The media spin machine at full power or This is totally not what happened

We’re still talking about the eight hour stint of Jonathan Ross as Hugo host and indeed the debate about the whole issue has now lasted much longer than Jonathan Ross ever was the official Hugo host (for my previous posts on this issue see here and here).

The reason why the debate is still going on is that the British mainstream media has now jumped into the fray, only that the story they are reporting a very different story from the one that actually happened.

This summary by Alison Flood at the Guardian is the earliest and most neutral mainstream media report I found. Just don’t make the mistake to read the comments.

This Independent article is a lot more typical of the response in the British mainstream media as is this piece from the Telegraph wherein one Michael Hogan wonders whether it isn’t time to stop hating Jonathan Ross – after all, the so-called “Sachsgate” affair (where Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left messages on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs about Brand having slept with Sachs’ granddaughter) was six years ago, so wouldn’t it be time to move on? Only that Sachsgate was far from Ross’ only public stumble and indeed the last media uproar involving Ross and another awards show hosted by him (as well as a Twitter storm) took place in December 2013, i.e. barely three months ago. As for moving on after “Sachsgate”, Andrew Sachs is still disgusted more than five years later, as he told the Telegraph (the same newspaper now urging readers to move on and stop hating Jonathan Ross) on February 19, 2014, i.e. ten days before Ross’ brief stint as a Hugo host.

But among all the Ross apologias in the UK mainstream press, this article from the New Statesman takes the crown. This article infuriated pretty much everybody who read it, regardless of where they stood on the Jonathan Ross issue. Here is the opening quote:

The Hugo awards: have you heard of them? Until Saturday morning, if you didn’t have “SFF geek” or “SFF author” in your Twitter bio then it was probably a no. The Hugo award is a vaguely dildo-shaped silver rocketship awarded to the authors of the best science fiction and fantasy (SFF) works in the previous year.

It only gets worse form there on, as the article invokes pretty much every tired stereotype of the SFF community as a smelly nerd club with quotes such as this:

[…] hurtful names were flung, people were “crying”, and the (vocal contingent of) the SFF community became a childish clubhouse hurling abuse from a crack in the door because they thought he would be mean to them if they let him in.

By this point I was thinking, “Wait a minute. Since when is Jonathan Ross the victim here and the people who were (rightfully) concerned about his brand of humour the bullies? Cause this is totally not the way it went down and I was actually on Twitter while the whole thing blew up.”

Initially, I put the sheer cluelessness of the New Statesmen article down to the fact that the author of the article, one Hayley Campbell, was an outsider who knew nothing of SFF and fandom except some media stereotypes and probably had no idea she was being offensive by dismissing the Hugos as a “dildo-shaped rocket ship” and Ross’ critics as an angry Twitter mob.

However, Natalie at The Radish has done some digging and found out that Hayley Campbell, author of the New Statesmen article, is the goddaughter of Neil Gaiman – you know, the guy who’s won a few dildo-shaped rocket ships himself. So you’d think she’d know better than to write such a clueless article.

Like Natalie I noticed the fact that all UK mainstream media articles about the issue spun the same story about poor Jonathan Ross being forced to resign by a Twitter mob, a story that’s not at all what actually happened. It’s also notable that they are all linking to the very pro-Ross Bleeding Cool article, but not to other, more nuanced accounts. What was more, I find it odd that the UK media, which normally has no issues about pouncing on Ross and gleefully reporting all of his public missteps, suddenly feels the need to defend him. And why pick up the story at all, after the issue had already been resolved?

There is some suspicion that this is some kind of media spin operation launched by Jonathan Ross and/or his supporters, but the question remains why? Ross is no stranger to controversy and he initially didn’t come looking all that bad out of this whole affair, apart from a few rude tweets. Nor are there any financial interests involved, since he was not being paid for hosting the Hugos. So why launch a media counterinitiative over the Hugos rather than over the many other controversies he has been involved in over the years?

An alternate explanation for why the British media is all over an uproar that lasted all of eight hours would be that a nationalistic sense of outrage along the lines of “So one of our biggest celebrities isn’t good enough for your puny little awards, SFF geeks?” made UK journalists side with someone they’re normally only too happy to slam.

Finally, there is the possibility that the British media is viewing the rejection of Jonathan Ross as Hugo host as an example of US notions of political correctness invading the UK, especially since the whole affair was framed at “overly sensitive feminists vilified Ross because they were afraid he might say something mean”. Now I’m also seeing a lot of resistance to what is perceived to be US notions of political correctness crossing the Atlantic here in Germany. I get this a lot when I point out something problematic. “Don’t be so oversensitive like those prudish Americans.” I can even understand worries about sanctimonious foreigners sweeping in to push their moral standard onto Europeans with zero regard for or understanding of local sensibilities. Which doesn’t mean that it’s okay to disregard American standards of what is and isn’t offensive, regardless of whether we agree with them or not, when interacting with Americans.

