McFadyen, who rather uncharacteristically failed to insert any violent language into a headline about the First Minister, instead leapt eagerly onto an artificial furore around the actions of Gregg Brain, the Australian father battling his family’s deportation from the Highlands by the Home Office, at last week’s SNP conference.
(Their case is so outrageous that even the Daily Mail and David Coburn have joined the fight to have the family be allowed to stay.)
We got an email from Gregg Brain about how the story had come into being, and (with his permission) we thought you might like to see the exchange which took place between him and Siobhan McFadyen, with the purposes of illustrating how the press distorts, perverts and selectively omits quotes in order to mislead.
Before we start that, though, here he is on his experience of the Express:
“There’s been a dreadful article in the Express, which has selectively quoted me to present the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I said to them, despite asking three times to be quoted in full.
For the record: I was trying to make a statement that the compulsory registration of immigrants could be a step on a path down which I hope humanity never travels again. I was trying to demonstrate solidarity with EU citizens in the UK, largely Polish, who share a very uncertain future. I was most certainly not trying in any way to equate our experiences with the suffering that occurred in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s.
I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community of the UK and elsewhere who no doubt have been very distressed by this manipulation of the story. I have reached out to Marie van der Zyl at the Board of Deputies for British Jews, and hope she will allow me to try and mend this.
I had no idea who I was dealing with. Having coming relatively recently from the other side of the planet, and not being a fan of the English press generally, I’d never even heard of the Express. I naively actually thought I was being approached with an opportunity to correct the record, at least at first.
I feel really sick about this. In some ways, it hurts worse than our battle with the Home Office. That, at least, didn’t involve any malice – it was just bureaucratic indifference and contempt, even though on a huge scale and with awful consequences. This, however, is something very different.
As a very young child, I can recall my family celebrating the [Jewish] Feast of Booths at this time of year with friends, decorating our back garden rotary clothes drier with dead palm leaves to make a ‘tent’. To go from that, to this portrayal … I have no words.”
Below is the full conversation between Gregg Brain and Siobhan McFadyen. The words that we’ve highlighted in red are the only ones of Mr Brain’s that she quoted. She actually gave almost three times as much space to some highly intemperate attacks on him and the SNP from UKIP MEP and golliwog fan Bill Etheridge, which carries a certain amount of irony.
We have not edited these messages in any way. We therefore apologise in advance for Ms McFadyen’s grammar and punctuation.
SIOBHAN McFADYEN: HI there I am a reporter for The Express website in London, I am writing a piece about Mr Brain’s speech to the SNP conference last week. There has been a lot of criticism online for his decision to wear an F badge and how this has drawn comparisons with the holocaust. Does he have a response to this? If you’d like to discuss please call me on 0208 612 7955. The SNP is not commenting but we do intend to run a story. Thanks, Siobhan
GREGG BRAIN: My response is as follows:
The ‘F’ badge I wore has unfortunately been the subject of criticism by some who seem not to have recognised it. It was not a reference to the Holocaust in any fashion; it was in fact a reference to one of the other policies of the Third Reich.
The badge was a facsimile of an Auslander Arbeiten (“Foreign Worker”) registration badge, familiar to any Poles who were allowed the ‘privilege’ of working for the Third Reich for longer hours, and at half pay – and eventually, as forced labour. It had nothing to do with Jews, who were persecuted via a very different programme.
This registration of foreign workers was exactly on point given Amber Rudd’s proposal at the Conservative Party National Conference days earlier, and this was the point I was making.
Given that history with predominantly Polish workers, and that now the largest EU cohort in the UK is from Poland, this gesture of “solidarnosc” seemed entirely appropriate.
It would be appreciated if you would confirm receipt, and let me know when / if it will be published. Thanks in advance.
SMF: HI Gregg thanks for getting in touch. So can I just clarify that you are saying the badge was in fact a reference to the Nazis?
