The Public Humiliation Diet

The Public Humiliation Diet, by Toby Young.

Reading about James Gunn’s defenestration by Disney for having tweeted some off-color jokes 10 years ago, I was reminded of my own ordeal at the beginning of this year. …

In some respects, though, my reversal was even more brutal than Gunn’s … It is one thing to lose a high-paying job because of your ‘offensive attitudes,’ but to be denied further opportunities to do good hits you deep down in your soul. At least Gunn can now engage in charity work to try and redeem himself, as others in his situation have done. I had to give up all the charity work I was doing as a result of the scandal. In the eyes of my critics, I am beyond redemption. …

It didn’t help that I’m pro-Brexit and was a prominent campaigner for the Leave side in the referendum about Britain’s membership in the European Union. …

But the main reason I became such a lightning rod is because I had been appointed by the Prime Minister. If it could be shown that I was an unsuitable person to sit on this board, that would embarrass Theresa May. And boy, did they go at it. Nine days later I had been tarred with all the vices of a privileged white male — tarred and feathered. …

These offense archaeologists are about the least sympathetic readers an author could have. They’re just looking for sentences and phrases they can take out of context to cast you in a bad light. The same technique has been used to shame Kevin Williamson, Bari Weiss, Daniella Greenbaum, Sam Harris, Bret Weinstein, Dave Rubin, Jason Riley, Heather Mac Donald, Jordan Peterson, Charles Murray, and countless others. It’s cherry-picking — or rather, cherry bomb-picking. As Ben Shapiro, another victim of this tactic, wrote recently: “It’s not that these people are hated because they’ve said terrible things. It’s that they’re hated, so the hard Left tries to dig up supposedly terrible things they’ve said.” …

That’s one of the worst aspects of seeing your name dragged through the mud — the fear that people you know and care about are going to believe some of the terrible things people are saying about you and the feeling that there’s nothing you can do about it. You can get out there and defend yourself, of course, but once the calumnies have gathered momentum it’s hard to stop them metastasizing. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a piece of fake news gets all the way round the world and back again and starts trending on social media before the truth has put its boots on. A researcher at MIT recently published a paper in the journal Science showing that the truth takes six times longer, on average, than a lie to be seen by 1,500 people on Twitter. …

The allegations continued. Two of the most hurtful ones against me were that I’m a misogynist and a homophobe.

Those claims were based on ill-judged comments I’d made on social media. Like James Gunn, I had deleted them — because they were asinine, ill-conceived attempts to be provocative, usually late at night after several glasses of wine — but the outrage mob thought that made them more indicative of what I’m really like, not less. In their eyes, these were the moments I had let slip the mask of decency and revealed the hideous gargoyle beneath. …

That verdict has a horrible finality about it, as if I will forever be defined by a few lapses of judgment and nothing else I have done — could do — will assuage the guilt. To rub the point in, numerous people expressing outrage about this on Twitter added the hashtags #MeToo or #TimesUp, as if I am morally indistinguishable from Harvey Weinstein.

Trial by media is like being in the dock at a Soviet show trial — no due process, no inadmissible evidence. Guilty as charged, next stop social Siberia. …

Uh oh, the apology:

My most egregious sin was a tasteless, off-color remark I made while tweeting about a BBC telethon to raise money for starving Africans in 2009. That was reproduced on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, Britain’s second-biggest-selling Sunday newspaper. The headline ran: “PM’s Disgust at Student Tsar’s Sordid Tweets.” I’d now been promoted from “helping to lead” the new universities regulator to “student tsar” in order to fuel the outrage machine.

At this point, the cry for my scalp had reached fever pitch. An online petition calling for me to be sacked from the Office for Students had attracted 220,000 signatures. My daughter was refusing to go to school. My wife said that if one more person came up to her and said “Are you okay?” she was going to hit them. I felt I had no choice but to issue a public apology and stand down.

In one respect, that was a mistake. I had been warned that basing yourself at the feet of the outrage mob and apologizing will just embolden them. They will take it as a blanket admission of guilt and demand that you be removed from all your remaining positions until you’ve lost your livelihood — and so it proved to be.

In the weeks that followed I was forced to resign from the Fulbright Commission, stripped of my Honorary Fellowship by Buckingham University, and I had to give up my nine-to-five job as head of an education charity — the one that paid the mortgage and enabled me to put food on the table and clothe my children.

But I don’t regret apologizing, not entirely, because it was heartfelt. When I saw my puerile tweet on the front page of the Mail on Sunday I was filled with a burning, all-consuming sense of shame. I wanted to crawl into a cupboard and hide. My first thought was: “Thank God my father’s not still alive.” …

That’s one of the most disheartening things about being shunned and cast out by your colleagues — the people you hoped would stick up for you join the lynch mob along with everyone else. It was as if he was taking me aside into a dark room, handing me a glass of whisky and a revolver and telling me to do the decent thing.

One less opponent in public life for the PC left, which presumably regard his axing and humiliation as a job well done.