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 But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.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…


I am cis

So, there seems to be a lot of wilful misunderstanding about what the word “cis” means, with a complete lack of will to listen to what trans women are saying, so I figured now is the time for me to come out as cis.

When I’m downing pints in the pub, watching the football and making whoooargh football noises, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m climbing trees and skinning knees, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wearing a gigantic strap-on dildo and feeling the thing like a phantom limb, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m shoving the boys aside to explain to them how badly they’ve fucked up the barbecue and how to do it right, I’m a cis woman.

When I’m wiping out space armies on the tabletop or computer screen, guess what, I’m a fucking cis woman.

But wait! Those who deliberately refuse to understand the word “cis” cry. Surely I cannot be cis if I do these things, because I’m subverting gender roles.

Nope.

See, when I was born, the doctors looked at my junk and went, “it’s a girl”. I grew up a cis girl, and I blossomed into a cis woman. I have never in my life been a trans woman, or a trans man. I have never experienced transphobia or transmisogyny. I have never transitioned. I’m also not non-binary.

And that’s all “cis” means.

That is all it means. 

Cis is not trans.

Got it? Good.


6 things I learned about my orgasms

Today is National Orgasm Day, so of course I took this opportunity to TMI at you people, because TMI is my middle name. I’ve been having orgasms for more than half my life, and here are a few things I learned along the way.

1. I am my own best lover

Look, it’s nice having other people around. It enhances sex a lot. But I’ve been fucking myself for about 15 years, and so I think I’m best positioned for knowing exactly what works best. Only I know the full details, despite the fact that people over the years (usually, but not exclusively men) have taken it upon themselves to give me some sort of Entirely New Experience because they Know Best and pretty much every time that’s happened it’s ended in mutual disappointment. Even now, when I have two partners and a host of less regular lovers, I still make time for a date with myself. Nobody’s quite as good as me at making me come.

2. Having the same genitals as me doesn’t automatically make you better at sex

There’s a common myth flying round that cis lesbians are automatically better at sex with cis women, because they have the same equipment. That is categorically untrue. Having a cunt does not grant you a PhD in Cuntology. Everyone likes different things, and sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of egocentrism. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of the assumption that having a fanny means knowing how every fanny works. Communication is key, rather than anatomy.

3. Squirting doesn’t mean you’ve wanked yourself incontinent

I was about fifteen, and having the sort of epic wanking session one tends to lose the stamina for once one is out of one’s teens. I brought myself to shuddering orgasm after shuddering orgasm, and then one felt… different. There was wet stuff everywhere. I panicked slightly. I sprayed Febreeze all over the wet patch. I was convinced I had managed to come so hard I’d peed myself, and I laid off the masturbatory marathons for a while after to make sure I didn’t develop some sort of bladder problem. I was quiet about this horrifying thing that had happened to me, the gross piss-pariah. Oddly enough, I only learned this was a perfectly ordinary thing to happen a few years later, while watching porn. Yep. Porn saved me.

4. Porn gives people hella weird assumptions about squirting

So, I squirt. This is apparently a little uncommon, although pretty popular in porn. The thing is, in porn, this seems to happen on demand (I imagine, in fact, it requires multiple takes and a whole bunch of fluffing and it’s probably a little easier to happen knowing nobody’s going to have to sleep in the expansive wet patch). This is pretty much not how it happens for me. There is no magical formula for ensuring ejaculation occurs. It just sometimes does. Or, more frequently, doesn’t. The thing is, once it’s happened once, there’s usually this assumption that it’ll happen reliably, which leads to crushing disappointment, because it’s not like in the movies. Going off like a geyser is something which is fetishised, and I can’t live up to it. Luckily, most people will get this once it’s been explained to them.

5. My orgasms make men sad

Once upon a time, I used to fuck cis, straight men. I gave up on this, because politically they’re rubbish, and I have successfully arranged my life so I just don’t even meet them any more. As an additional fact about me, I have super-powerful Kegels. This is always brilliantly fun for me, but not so much for the cis, straight men who think penis-in-vagina is the be-all and end-all to sex. You see, my Kegels can easily eject a penis at the moment of my orgasm. And after that, I’m usually kind of done, and might roll over, fart and fall asleep. This makes cis, straight men sad, because sex is traditionally centred around their orgasms: they’re the ones who get to roll over, fart and fall asleep. For some reason, when the roles are reversed, it makes them feel sad.

