The stocks and the soap box


Everyone has their own recording soap box these days. Some are bigger than others, but with social media, everything you post is recorded, no matter how small your platform is. 

My only memory of reading Toby Young before this year was of briefly looking at his semi-autobiography as a name dropping journalist working for Vanity Fair, pestering celebs. The lifestyles of the rich & famous don’t interest me, and the haha I’m such a dick schtick is generally a thin veneer for full throttle narcissism (Howard Stern…), so obviously not my bag, I was blissfully unaware of Toby Young until the drama that played out earlier in the year where he lost his position as an advisor the govt on Education. This article of his experience was recommended on my twitter feed, so I took time to read it;

It’s worth the time if you haven’t read it already. It’s a good point to reflect on the nature of modern journalism, the space given to those with professional opinions which is tied up in this story, and which leads to his downfall.

First – whatever upset he have caused (he admits as such with reflection), it’s hard not to have sympathy. He’s lost a number of positions which he clearly enjoyed, as well as his livelihood. You may not like his opinions, but at the end of the day he’s human and we can empathise. I said that he admits to the hurt he caused – and that’s true to a point. But the anger is not far below the surface, the desire to hit back at the lefty, identarian activists who he thinks need to be knocked down a peg or two. He’s sorry for the direct hurt, but lacks the self reflection to see how the storm that sunk his career boiled up.

Toby Young had a platform on one of the biggest selling papers in the UK. Bankable, right wing, and not afraid of making snarky and un-PC comments. He had a role in setting up a charter school, one of David Cameron’s pet policies to, which depending upon your viewpoint, was either to try something different, or intentionally undermine the state provision of education. I took a time to read some of Toby Young’s old columns, which in honesty just reinforced why I didn’t pay him much attention. I don’t think that he was much better or worse than many other columnists writing in pretty much every newspaper and politics related magazine today. Modern journalism & social media is dominated by opinions over reporting. News is often boring facts told to you by someone you don’t know. But your favourite columnist tells a story that you want to hear, with the right villians and heroes to your tastes. 

But the privileges of being an opinion former don’t stop with simply being paid for it. You get plenty of cushy non-exec type roles in commercial entities, charities, face time with politicians. It’s because they are clubbable & bring contacts, not because they have any sector specific knowledge. In that respect, Toby Young probably just saw the govt advisory role as just another perk, not as something that had the potential to bring him down.

The problem is that if you write a snarky column about identity obsessed lefties in the Times a) the lefties probably aren’t reading it (it’s behind a paywall) and b) your editor has your back because your job is to provoke & be an obvious target. That’s what gets readers, and pays the piper at a newspaper.

But the govt has different pressures and give them too much heat, they’ll throw you under the bus. Toby Young is certainly not the first person in a semi-official capacity to be put in the public stocks on the basis of something he said years ago, but that’s the nature of social media. Everything you say online is recorded forever, and if you’ve made enemies they will go and look for it. This is probably the part he is struggling with, the part that seem unfair. He was actively encouraged to be controversial for years & repeatedly rewarded for it. Then all of a sudden, the controversy wasn’t acceptable, and everything he had done up to that point was held in evidence against him.


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