Here’s a joke:
Q: When is a facetious comment not a facetious comment?
A: When you don’t have a legal team and a big pile of cash.
OK, it’s not a funny joke. Maybe it wasn’t a joke. I don’t know. I wonder if The Telegraph can help us out.
First, there was an article by Andrew Critchlow in The Telegraph, in which he argued that “people who load their bikes with cameras and submit countless traffic violations to the police aren’t helping society or themselves.”
Critchlow says that “in my experience (I raced bicycles at international level and survived a stint as a London courier rider) cyclists are actually more likely to break the rules of the road than motorists.” (Answers on a postcard, please, as to how international racing is of any relevance; I’m stumped.)
Of course, there’s nothing necessarily factually wrong with that statement, and no-one denies that some people break some rules when they’re on bikes; but if you look at the actual data, Critchlow’s alleged experience doesn’t seem likely to hold water. If you check the RAC Report on Motoring 2012, you’ll find 83% of motorists openly admitting to regular speeding, for instance. Want more figures? Knock yourself out. And here’s some goverment data on contributory factors in collisions:
Following that article, road.cc published an article about the same subject, referencing Critchlow’s and pointing out some data that, again, called his opinion into question.
Then there was Twitter, where numerous people objected in various ways to Critchlow’s piece; whether citing data, or reasoning calmly, or simply shouting it down. Some became a little frustrated, no doubt partly due to Critchlow’s playground-level debating:
.@D__enigma @merkurho @bike3isavolvo @Telegraph I have cycled more miles than you 3 and your combined followers on twitter put together.
— Andy Critchlow (@baldersdale) October 8, 2014
One tweet, from road.cc’s “editor at large” John Stevenson, expressed this frustration as follows: “Can someone please just have Andrew Critchlow taken out and shot? Thx.”
At this point… Well, The Telegraph explains:
Mr Critchlow decided to contact the police. He reported the matter to Cambridgeshire Constabulary, but they referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police, who have now taken a witness statement from Mr Critchlow. He also reported the matter to Twitter who suspended Mr Stevenson’s account.
A few others on Twitter did some digging and found some other articles on The Telegraph’s website.
For example, here’s a Telegraph television review, casually referring to people, “some of whom you would cheerfully have taken out and shot”.
Here’s Telegraph columnist Damian Thompson arguing that “someone should be shot at dawn”.
Here’s Telegraph columnist Douglas Murray arguing that “the people who have been advising the Tory party for the last five years should be taken out and shot”. Interestingly, he notes that Telegraph columnist James Delingpole, in an earlier piece, “didn’t quite say that.”
I say “interestingly”, because here’s Telegraph columnist James Delingpole arguing that Jeremy Clarkson was wrong to be criticised for saying that “public sector workers who took part in [a] strike should be shot”, in an article entitled “Jeremy Clarkson’s critics should be taken out and shot”:
[Clarkson] was employing it as a figure of speech. I know this won’t mean much to half the morons who complained to the BBC yesterday, but the English language is an extraordinarily rich and nuanced thing. Sometimes, when the speaker says that someone should be shot, he really does mean it: if, say, it’s an officer giving orders to a firing squad about to shoot a deserter or a looter in 1915. More often, though, he doesn’t. For at least the last fifty years “they should be taken out and shot,” has been a socially acceptable, perfectly unexceptionable way of expressing colourfully and vehemently one’s distaste towards a particular category of unpleasantness, be it striking Unison workers, revolting students, poorly performing members of your football team or the Lib Dem members of Cameron’s cabinet. Context is all.
One might be tempted to say this is all rather hypocritical of The Telegraph, who — as far as I can tell — seem to have been quite supportive of Critchlow’s mawkish protestations.
What’s going on here? Letters to the editor to try and find out, anyone?