I apologise in advance for the (sort of) subject of this article: K*tie H*pkins (as Decent Twitter prefers to refer to her). I’ve spent the past few years largely ignoring this grotesque attention-merchant who seems now, hopefully, to have reached her final stop on the outrage train. This week it emerged she has parted company with Mail Online (‘by mutual consent’: yeah, right), which has shamefully hosted and promoted her extremist excreta for many months – that’s the most-read media site on the planet. She had already been fired by the Sun and LBC before that. It would appear her mainstream media lives are all used up: off to the Breitbart sewer where you belong, H*pkins.
It’s not clear what led to the final breach, though on Tuesday the Mail was forced to issue one last, expensive apology on her behalf. On the same day H*pkins appears to have deleted nearly all of her past 45,000 tweets. Imagine what kind of individual you’d have to be to feel the need to do that, or for your lawyers to advise it, or to need lawyers in that way at all.
Still, nothing ever really vanishes from cyberspace. The greatest hits are there if you look: there’s the ‘we need a final solution’ classic that followed the terrorist massacre of young concert-goers in Manchester; there’s ‘Ramadan typically brings a spike in violence in Middle East. I get grumpy when I don’t eat – but I don’t blow things up. Religion of peace?’; there are the two from when Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone, was given treatment in London: ‘Little sweaty jocks, sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn’t cricket. Scottish NHS sucks’, and ‘Glaswegian ebola patient moved to London’s Royal Free Hospital. Not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?’
Then there was the column in the Sun comparing African migrants crossing the Mediterranean with ‘cockroaches’ and calling for gunboats to stop them, which the UN felt moved to describe as hate speech. Earlier this month she delivered an extraordinary speech in Florida to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a far-right American think-tank, in which she said it was ‘a pleasure to be amongst people that are prepared to fight for their country’ and described this as ‘our time’: ‘We can commit to arm ourselves, not just with the help of the NRA. Get furious and fight back.’ She went on to insist areas of Britain are controlled by a ‘Muslim mafia’ and to claim Britain has ‘institutionalised discrimination against whites’. She also railed against “Muslim men” and the “Muslim mayor of Londonistan’.
Reader, it is not for me to condemn this reprehensible, inhumane creature – it is for you to do so.
Free speech: yes, I know. But free speech is the right to say any old crap (H*pkins: tick), even malicious old crap (H*pkins: tick), even offensive, malicious old crap (H*pkins: you get the picture) without fear of censorship unless you libel someone or are judged to be provoking violence (H*pkins: oh…). What free speech isn’t is a requirement that major mainstream news outlets, read, watched and listened to by mass audiences and with a significant and influential role in the national debate, make house room for the most contemptible, inflammatory views in our society. And yet that is what the Sun, and LBC, and the Mail did with this woman. It is a matter of judgement. As is Iain Dale’s decision to use his otherwise estimable Biteback imprint recently to publish her autobiography. And we are entitled to judge them back.
Why would you carry regular columns or broadcasts by someone like this? On the newspaper front it might be taken as an indication of weakness: the right-wing papers have watched as the less pleasant parts of their readership have hared off in the direction of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump and maybe even Tommy Robinson, their baser instincts bubbling to the surface along with these ignorant, tinpot rabble-rousers. Falling circulations and revenues plus a radicalised constituency are a dangerous mix: desperation kicks in, the junkie hunger for clicks – regardless of who is clicking – is overpowering, standards plummet, you end up with a K*tie H*pkins column, she and her views now have your legitimising imprimatur, the national tone slips a bit further hellwards. So the cycle goes. Provocative writers are a must, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with radio’s shock jock culture. But where is the line drawn? Is there a line?
Whether they like it nor not, big institutions should have an eye to their moral footprint. The media likes to believe it stands alone and aloof, bad boys with a sheriff’s badge and a gun. But too often, and I say this as a lifelong newspaper hack, with a deep love of the medium, they demand a standard of behaviour from others – parliament, banks, celebrities and the rest – that they do not feel the need to meet themselves.
H*pkins is, in the end, a circus act, the equivalent of a medieval fool, using what limited gifts she has to make a living. From her first appearance in the public eye many years ago, on The Apprentice, she has been the cold, canny type: the kind who looks at a situation, calculates which position will generate the most controversy, then adopts it good and hard. I have no idea if she even believes what she says: if she believes in anything beyond K*tie H*pkins.
What should worry us more than a damaged woman spouting hatred from her bedroom laptop is the contamination of our shared space – the mainstreaming of opinions that have been regarded as beyond the pale for good moral reasons. Trump has praised Hopkins as a ‘respected columnist’ and thanked her ‘for her powerful writing on the UK’s Muslim problems’. He has patronised Nigel Farage, too, even if the former Ukip leader’s fanboy adoration for the President has latterly become an embarrassingly one-sided affair. Farage is arguably more responsible for Brexit than any other individual, and decent Leavers rode his racist tiger to victory, whatever their own views (Farage has a show on LBC – of course he does). This week Trump retweeted videos posted by the deputy leader of the BNP-linked Britain First that appeared to show extreme Muslim violence. At the less egregious end, though still swimming in the same swamp, is Alex Salmond and his appalling decision to present a talk show on the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today.
We increasingly appear to live in a world where all opinions must be afforded the same weight, where the parameters of what constitutes reasonable opinion are so wide as to be meaningless. Trump, Farage, Hopkins, Fox News, Breitbart and the rest are like a noxious gas seeping into our minds and respiratory tracts. Have we decided that this is fine, that we’re cool with it? Is it ok for our media to refuse to exercise restraint and judgement in the public interest? If hate weighs the same as love, what is either worth?