Stephen Mulholland in fairyland

David Bullard calls for the 78 year old Business Times columnist to be cut some slack

What a boring December it was. Firstly the world didn't end on the 21st as predicted which would have got me out of at least four deadlines for early January. Secondly, that whole Mangaung thing was incredibly dull. Apparently 850 accredited journos flocked to the place all looking for an exclusive that didn't exist. I have to doff my hat to real journos. There they all were, queuing for hours in the sweltering heat for their press cards and spending the best part of the week in great discomfort when they could have been out Christmas shopping or lying by the pool (do journos have houses with pools I wonder?) with a cool one. And all for what? Nothing apart from the re-emergence of the great whitey wet dream candidate Cyril Ramaphosa as a sort of steadying hand on the ANC tiller. Other than that there was nothing of the remotest interest to report.

Which is why it was a great relief when Stephen Mulholland came to the rescue with his first Sunday Times column of the year on the duty same sex parents have to tell their children not to emulate Dad and Dad or Mum and Mum if they want to have kids of their own. I don't know much about the state of sex education in our schools (although I believe there is lots of practical extra-curricular tuition after hours in the rural areas and elsewhere) but I suspect that most kids have already worked out that it takes a male and a female to make a baby by the time they're ten.

After a brief introduction outlining the topic Mulholland got into the swing of things with a short history of great homosexuals and the contributions they have made "from business to the arts, theatre, sport, literature, science, medicine, politics, the media, theatre, music and films". I'm not too sure why theatre got two mentions in the same sentence; maybe Mulholland meant to write hairdressing. So it's quite obvious that Steve is pretty impressed that some of these gays have turned out all right after all. I mean despite this handicap they bear.

He then goes on to mention that he "knowingly encountered" his first gay adult about 60 years ago. Aha, I thought, it's going to be a Catholic priest but no such luck. It was a film critic on a newspaper but the good news (or maybe not) is that he didn't find the youthful Steve a sufficient turn on and left him alone. This is just as well because 60 years ago homosexuality was a criminal offence and one shudders to think of the devastating effect it might have had on an embryonic journalistic career.

Mulholland waffles on with one eye on the word count on the bottom left corner of his computer screen and finally reaches his awkwardly phrased denouement which is that being gay isn't great if you want to preserve the human race. You can't argue with the logic of that now can you?

Within hours of the same column being carried on the BDLive website certain members of the Twitterati were frothing with fury. Mulholland was obviously homophobic they shrieked and shouldn't have been allowed to write such things. What was BDLive doing carrying such rubbish and why had the editor of the Sunday Times even published something which was bound to offend so many gays and gay sympathisers?

The answer to those questions is simple. BDLive's content source, Business Day, is a Monday to Friday newspaper so cannibalises copy from its sibling publications on a Sunday just to give the page a fresh look. And as far as the Sunday Times is concerned....well, we know that it's a proud tradition on that paper for the editor not to read what his columnists write. Steve's column almost certainly "slipped through the system".

The baying for blood became ever louder and Mulholland was escalated from a homophobe to an all round bad guy who was almost certainly racist, misogynistic and a drowner of cute kittens. It was a classic case of a very bored Twitterati blowing something out of all proportion.

But worse was to come. The following morning Mulholland was invited to explain his views to Eusebius McKaiser, the openly gay talk show host from Talk Radio 702. If Mulholland had bothered to do any homework at all he would have known that McKaiser was gay and that he was up against a man who holds the 2011 World Masters Debate Champion title. Mulholland is anything but an eloquent speaker and it was a painful interview with him alternately jocular and then threatening as he attempted to explain the pain many parents go through when they discover their children are batting for the other side.

"Are you a parent"? Mulholland demanded of McKaiser before telling him that he wouldn't understand the anguish that this terrible news brings to a "normal" family. Mulholland then went on to drive home the point that gay relationships, while legal and protected by the constitution, aren't much use if you want to keep the human race going. Not his finest hour I'm afraid.

The following day another prominent gay voice, the respected constitutional law academic Pierre de Vos, weighed in with an article accusing Mulholland of bigotry and prejudice and deconstructing the previous day's McKaiser interview.

As those of us who specialise in character assassination for a living know only too well the rules are very simple. You must always paint the victim as utterly evil and distort (or even invent) what they have said to achieve these ends. By the Tuesday following the publication of the "homophobic" column all Mulholland's past glories in a long and distinguished career in journalism had been eclipsed by the labels "bigot and homophobe".

Now I mention this sorry affair because I think it is just another worrying example of an attack on freedom of speech and of the most repulsive public bullying of an elderly man to satisfy the blood lust of the gibbering classes.

Firstly, as de Vos points out, the article was appallingly written and could have done with the guiding hand of a sub-editor although, alas, these creatures are as rare as unicorns in today's print media. However, it was only obnoxious to those sensitive enough to read it as such and to subsequently label Mulholland a gay basher and bigot. But why should any of us feel compelled to suppress our opinions simply because they may offend somebody?

That is the beginning of the end of free speech and political correctness, as we know, is the greatest enemy of freedom of expression. I don't happen to think Mulholland is a homophobe or a bigot but if he has views which don't accord with mine then I am quite happy with that.

I would no more demand that his column be dropped immediately or that he should be publicly humiliated for his views than I would wish to permanently silence the many absurdities that fall from the lips of our more leftist politicians. Freedom of speech is non-negotiable and carries with it the risk of offence.

My second point is the evident delight the media and the Twitterati took in putting the boot into Mulholland. Eusebius McKaiser is a friend of mine and I enjoy his programmes. But I suspect he is well aware that he needs to chase ratings and the Mulholland interview made for good radio. What it didn't take into account was the fact that Mulholland, at 78, was already in his thirties when homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967.

It was even later that it was decriminalised in this country. The prevalent culture for much of Mulholland's life was to see gay men as hilariously camp comic figures. The most successful British TV sitcoms (Are you being served? It aint half hot Mum) running in the 1970's and 1980's had gay central characters which would now be frowned upon as "insensitive stereotyping" by humourless PC lefties.

Given the circumstances it's hardly surprising that a 78 year old man is not going to be quite as relaxed with the topic of homosexuality as someone even twenty years his junior. So cut the poor guy some slack and don't hang the homophobe and bigot labels around his neck. His contribution to SA journalism deserves better than that. 

Politicsweb contributors David Bullard and Eusebius McKaiser will be arguing about South Africa's future over breakfast at the Sandton Convention Centre on 30th book click here.

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