The first rule of writing about Katie Hopkins is to not write about Katie Hopkins. I know that. The British reality TV star, if you remain unaware of her work, is a one-woman outrage factory who wants attention. That being the case, it is best to deny her that attention by not writing about her. Equally, if you stumble across her radio show you can always change the channel and pretend that it is not happening.
That is extremely difficult today in the aftermath of the terror attack at Westminster, because she has barged her way in to the story.
Personally, I am dead against a media consensus. I don’t like the wall to wall TV coverage on these occasions after the initial few hours, and as ever there is a discussion to be had about how best to react. The terrorists must not win, we all say, but here are endless live shots of empty Westminster streets with cordons 24 hours later showing that we do let them at least win the victory of making us over-react by sealing everything off and pointing cameras at the empty space and asking what it means over and over again.
What it means is that a complete scumbag from Kent, living in Birmingham, got into his car and killed three people. Tributes have been paid to the victims and the stories that emerge are heartbreaking.
The fame of the location and one of the victims being American means that there is much interest on the other side of the Atlantic. Understandably, President Trump tweeted his tribute to the fallen American Kurt Cochran.
That being the case the US media looks for voices in London to explain what is going on and to set it in context. Media being what it is, producers gravitate towards those with something crisp and controversial to say. That leaves an American viewer being treated to the following from Hopkins last night talking to Tucker Carlson on Fox News:
“We are a country that spends so much time tiptoeing around the cultures that join us and not enough time defending the culture they’ve chosen to join. The message is, ‘We will not be cowed by terror. We will stand united.’ But the big news is that’s the message in London – that’s not the message here in the UK. People are cowed by one particular religion which is promoted by the Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan… People are cowed, people are afraid and people are not united. Great Britain is more disunited, more divided than at any other time in its past.”
Britain is more divided than at any other time in its past? Wow. Worse than in the 17th century religious civil wars which ravaged these islands? No. Or worse than the divide between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians? Again, no. Still, casual viewers in their millions and more on social media get the impression it is and have their own views reinforced. Worse, we now know thanks to the fake news and fake views storm of recent months that many voters will automatically discount any rebuttal and presentation of the truth with a shrug on the grounds that “they would deny it, wouldn’t they?”
This rolling perception problem – ebbing and flowing across the Atlantic between the US and Europe – is hard to solve in the era of 24 hour news channels and social media. The need to attract and stimulate audiences means a market has developed for instant anti-pundit “hot takes” in which the contrary line is fluently delivered at speed. Look, it says, they won’t tell you the truth of what’s going because, well, political correctness, but I can let you into the secret, real truth of what is going on. Making this case, Hopkins has even eclipsed Nigel Farage in the last 24 hours.
It flows the other way too. When I see it said and written in the UK that no-one with a brain could have voted for Trump I wince. I’m no fan of the man, but such an attitude discounts the millions of Americans who had grave doubts about Trump but simply saw the election of Hillary Clinton (hugely unpopular in the US) as a breakpoint in history in which the country would, via the Supreme Court, tilt towards European social democracy or, as American conservatives call it, socialism. Not seeing that, not being exposed to that valid view, meant it came as an even bigger shock when Trump did win.
And sometimes American networks get people in the US to speculate on this Transatlantic stuff too, which leads to that chap saying that because of Islamism then Birmingham (England, not Alabama) has “no go areas” for the police when it does not. He recanted later.
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Such babble can be dismissed, as fake or exaggerated, but it matters. Like water dripping on stone it has an effect. Oh, and American network news is President Trump’s primary, possibly sole, source of illumination.
What is being achieved is the opposite of enlightenment through informed analysis. Rather than increasing our understanding of what is happening the babble instead creates a cartoonish caricature. Media has always done this. Modern media, because of speed and social media, does it more.
London is not living in fear. It just isn’t. I’m in London now, I’ve walked around it today and recorded a documentary for BBC Radio 4 (on another subject, out on Monday) inside the cordoned off zone at Westminster. But on the other side of the Atlantic, the impression is of a City under siege. That is quite simply wrong.