Clarkson racism row – has he gone too far?

Blog: Has Jeremy crossed the line?

By Tim Kendall | 2nd May 2014

As sure as day becomes night, sooner or later Jeremy Clarkson says something controversial.  Indeed, if more than a couple of weeks goes by without the opinionated motor-mouth getting himself and the two musketeers into hot water, you’d be checking the obituaries page of The Times to see if he’d slipped his clogs.

Yesterday The Daily Mirror reported that he had allegedly used a racist word whilst filming an episode of Top Gear. Well, quelle surprise.

Then you watch the clip. And watch it again. Did he really mumble that? Oh right. Oh dear Jeremy.

Watch the Jeremy Clarkson alleged racist comment clip:

Both hardened fans and vehement Jeremy detractors alike will probably sense that he might have crossed a line. What line? The line which allows Top Gear’s figurehead for car-related tomfoolery, up to a point, to provoke reaction, court controversy, to get away with it, possibly be reprimanded, but ultimately, to be defended by his employers and fans. Go over that line and even those people might begin to distance themselves from you.

So now a media frenzy surrounds JC’s alleged use of a racist word during an un-broadcast clip filmed a couple of years ago. JC tries to make the perfectly valid point by using the children’s counting rhyme eeny-meeny-miney-mo, that differentiating between the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ is almost impossible. Fair point Jeremy, but mumbled or not, you did a fairly good impression of the n-word whilst doing it.

Is Jeremy Clarkson a racist?

The point here is intention and context – I would contend that Clarkson isn’t a racist, but he’s guilty of clumsily illustrating his point using a 19th century children’s rhyme, a version of which contains the offensive word. He’s guilty of being a bit stupid.

Yet he’s also guilty of being a talented and witty writer whose association with the Top Gear brand and the BBC has earned the Beeb very big revenues. He’s a major export. Still, that doesn’t give him carte blanche to offend.

Clarkson gets in hot water again. Is it news?

Unfortunately, whether Jeremy meant it or not, he used a word which, should it fall from a celebrity’s lips, will immediately occupy more column inches than the latest atrocity in Aleppo or Ukraine. So it is with modern Britain’s warped idea of what is news-worthy.

Clarkson says he doesn’t normally respond to newspaper allegations. But the frizzy-haired one appeared sufficiently panicked to post an apology on Twitter last night. Look at the Jonathan Ross/ Sachs-gate scandal – no-one is too big to have their head on the block if the Beeb’s reputation is at stake.

And they’ve let him get away with quite a lot in the past. JC recently called his black terrier Didier Dogba. People were offended. Then on the Top Gear Burma special broadcast earlier this year, Clarkson used the word ‘slope’, a derogatory term in some countries used to describe Asian people. So Clarkson has form.

What hasn’t helped his case is that the apology doesn’t show particular skill in appeasing the growing lynch-mob offended by his remarks. Explaining his actions, JC said he:

“mumbled where the offensive word would normally occur” in two takes, using the word “teacher” in its place in the third take.

“If you listen very carefully with the sound turned right up, it did appear I actually used the word I was trying to obscure.”

Clarkson explained:  “I was mortified by this, horrified. It is a word I loathe.

“I did everything in my power to make sure that that version did not appear in the programme that was transmitted.”

Jeremy Clarkson’s apology for alleged use of the n-word:

Clarkson apology

Arch-detractor Piers Morgan has been quick to pounce on the opportunity for a bit of Clarkson-bashing, taking to Twitter to deride him:

“’I did everything in my power not to use that word’ – has there ever been a more pathetic, fake excuse for uttering the N-word? #Clarkson”

So it looks like Clarkson is guilty of, at face value, mumbling an offensive, racist word seemingly without malice or forethought. Except he was diligent and sensible enough to know that his seemingly accidental use of the word could offend and made every effort to ensure it wasn’t broadcast. Shouldn’t that be the end of it?

By Tim Kendall
2nd May 2014

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