The real problem with Laurie Penny

Posted on April 4, 2012

It can’t be easy being Laurie Penny.

For a start, being the self-appointed voice of the young must be a heavy responsibility – particularly when so many of the young keep thinking things you don’t agree with.

Then there’s the difficulty of carving out a media career in New York, a place somewhat less vulnerable to the British Left’s obsession with appointing new Messiahs of the Media every 6 months or so.

Even when you give in to the temptation to abandon your RiotGrrl anti-paternalism and write a traffic-hunting piece swooning over a Hollywood star who, you claim, saved you from death-by-traffic, irritating bloggers crop up pointing out that your story bears remarkable similarities to the plot of a Natalie Portman film.

Now, having inherited the seat left vacant by Johann Hari’s ignominious demise as the previous pen-wielding star of the young left, people start snooping around suggesting you have perhaps polished reality or even made things up to fit your articles. There’s even a hashtag, #pennygate, set up a couple of weeks ago by the guy who brought Hari down.

I must confess that as all of these things pile up, I can’t get too excited about whether Laurie is the new Johann or not. There is speculation, there are undoubtedly people hunting through her past works for fabrications or plagiarism, and who knows if they will find anything.

It’s true that Laurie is almost unique among journalists in always happening to overhear the quote that perfectly and precisely proves her point, regardless of whether she’s in the middle of a riot, trapped in an alley by the EDL or having her bum pinched on a sweaty dance floor. Indeed, I questioned a couple of years ago whether all of her quotes, which tend to read like a poor Grange Hill script, are genuine. Maybe she’s just immensely lucky, all the time; maybe she has remarkable hearing superior to that of ordinary humans; or maybe there’s something more scandalous to it.

It would be interesting to know, but even if the worst was proved it would not be the most fundamental problem with her journalism.

The problem with Laurie is far more important than that.

Laurie’s journalism is flawed because of her worldview.

There’s nothing wrong with biased journalism. Whether you read the original gonzo journalists or, you believe truly balanced journalism is an impossibility, bias has plenty going for it. It is human nature.

Laurie’s worldview suffers not because it is biased, but because it is so hypocritical and so inconsistent.

For an investigative commentator who paints a picture of herself as a kind of war correspondent on the streets of London and New York, she has a remarkable dedication to double think. On Planet Penny, everything is a bit topsy turvy.

Those who loot shops are excused, having been forced into their crime by a wicked society; those who go to work or stay at home watching TV are bad, and by daring to enjoy the fruits of their own labour are personally responsible for forcing those looters to nick flat screen TVs.

Those who use violence against the police are protecting themselves and epitomising the beautiful flame of youthful rebellion; those policemen who hit back are not protecting themselves or others, they are simply autobots carrying out the personal orders of David Cameron/Rupert Murdoch/Andy Coulson to smash what is beautiful.

Those who are on the Left are well informed, have made their own minds up and base everything on evidence; those on the Right just think what they are told by their parents and have obviously never read any history. At worst, the Left are just keen on serving good; at best, the Right are genetically incapable of disobeying the master class.

Those are just some of the peculiar distortions that she embeds in her work. We can also consider the factual distortions inherent in her argument.

Take, for example, the idea that the West is at war with itself. To read Laurie’s work, you’d think every family is riven by violent generational hatred, every student is planning the downfall of the state, every relationship is one of power struggles, and every Primark lies empty because its ethos is so corrosive to the human soul that anyone entering a shop immediately tears at the hair and vomits uncontrollably.

This is, put simply, balls.

But you knew that, because you only need to hold up Laurie’s picture of the world next to the reality that you see every day to realise there is a remarkable discrepancy between the two. As much as she may hate the idea, most families are pretty happy, most people would like a successful career, most consumers enjoy the ability to buy new ipods or to prettify their house. Whisper it, most people are even willing to believe that their partners really do love them, rather than viewing them as foreign ambassadors negotiating a temporary inter-gender armistice.

