Did the anti-lockdown razor story really happen?
The BBC’s fact-checkers just can’t cut it
Was a razor blade really attached to an anti-mask poster in Cardiff? The BBC reported the news with self-righteous certainty along with pictures of a bloodied hand and a blade on the back of the flyer.
Apparently a woman called Layla Stokes, who by coincidence also makes stickers — to “fight the tide of misinformation” — had tried to remove the flyer which read “Masks don’t work” and replace it with her own creation when she was cut badly on the hand.
Which is awful. Really shockingly bad, and you can see why the BBC would give such prominence to it. But a small journalistic question remains: did it actually happen?
First, as the news article admits, the evidence has vanished. Despite having the presence of mind to go to the police to report this terrible crime, Layla also, it seems, threw away the blade and the poster after covering it with alcohol. Thus there were no prints to dust, or DNA samples to swab, or whatever hi-tech methods the police might have employed to get to the bottom of this shocking affair.
Possibly too shocked by the magnitude of the crime, and the trauma, the BBC seems to have done more repetition than actual journalism. So no questions were asked of this startling story. A Twitter user, however, has. And they’ve found the Twitter account belonging to Layla, a transwoman. But after scanning several tweets they’ve found several things which suggest the story is a fake. According to screenshots from the alleged victim’s account (now locked), Layla has previously claimed to have been disemboweled by a stranger in Leeds before walking to the hospital carrying their own intestines. So if anything we should be applauding the heroic recovery, in confidence and physicality, that subsequently saw Layla even able to grapple with flyers, never mind being sliced and diced by them.
Layla, inevitably, hosts multiple people within one body, and also, it seems, sadly has a history of self-harm.
But there’s more, quite a lot more, and it really does become very odd that because of the unique way it’s funded the BBC didn’t pick up on any of this low-hanging news fruit.
Now I know what the cynics who read this longform print magazine’s shortform website are going to sneer: ‘it doesn’t make any sense … it’s borderline impossible to cut yourself with a flat blade laminated to the centre of a piece of paper … “Layla”’ – you’d use scare quotes, don’t bother denying it – “claims to have screwed up the laminated sheet which then allowed a sharp edge to poke out. The picture shows blood on the blade side of the poster which implies this social justice activist was trying to screw up the anti-mask flyer whilst looking at the blade … it just doesn’t add up”.
Let’s say for one hateful moment I was going to go along with you and your pretty transparent agenda – what would that mean? That our national broadcaster applies less than rigorous scrutiny when it suits the agenda they don’t have, and that only exists in your fever dreams? What next? Are you really going to claim that to click on the BBC news website is to be daily treated to activist rah-rah and woo-woo pieces championing progressive causes, while masquerading, unconvincingly, as “news”? Well of course you are, and of course you’re right.
Take this gem of a story: “India jewellery ad starring trans model wins hearts” in which the BBC celebrates a jewellery advert run on Indian TV by a private firm called Bhima showing the transition of a timid young boy into an apparently confident and empowered jewellery-clad glamourpuss (a word I, a young man, have been groomed into using by a cynical older editor).
If you think jewellery adverts should be used to promote the idea of transgenderism, then seven quotes have been lined up by the BBC to support your view. The ad was “revolutionary”, the response was “overwhelming”, and somebody was “moved to tears”.
If you think the opposite? The allusion to all-other-points-of-view all came via the people actually in favour. They admitted there was “some criticism” and “differences in opinion” that were “tiny” but that a small amount of unfortunate “hate” had been experienced. The closest we came to a full quote of criticism of the advert (aired in a deeply conservative Indian society) came second-hand from the creator of the advert. Navya Rao, the online marketing head at Bhima said the firm had faced some criticism that they were “lending a voice to a cause that’s unnatural”.
Is it fair for the views of Indians opposed to letting children transition be voiced by their opponents? The BBC doesn’t care. And that’s because the BBC has already got a view on this subject. A corporate view, enforced by management and their policies, which is entirely clear about what is right and what is wrong on this politically contested and contentious subject.
This approach has been institutionalised at the very core of BBC News. On the topic of abortion, the BBC’s style guide tells journalists to refer to “pro-choice” campaigners not “pro-abortion” activists since “campaigners favour a woman’s right to choose, rather than abortion itself” – what choice they think can be made here is left as tastefully obscure as abortions generally are. The other – wrong – side are, of course, to be referred to as being “anti-abortion” campaigners — the way their opponents characterise them.
If you haven’t been swayed by a biased style-guide and selective quoting, the BBC often tells you outright what its view is via the “analysis” box below a story. Take a recent article about how Mexico has decriminalised abortion. After the news we are treated to some views, sorry, “analysis” by Will Grant, the BBC’s abortion activist (The BBC lists him as its Mexico and Central America correspondent but in line with the style guide, I think I get to define him). He explains that “high profile protests by feminist and women’s rights campaigners have underlined the need for greater reproductive rights in Mexico.”
Can you imagine if he’d written this instead?
“High-profile protests by conservatives and Christian campaigners have underlined the need for Mexico to reduce the number of children it murders.”
You really can’t. (And if you work for the BBC you can’t even understand the point being made here.)
The BBC doesn’t realise it has views because in its mind, what it believes is mere common sense and no more exceptional than expecting water to be wet. That’s why they were happy to run the razor story and not for one moment ask themselves basic journalistic questions: is this plausible? Or is it a “hate hoax”, purported by an activist for risibly obvious reasons? To reporters and execs at the corporation, it makes perfect sense that an evil anti-lockdown protester would leave a sharp object for a harmless transwoman to find. And even if it wasn’t literally true, it has profoundly important symbolic value.
I used the term “hate hoax” in the previous paragraph. Ask yourself this: do they happen? If so, has the term ever been used on the BBC news website or by a BBC journalist? Does anyone truly believe that this absence of scepticism, by performative cynics, would ever have happened regarding a story that travelled in the opposite direction? BBC journalists debase themselves with things like the razor story: this isn’t news, it’s cheerleading. Sooner rather than later people who aren’t on the team the BBC supports will wonder, “why are we paying for this?”
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe