Kevin Myers had a long career in journalism until a 2017 column he wrote commenting on the salaries of BBC presenters Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz was judged to be antisemetic. Although he apologised for any offence caused, he has not written for mainstream press since. Reliving the whole affair and the career that saw him cover several conflicts including Northern Ireland for his new memoir, Kevin told David Hennessy that when ‘they come for you, they are merciless and systematic’.
Kevin Myers has covered the Troubles at their height as well as reporting from war zones such as Sarajevo and Lebanon as a journalist with The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and The Sundays Times.
However, it is probably his 2017 Sunday Times column about gender pay disparity in the BBC when he referenced Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz being Jewish and the ensuing row about antisemetism and misogyny that he is more remembered.
Myers wrote: “I note that two of the best paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them.
“Jews are not general 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.”
The first he knew of the controversy was when he was driving back from west Cork that Sunday and he heard another man tell his son, ‘That there is Kevin Myers. He’s very famous and he’s in big, big trouble’.
That column would be his last for the Sunday Times and he has been shunned by the mainstream press ever since.
Kevin’s new memoir, Burning Heresies, goes through his entire journalistic career but starts and ends with the whole 2017 affair.
Kevin told The Irish World that defending himself against the ‘scandalous treatment’ that he received was a major motivation for writing the new memoir: “What was done to me was far more outrageous than anything I did. And what was done to me was deliberate and sustained.
“Mine was an oversight, a few lazy moments one Thursday morning. What was done over the next month was deliberate and sustained and malevolent. Nobody’s reputation can survive that kind of malevolence or that kind of systematic abuse.
“I had to put on record the years that I had been working within the Irish Times and later the Irish Independent and Sunday Times because it’s necessary but the need for that record became more and more acute after the scandalous treatment I received three years ago. That was really unspeakable, it was grotesque. What was done to me was a violation of all the journalistic ethics and laws. My words were misrepresented. Lies were told about me, magnified and repeated around the world. People must know the perils journalism is engaged in if journalists allow lies to triumph over truth. Not merely did they allow lies to triumph over truth. They encouraged lies to triumph over truth particularly in the mainstream media in Ireland but also in Britain.
“I was a worldwide story. North Korea had fired a missile over Guam that Saturday night. I was number one news story on BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC Television News. I was number one story, missile over Guam was number two. That’s completely insane.”
Kevin apologised for any offence caused but was being denounced by the paper he had previously written for and labelled a holocaust denier by Ireland’s national broadcaster.
“I was called a holocaust denier. I was called an antisemite and I was called a misogynist. These three allegations had never been made about me before. The people who accused me of those three things had never made those allegations before. The Jewish Representative Council said, ‘Kevin Myers has told the Irish people truth about the holocaust they would not have otherwise known’. Yet, I was still called a holocaust denier. The Jewish Representative Council said that I wasn’t an antisemite, I had ‘inadvertently’ by their own account strayed into ‘antisemitic tropes’ but I am not an antisemite. That’s why the Jewish Representative Council have invited to every one of their functions in the last three years.
“The holocaust denial was largely a confabulation of a group of Guardian journalists. I had written 30 or 40 articles about the holocaust, more. I have never denied the holocaust. What I denied in one article was that the holocaust was all about Auschwitz. Holocaust means ‘burnt in one fire’. Most of the killings were done by soldiers. It was a far vaster and more terrible operation than the simple operation of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. That was my point but for that article to have been picked up as it was that Sunday and turned into the lie that I’m a holocaust denier was a disgrace.
“Then on the Monday morning RTE began its Morning Ireland programme by saying Kevin Myers had written an article denying the holocaust. No, I didn’t. That became an official lie from the national broadcaster and that did me terrible damage.
“I had a reputation in Ireland for 20 years of being the only defender of Israel in the media. The only one.
“You might not agree with my opinions about Israel but they don’t make me an antisemite. The Jewish Representative Council would not have sided with me and invited me to so many affairs had I been an antisemite.”
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland sided with Kevin on this one but amazingly RTE rejected their judgement: “That’s their policing body. I sued and RTE settled nearly a year ago. There’s an unconditional apology on Morning Ireland but RTE News never reported that and RTE deleted the apology from the podcast.
“If somebody’s saying nice things about Kevin Myers or if the outcome is good for Kevin Myers, RTE and the Irish Times stay silent. If it’s bad for Kevin Myers, RTE and the Irish Times will be more than happy to announce it.
“If this continues, if misrepresentation of the truth becomes the norm, if people are allowed to get away with destroying reputations whimsically and without any evidence or justification, you could say hello to the triumph of cancel culture and goodbye to the freedom of the press.
“Now for the misogyny thing, two women gave me €1,000 to sue Rupert Murdoch and countless women came up to me and said, ‘You are not a misogynist. This is madness’. If I were a misogynist, where are the allegations that I was a misogynist throughout the entire 20th century? There are none so I had to get the record straight.
“Also, I had to give the people some sense of the kind of person that I am which is not the caricature that was created on the internet and in the mainstream media three years ago. I’m a person who has covered wars. I’m a person who normally writes non-controversial articles. I’m a person who is human like everyone else. I have the same weaknesses and the same appetites as everybody else. I’m not a caricature. I’m just an ordinary human being.
“Ordinary people have sided with me. That is the extraordinary thing. I’ve never had a word of abuse from normal people. They just can’t believe what happened. They know that the figure that was being presented to them in the media is a caricature invented by my fellow journalists, not based on reality. I’m a weak, stupid, ignorant, incompetent person in many ways like we all are but I’m none of the things they accuse me of.”
