Whether it’s ME patients or another target, huge swathes of the media have normalised hatred of minorities for years
You would be forgiven if, weighed down by the row over the Islamophobia embedded in the British press, you had missed Rod Liddle’s piece in the Sunday Times about disabled people, specifically those with myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME.
The headline – “Always fatigued, yet they never tire of claiming their malady really is a virus” – gives a fair hint at the level of bile the piece contains, but to summarise:
Liddle uses the resignation of a researcher into ME, Michael Sharpe, to peddle the well-worn trope that the condition is “all in the mind” – or as he puts it, “that their complaints about a virus have no basis in fact”.
It has understandably distressed many people with ME, with the piece going viral on social media.
The background to this is complex but in brief, Sharpe led research in 2015 that controversially said many patients with ME are being held back by their own failure to “push themselves to recover” through therapy and graded exercise.
Crucially, many people with ME believe this research, and the media’s ongoing coverage of it has added fuel to the belief that their illness is not real – that a bit of positive thinking will somehow stop patients being bed-bound – which can in turn be used against them by others, such as questioning their need for rest or to receive state support.
Liddle should know – he’s done it himself. In 2012, he wrote a piece for the Sun declaring his New Year’s resolution was “to become disabled” in order to scam disability benefits.
“Nothing too serious,” he wrote. “Maybe just a bit of a bad back or one of those newly invented illnesses which make you a bit peaky for decades – fibromyalgia, or ME.”
In his latest piece, Liddle at least acknowledges that ME is a serious illness – saying “hundreds of thousands of lives are wrecked by these ailments” – and accepts that, whether the condition has a mental or physical cause, it is equally debilitating.
But by propagating the idea people with ME don’t actually want to recover, because they criticise some researchers’ claims, it is little more than a disability dog-whistle: a nasty rehash of vitriol long poured over people with “invisible” or misunderstood chronic illnesses and disabilities.
The standards around commentary about disability in the media are so low that even someone with Liddle’s form can be given a platform to make such claims; vilification can easily be dressed up as “debate”, prejudice as “concern”.
The Liddle row relates specifically to particular failures in reporting of ME, but more than that – it speaks to the ease with which the British media too often publish content that doubt, scapegoat, and misrepresent minorities like disabled people, while giving no concern to the consequences.
Whether it is ME patients or another target, huge swathes of the media have normalised hatred and suspicion of minorities for years. Every editor who commissions it, reads it, and decides to go ahead and print it is not only complicit, but actively responsible in facilitating it. I am tired. Tired of all it. We all should be.
|You might also be interested in reading an article from Laura Elliot published yesterday online in Medium:
M.E. Patients and the Researchers that Silence Them
“As a journalist currently side-lined by M.E., I am quietly horrified that these issues weren’t raised in either of the recent articles about campaigners and their families. Far from being anti-science, patients have been the driving force behind the chronically under-funded biomedical research that is taking place into this disease.”
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