I suppose it must be deeply frustrating to have to struggle every day to uphold an ideology that, no matter how strongly you promote it, keeps running up against inconvenient fundamental human emotions like aspiration, pleasure, loving one’s family and that kind of thing. Laurie has let that frustration disconnect her writing from reality.

In short, the problem with Laurie isn’t that some of her reported quotes or experiences may (allegedly) be untrue. It’s that all the things she asserts so strongly about human nature are untrue – and no journalism course can set that right.



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Categories: Culture, Opinion, Politics


34 Responses

  1. Adrian:

    The witness to the Ryan Gosling incident who called Laurie a ‘lucky bitch’ identified herself, which renders the whole conjectural piece by the ‘irritating blogger’ irrelevant.

    30.04.2012 15:54 Reply

    • Richypoo:

      Oh really? Can you please provide a link to anything that supports your statement?
      BTW, if you find CBW to be such an irrelevant ‘irritating blogger’, why get involved with his blog and increase his site footfall? I suspect you are another brainless lightweight Pennyred acolyte, but you can prove me an idiot if you just provide the evidence for your statement.

      25.06.2012 12:15 Reply

  2. SadButMadLad:

    Sounds like Penny might be another candidate for the Walter Duranty Prize. For an explanation visit http://www.annaraccoon.com/politics/the-walter-duranty-prize/. Basically it’s the opposite of the Pulitzer Prize.

    I’ve put in my submission for Johann Hari.

    30.04.2012 22:36 Reply

  3. Stu:

    I just dont believe that qoutes and situations like this really happened…

    “Sucking down fresh Belgravia air and nicotine in the street, I meet a young graduate in a pink shirt who decides to share my lighter and his left-libertarian misgivings. “The Thatcher thing is weirdly sexualised, isn’t it?” he says. “I heard one of them saying that it’d be a privilege to lick her boots.” It’s almost as if the right can’t express respect for any woman without declaring her super-sexy.”

    02.05.2012 18:03 Reply

  4. Chloe King:

    Sometimes Penny’s articles don’t always hit the mark and she can be a bit hit and miss. I am an artist, activist and writer, I don’t always get it right I research until my eyes go red and sometimes I get it wrong so does Pilger, Fisk and other radical voices for the left.

    I am 26 years old, one year older than Laurie. I don’t always agree with her but there is something desperately wrong with this world – at least she has the courage to say it. We do, as people, need to stand up against the corrupt governments of this world; the oppression and violence and say NO. In the words of Martin Lurther King, ‘the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.’ We live in morally conflicted times.

    I am glad Penny does not always get it right. Because it reminds me as a woman I don’t have to always get it right either. So fuck her haters. I think she is right we need to get more angry and we do need to fight back.

    03.05.2012 09:26 Reply

    • Aaron D Highside:

      Calm down, dear.

      04.05.2012 08:05 Reply

    • Johnnydub:

      “there is something desperately wrong with this world” – yes politicians who promise the world paid for with other people’s money, and naive fools who believe them mostly…

      04.05.2012 09:16 Reply

    • blingmun:

      You may be right about there being something desperately wrong with the world but that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone needs to get “angry and fight back” or redistribute income. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin was right,

      “If you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas.”

      04.05.2012 10:58 Reply

    • sackcloth and ashes:

      ‘We do, as people, need to stand up against the corrupt governments of this world; the oppression and violence and say NO’.

      Best of luck with your trip to Syria, Chloe.

      04.05.2012 11:13 Reply

    • Matt Wardman:

      >’haters’

      I think one problem of shouty young radicals is that you confuse criticism and ‘hate’. It just means that you keep vanishing down the same plughole time after time; no one will listen because it is always the same drivel shouted through the same grip.

      I don’t calm down, Chloe, I say look outside the bubble you are thinking inside.

      For example, this, quoted – I ask you – as an alleged account of history:
      http://www.newstatesman.com/node/41388/

      “When I was in Year 8, if you went to a certain field behind the school and shouted a certain code-word halfway up a certain tree, a pulley would be lowered, at the end of which you would be allowed to glimpse, for a few wicked seconds, a picture of Anna Kournikova’s bottom.

