Okay, so yes, Laura Kuenssberg is exhibiting political bias. That’s one problem for and about the BBC for sure. But, so are many journalists. When Nick Robinson was attacked by Scottish Nationalists for his Indyref reporting, there were several petitions which didn’t attract many signatures. One on change.org gained 19,000, although it didn’t reach its target, compared to the speedily reached 35,000 on the now removed 38 Degrees petition calling for Laura Kuenssberg’s sacking. And the Robinson petition asked for his suspension, not for him to lose his job and whole career. Go figure.
The question is, what is the appropriate level of response to this bias? And it is not insignificant that we’re having this conversation about the BBCs first female political editor.
This morning, blogs and news sources are sharing this link to the comments on the removed petition – stating that only one comment was sexist, and therefore it shouldn’t have been taken down.
Aside from the more extreme defamatory language used about Kuenssberg, especially on Twitter, a quick skim of these comments (I haven’t included all of them) reveals more than one sexist, gender biased statement, such as:
‘She almost spits and gurns whilst attacking them. She was at it again last night!’
‘She is entirely bias towards the Tory Party, Cameron in particular I think they may have had or are having a thing. There is definitely something there’
‘The bias this woman shows on repeat is repugnant.’
‘Laura is not a political commentator. But she can be a very good gossip columnist’
‘this woman is an insult to the general populace’s intelligence and spouts utter drivel.’
‘She sucks badly’
‘The woman is an utter disgrace’
‘She’s a Jewish extremist.’ (Oh, so a bit of anti-semitism in there too.)
‘She’s a Scottish cow who should keep her name out of UK politics.’
‘Like a whippet curled up in the lap of George Osborne. He feeds her a Corbyn bone and she gnaws at it savagely.’
‘She is a self centred witch’
‘daddy donates to red tories..’
‘Look at that mouth. It matches the rhetoric.’
‘VILE EVIL COLLABORATOR WITCH!!!’
‘she’s rubbish – bring back Nick Robinson’ (Who also has a politically biased opinion … but is safely male?)
‘If she were an ex-, you’d have taken out a restraining order – her Twitter feed reads like a stalker obsessed with Corbyn.’
So only one sexist comment, then?
We should have a zero tolerance approach to any form of sexist language. Here we have the continual reference to ‘this woman’ (would you say ‘this man’?), the comments on her physical appearance, her father, clear sexual innuendo and the old favourite, comparing her to a witch (witch-hunt anyone?). It’s the same effect as calling girls and women ‘bossy’. The language is based in negative gender assumptions, and it creates a negative discourse.
It’s a very significant issue that we think we can talk about women in this way (and defend others talking about women in this way). Arguably, this is actually a bigger, more destructive and socially ingrained problem than one person’s reporting of one politician. Because if we let this way of speaking continue, about any woman, whatever her perspective, it harms all women, for a long time, and shapes the language we use about women in all contexts. Check yourself! And the language you use and support.