers ended up tracking us down and tweeting out our location. I noticed that one of the stalkers followed me on Twitter–I can’t tell who’s following me there, and who isn’t. I cannot believe that this is something I even need to think about, but this is the climate in which we work, and I don’t blame any marginalised woman for staying the fuck away from me because of something like this.

But ultimately, the fault here isn’t mine. There’s things I can do to tighten security, and I’ll do those things. The real problem here is TERfs. This is not feminism, it’s being a fucking creep. These people are a danger. This is why I have a hair trigger on my block button for them and anyone who pals around with them: it’s proved it to me. You never know when one could be passing on information.

I write this post as a reminder: a reminder that this isn’t some sort of intellectual parlour game. The safety of women is at stake here. I’m fine and I’m alive, but what I want to come from this is an increased level of awareness. I want this post to be read. I want people to know that the TERfs literally stalk women. And I know that me being cis means more people are likely to care.

Isn’t that just the most fucked-up thing?

Edit, about 2 hours after posting: It looks like TERfs are trying to distance themselves from this because they realised how bad it looks. They have decided to throw the woman who tweeted our details under the bus and claim she is a man. However, they are continuing to laugh at the idea, and crack jokes with the woman. Unsurprisingly, they’re also continuing to harass me online. TERfs are perpetrating. TERfs are complicit. TERfs are loving this. TERfs are responsible. And, to boot, they’re failing on basic principles of #ibelieveher. I don’t have the energy to document it. If anyone wants to, they’re welcome to, but I don’t expect this. I know my readers tend to believe survivors.


In which I think out loud about a film I watched: Under The Skin

Content note: This post contains spoilers for Under The Skin, and a discussion of rape and sexual violence. 

This week I finally got round to seeing Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film about sex and aliens and stuff. As I mull it over, I still can’t quite digest my feelings about it; I’m not sure if I necessarily liked it, but it certainly made me feel things. It was beautiful to look at, providing an arty and distinctly alien view of Glasgow, and the sound engineering was absolutely stunning. Scarlett Johansson delivered a spectacular performance as the alien protagonist. It was pleasingly oblique, with plenty of room for interpretation (or polite befuddlement).

What touched me hardest was that I’ve never seen a film which has summed up my own feelings about heterosexuality so perfectly. We see the world through the eyes of an alien wearing the body of a beautiful woman, and her confusion and disgust at the way men react to her. We see her making polite small talk with men who want to impress her, we see her horror as she enters a meat market night club, and we see her weary acquiescence to being cared for by a man in a time of need. All of it is presented as disorienting and weird, oddly repetitive, and thoroughly and completely unsexy. This is largely how I feel in my interactions with men who I can tell want to have sex with me, and I don’t blame her at all for spending a lot of the second half of the film running away.

For a predatory alien, it is also rather striking how conditional her power is. She is only capable of killing when she has successfully lured men back to her house and undertaken the procedure for suspending them in oil. At all other times, she is helpless, apart from one brief window of opportunity where she is presented with a weakened and near-unconscious man. Even under these ideal conditions, it is hinted at that the alien is not acting of completely her own volition: throughout, we see her shadowed by a male motorcyclist minder.

The climactic scene of the film cements these themes, as her conditional power and the strangeness of heterosexuality converge. A man attempts to rape the alien in an isolated forest. She is powerless in this situation, away from her safe space and up against a man physically stronger than her. It is only the rapist’s disgust that prevents the rape: in the violence, her skin is torn from her body, and her true form is revealed. This disgust does not save her: she is set on fire by the rapist and is ultimately killed.

I didn’t like the ending at all, because it was a story I have heard all too many times before, albeit with a metaphor of an alien tacked on. Sadly, it seemed inevitable from a narrative perspective.

This is, of course, my reading of the film as a queer woman. I almost can’t see how it’s not about what I think it’s about, but I know it can’t be. This was a film made by men, and as such, the likelihood of them setting out to make a film exploring these themes is phenomenally unlikely. So I sit and wonder exactly what they had in mind. Is it working through fear of female sexuality? Are they trying to equivocate the alien’s predation with that of the rapist at the end? Knowing this film was made by men makes me understand it less. And yet, if this film had been made by women, this exact same film, I don’t doubt that rather than being lauded, it would have been panned as these themes would have been more readily accessible and the mainstream is not ready for a film like that.