      I know this because my superior spatial reasoning skills were enlisted in the design of the pulley system, in return for which I didn’t get orange juice poured into my rucksack for a whole month. Kids will always find ways to get hold of dirty pictures – and politicians will invariably pitch for votes by trying to stop them.”

      What hope is there if alleged thought leaders come out with that sort of garbage?

      I rather think the jocks were winding up the class nerd, and she didn’t notice. Kids at Brighton College not having access to the Internet, filled with pics of AK’s knickers, in 1999?

      Pull the other one; its got bells on.

      04.05.2012 12:30 Reply

    • Loftytom:

      A sock puppet for Laurie methinks.
      I wonder who taught her that…………………………

      04.05.2012 17:30 Reply

    • test:

      Grow up eh? This is England. We put doilies on top of lavatory seats. Everything’s a bit naff. We spend too much money on the state mollycoddling everyone and this figure is going up. The Government isn’t corrupt or violent; only a few middle-class Student Grants like Penny think so, caring, as they do, vicariously for others. We don’t need “anger”. We need a cup of tea and a sit down.

      05.05.2012 01:34 Reply

    • Major Plonquer:

      I agree 100%. Except for the bit about Martin Lurther King. Are you related by any chance? However, it’s very disrespectful use the shorthand version of the Great Man’s name like you did. In future you should give him the respect he’s due and refer to him as The Reverend Doctor Martin Lurther King Junior.

      Incidentally, Martin Lurther King was named after the original Martin Lurther who complained against the Catholic Church by nailing his feces to the door of a church in Gotterdamerung.

      05.05.2012 09:19 Reply

    • Victoria:

      You seem to be the same silly sort of ill-informed girly, although you probably think you’re a ladette, as Penny. Read some older feminist literature, Greer for instance (Germaine, not Bonny). You won’t get anywhere against the Patriarchy and sort out the world’s mess if you see things in the same frame of reference as they do. Your phrase “fight back” is indicative of the problem. If you can only see solutions in terms of violence, even if merely metaphorical, then you have already lost. The fact that you need this explaining is depressing.

      06.05.2012 10:56 Reply

  5. therealguyfaux:

    There is nothing more insufferable than one of these “Bright Young Things,” who seem to think that, in the grand scheme of things, anything they say MATTERS.

    03.05.2012 23:38 Reply

  6. mikey:

    For goodness sake ignore her. She’s a meaningless nonentity though I hope that she matures in coming years, beyond the derivative student claptrap. At present her articles read like entries in a sixth form magazine – her employers have let her air as they are similar to their own doctrinal views which everybody with any sense also ignores.

    04.05.2012 00:01 Reply

  7. Technomist:

    I think you are onto something, but is it not partly explained by her immaturity?

    04.05.2012 00:27 Reply

  8. smell the glove:

    Oh dear, Quote Martin L.k .and that makes you right.. Is this the (Revrend) Martin L.k . that was banging anything that could walk whilst married. Maybe the place where he is just now is quite warm!

    04.05.2012 07:40 Reply

  9. FrankFisher:

    Penny’s big problem is that she’s an idiot – but then that’s endemic on the Left; and among the young, to be candid. The young mostly learn, the Left never do. I would not be surprised to find that she makes quotes up to suit her needs – but then, Penny’s best ‘quotes’ are vox pops – untraceable.

    And on her world view – there’s nothing there, I assume she thinks, that a Pol Pot, Stalin or Mao couldn’t fix.

    04.05.2012 08:37 Reply

  10. Stuck-Record:

    Red Lorry’s worldview is predicated on there being a problem with reality. Without that problem, her rage at existence is unjustified. Without it, her rage reveals itself as simply the articulate ravings of the ‘Kevin’ mind. A more literary version of: “That’s Soooo unfair!”

    04.05.2012 08:49 Reply

  11. marc:

    Re the link to the deno, I don’t think I have ever read a more juvenile or pathetic piece of writing if it can be called that.