Besides, the objection to Jonathan Ross as Hugo host wasn’t driven by Americans, largely because the announcement went out at noon European time on a Saturday, when most Americans would still have been asleep. And indeed some of the first objections to the appointment of Jonathan Ross came from Brits, among them Farah Mendlesohn and Charles Stross. The outrage mob of overly zealous politically correct Americans simply did not exist.

However, the defenders of Jonathan Ross in the UK media are not taking on Farah Mendlesohn or Charles Stross or Patrick Nielsen Hayden or anybody else who objected to Ross’ appointment as Hugo host, but focus almost exclusively on Seanan McGuire whose legitimate worries that Ross would make jokes at her expense are turned into attempts to “bully” Jonathan Ross and his family.

At the aptly named How did we get into this mess?, David Perry points out that the majority of the objections to Jonathan Ross’ appointment as well as Ross’ first offer to withdraw had already happened by the time Seanan McGuire made her first tweet. This also matches my memories that I saw plenty of objection to Jonathan Ross as Hugo host as well as threats to boycot the Hugos on Saturday in the early afternoon, but nothing from Seanan McGuire (and I follow her, so I should have seen her tweets). Indeed, I only saw Seanan McGuire’s tweets that evening, after Ross had already withdrawn. For those who are still not convinced, here is a Storify complete with timestamps (alas in what appears to be Pacific Standard Time) of the events as they unfolded.

Also from How did we get into this mess?, David Perry chronicles a Twitter interaction with Jonathan Ross, wherein Ross denies being famous for being mean to people on TV (Dude, that’s exactly what you’re famous for) and complains about the “witch hunt” against him.

Kameron Hurley points out that the UK journalists defending Jonathan Ross show a huge lack of empathy when they confuse legitimate worries about whether Ross would say hurtful things with bullying.

Neil Gaiman, who started off the whole issue, since he was the one who asked/persuaded Ross to host the Hugos in the first place, kind of understands that people were concerned about Jonathan Ross and his brand of humour, but still doesn’t consider it “wise or kind” that people objected to his pal hosting the Hugos. He also doesn’t want to wear his Hugo nominee pin anymore. Again, there is only a link to the Bleeding Cool article.

Cheryl Morgan points out that Jonathan Ross has at least been willing to listen to his critics in the past and even apologized for making transphobic jokes, which is more than can be said for some other celebrities who said stupid thing (apparently Jared Leto recently put his foot into it, too, which I totally missed). She also points out that though she personally wouldn’t have had a problem with Ross hosting the Hugos, she understands that other people might have one. Finally, she also points out that the Loncon chairs are carry the blunt of the blame for not handling this issue correctly.

Bibliodaze also points out that the Ross affair was an excellent example of how not to deal with controversy and that the Loncon people were behaving with extreme cluelessness, particularly given the recent debates about the marginalisation of women, people of colour and GLBT people in SFF.

Chuck Wendig agrees that appointing Jonathan Ross as the Hugo host was a recipe for disaster given the recent debates in the SFF community as well as the way Loncon handled the announcement. However, he also believes that we should all be nice to each other (while admitting that he had no idea who Jonathan Ross was before this) and offers twenty-five tips for speaking to other humans on the internet. Indeed, one thing I have noticed about Chuck Wendig lately is that in spite of his sweary online persona, he is quite quick to complain about the hostility, if someone disagrees with him.

Sam Sykes doesn’t quite get the debate, because he doesn’t quite get the Hugos or why they are important, since he feels he will never be nominated anyway due to not writing what the majority of Hugo voters likes to read. Of course, there are a lot of very popular SFF authors – many of them women, many of them writing urban fantasy or paranormal romance or YA – who are even less likely to be nominated for a Hugo than Sam Sykes.

Andrea Phillips feels the objection to Jonathan Ross was overblown and wishes the SFF community would just chill out. One thing that struck me about her post was that she eventually came to the conclusion that Jonathan Ross with whose work she was unfamiliar before was no more controversial in the UK than Jay Leno in the US. Now personally I have serious issues with Jay Leno, because he has made Anti-German statements, and being present at an event hosted by Leno would make me feel like Seanan McGuire feels about Jonathan Ross.