I recommend watching, if you haven’t already. Technically, it’s a brilliant film, and I’d love to know if others saw what I saw.


Guilty pleasures: feminism with compromises

The other day, I wrote a little bit about the need for nuance in feminism, and uncoupling the identity as a feminist with what we do, and what we like. I’ve been thinking more and more about how we all do things which conflict with our own politics, and the often complicated feelings that accompany this.

There’s the definitely basic survival stuff, like having to work in a supermarket despite supermarkets being literally manifestations of Satan’s gob, or calling the police after having experienced violence despite the police being literally the fucking worst, or accepting donated food from religious organisations who would literally happily force women into pregnancies. Sometimes doing these things which are politically fraught is necessary, and yet I have seen shit levelled from a position at privilege at people who have found they needed to do those things.

Then there’s the stuff that’s higher up Maslow’s hierarchy: the stuff which is often considered something that could be done without, even though I’m not so sure. Take, for example, sex. Politically, I feel like having sex with men is riddled with political problems, both in the abstract and as a direct threat to my own personal safety. I believe that the power difference between men and women complicates any intimate relationship for the worse. Sex is not always nice or good for you. I have a lot of sympathy for political lesbianism. And yet, I have sex with men sometimes. I’ve drawn lines where I feel comfortable for my own safety, but I have sex with men on my own terms despite this being largely at odds with my politics. I have sex with men, and I like it, and it makes me feel happy.

There’s lots of other things I do and enjoy which I find problematic. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film or TV show which completely passed my high standards, and I have a shelf full of eighties bonkbusters of the distinctly sex, shopping and shoulderpads genre. Every single thing I enjoy, I will have my moments where I sit and cringe, but I’m not going to stop, because if I did I’d find myself sitting under the bed (and probably feeling guilty because I have a large shoe collection, compatible with many stereotypes about women).

Nothing happens inside a vacuum. Literally everything we do–and enjoy doing–happens within this oppressive power structure. Kyriarchy permeates everything, and I am not convinced any of us can ever live up to our own ideals. I’ve personally ended up in more than one guilt-spiral and it’s never ended well.

The fact is, we all draw our lines for getting the fuck away from something somewhere. We all decide which little things we can let slide for not being compatible with our politics because it is impossible to opt out of absolutely everything. And many of us turn this negative into a positive: for example, we enjoy media critically and it shapes debate and discourse. We are conscious of our actions, and the everyday problematics that pervade our lives.

It’s a personal thing where the lines come in. For example, some survivors cannot watch anything with rape in it, while others find catharsis in watching a rape scene. Some find playing a submissive role in BDSM empowering, while others find it vastly disempowering. Some might drink Starbucks coffee and enjoy it, while others might reject it and bring their own tin of instant to work. Ultimately, all of these choices are equally valid and pretty harmless to other women. They’re dependent largely on a personal level of tolerance, which is always tied in to a unique personal history.

All of us are hypocrites, and that’s OK. It was never going to be possible to reach the standards we want to reach. In enjoying our guilty pleasures, it is vital that we are critical of what we consume, but it does not mean we need to duck out; nor does it mean that we ought to police the guilty pleasures of others. For the most part, personal enjoyment of something problematic is not the problem: it’s the thing itself that is. We’re fucked right now, but we may not be in the future. For the time being, enjoy–and enjoy critically.


New women’s minister Nicky Morgan wants to restrict your abortion rights

After Maria Miller finally resigns, the bruise from the door hitting her arse on the way out throbbing, we hear of her replacement. While mostly known as culture secretary, Miller was also women’s minster.

The replacement for this part of her job is Nicky Morgan, who meets the qualification of women’s minister by being a woman. Unfortunately, this seems to be the limit of her qualification, because Ms Morgan has shown herself in her voting record to be anti-choice.

