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Saturday 17 March 2018

'I didn't know you were Jewish... I have no opinion on what you earn' - Kevin Myers in difficult interview with female BBC presenter

  • Fired Sunday Times journalist in tough interview with BBC's Emma Barnett
  • 'It's not an issue whether you're Jewish or not, it doesn't enter my head'
  • Founder member of Press Council of Ireland says he was 'hastily dismissed' by Sunday Times
  • Senior executives from the paper in Dublin to probe how column was published
Emma Barnett of the BBC. Photo: BBC
Emma Barnett of the BBC. Photo: BBC

Kathy Armstrong

JOURNALIST Kevin Myers has struggled to explain his thinking to a female Jewish broadcaster while apologising for writing a hugely offensive article branded anti-Semitic and misogynistic.

Mr Myers has been sacked from his role as columnist in the Sunday Times newspaper after the article, since deleted from the newspaper's website, in which he linked the pay of two BBC employees, Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman, to the fact that they are Jewish, and implied the gender pay gap exists because men work harder, are more driven, have more charisma, and "seldom get pregnant".

The Sunday Times is conducting a review of how last weekend's controversial column came to be published in the Irish edition of the newspaper. It is understood that senior editorial executives are in Dublin from London today to probe how the column was published, with an outcome expected by the end of this week.

Mr Myers yesterday appeared on RTE radio apologising for the article, adding: "It's over for me professionally, as far as I can see. I am really, really sorry."

The column has caused huge offence worldwide, however, and today the journalist appeared on BBC Radio Five, and endured a tough 20-minute interview with Emma Barnett, during which he said he was a "great admirer of Jews" and what he referred to as their culture of "exploring their talent and making the most of it".

Ms Barnett asked him: "Presumably you think I have special powers as a Jewish broadcaster to get paid better than my colleagues who aren't of the same faith?"

Kevin Myers. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Myers. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mr Myers replied: "I didn't know you were Jewish and I have no opinion on how much you earn.

"It's not an issue whether you're Jewish or not, it doesn't enter my head."

When pressed that it must have entered his head when writing the controversial column, he replied: "It's a good question, to which there's no particular answer.

"I Googled the various people and I came across that these two women are Jewish, i didn't do it out of anti-Semitism.

"It's out of esteem for how Jewish people behave, to maximise your potential because nobody else will do it for you.

"It's a characteristic of the Jewish potential."

Ms Barnett replied: "I wasn't told as  a 12-year-old sitting in Jewish Sunday school in synagogue to go out and earn as much money as possible and maximise my potential."

During a difficult interview for Mr Myers, he referred repeatedly to the backing of the Jewish community in Ireland, and insisted that he wasn't anti Semitic and that "a lot of Irish people sympathise with my position".

Ms Feltz questioned how the column had ever managed to appear in the paper
Ms Feltz questioned how the column had ever managed to appear in the paper

"The success of Jews in so many areas of life shows their ability to make the most of their characteristic , there's no doubt there are Jews living in poverty, there has to be because they are humans," he said.

"Before I came on air I tried to find the number of Jews who won Noble Prizes but unfortunately my broadband went down, but it's disproportionate.

"They didn't win those because of favouritism or because the committee is Jewish, it's because they have distinguished themselves in so many walks of life, this is an admirable characteristic.

Mr Myers' interview on BBC Radio Five Live comes as a founding member of the Press Council in Ireland said the journalist should have been given an opportunity to defend himself before he was "hastily dismissed" by the Sunday Times.

"As a former chairman of the Labour Court I believe that Kevin Myers should have been afforded an opportunity to defend himself before being hastily dismissed by his employer," John Horgan wrote in a letter to today's Irish Times.

"As a former founding member of the Press Council of Ireland (not the former Ombudsman) I believe that the current chairman should not have prejudged the case on RTE Radio News at One on Monday July 31st

"I would hope now that the Sunday Times will give Kevin Myers the right to reply to his critics and that the chairman of the Press Council will recuse himself from any involvement in any complaint or appeal."

Mr Myers has said he believed that "five or six" other people would have overseen the column - some in Dublin and some in London - before it went to print.

"A number of people nodded on duty and let something through that shouldn't have gone through," he said, adding that he felt he was the "author of his own misfortune" and took responsibility.

The Sunday Times is conducting a review of how last weekend's controversial column came to be published in the Irish edition of the newspaper.

It is understood the measure was ordered by management at the newspaper's headquarters in London following uproar over the article.

It is thought the outcome could be communicated to senior Irish editorial executives later this week.

The newspaper's Ireland editor Frank Fitzgibbon apologised on Sunday for the "error of judgment" which led to the article being published.

However, neither he nor senior management at the newspaper's London headquarters have responded to further queries about how the error occurred.

Under the headline 'Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned', Mr Myers wrote on Sunday: "I note that two of the best-paid women presenters in the BBC - Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted - are Jewish. Good for them.

"Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity. I wonder, who are their agents? If they're the same ones that negotiated the pay for the women on the lower scales, then maybe the latter have found their true value in the marketplace."

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