The paranoid style

January 25, 2011 § 4 Comments

Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity
— William of Ockham (attrib.)

It is hugely tempting to ascribe the fall of Andy Gray to the dark hand of Rupert Murdoch, extracting swift revenge for the Scottish bigot’s temerity in pursuing a lawsuit against the News of the World …

“Come at the king,” drawled Rupert, accepting the cigar from his red-haired consigliere, “and you’d best not miss.” Rebekah cackled sycophantically, and nodded to the waiting technicians. Operation Pair Of Tits was go.

… after all, it has a neatly sinister symmetry to it. However — while your correspondent bows to nobody in his all-round loathing of Murdoch and fully endorses Dennis Potter’s views on the man* — the notion that Gray has been the victim of a lawsuit-inspired intra-family hit is, on consideration, a touch far-fetched.

The first problem with this theory is the timing. Gray’s court documents relating to the ‘phone-hacking scandal were filed in October last year; given what has since emerged from the studios at Sky Sports, it hardly seems likely that the shadowy News Corp agents would have had to wait this long for the smoking gun. Nor does it seem likely that there would have been any need to include Keys, who, from a News Corp point of view, has been an exemplary company man.

More generally, the News of the World‘s defence against the ‘phone hacking allegations is that, in the teeth of all the evidence, it was not a company-wide practice but simply the actions or one, or two, or however many rogue agents. While the majority of commentators are sceptical, to say the least, it is vital for the consistency of this defence that News Corp accept not even the tiniest shred of culpability. For the company to be seen dabbling in messy public revenge would undermine this stance. It would also be a massive over-reaction: a glance at the scandal from a non-footballing perspective shows that Gray is simply a tiny drop in a vast ocean of malodorous tabloid shit.

It has been stated explicitly by his former employers that Gray’s dismissal follows the emergence of a third video (above), apparently recorded in December 2010. This video has two important consequences. The first (in a neat parallel with the ‘phone-hacking scandal at large) is to demonstrate that this was not an isolated incident; just one rogue conversation. To show a recurrence is to imply a pattern. And it also shows that Gray was relaxed making jokes at the expense of his female colleagues in the presence of the entire production team. The inference is that a culture of misogyny-disguised-as-banter pervaded the workplace; this in turn implies that Gray and Keys felt that they had the approval, or at least the tacit permission, of those above them.

The second consequence of this video is, from a wider football perspective, slightly depressing. It is perhaps not outlandish to suggest that Sky Sports felt that they might be able to avoid dismissing Gray or Keys over their comments as long as those comments remained confined to Sian Massey, on the grounds that a significant slice of the football world is likely to perhaps not share but at least tolerate a Neanderthal view of female officials. Jokes at the expense of women in general, however, are less easily filed under “banter”.

Taken together, the revelation of recurring and generalised misogyny on Gray’s part suggests that the reason he has been dismissed is to prevent any further damage to the brand. A one-off incident reflects badly on Gray individually; a pattern reflects badly on the program and the company at large. Look again at how comfortable and blatant Gray is in his belittling of his colleague. This is not a man operating under the constraints of a furtive bigotry; this is a man in his element. A man who thinks he’s being entertaining.

In place of the knife-in-the-back theory, let us perhaps consider a more modest yet more satisfying explanation: that the women Keys and Gray have spent the last God-knows-how-many years patronising and insulting  have finally had enough. These are the same women, after all, behind the cameras and at the sound desks, fingers hovering over record buttons. Perhaps we don’t need to posit a man in the shadows; perhaps the sisters are simply doing it for themselves. After all, Richard Keys isn’t suing anyone, and yet look what just dropped on to the ‘net …

* Full disclosure: your correspondent endorses Dennis Potter’s views on everything.

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§ 4 Responses to The paranoid style

  • Agree there’s not a direct link to the Murdoch thing, but sackings are always actions of opportunity: you weigh up the cost of letting them go with the cost of keeping them.

    So I think NOTW was one of the factors in the mix: as you yourself say Keys was a model company man and Gray was not. Therefore whereas it is Keys’ sins which were the greater, his equation remained positive whereas Grey’s dipped into the red. As you say there are many reasons for this, and the fact that customers (viewers), colleagues, and employers were heartilly sick of him was no doubt the primary one, but I’d assume NOTW made it all easier.

    After all one call from the big man would have saved him and that call was never made. Maybe it was for Keys? We’ll never know. (actually personally I think not, Rupert doesn’t micromanage in that way, he’s too busy running the entire world )

    • twistedblood says:

      While I take your point, I think it was the extension of sins over time that was the clincher: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. By demonstrating that he was a prick on two separate occasions, Gray had to go. Keys, now that’s been established with him, should be going any second now.

      None of which detracts from the point that suing your employer is – rightly or wrongly – always a bad idea. But I think Gray would have survived had this been the only incident.

  • Randy Gray says:

    “customers (viewers), colleagues, and employers were heartilly sick of him” – a lot of assumptions in there…in fact, no one I know was sick of Gray. On the contrary, we will miss his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the game – regardless of his personal flaws off the screen.

    • twistedblood says:

      While it’s obviously not my place to defend somebody else’s comment, do the emergence of the recordings not point to a certain level of colleague disquiet? And the sacking to a certain level of employer discontent?

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