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The media focus on racism obscures the real story

Lewis Hamilton. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

July 20, 2021 - 6:30pm

On Sunday Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix. It was a dramatic victory, achieved by some superb driving after the British driver had incurred a ten-second “stop-go penalty”, a punishment imposed by race stewards when a driver has driven dangerously.

The main story on the BBC Sport website on Monday, however, did not focus on Hamilton’s skill or the drama of the race. Instead it centred on the fact that he had apparently been the target of racial abuse on Twitter. The first fourteen paragraphs of the story were given over to related lamentations. Not until paragraph fifteen did we discover that Hamilton’s dangerous driving had resulted in one of his main opponents, Max Verstappen, being admitted to hospital after a 51G impact into a tyre wall, the type of accident that routinely killed or seriously injured drivers in previous eras.

This burying of the real details of a story, in order to mould it more easily into an essentially political narrative, seems to have become rather common recently.

In the aftermath of England’s defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final much of the media reported the story they wanted to report: one about a huge bigoted “outpouring” against black players. This approach was dominant well into the second half of last week, despite it being revealed that the racially abusive Tweets sent to some of the players made up a tiny fraction of all the social media comment on England’s performance, and that much of that tiny fraction originated not in this country at all, but overseas.

An important component of the “racist backlash” framing was the graffiti left on a mural of the Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford. Strikingly, none of the prestige media — the BBC, ITV, Sky, the quality newspapers — would tell us what had been written. Then on Friday Greater Manchester Police (GMP) confirmed that the graffiti “was not believed to be of a racial nature”, denting the factual basis but not the sentimental and ideological appeal of the original story.

The most plausible explanation for the graffiti I have heard is that a tired and emotional Manchester City fan scrawled some incoherent obscenity as he meandered home from the pub. But of course this simple and politically useless explanation would be a threat to what you might call the “upper normie” mindset, in which Britain is a seething cauldron of racial prejudice, which can only be addressed by the nice, good people in the media carefully passing over any inconvenient details with a studied vagueness.


Niall Gooch is a public sector worker and occasional writer who lives in Kent.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 years ago

The NYT was at it too (unsurprisingly, some will say): https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/world/europe/marcus-rashford-soccer-racism-mural.html
I submitted a complaint to the newspaper at the weekend, requesting the article to be corrected to reflect the facts. At the time of writing (21.7.21, 7:30am CET), this has not been carried out. The attraction of the narrative of England being incurably racist is obviously stronger than the attraction of doing proper journalism, incl. fact-checks.
It’s a poor state of affairs.

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
3 years ago

Actual sport is the last thing BBC Sport (especially the website and app) is concerned with. It’s primary issue is to push forward Social Justice narratives (embarrassingly so) and without any of that annoying objectivity.

Last edited 3 years ago by Andrew Raiment
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Absolutely right – the website is almost entirely bereft of actual sports reporting.

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Barton
Nile Kingston
Nile Kingston
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

Very true, the BBC and all the main media outlets are pushing a so called narrative that is becoming so obscure that the truth gets left behind.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Raiment

The term “BBC Sport” has become an oxymoron ..

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
3 years ago

Excellent article and totally spot on. The reporting around the England team in particular was divisive and dangerous. I found the Rashford mural graffiti to be particularly interesting. Nowhere on the entire Internet could one find what was actually written, only a few days later was I able to see that someone had drawn a giant phallus on Mr Rashford and some choice Anglo saxon – but absolutely nothing racist. It is at best irresponsible to foment this sort of division. Some are mulch worse than others.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

Somewhere I read an actual report of the Rashford wall graffiti. It was just the usual collection of F-bombs directed at players, nothing discernibly racial.
The insistence of media that it was racist, without providing evidence, only serves to further destroy any confidence in the media.
Media, especially the BBC/Guardian collective, but certainly not only they, had politicised the England team.
They eagerly lined up to denounce and race-splain criticism of the BLM genuflecting during the tournament. They used the diverse origins of the players as an argument against border control.
The racism narrative was primed and ready to go from the moment Saka’s penalty was saved, (although it was a decent enough shot – it was Rashford’s that was poorly judged).
All they had to do was find some tweets, or, never mind, just report on somebody else finding them. Then those tweets became “a torrent of racist abuse” with maybe a “horrifying” or “vile” thrown in. The bulletins and daytime chat shows repeated this hourly, and in between the hours, just in case you were lacking reinforcement.
By Thursday , it had become simply “the racist attack”.
Little credit was given to the Italian team, by the way.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
2 years ago

