This is a very sad tale of multiple tragedies. My intention here is primarily to focus on the BBC’s conduct, but also to recount a bit of a story.
Michael Rosen is one of the BBC’s most treasured contributors, and as Craig reminded me, his radio programme ‘Word of Mouth' is interesting and exceedingly listenable.
He has broadcast several first-hand accounts of his near-death experience due to Covid-19 - the bad one - and has expressed his sincere gratitude to the NHS and explained how well they treated him.
He experienced a devastating personal loss several years ago when his eighteen-year-old son died suddenly of meningitis. He wrote so movingly of it at the time that I very well remember feeling deeply sorry for him and his family.
However, he is also a keen Corbynista, and I do recall the below-the-line contributions he made to Harry’s Place, back in the days when that was an ideologically left-leaning, and if you’ll pardon the anomaly, a pro-Zionist website. He was, back in the day, a bit of a troll, as his comments were somewhat provocative and, well, troll-like. Agent provocateur is the phrase I’m a-lookin' for.
Another red flag was raised (for me) when I noticed that Rosen was a fan of the self-confessed antisemite Roald Dahl, whose own family had to issue a posthumous apology on his behalf, in order to shift more of his merchandise. (Most kids, including mine, like Dahl’s stories. I think the stories have a bitter and twisted subliminal agenda, but I did read them aloud to my own children - metaphorically hanging my own personal antipathy to the author on a peg at the bedroom door.
If you’re interested, Rosen was in a spat with TCW’s Laura Perrins in 2016 on the Beeb’s Daily Politics hosted by Jo Coburn, when the left-wing Momentum movement was more of a thing.
That roughly sets out my feelings about Michael Rosen. However, there is another and even sadder part to this unfolding tale. It gets bizarre.
Michael Rosen saw something on Twitter he didn’t like. It was the kind of thing people do online, poking fun at people like Jeremy Corbyn by way of some nifty photoshopping.
Someone on Twitter had doctored a picture depicting the magic grandpa apparently reading to some schoolchildren, originally a photo-op created to demonstrate Corbyn’s cuddly ‘Grandpa-ness.
The book in the Tweet had attracted Rosen’s attention because it was Rosen’s own popular Bear Hunt-themed children’s book - but with a twist. The book’s cover had been substituted for another image - The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion - and, obviously to everyone but Rosen, intended as a dig at Corbyn’s antisemitism.
Rosen didn’t see the joke. He took umbrage, bigly. Not only that, but he somehow interpreted the Tweet itself, and therefore the tweeter, as being antisemitic. As to how he worked that out, nobody has so far offered a credible explanation. As far as I can tell, it was a massive inversion of the actualité and if anything, a combination of gaslighting and self-denial.
This is where the BBC comes in. Last May, the BBC put out an article on their website.
Michael Rosen condemns Northumbria Uni lecturer's manipulated image tweet, illustrated with a jokey pic of Rosen peering smilingly through two huge piles of his books.
The article is sparse. It doesn’t name Rosen’s accusé, but alludes to him as “Northumbria Uni lecturer.”
The content of the article implies that the Uni Lecturer is an antisemite and Rosen’s ridiculous accusation is reproduced in the form of a quote.
The book's author, Michael Rosen, has condemned the tweet as "loathsome and anti-Semitic". The member of staff has been approached for comment
The BBC is careful to stress that Rosen is “not in favour of anyone being sacked over this”.
Whatever you make of this poorly constructed article, it certainly lacks logic and is so badly explained that it leaves an impression diametrically contra to the actuality.
Although Rosen was gratuitously magnanimous about the sacking, the University in question did what universities as employers do these days; they dealt with it with predictable unsupportiveness and wokeness typical of present-day academia.
So now the University Lecturer is dead. We are not aware of what has happened but one can speculate. He was 38 years old for God’s sake.
A coroner will investigate the sudden death of a Jewish academic “remorselessly bullied” on social media after he was accused of anti-Semitism by one of Britain’s best loved children’s authors.
Peter Newbon, 38, a father of three young girls, died a week ago in the wake of a Twitter “pile on” that had left him feeling under pressure, according to friends. He was found dead last Saturday.
His partner, Rachel Hewitt, said his death had left her “broken into a million unbearably painful pieces”.
“Through his work as a senior lecturer in the humanities at Northumbria University, which he joined in 2012, Pete inspired students with his passion for Romantic and Victorian literature.
"In his political campaigning, particularly against anti-Semitism in Labour, he showed bravery, integrity, and a fierce sense of right and wrong. His friends have told me they loved his gentleness, goodness and irrepressible humour.”
The North Yorkshire and York coroner court is due to open an inquest at a later date.
I’m sure Michael Rosen feels pretty bad now. One hopes so. But the BBC hasn’t quite got round to reporting this tragedy yet, and one does wonder how they’ll pitch it, when and if they do.