Belfast Telegraph

Ruth Dudley Edwards: Lynch mob may have killed off the career of Kevin Myers

Tactful he is not, but Kevin Myers is a writer of huge talent, compassion and courage

“Massed self-righteousness is an ugly animal, and it invariably spawns an uglier beast still — the lynch mob. Listen: can’t you hear its baying in the wind?”

So wrote my friend Kevin Myers in July 1999 after the convictions of an ex-nun called Nora Wall — who had lived a life of humble service to desperate people — and a homeless man for raping a 10-year old girl.

Like Kevin I believed two innocent people had been wrongly convicted on dodgy evidence because hysteria over child abuse meant suspicion fell on any clergy who had looked after vulnerable children.

Kevin wrote the Irishman’s Diary in the Irish Times and mostly had a free hand to write what he liked, which was often strongly against the grain of public opinion.

His article was pulled before publication because the quashing of the convictions that he was calling for came through, although it would take more than six years before the trial was legally declared a miscarriage of justice.

So he provided instead a magnificent piece on the lessons we should draw from these terrible events.

“We should always beware the deeds of good men and women when there is a public war against vice of any kind.

“The ‘witches’ of Salem were not persecuted by bad men or women; people then genuinely lived in fear of witchcraft, just as they did of communism in the 1950s.

“In the witch-hunt to remove it from public life in the US, innocent people’s lives were ruined, yet through often honourable motives.”

I’ve been thinking about the compassion and courage of this magnificent writer since he told me at the West Cork History Festival that his career had just been destroyed over a sentence in his column in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times.

Mentioning that two of the best-paid female presenters, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, were Jewish, he had written: “Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.”

Intended as a compliment to Jews for being good negotiators (which they famously often are), it was ill-phrased enough to make it easy to twist.

No one ever praised Kevin Myers for his tact.

That extract was posted on Twitter and the lynch mob began to bay about anti-Semitism and misogyny.

Among those who rushed to retweet it was J.K. Rowling, who sent it to her 11.4 million followers with the comment: “Women and Jews quite literally deserve what they get. This filth was published in @thesundaytimes. Let that sink in for a moment.”

It certainly seemed to have sunk in with Rupert Murdoch, who appears immediately to have ordered Kevin’s firing as a form of damage limitation.

Then the lynch mob got hold of a quote from a 2009 article that was grotesquely misrepresented as Holocaust denial.

I doubt if Ms Rowling, any more than most of those who went after him, knew anything of Kevin’s record.

If they had — like the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland who came immediately to his aid — they’d have known that he had enraged anti-Semites for decades by writing frequently both in defence of Israel and about the horrors of the Nazi mission to wipe out the Jews.

It was also Kevin who, over decades, more than anyone stirred the conscience of nationalist Ireland over the atrocious treatment of those who had served in the British Army in two World Wars as he also fought the good fight against the obscene activities of paramilitaries.

A brilliantly comic writer, he has also targeted the nonsense that characterises so much of the rights agenda, extreme feminism and the politically correct.

So, apart from the ignorant, those in pursuit of Kevin include armies of anti-Semites, republicans and those whom he maddened by mercilessly mocking hypocrisy, cant and virtue signalling.

He is a fine man and I am proud to be his friend.

I hope that when the hysteria dies down and the lynch mob — which shamefully included many commentators who personally dislike him and, indeed, the Taoiseach — disperses, possibly the greatest journalist Ireland ever produced will be allowed to write again.

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