Since 2017, Kevin has written for websites in Australia, Canada and some in London. He says he has ‘limited sympathy’ for JK Rowling who found herself the target of the lynch mob more recently regarding transgender issues as the Harry Potter author tweeted Kevin’s controversial article to her many followers calling it ‘filth’: “She has 13 million followers and she attacked me. She knows nothing about me.”
Kevin was denounced by other public figures such as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who labelled him as both antisemetic and misogynistic. Kevin says he found out who his real friends were when it all happened.
“The people who I thought were my friends stayed silent. That’s a very hard thing to describe because it was a clarification that nobody actually wants to have in life. You don’t want to discover which ones of your so-called friends are actually ‘so-called’. It’s the people who fall silent when they should be speaking out.
“When they come for you, they really do come for you and they are merciless and very systematic. The Irish Times in particular went for me. Fintan O’Toole had two attacks calling me a misogynist over four days: Two full columns attacking me as a misogynist. Misogyny is a very serious matter so if somebody is a misogynist in public life he should be outed, he should be named. He never accused me of misogyny ever before in the 20 years that he had been a columnist in the Irish Times.
“But while I was on fire, while I was being tied to the stake, he came at me and Kathy Sheridan (Irish Times features writer) did the same. She put words that I had never used into my mouth. She said that I had accused feminists of being ‘femi-Nazis’. I’ve never used the language she attributed to me.
“Of course, my book is not about just that weekend. That’s the beginning and end but there were many years in between.”
This is true. Kevin writes about being abducted by Palestinian soldiers, only saved by Israeli bombs coming before the receipt from his trip to Israel got him killed.
Is this the most scared he has ever been in a war zone? “That was quite short in duration. There were two times I was abducted in Beirut. There was the time when the interrogation was interrupted by the arrival of Israeli bombers. The El-Al airline had counterfolds in those days on credit cards. I thought that the uncurling counterfold would be my death sentence.
“But that didn’t last long because by chance the Israeli bombers arrived. I was scared then and I was scared then when I was put through the mock execution. That’s terror of several minutes. Getting into Sarajevo was terror lasting several hours and throughout much of that time I really thought I was going to die.”
Despite being told he could tag along with a UN convoy, Kevin had to enter Sarajevo alone.
“I didn’t see any possibility of survival. Nothing I did then was brave. It wasn’t an issue of bravery. The issue was simply staying alive and I had to keep on moving because I couldn’t survive another nightfall. I needed to get somewhere safe. I couldn’t, having spent night on a mountainside by myself, I didn’t think I had it in me. I wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go so I had to keep pressing on. With all the various actions that were taking place I was quite sure there was no possibility of my continuing the journey and surviving.
“I had no maps, I had no knowledge of where I was going. I was completely ignorant about the situation and I thought I was joining a UN convoy into Sarajevo. The convoy turned away and that was that so I made my own way. I have to say I’m glad I did it. It was an experience that not many people would have had. But at the time when you think, you really could die. Well, I could really die.
“The loneliness is one of the most intensifying things because there isn’t anyone to give you strength or give you wisdom.”
Kevin also reveals that the IRA discussed killing him.
“I’ve been told that the IRA Army Council discussed shooting me. Now, that’s not unusual. The IRA Army Council, that’s what they did for a living: Discussed shooting people and they killed lots of people. They didn’t kill me. They made a decision, as far as I can work out, not to kill me but the name did come up. I think after Veronica Guerin, they knew that the price to pay would have been too high but it was certainly discussed as far as I’m told. I was told by a senior British Army officer, I was told by a Garda chief superintendent. I was told through (IRA informer) Sean O’Callaghan whose minders had told him that they had heard that the IRA Army Council had discussed. It was a compliment of a kind that my name came up.
“Thousands of people were on the IRA’s death list: People who had been in the UDR, people who were in the UDR, the RUC reserve, the RUC contractors and so on. The list is vast. I just happened to be on it.”
Asked if he regretted anything that brought his threat upon himself, Kevin says: “No. I regret writing some of the things I’ve written but never the stuff I’ve written about the IRA. That’s where I stood and that’s where I stand.”
Kevin long campaigned for some recognition of the Irish who died fighting in the First and Second World Wars. While Irish families once did not want to even acknowledge it, he feels attitudes have now softened.
“There will always be a few lunatics who resent it. I think earlier on this year some vandals broke up the memorial to the British soldiers killed in 1916 which is truly shocking, scandalous but overall, the opinions have been radically transformed in recent decades.
“When I began my campaign a long time ago nobody knew that hundreds of thousands of Irishmen had served in the British forces in the first war and many tens of thousands in the second World War. It simply wasn’t known and certainly wasn’t part of the state commemoration.
“Finally it became possible to admit it but it took well over a decade for people to feel free to come out and admit their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, whatever had served in the British forces during one war or the other.
“I remember I admitted in my column that my grandfather had been in the RIC and Douglas Gageby came up to me and said, ‘Are you trying to get us burnt out?’ It’s not embarrassing for me. It’s the truth. The RIC were well respected men, upholding the rule of law. They weren’t oppressors, they were just upholding the rule of law. All society needs to have law.
“It was so pleasing in difficult, tragic circumstances when a Royal Marine Commando Robert McKibben from Mayo was killed in action in Afghanistan, he was given a funeral in his hometown and the marines were there in uniform: Full military funeral complete with a volley of shots over the grave and no arguments, no rows, no disputes.
“Likewise when Ian Malone was killed in action in Iraq in 2003. He got a full military funeral in Ballyfermot and not a word of complaint.”
Burning Heresies by Kevin Myers is out now on Merrion Press.