In defence of Brand’s trial by media

Published by The i paper (18th September, 2023)

It is the details, as always, that are so disturbing. The violence of the alleged rape, his victim pushed up against a wall. The taxi sent to collect a 16-year-old girl from school for delivery to his home, along with the driver’s desperate pleading for her not to enter the building. The spitting in her mouth after an alleged vicious sexual assault, then forcing this teenager he allegedly nicknamed “the child” to swallow his drool. The disturbing descriptions of how the superstar’s demeanour changed in an alleged attack as he became bestial, “like the devil, like a different person literally entered his body”.

Once again the allegations of arrogance, bullying and controlling manipulation of a powerful male exploiting his elevated status to abuse women has been exposed by the media. This time the alleged perpetrator is Russell Brand, a creepy character who always made my flesh crawl with his sexism, his sleazy “humour”, his mannered style, his preening narcissism. Now the comic is back in the spotlight thanks to some superb reporting in the much-maligned “mainstream” media, a reminder of the importance of diligent journalism in a world filled with froth, misinformation and trash.

There is already a clamour, carefully stoked by Brand in his rebuttal even before the claims went public, that he is the real victim; that we are witnessing trial by media and that this is wrong.

It would be better, of course, if such cases did not have to be thrust into the public domain by reporters (although, equally, the job of journalism is to strip away artifice and reveal wrongdoing, which many in my beloved profession often seem to forget as they flatter the famous, pander to the powerful and suck up to the wealthy). And yes, we must remember that everyone – however much of a scumbag they might seem – deserves a fair hearing, the media makes mistakes, and the court of public opinion can jump to the wrong conclusions.

But equally it would be better if the police could be trusted to investigate rape and sexual assault cases properly – and stop displaying complacency over such crimes committed by their own officers. It would be better if the criminal justice system did a decent job convicting abusers and rapists. It would be better if women did not often feel defiled a second time when seeking justice as they are dragged through the system, as I have written about before in this column. It would be better if agents, media companies, executives, producers and publicists did not ignore grotesque deeds by prominent people earning them good money. And it would be better if lawyers stopped silencing women voicing justified concerns.

Above all, it would be better if we lived in a society devoid of toxic masculinity, devoid of the abuse, misogyny and sexual entitlement that makes life a misery for so many women. Instead, we must deal with the real world in which far too many men still get away with errant behaviour due to systemic failures, despite the #MeToo movement. Indeed, anyone wondering why many women do not report sexual assaults simply has to glance at the bile on social media attacking those courageous women who spoke out as “lying sluts” or “publicity seekers”.

The handful of stories told in The Sunday Times and on Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary are almost certainly the tip of a large iceberg. This was, after all, a man who boasted of being a sex addict and how “fame has been very helpful in that respect” almost two decades ago – when hailed as a “Man of The Year” in a men’s magazine.

Yet again, concern is compounded by suggestions Brand’s behaviour was an “open secret” in the entertainment world with women in the industry warning each other about him but feeling unable to speak out. Such is the laxity in this sector that Bill Wyman, who admitted to a relationship with a 13-year-old girl and bragged of bedding 1,000 women, is deemed fit to appear on the latest Rolling Stones album.

But this is not just a saga about another abusive entertainer and the acquiescence of other influential players, nor even about the astonishing naivety of many figures on the left – including two Labour leaders – who hailed this unsavoury character as a standard-bearer. For Brand used his fame and flair for publicity to reinvent himself as an “alternative” voice, presenting himself as a fighter against supposed forces of evil and oppression to millions of people who followed him down the rabbit holes of conspiracy theories and fake news.

So, he became a key player in ensuring these corrosive and divisive forces, amplified by social media, are becoming a serious threat to the well-being of our democracy. Note how among the first people to defend him were his fellow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones  – who spread vile falsehoods about the mass shooting of young children – and Andrew Tate, another alleged rapist and unashamed misogynist.

Yet such is the mistrust bubbling away in our society that many folks see an anti-establishment activist being crucified by his foes in business and government. And this sort of stuff is seeping into the mainstream. Elon Musk hints at his support for the shamed star to 157 million followers on his degenerating social media site X (formerly Twitter). Even one prominent newspaper columnist posted that her first reaction was to wonder why “They” were seeking to silence a person who “tried to bring the truth to the public”.

First and foremost, the claims about Brand underline again the desperate need to combat abusive male behaviour that wrecks the lives, careers and mental health of many women – especially when the perpetrator exploits fame and power under the protection of others. But they also expose the urgency of tackling the flood of online sewage contaminating our society with dangerous consequences. Brand poses as a well-being guru. But in reality, this self-adoring chancer exemplifies a debilitating sickness inflecting our society.

Related Posts

Categorised in: , , , ,