I am speaking to the lawyer and the editor and will come back to you. I just want to be clear that you are comparing your case in the UK to being “forced to work” and the Nazi crimes against the Polish nation? I think it was about 6m people that were murdered.
GB: No, I’m very specifically NOT comparing our experience to forced work programs or the suffering which occurred in that era. That seems to have been done by others. I’m saying that registration of immigrants (or any minority) could be a step on a path that I hope that humanity never travels again.
I also wanted to be seen to be standing with EU citizens in the UK, who are people and families, not commodities or bargaining leverage. I hope that The Express will have the courage to print what I’ve said in full, rather than quoting out of context.
SMF: Mr Brain you are using a symbol of Nazi occupation to illustrate a point about immigration in the United Kingdom which is a democratic country. I am just trying to clarify this point. The SNP have repeatedly referenced the Nazis in recent weeks and this backs up this rhetoric. The SNP is also creating lists of EU nationals and has admitted as such.
I just want to be clear about what it is you are saying. People are calling for you to make an apology and you don’t seem to be doing that. So I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify. The polish badge system was introduced during the occupation of Poland, it also applied to Jews. Also can you clarify that the badge reference was your idea?
GB: Just so I can clarify a point – are you going to publish my comment in full?
SMF: I am trying to give you a right of reply. I want to clearly state your point.
GB: That’s not a ‘yes’. Without that, and with what you’ve printed and corresponded so far, you’ll understand my reticence.
SMF: People are upset by the reference because not everyone presumably agrees with your use of Nazi symbolism. But if you don’t want to apologise that’s also fine. I would just like to offer you the opportunity to apologise. The UK Government has clearly stated it wants to protect the immigration status of all EU nationals.
Could you confirm that you came up with the idea for the badge. And could you confirm who invited you to the SNP conference to speak.
I am happy to write a balanced story Mr Brain, I am trying to work with you on this.
GB: I’ve approached Marie Van Der Zyl through the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Given her comments, I hope she’ll speak to me. And that’s still not a ‘yes’.
SMF: I am not sure what the Yes is you’re relating to? You can use your opportunity for a right of reply absolutely. You made a public speech therefore it is in the public interest.
GB: I asked earlier if you would guarantee that you would publish my response in full, rather than quoting selectively.
SMF: Here are my questions please answer them for the purposes of the story. You have confirmed that you are using a symbol of Nazi occupation to illustrate your immigration case.
1) would you like to apologise to those who are offended? 2) was the idea for the badge yours? 3) who invited you to speak at the conference. And also are you a member of the SNP?
Mr Brain I will publish your response of course but you have to give me an official statement not made up of links to wikipedia and answer the questions I’ve asked.
can you send me an email as well – siobhan.mcfadyen @express.co.uk
if you can do that asap I will put it on there. I’ve asked specific questions and I am more than happy for you to respond to specific questions and add your view point. you are absolutely entitled to do that
GB: So, once again, If I send a (short) statement, you will publish it in full?
SMF: I will speak to the editor and ask him to ensure it remains however the right of reply is specifically to questions.
GB: So, not a ‘yes’. And I hope you would know that ‘right of reply’ is a lot broader than simply answering the questions you’ve put.
SMF: Send me an email with your response. I don’t know what you’re talking about with a yes. If you can respond I can write a story. Or I can simply take portions of this statement and send it to the editor. i am trying to work with you here.
The response needs context Mr Brain. So please send me an email and then I can forward this to the editor.
SMF: Hi there do you have a response yet?
SMF: Ok I will just use the quotes that you sent earlier if that’s preferable to you. thanks for your time
Informed readers will of course have noticed a number of flatly false assertions being made by Siobhan McFadyen in that exchange, including “The SNP is also creating lists of EU nationals and has admitted as such” and “The UK Government has clearly stated it wants to protect the immigration status of all EU nationals”.
But in terms of her journalistic integrity, manners and decency, and how accurately the final story represented both Gregg Brain’s motivations for wearing the badge and his comments in explanation of them, we’ll leave you to make up your own minds.