I’m tired of the hate. We all should be

Rod Liddle vilifies disabled people. I’m tired of the hate. We all should be. Whether it’s ME patients or another target, huge swathes of the media have normalised hatred of minorities for years.

Rod Liddle.

You would be forgiven if, weighed down by the row over the Islamophobia embedded in the British press, you had missed Rod Liddle’s piece in the Sunday Times about disabled people, specifically those with myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME.

The headline – “Always fatigued, yet they never tire of claiming their malady really is a virus” – gives a fair hint at the level of bile the piece contains, but to summarise: Liddle uses the resignation of a researcher into ME, Michael Sharpe, to peddle the well-worn trope that the condition is “all in the mind” – or as he puts it, “that their complaints about a virus have no basis in fact”. It has understandably distressed many people with ME, with the piece going viral on social media.

The background to this is complex but in brief, Sharpe led research in 2015 that controversially said many patients with ME are being held backby their own failure to “push themselves to recover” through therapy and graded exercise. The trial has since been criticised as “not robust” by scientists, while some patients reported that their conditions actually deteriorated after taking on the exercise. Crucially, many people with ME believe this research, and the media’s ongoing coverage of it has added fuel to the belief that their illness is not real – that a bit of positive thinking will somehow stop patients being bed-bound – which can in turn be used against them by others, such as questioning their need for rest or to receive state support.

Liddle should know – he’s done it himself. In 2012, he wrote a piece for the Sun declaring his New Year’s resolution was “to become disabled” in order to scam disability benefits. “Nothing too serious,” he wrote. “Maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades – fibromyalgia, or ME.”

In his latest piece, Liddle at least acknowledges that ME is a serious illness – saying “hundreds of thousands of lives are wrecked by these ailments” – and accepts that, whether the condition has a mental or physical cause, it is equally debilitating.

But by propagating the idea people with ME don’t actually want to recover, because they criticise some researchers’ claims, it is little more than a disability dog-whistle: a nasty rehash of vitriol long poured over people with “invisible” or misunderstood chronic illnesses and disabilities. The standards around commentary about disability in the media are so low that even someone with Liddle’s form can be given a platform to make such claims; vilification can easily be dressed up as “debate”, prejudice as “concern”.

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The Liddle row relates specifically to particular failures in reporting of ME, but more than that – it speaks to the ease with which the British media too often publish content that doubt, scapegoat, and misrepresent minorities like disabled people, while giving no concern to the consequences.

I am tired. I am tired not least because of a health condition (not ME) that leaves me so exhausted some days that it’s an effort to lift my chest to breathe. I am tired mainly of the hate and bad faith. I am tired of the conversation we are forced into each time a commentator puts a pin in a book and decides which minority to publicly humiliate that day. I am tired of that community then being forced into defending themselves – their skin, their faith, their sexuality, their illness.

It would be easy to say that we should ignore Liddle. That the likes of him live off the oxygen of outrage, vying for anger-clicks online and then simultaneously lapping up and decrying the “snowflakes” who dare to object. But rising above it appears to have done little so far. If anything, toxic coverage around disability, race, trans rights, women, and other marginalised groups grows year on year.

While on the one hand, journalism unearths racism such as the Windrush scandal or the hostile environment facing disabled people, on the other, it can be used to perpetuate it. Too many editors continue to give platforms to Liddle and his peers, platforms they are fully aware will be used to attack minorities. At the same time, too few hire people actually from minority groups; instead of chronically ill people writing about their own experiences, a non-disabled man with a history of mocking people with ME is allowed to pontificate about them.

The claim that letting such contrarian voices into the mainstream and “exposing” them or “winning” by successfully challenging these views is surely long up, as are arguments of “freedom of speech”. Outside of the readers who are disgusted by rants against disabled people or Muslims, the truth is, many others take it in as standard reporting. Hiring people like Liddle, while shutting marginalised people out of newsrooms, does nothing but add toxicity to the already rotting discourse, contributing to an ever-more poisonous climate for the targeted groups to live in.

Whether it is ME patients or another target, huge swathes of the media have normalised hatred and suspicion of minorities for years. Every editor who commissions it, reads it, and decides to go ahead and print it is not only complicit, but actively responsible in facilitating it. I am tired. Tired of all it. We all should be.

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2 thoughts on “I’m tired of the hate. We all should be

  1. It’s amazing, is it not, that such people have been used for some time to aid the drawing up of ridiculous DWP rules that exclude disabled people from claiming PIP, even though the majority of medical researchers do not agree. Furthermore, it seems clear that Parliament did not intend that the disabled would be deprived by scurrilous, indeed illegal, rules.

    Liked by 3 people

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