There’s an article in today’s Herald which covers both a fraudulent Tory having to pay back ill-gained expenses and an illicit homosexual affair in a hotel room. Or so you might think if you read the papers the way most people do.
The implication concerning the former is obvious. Tory MSP Ross Thompson has been forced by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to pay back £120 he claimed for a hotel room he wasn’t allowed to. Except it wasn’t the SPCB who made him pay it back; it was his own party and the reason they did this was because it might be interpreted as less-than-good; not because there was any actual evidence to suggest wrongdoing had occurred.
So that, as they say, would be that. Barely newsworthy, you’d be forgiven for thinking. But therein you miss the meat of the article. The clue’s in the sixth word of the subheading. A Tory sharing a room with someone from Labour isn’t all that exciting, but a “male friend”? Well that’s more intriguing, isn’t it?
In case you were as to any doubt as to the importance of both sleepers’ gender, article writer Daniel Sanderson rubs the point harder in the second paragraph by pointing out that Mr Thompson is, “in a civil partnership.”
It’s impolite, to say nothing of jarring, to refer to the subject of an article as, “one of them gays” but pointing out in an innocuous fashion that said subject is in a civil partnership is absolutely fine. And necessary, when discussing MSP expenses, of course.
The article then spends some time talking to one of Mr Thompson’s colleagues (the anonymous kind, of course) about how he is ambitious, inexperienced, immature, a renegade, and a problem.
It’s towards the bottom of the article, when almost all readers have departed for saucier climates that this reasonably important line makes it in.
There is no suggestion of anything beyond a working relationship and friendship between the pair.
You might wonder again, at this point, why the need for the article in the first place. An MSP was asked to pay back £120 of expenses because it might look bad, and he did so. There’s no suggestion the expenses were claimed illegally. Because they’ve been paid back so quickly they won’t even make it into the SPCG’s annual report. Neither Mr Thompson nor the Scottish Conservatives have anything to say regarding the matter. That’s a sidebar stub if ever there was one.
So why does the article go on for so long? What does it matter who was in the room with Mr Thompson if the concern is merely the cost? Why start off by effectively saying, “a gay man was in a hotel room with another man who wasn’t his husband,” then devote more than a few lines to the questioning of his character before quietly slipping in at the end, “but no one’s saying he did anything wrong”?
I don’t like knee-jerk reactions and I’d like to think the best of Mr Sanderson, but this article leaves a decidedly scummy line around the tub. It’s entirely possible that this is just a bad amalgamation of two separate articles; one small one concerning a non-event, and another larger one concerning the controversial (if you’re into such matters) hiring of a Labour man by a Tory.
But it’s also possible that this is something else, and the fact that the thought even arises betrays a lax editorial standard at the Herald where language open to such an interpretation evidently goes by without a double take. Mr Thompson’s civil partnership has nothing whatsoever to do with anything mentioned in this article. The only reason to mention it at all, let alone so prominently in the second paragraph is to let you know immediately that you’re reading about a gay man. The only reason to mention the sex of the other person in the room, let alone in the subheading itself, is to invite snide speculation as to the private actions of a gay man when he’s alone in a room with someone of the same sex and a bed.
This may not be deliberate. Hopefully it’s not. But it’s there. It happened. You can read it for yourself. People used to expect more from the Herald. This is one small example of why they no longer do.