Fractious times over at Guardian towers. The long-running battle between Kath Viner, the paper’s editor, and Anette Thomas, the media group’s chief executive, concluded last month after the latter resigned over conflicting views about the Graun’s future.
It’s not just the boardroom where such clashes are being played out. Mr S hears word that the editorial floors of the Guardian and its Sunday sister the Observer have become riven with tensions over the perennial problem of trans rights. WhatsApp groups are ablaze with talk that Observer commentator Sonia Sodha could become the next feminist hounded out of the group, following Suzanne Moore’s purging in November.
Sodha has incurred the displeasure of the Guardian’s vocal trans-rights faction for daring to suggest that women have a right to free speech and should not be threatened for having opinions. She now faces public attacks on Twitter from Guardian contributors, attacks that go unchallenged by executives at Guardian Media Group, which publishes both papers and has largely merged the two titles’ staff.
Sodha’s lefty credentials are impeccable: she used to advise Ed Miliband. Yet she finds herself caught in a firefight between the ultra-woke Guardian and the last remaining executives at the Observer, which clings to old-fashioned lefty ideas about open intellectual debate.
Last month, the Observer published a leader about feminism and trans rights, in the wake of the Maya Forstater and Jess de Wahls cases. Forstater won an employment tribunal ruling that her ‘gender critical’ view that transwomen remain biologically male was legitimate and not hateful. The Observer argued that women who hold such views should be free to express them without harassment or abuse, writing:
“For centuries, women have fought back against attempts to curb their fundamental human rights. It should not need stating that gender-critical feminists have the same free-speech rights as all other citizens. In a democracy, there is no debate to be had about women’s freedom of speech.
You might think an argument that women are entitled to speak would be uncontroversial, not least at the right-on Guardian. But the leader poked the wasps’ nest of trans rights advocates around the paper, who were left buzzing with fury.
Among them was Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who tweeted to denounce the Guardian’s sister-paper as ‘on the wrong side of history’ and criticising the leader for coming ‘during Pride month and on the weekend of Trans Pride’. The desperation of some executives to keep Jones, who is already making lucrative sums from his Patreon account, from walking out is thought to be a factor in the apparent absence of any public rebuke from his editors. Also upset was Freddy McConnell, a former Guardian journalist who now contributes occasional columns to the paper in favour of trans rights.
Most journalists know that leader columns are the collective view of the newspaper, and therefore the responsibility of the Editor, not the hack who happened to type the words onto the page. As such, leader writers can’t be expected to answer for editorials any more than lawyers are responsible for the actions of their clients.
But McConnell took to Twitter to blame Sodha for the contentious leader, accusing her of misinformation. That charge was then amplified by Jones, who briefly retweeted it to his 1 million followers. Such attempts to make Sodha solely responsible for an entire newspaper’s editorial line has left the Guardian’s small band of ‘gender critical’ feminists fearful for her future.
One Guardian feminista tells Steerpike: 'What does it tell you when that they go after a woman over this, but steer clear of the man who actually edits the Observer [Paul Webster]?
The journalists are still chilled by the fate of Moore, who left the paper after being denounced by more than 300 staff members in a letter to Guardian management after writing a column also defending women’s right to raise concerns about trans rights policies.
Editor-in-Chief Editor Kath Viner failed to stand up for Moore during that row, and is said to live in fear of the paper’s woke readers and staffers. Some of her colleagues are wondering if she will again stand by while another feminist colleague faces attempts to bully her out of a job.
Mr S wonders if the current situation continues to deteriorate, who will be left to guard the guardians?