Thursday, 25 April 2019
The Scruton tapes: an anatomy of a modern hit job

Douglas Murray has got hold of a copy of the tape made when George Eaton, one of the deputy editors of the New Statesman interviewed Sir Roger Scruton last month. You will recall that Eaton's subsequent 'interpretation' of the interview as published in said New Statesman resulted in Sir Roger being sacked from his unpaid post as chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission barely five hours after the edited interview was published. 

Here he examines what Sir Roger actually said, with what George Eaton claimed that he said. Remember that after Sir Roger was sacked and accusations of racism and "white supremacy" raged, Eaton posted a picture of himself celebrating with Champagne the "feeling when you get right-wing racist and homophobe Roger Scruton sacked as a Tory government adviser." This was deleted later, but not before copies were taken. 

I'll cherry-pick a couple of Douglas Murray's observations, but really I recommend you follow this link and read the whole thing in his words. If you have any trouble with the Spectator's paywall type thing, then James Delingpole at Breitbart has done a pretty good precis. 

The hit job on Sir Roger can be seen as a classic of the genre: he was sacked within five hours of the Twitter storm breaking. His fate offers a perfect case study in the art of modern character assassination. Except that in this instance, it unravelled and the whole nature of the trick can now be exposed. It is worth examining in some detail.

Last month, Scruton agreed to be interviewed in his London flat by George Eaton, one of the deputy editors of the New Statesman. In November the philosopher had been appointed to be the unpaid chair of a government quango called ‘Building better, building beautiful’, but Scruton was led to believe that the discussion would be about his books, a number of which had recently been reissued.

The lunchtime before the resulting interview’s publication, Eaton declared on Twitter that ‘the government adviser and philosopher Roger Scruton has made a series of outrageous remarks’, and included a link to the interview. The supposed offences were listed with salivation. Scruton was alleged to have talked outrageously about ‘Hungarian Jews’. He was alleged to have been racist about ‘the Chinese’. He was alleged to have described ‘Islamophobia’ as ‘a propaganda word invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue’. He had described accusations of anti-Semitism against Viktor Orban as ‘nonsense’ and talked of Muslim ‘tribes’. Outrage and resignation calls soon followed. The perfect Twitter storm had been started.

But what had the philosopher actually said — and had he been fairly represented? No one who called for his resignation tried to find out. Not Mercer, Tugendhat, Finkelstein, Osborne, Brokenshire or any of the rest of them. The story was too good. Scruton later asked for the tape of the interview that got him sacked to be released, so everyone could hear what he said (or did not say). Many others then joined this call, but Mr Eaton went very quiet. Having acquired a copy of the recording of the interview, I know why.

Rather than a set of ‘outrageous’ remarks, let alone a ‘rant’, the recording shows Scruton speaking in his usual calm, thoughtful, professorial manner (though audibly labouring through a chest infection).

...the supposedly ‘outrageous remarks’ about ‘Hungarian Jews’? It is an interesting reminiscence about Viktor Orban. Scruton has known Orban since communist days and criticised him. ‘I think power has gone to his head,’ he says. ‘He’s made some decisions which are very popular with the Hungarian people. Because the Hungarians were extremely alarmed by this sudden invasion of, um, huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East. And you have to remember that their history of their relation with Islam is not a happy one.’

Is ‘invasion’ the most diplomatic word to use about the migrant wave of 2015? Perhaps not (at another point, Scruton talks about how Momentum ‘invaded’ the Labour party) but the question really ought to be: does the government regard use of this word as a sackable offence?

Again and again, Eaton tries to lure Scruton on incendiary matters (‘Some conservatives would say knife crime is really a black problem’) but to no avail. After laboriously trying to get comment on the leadership contenders in both main parties, he finally asks: ‘How do you feel about humanity’s future?’ Scruton is a bit thrown. ‘Um, gosh. You’re talking about all the trans-humanist stuff or all that?’

Eventually he goes on to say: ‘I think there are difficulties around the corner that we are ignoring, like the rise of China. There is something quite frightening about the Chinese sort of mass politics and the regimentation of the ordinary being. I think that the… We invent robots, and they are in a sense creating robots out of their own people, by so constraining what can be done that each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that’s a very frightening thing. Maybe I don’t know enough about it to be confident in making that judgment but the politics is like that, and the foreign policy is like that. And the concentration camps have come back, largely there to “re-educate” the Muslims and so on.’

So not a racist rant, but a measured and careful expression of concern about the Chinese authorities, concluding with a reference to the appalling mistreatment of China’s Uighur Muslims. A reference that was never included in the interview since it would complicate the picture of the philosopher as an ‘intemperate’ bigot. As would his similarly unpublished observation that ‘Muslims who settle into the Meccan way of life are obviously perfect citizens. They have the inner serenity that the citizen should have. We ought to learn to appreciate that — and encourage it.’ Hardly the cry of the vicious anti-Muslim figure Eaton would go on to describe.

But while certain Conservative politicians seem set on appeasing what they take to be the spirit of the age, they might have misjudged the turn. Soon after Scruton’s sacking, it started to become apparent that the quotations had been manipulated and that the philosopher had lost his job because government had cowered in front of the mob. Jason Cowley, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said: ‘The New Statesman takes journalistic good practice seriously. As any responsible media organisation would, we are conducting an internal review in light of allegations of misrepresentation. George Eaton has already apologised for his behaviour on social media and his thoughtless Instagram post, which he deleted.’ Mercer and Tugendhat both ended up being forced to issue half-apologies. Those who were most angry were young people, who have grown to loathe this social media hate-mongering.

We live in the age of character assassination. What we now desperately need is a counter-revolution based on the importance of individuals over mobs, the primacy of truth over offence, and the necessity of free-thought over this bland, dumb and ill-conceived uniformity.

Posted on 04/25/2019 3:02 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
25 Apr 2019
George Eaton has gotten off easy for his malign journalistic malpractice.

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