The trial by Twitter of Jeff Winter in the early hours of 12th January 2012 flags up some interesting issues.
At time of writing his website has been suspended by the hosting company.
My first suspicion was that Mr Winter’s site had been hacked or what was being circulated through social media was a doctored image.
However, it would appear that Mr Winter has some previous in these matters and that the alleged comments were not atypical of his views.
Before his site was suspended I was able to glean the following:
In one post he described young Celtic supporters as:
“Small and skinny, looked dirty, had pointed noses and their eyes were staring and not evenly placed on their rat like faces…. incestuous produce of an illegal act.”
I spoke with several sports journalists in England today who have met Mr Winter and they told me that these views have increasingly become his stock in trade in recent years.
Back in 2010 during the referees strike he commented on his site that:
“I did a piece on Talksport regarding the Scottish reffing situation. I tried to be diplomatic, but as Goughy named names I had to concur, as I suggested earlier, that this whole situation is down to Neil Lennon and Celtic FC. Their complex that everyone is against them is touching on paranoia. Weather permitting the SPL will go ahead with officials from across Europe.”
On the same post he said of the “Dallasgate” affair:
“More ructions north of the border as Hugh Dallas, the head of referee development is forced to resign, that coming just hours after the ref involved in the Dundee United v Celtic announced his early retirement. Crazy – Lennon and his Celtic whingers are causing the careers of decent guys to be finished long before their time.”
While Mr Winter was still a top level referee the then owner of Rangers David Murray said that the club did not want the “FTP brigade.”
It would appear that Mr Winter is a member of that anti-Papal fraternity associated with Rangers Football Club.
What irks me about such “humour”, apart from the offence that it causes, is that it makes it increasingly difficult for journalists to tackle this difficult subject.
It is with this in mind that I remember the tragic passing of my sister in the NUJ Mary Raftery this week.
Brave journalism on this vital subject is her legacy.
Just before Christmas I interviewed a man who had been at a Catholic run boarding school in the West of Ireland in the 1970s and disclosed to me that he had suffered abuse from a member of staff there.
This man, now in his forties, finally wanted to “go public” and his psychotherapist (an ex-Social work colleague of mine over twenty years) had suggested that he contact me as I had an understanding of and sympathy for victims of childhood abuse.
We agreed that I would put series of detailed questions to the appropriate Church authorities who had run the establishment (now closed).
As a journalist you know when someone is being obstructive and it is my view that the church functionary I was dealing with was playing for time and didn’t want yet another story in the nationals here in Ireland about the church failing to listen to a disclosure that could have prevented further abuse.
Contacting Mary was on my “to do list” for this story.
May she find her rest eternal.
The recollection process for this man was proving so traumatic that he decided to stop the interviews and return to his private anguish for now.
I, of course, respected his wishes and did not proceed further with the story.
In time, I hope, he will somehow find the strength to go public, but in truth it is a fortitude that I know I would not have in the same circumstances.
There are some topics that should be off limits to “off colour humour” and I believe that child sex abuse is one of them. Clearly some people in the making people laugh business will disagree with me. What is beyond dispute is that this subject should be approached carefully if at all.
I was told today that Mr Winter has some media work with Talksport and Sky, but that he saw his main income coming from after dinner speaking in the West of Scotland and, occasionally, Northern Ireland at functions in Orange Halls and at Rangers supporters clubs.
It was on this “Sash bash” circuit that Mr Winter appears to have honed his repertoire mainly around anti-Catholic hatred and “jokes” about clerical child abuse scandals.
The Daily Mail picked up on the story and ran with it.
The tipping point on Twitter appears to have been reached when journalist Gabriele Marcotti became involved and phoned Mr Winter.
This was no “outing” by social media as Mr Winter is very public in his views, but what it does show is that Twitter can push the old media into picking up a story that was waiting to be written for some time.
A tip of the hat must go to James Cameron on the Celtic Network (TCN) who was the first to blog on this yesterday and set Twitter off on one.
My own meager contribution to the Twitter debate on this was that, perhaps, Mr Winter “had reached his own Ron Atkinson moment.”
Time will tell.
If this is a career defining moment for the ex-referee then it will be another footnote in the story of the growing power of Twitter to define our world and how we interact with each other.