6. Orgasms really aren’t the be-all and end-all

I’ve had phenomenal sex without an orgasm. There’s something incredibly nice about focusing yourself on someone else having a good time. I can have spectacular sex without the need for the other person to even touch me. For the most part, sex is a pleasant way of passing the time between two or more people, and an orgasm isn’t a requirement for that to be fun. They’re like the marzipan on top of an otherwise-delicious cake: it’s awesome if it’s there, but it’s not necessary at all. And if you want it, later you can get a whole block of marzipan and eat it to yourself.

 


Things I read this fortnight that I found interesting

I read things. Here are some recent interesting things.

Palestine: 6 simple acts of international solidarity (Jenny Nelson)- Some things you can do for the people of Palestine.

Feminism at the Speed of Light (Nina Power)- Analysis of how the internet changed feminism.

It’s Time for White Feminists to Stop Talking About Solidarity and Start Acting (Kesiena)- A rousing call to arms.

Trig Reciprocal Functions: I’m a Trans Woman Adjunct Prof and I Use Trigger Warnings (aiofeschatology)- Shit that shouldn’t need to be said, said well.

My Son Wears Dresses and That’s OK With Me (Seth Menachem)- This family seems very sweet and supportive.

‘Toxic Wars’ vs. Conscientious Feminism (Minna Salami)- This is just wonderful.

Woman Enough (Roz Kaveney)- A primer on TERfs.

Black Trans Women and Street Harassment (TGirlInterrupted)- A series of tweets on the topic.

Cops and robbers: how the police became our new favourite video game villains (Phil Hartup)- Why do video games have so many levels where you murder loads of cops?

The Trouble With “Lady Parts” (Parker Molloy)- On why that phrase is unnecessary and exclusionary.

The Tulisa Sting Wasn’t Just Classist, It Was Informed by a Racism That Associated Her With Criminality (Reni Eddo-Lodge)- Very useful analysis of the Tulisa sting.

And finally, on a serious note, Medical Aid for Palestine are doing good work, but need your help to keep going. Can you donate?

 


Politeness and status in short digital communications: my BSc dissertation

While looking through an old hard drive, I found something pretty cool: my BSc dissertation. It was on something which was relevant to my interests way back in 2007, and continues to be very relevant to my interests today: communication through the internet.

My main research question was are people being as polite as they think they are? What I found was interesting and kind of complicated: outside observers found it difficult to tell whether a message was intended for a recipient who was higher-status or on the same level of social power. In other words, the internet is a sort of social leveller. Or at least it is in terms of people sending messages, who don’t even think that they’re using the same mode of communication they would for a friend when addressing someone with more power.

Regular readers will know I’ve had a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the liberatory potential of digital communications for quite some time, and that I rather like that we can communicate with everyone on a level. I suppose this is why I want to share this project with you, to show I’ve been thinking about power and communication since before I’d even heard of Twitter.

You can read the whole thing here [pdf].

I will say, it’s very of its time. This was written in a time before social networking went mainstream, in a time when people still sent faxes to each other. It was written in a time when the word “flaming” was used–a word I desperately want to bring back as it is qualitatively different from “trolling” and it really pisses me off that the media cannot grasp the distinction. And one more caveat–I was very different at the time it was written: I was one of those people who believed science held all the answers, that science was right and objective, and as such there’s a few pretty cringey bits in my writing style. I was reasonably good at science: I got a first in that degree.

Nonetheless, I thought I’d share it, as I feel like some of you might find it quite interesting. The world has changed since I wrote that dissertation and I’d love to know how much of it still applies in a world where we can now talk to anybody.


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.


Things I read this week that I found interesting

I read things, and I find the interesting. Here are some of them from this week.

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism (Leigh Alexander)- Some constructive advice for men to meet minimal standards of basic human decency.

White feminism (via @renireni)- This comic explains the issues pretty well, in just two panels.

Coming forward (Squeamish Bikini)- On the horrid public response to Vanessa Feltz’s revelation about abuse she experienced.

Suarez got a longer ban for biting than racism (Jude Wanga)- Excellent analysis of the issues surrounding Suarez.

‘Feminist knickers’ show off everything that’s wrong with Twitter feminism (Brooke Magnanti)- Brooke explores symbolic action and a certain breed of Twitter activism.

Free supplement on epilepsy (Nature)- Nature have an open-access supplement all about epilepsy and there’s some really interesting articles in there, and I couldn’t pick just one because they were all really cool and interesting!

Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture (Sierra Mannie)- This article pissed off white gay men somewhat, to nobody’s surprise.

Things Other People Taught me about Liking Girls (radandangry)- This is beautifully written.

On hearing the news this morning about NICE and WLS (Obesity Timebomb)- Analysis of the news that there will be a lot more gastric band operations in the near future.

And finally, what if Disney princesses were in an OitNB-style prison? Fuck it, also have some cats falling over.


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