Irish Times robustly defends publishing of controversial alt-right article

The piece has caused a storm of controversy since it was published with Amnesty international suggesting it promotes racism, misogyny and trans-phobia

Irish Times robustly defends publishing of controversial alt-right article

Image: Daniel Dudek/Pixlr

The Irish Times has strongly defended its decision to publish an article on the alt-right movement which included a glossary of terms some readers argued were racist and sexist.

The opinion piece entitled “The alt-right movement: everything you need to know” aimed to provide a "simple glossary" of terms used by the alt-right - which it described as "one part political movement, two parts subculture."

Penned by Nick Pell - an American writer based in Ireland - the piece made reference to a number of derogatory terms used to describe black people, women and people of differing gender identities.

Speaking to Sarah McInerney on Newstalk Drive this afternoon, Irish Times duty editor Patrick Smith said he had “no problem” with the publication of the article and insisted he was “absolutely clear that we are not promoting racism or hatred.”

“It is part of our opinion and analysis page; it is there to reflect diversity of views,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect the views of the paper - in fact most of the people working for the paper would find the views proposed in the article pretty objectionable.”

“The author is writing an opinion piece, he is not writing a piece of traditional journalism.

“He doesn’t have to adhere to the standards of a reporter and state equally the views of both sides; it is clearly an opinion piece and as such I have to say we would defend our right to publish it.”

Mr Smyth admitted that the piece was “arguably racist” but argued it needs to be seen “in the context in which it has appeared and I would say that that is a line that we haven’t crossed.”

Dr Lucy Michael, lecturer in sociology at the University of Ulster, told Sarah that, rather than being an opinion piece, the article was “an exercise in misinformation.”

“I see this as being very poor research on the part of the opinions editorial desk of the Irish Times - to not realise that this is part of the movement to have these phrases accepted,” she said.

“This is not about the expression of views; this is not everything you need to know about the alt-right - or the far right if you prefer.

“This is about saying, ‘here is a glossary of something you need to know about’ with no counter within the article or even clarification by the Irish Times that there is no research in this - or presentation of truth or evidence.”

Ms Michael said that while the paper “is quite right” to publish articles that their journalists and readership may not agree with - they also “have an obligation to present well-researched and representative articles.”

She said the article is guilty of “feeding phrases” into the general narrative which can then become “known and accepted and used - and that is shifting the debate.”

“I think we are falling into a trap of really using their language and their terms rather than saying this is outright a manifesto for a movement that is racist and bigoted and we have to very careful about how much exposure we give them,” she said.

In response, Mr Smyth said readers are “literate” and “can see through the arguments being made in this piece.”

“I think there is a danger in saying they must be protected from this sort of speech,” he said.

“I am very concerned about this argument because again I come back to this issue of the limits of free speech in a democratic society and we have to reflect that as a news paper.”

“I worry about moving in that direction and I worry about us being too patronising to our readers and not accepting that actually they can make these distinctions we don’t have to make them for them."

 You can listen back to the full conversation here.