Which brings us back to Seanan McGuire who has been singled out as the “bully-in-chief” for her legitimate concerns about Jonathan Ross as this year’s Hugo host. Now I’m not at all sure, why everybody is pointing the finger at Seanan McGuire, when many people objected to the appointment of Jonathan Ross, often quite vocally. Besides, considering how Seanan McGuire was basically called an undeserving nominee by parts of the SFF community during last year’s Hugo nomination debate, I can certainly understand why she would be wary of more pain.

K. Tempest Bradford offers her take on the (since resolved) spat between Seanan McGuire and Jane Goldmann, wife of Jonathan Ross, while John Picacio apologises to Jonathan Ross and his family on behalf of the SFF community for being made to feel bad, while while J.B. Whelan at Nighthawk Postcards apologises to Seanan McGuire for falling for the UK media version of the story. Kari Sperring wonders why it’s the women, both Seanan McGuire and Jane Goldman and her daughters, who are being targeted here,

Now I didn’t see any of this particular disagreement until after it had been resolved. And while I completely understand that Jonathan Ross’ wife and daughters defend him, my initial reaction was, “Why are they so upset by this comparatively minor issue, considering that Jonathan Ross has been involved in much bigger controversies?” Considering she has been married to Jonathan Ross for more than twenty years, surely she must be used to controversy by now.

Which made me realise that there is another potential reason why an issue that has already been resolved blew up so big in the UK media and why a person who has been involved in far more serious controversies seems so upset about people disagreeing with him hosting the Hugos.

Now we’ve all understood by now that Jonathan Ross is a fan (and like I said before, this whole “He’s not a real fan” vibe in the beginning rubbed me the wrong way, because it’s just another version of the “fake geek girl” meme). His wife is a Hugo winner. Jonathan Ross very likely consider himself part of the SFF community, only to find himself rejected by that very community, viewed as unfit to host the Hugos and dismissed as a “fake geek”. And being dismissed and made to feel unwelcome by a community you consider yourself part of hurts. I totally understand that.

However, women, people of colour and GLBT people have been made to feel unwelcome in the SFF community or parts thereof for decades now. But unlike Jonathan Ross, they don’t have the mainstream media jumping to their defence.

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34 Responses to The media spin machine at full power or This is totally not what happened

  1. Daveon says:

    So one of the problems I had over this was this was the ONLY outcome of him stepping down. Once he’d been picked the game changed. Like him or loathe him, he’s a national celebrity with a massive following and enough interested parties in the media interested in column inches.

    Ironically, where I depart from Charlie Stross is I don’t think that this would have been an issue had it stayed as an internal fan matter. But that doesn’t matter either.

    Facts don’t matter now, once the Chairs of the convention made the call and Ross was picked any outcome that embarrassed Ross into quitting was going to end up like this for ‘fandom’.

    It could have been different, even assuming they still went with him. The utter cluelessness in the way this was handled is beyond me.

    • Cora says:

      I agree that the fact that Jonathan Ross is a celebrity would have brought the media running anyway, particularly after he stepped down. Not sure if and how they would have reported, if he had actually ended up hosting the Hugos. Was there any report about Jonathan Ross hosting the Eisners in the UK mainstream media?

      I also agree that the blame still lies with the convention chairs for bringing themselves and Jonathan Ross into this situation in the first place.

      • Daveon says:

        I don’t recall any press on the Eisners and wouldn’t expect anything for essentially a private gig. I’m sure he does a dozen a year.

        • Cora says:

          So in that case, there probably wouldn’t have been very much press coverage of Ross doing the Hugos either, though they’re somewhat higher profile than the Eisners.

          • Daveon says:

            Much? No, I don’t think so. But what there was would have probably been better than “SF fans beam into the Excel” which is what we’re probably going to be getting.

            I suspect the Guardian would have had a better piece, local London news might have covered it nicely. Where I differ from Charlie Stross is I don’t think we’d have the tabloids out there looking for a fight.

            I’m hoping that they’ll have got bored by August.

            • Cora says:

              Mostly, mainstream media coverage of SFF cons is limited to lots of photos of cosplayers (and I imagine the British tabloids would have been all over that) and some clueless reports. If Ross had been involved, there would have been more coverage, though it might also have focussed mainly on the person of Jonathan Ross rather than Worldcon and/or the Hugos.

          • Daveon says:

            I’m not sure that Chris Garcia’s hope that somebody like Ross would have meant TV cameras there to cover the whole thing. I’m fairly sure that wouldn’t have happened.

            Of course even if we had got real coverage and it had been ‘amazing’ – the reality is the press, Ross, or whoever, aren’t going to Spokane next year which is the problem with a revolving worldcon.

            • Cora says:

              Is anybody going to Spokane at all, apart from some local fans and hard-core Worldcon visitors? Because it’s certainly one of those WTH? Worldcon locations.

              • Daveon says:

                Well, yes. It’s only a 5 hour drive from here and at this stage, my current antipathy to organized fandom aside, I’m not entirely sure I can be arsed making the effort. It’s a very very BORING drive.

                • Cora says:

                  Well, if Worldcon ever came within a five hour drive of me (which only happened twice, in The Hague in the early 1990s and Heidelberg in the early 1970s), I would probably go. But then, I’m still on the fence of whether to go to Loncon myself.

          • IMHO, the ceremony being in London instead of San Diego would have made the UK press would much more likely to cover his appearance at the Hugos.

            • Cora says:

              San Diego Comicon is usually covered even in the German press, which is as genre-unfriendly as anything you can imagine. I mean, half of our press hasn’t even noticed that a renown German actress and winner of the silver bear at the Berlin film festival is in Game of Thrones.

              Though I suspect that Jonathan Ross would have been the only thing that could have persuaded the UK press to specifically cover the Eisners. And his involvement might well have meant more coverage for the Hugos apart from a brief mention on the Guardian website.

  2. Ian Mond says:

    Fantastic round-up. Thank you.

  3. Bookgazing says:

    So largely dudes in the community writing about the inappropriate nature of the response then.

  4. Claire says:

    “The Loncon people were behaving with extreme cluelessness”

    I have to point out the decision was made unilaterally by the Chairs of the convention. Several Loncon volunteers protested the decision. Farah Mendelsohn resigned from her post on the Con Committee because of this and several other staff (myself included) were uncomfortable or unhappy with the decision.

    Also the announcement by Loncon was made shortly after 10:15 GMT.

  5. Estara says:

    Last paragraph: this!

    • Cora says:

      It’s amazing how many people don’t notice that while it’s unfortunate that Jonathan Ross and family have been made to feel unwelcome, there are many people – women, people of colour, GLBTQI people – who have been made to feel unwelcome for decades and yet there is hardly any outcry about that.

  6. One unfortunate signal boost to McGuire was Jim C. Hines’s Storify of her initial comments, which was one of the first links being frantically passed around about the announcement. I’m sure he was trying to be an ally by amplifying the objections to Ross, but the end result was that it helped make the comments she eventually apologized for much louder than her apology.

    It’s also hard for me to see the first Bleeding Cool article as pro-Ross when it cherry-picked his worst-looking Twitter comments as well. He just didn’t give them as much to work with.

    • Cora says:

      The Storify probably didn’t help, since it highlighted only Seanan McGuire’s objections while ignoring the many other people who also objected such as Charles Stross (who also wrote a blogpost about it) and Shaun Duke, who threatened to boycott the Hugos. Subsequent Storifies included Tweets by others, but by then Seanan McGuire had already become the poster child of the anti-Ross fraction.

      IMO the Bleeding Cool article was nuanced, since it also included the negative bits such as Tweets which made him look bad, but overall pro-Ross, since it highlighted his fandom cred and specifically lauded his hosting of the Eisners. However, the real distortion of the truth came later with the New Statesman article.

      • Daveon says:

        One of the problems with Twitter is it really has dreadful search and retrieval tools. Unless you pay serious money for what they call ‘the firehose’ you’re really at their whim for what appears in a search and what they’ve correctly archived.

        I knew we were in trouble when I saw a Pro say something pro-Ross in the first few minutes and when I went back to look ten minutes later the Tweet had been replaced by something more equivocal.

        But as I’ve said, the only winning move was not to play. And if the chairs took the decision and went ahead anybody who thought there was an option to force Ross to step aside that didn’t backfire was mistaken. Maybe in another country, but not Britain.

        • Cora says:

          Twitter has many uses, but archieval of arguments is not one of them, which is probably why Storify has been invented.

    • Well, no. Jonathan Ross offered to step down more than an hour before Seanan ever made one tweet about the whole thing. The Storify got passed something like half an hour, 45 minutes max, before Ross permanently withdrew his name from consideration. Here’s a timeline with timestamps (I’m thinking UK time, but I may be wrong):

      • Cora says:

        Like I said, the first objections I saw including the first boycott threats were by people other than Seanan McGuire. I didn’t even see her tweets until later that evening (German time), after Ross has already withdrawn. There also were several posts/summaries about the whole event posted that first day, including at least two I didn’t see until much later, which were somehow ignored, so the intense focus on Seanan McGuire’s words is odd.

      • I know she didn’t say anything until after the resignation– nevertheless, the Storify became part of the leading edge of the wave of news and reaction for non-Twitter fandom. (And I’m still seeing it being passed around without any mention of her apology.)

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