England didn’t deserve to win anyway! Especially after the dodgy penalty aware in the Denmark game…

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

It does make you wonder whether it is BLM activists/sympathisers posting this stuff just to stir trouble up.
It would not be the first time …

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Barton
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 years ago

It’s actually really sad isn’t it and reflective of the ridiculous levels of polarisation.
It’s got to the point where you’re either a die hard fan of Hamilton (or same with Sterling especially) or a racist.
Any criticism of these individuals – no matter how legitimate or that which focusses solely on their sportcraft itself – is slandered with the “racist” epithet.

Really sad that we let a few idiots with twitter accounts – who in the past would have just been some t**t in the pub – change our whole worldview on these issues

Last edited 3 years ago by A Spetzari
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Liverpool fans have booed Sterling for years – as well as chanting “greedy greedy b*****d” – after he left Liverpool for the Man City shilling.
Helping him out after assault charges was not enough to secure his loyalty.
You will never hear that context provided by the MSM

Last edited 3 years ago by Ian Barton
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

I wonder what the accusation would have been if he had been meted out a stiffer and more appropriate penalty.

Al M
Al M
3 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Jumping on the bandwagon, I note that Gillette have decided to lecture everyone, once again. I simply fail to see what this has to do with choosing a razor. Can any bright spark help me out here?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

“a mural of the Manchester United and England forward”

This, like in USA too, is weirdly reminiscent of old times 90 – 50 years ago where huge faces where posted around the world in troubled areas as symbols of some ultimate cause.

“A cult of personality, arises when a country’s regime uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.A cult of personality is similar to apotheosis,”

Very weird stuff – especially with all this hysteria over some graffiti; almost Charlie Hebdo like. The mass kneeling in some group prostration was pretty much cult stuff.

Mass insanity.

Mark Knight
Mark Knight
3 years ago

The media-elites had lost control of the narrative due to the performance of the England team during the Euro competition; a happy, proud, multi-cultural country at ease with itself had been exposed.  The elites had to regain control of the narrative, which they have effectively done, regardless of the facts or truth.  
Promulgating the propaganda is what now passes as journalism.  It is worrying but I believe that most people understanding this and simple ignore the bilge coming from the established media outlets, which will result in them becoming more shrill and disengaged from facts, and hence less and less relevant.  Keep calm and keep reading Unherd. 

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 years ago

Very disappointing that the racism narrative overtook the real story, which was the inappropriateness of the punishment meted out and the behaviour of the increasingly odious Hamilton.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

How do you know that Lewis is odious, Lesley? Do you actually know him or are you making assumptions based on what you read in the media?

Philip Perkins
Philip Perkins
2 years ago
Reply to  Deborah B

Perhaps he listens to what Hamilton says and watches how he behaves? Hamilton is very much a marmite character even amongst school kids – some love him, some hate him. It’s nothing to do with race, it seems to me that it’s more to do with his arrogant, entitled attitude.

Al M
Al M
3 years ago

I saw the defaced mural online. Someone had drawn a c0ck&b@ll$ on it and scrawled something sweary about him losing his nerve. Not much of a story though, is it?

George Glashan
George Glashan
3 years ago

is this the same sports media that didn’t notice Ben Stokes assaulting his wife at an award event full of sports media? ( irc it was guidofawkes website that broke that story.) most journalists these days are partisan shills, sports journalists don’t even rise to that low bar.

Last edited 3 years ago by George Glashan
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

Contrary to the woke narrative that only whites can be racist, Usmane Dembele a black player with FC Barcelona was forced to apologize for a video that he posted on social media in which he racially abused Japanese hotel staff saying “look at those ugly faces”. Konami, a major corporation subsequently withdrew their sponsorship.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Bell
Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
3 years ago

MSM and Hollywood – “the narrative industry” as Michael Malice aptly named them. The narrative is paramount to everything.

Deborah B
Deborah B
2 years ago

Sorry to be pedantic, Niall, but Lewis got a 10 second penalty, added on to his pit stop. A stop – go penalty is when you drive through the pits, stop for 10 seconds, then go without tyre changes. So it’s more severe.
Aside from that … You make some really important points.
It’s a wonder we are allowed to watch and enjoy sport at all, seeing as it results in winners and losers. Surely that offends the BBC and everyone with a social conscience?