    04.05.2012 09:28 Reply

  12. Frederick James:

    I don’t think it’s as complicated as the author makes out. The egregious Penny has identified a gap in the market, has been endowed with the privileged education and the contacts needed to exploit it, and is doing so for profit. When the day comes that newspaper publishers no longer want to pay her for one set of “principles”, she no doubt has plenty of others.

    04.05.2012 09:33 Reply

  13. bloke in spain:

    There’s a weird aspect to her writing in that every time I’ve read her I get this feeling I’ve been transported back to the late sixties & the next police car goes by will be a Ford Zodiac. Do today’s yoof talk exactly the same as we did in ’68 or has she a stash of antique Oz & IT’s she mines for material?

    04.05.2012 09:46 Reply

  14. John P Reid:

    Since she’s moved to the Indpendent, I haven’t read any articles about how it must be fabrication that Alfie meadows wasn’t hit by another protester throwing A brick and it was A copper hitting him on the head with A truncheon afterall, Let alone how he must of been framed because it was A hung jury in His affray charge, she laughed on the Daily politcs that Boris Johnson was Mayor, is she laughing now he’s been re elected. And Of course Mark duggan didn’t have A gun he was executed for no reason Yes Laurie that really happened, At elast the Indy has got the decency to not print such tosh.

    04.05.2012 09:49 Reply

  15. Herbert:

    ‘Those who are on the Left are well informed, have made their own minds up and base everything on evidence; those on the Right just think what they are told by their parents and have obviously never read any history. At worst, the Left are just keen on serving good; at best, the Right are genetically incapable of disobeying the master class.’

    Oh dear, deep down in your heart you know that’s true. Why not face it?

    04.05.2012 10:22 Reply

    • blingmun:

      Instead of Right and Left, perhaps it would be less confusing if we used the terms Goodies and Baddies.

      04.05.2012 11:10 Reply

  16. Martin:

    You can add in the god awful Owen Jones as well. He’s the male version of Penny. Has anyone ever listened to Jones spout his ‘statistics’? You really should, how he manages to make up so much crap is beyond me. He did however get taken down by Andrew Neil on ‘This Week’ a few weeks back. Check it out on Youtube.

    The left are full of it, all of a sudden we men are nasty for sticking it to women on Twitter, yet the left have been sticking it to the likes of Sarah Palin calling her and her family the most disgusting things and the sisterhood either ignored it, nodded or joined it. I won’t take lessons on anything off the lefties like Penny or Jones.

    04.05.2012 14:10 Reply

  17. Rh-:

    its just a shame that owen and penny arent ever going to get together as a couple … their offspring would be a political comedic genius since both of them in-duh-vidually can reduce me to tears of laughter.

    04.05.2012 16:12 Reply

  18. Kevin T:

    Like Owen Jones and Johann Hari, Penny is where she is because she plays the idealistic, angry revolutionary that the ageing leftists who run the Guardian and the Independent think probably represent the modern youth. It’s no coincidence that all of them come aross as being about 3 decades behind the times, missing only the CND t-shirts and cords.

    04.05.2012 16:26 Reply

  19. Bob:

    Laurie Penny is a strange case because amongst all the lies, man-hating, hypocrisy and bullshit she sometimes does talk a bit of sense. I find it quite confusing hearing her talk so much rubbish 95% of the time and then hitting the nail on the head the other 5%.

    04.05.2012 22:46 Reply

  20. StoopyDeGunt:

    I bet any money that Penny Red is an only child, public school and the daugher of lawyers

    06.05.2012 19:23 Reply

  21. sackcloth and ashes:

    ‘I bet any money that Penny Red is an only child, public school and the daugher of lawyers’

    Penny was educated at Brighton College (current fees for secondary school education between £4K and £6K per term). She has a BA in English from Wadham College, Oxford. I don’t know what her parents did, but unless she had a scholarship for both school and uni I’d imagine they were pretty minted.

    11.05.2012 12:05 Reply

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