Remember back in 2011 when Nadine Dorries was manoeuvring to make it harder for people to access abortion? A fair few people with uteruses wrote to her, giving her the gory details she wanted to know about our relationships with our reproductive systems. Well, perhaps we should have cc’ed in Nicky Morgan, as Nicky Morgan voted with Dorries.

The specifics of the amendment was to make people seeking abortion undertake counselling or advice from an “independent” source: i.e. to delay access to abortion and also provide some grotesque anti-choice propaganda before it happened.

Nicky Morgan, the new women’s minister, voted in favour of this.

Now, while abortion isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s undeniably something which does affect a lot of women. Having an anti-choice women’s minister in place makes me nervous. I don’t want a nosy womb-botherer in that position.

Did David Cameron know that Ms Morgan is anti-choice when he appointed her? Did he go “oh look, a woman, you’ll do?” Or did he actively select Ms Morgan because of this voting record. Is it misogyny by omission or commission? Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is not only do they not give a fuck about crucial human rights, but might seek to make things a little worse.

Nicky Morgan, the new women’s minister, is anti-choice. Remember that, and let it colour your view of all she does until she proves otherwise.


Farewell, NHS Direct

I was shocked to discover that NHS Direct had been shut down today. The news media was silent on the fact, perhaps because the planned closure was accelerated. Its own, now-defunct website gives its own closing date five days in the future. NHS Direct - Closure

I only called them myself once, as a teenager freaking out on too many drugs. They were very nice to me, and assured me that I wasn’t going to die.

I’ve had them called on my behalf, while unconscious following a seizure, so people could check if I needed an ambulance. Thanks to that, NHS resources were saved, as an ambulance wasn’t needed.

NHS Direct was a service like no other. It was our way of checking up on those niggling little problems, those “it’s probably nothing to worry about, but…” issues. The things you’d never bother booking a doctor’s appointment for, the things that just didn’t feel right. And often, they’d probably turn out to be nothing, but sometimes that service saved lives.

And now it has been torn down, destroyed, almost unmourned. NHS Direct died alone in the dark. It is a frightening view of our future, the direction that healthcare itself is taking. It’s what they want: the poor, the sick, the disabled, quietly dying out of sight and out of mind.

And we must resist this by noticing. We see what they are doing, and we are disgusted by it. As they strip away the provisions to keep us alive, we must say we see it all. Together, let’s mourn NHS Direct and show that they cannot pull the wool over our eyes.


In which I grudgingly concede that I am not the best at misandry

If misandry were real, I’d like to think I were its queen. I feel like I’ve contributed well to the cause of misandry, from advocating for the important cause of killing all men to being that girl who just won’t bone you. I’m such a prolific misandrist, I should run accredited training courses.

But for all of my credentials, I have come to realise that I am small fry compared to a certain group. It pains me to know that no matter how much misandry I undertake, there will always be these people being better at misandry than me. And as a misandrist, it almost kills me to say that those people are men.

Yes, men. Men are brilliant fucking misandrists. Have you ever read something written by men, about men? These dudes fucking hate men with a burning passion I have never quite managed to muster. They think men are nothing but a dribbling set of genitals, grunting and griping as they fail at every endeavour they try. Crawl through any space where men come together to discuss their issues, and you will see just how much men make the best misandrists.

Men feel that men are incapable of understanding basic concepts like sexual consent, that words like “yes” and “no” and “if she’s unconscious, don’t” are to difficult for the pitiful little male mind–something with which I find I disagree vehemently, as apparently I lack an intensity of man-hatred to think that men are innately (or socialised to become) incapable of learning something so simple. Men feel like men just cannot control themselves, that the presence of a short skirt will bring them into some sort of pon farr frenzy leading them to need to mate or need to die. Men think that abled men are unable or unwilling to look after other human beings in a family, and are even so inept that they need all of their food prepared for them by a woman!

I am seriously slacking with my misandry, since I seem to be clinging to the belief that men are actually adult humans rather than the feeble-minded bouncing testes. How much does one have to hate men to accept that any of this is inevitable or normal?

I don’t like losing. I don’t like when I have to concede that men are better at doing something better than me. God damn it, I want to be the fucking goddess of misandry. So to all those misandrist men, I’m coming for you first.

Snapshot_20140325_3


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