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November 1, 2018updated 30 Sep 2022 7:01am

Waitrose and William Sitwell: Censorious Twitter haters score another victory

By Dominic Ponsford

There is something rather impressive about the way William Sitwell has lost his job.

He is a journalist so incapable of writing a boring a sentence that even when responding to a freelance pitch he couldn’t resist a flourish of hyperbole. To my mind his note was meant to amuse  – and maybe also to offend. But I think he will not be short on offers of work.

After freelance journalist Selene Nelson suggested a “plant-based meal series” to Sitwell, he responded: “Hi Selene. Thanks for this. How about a series on killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat? Make them eat steak and drink red wine?”

I guess he was making the point that a series of articles on how to make meals out of vegetables was not the most original idea in the world and Nelson would have to go back to the drawing board if she was going to make it into Waitrose Food.

Sadly it seems that it is outspoken editors, and even entire publications. that some would like to see killed off one by one.

When Waitrose was bombarded with Twitter messages from censorious vegetable lovers it quickly caved in, apparently pushing its multi-award-winning editor of 20 years to go. He stepped down with immediate effect yesterday in a move that was welcomed by the posh supermarket chain.

It is the latest brand to surrender to a vocal minority of Twitter users who feel they can dictate what other people choose to read.

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It is an incident to file alongside campaign group Stop Funding Hate in the archive of digital attacks on press freedom.

That group dislikes the journalism of the Daily Mail, Express and Sun titles so much that it would like to see them snuffed out of existence by starving them of advertising. So far it has mobilised its army of Twitter tabloid haters to persuade Paperchase, Evans Cycles and Lego to withdraw promotional activity from certain tabloids in response to campaigns targeting corporate Twitter accounts.

It has been said to me “what if Sitwell was talking about Jews, or people from a specific ethnic minority instead of vegans?”. But I don’t think we can class vegetablism (hatred of those who eat vegetables that is) alongside racism, sexism and anti-semitism.

I’ve recently given up drinking alcohol. If I pitched an article about cocktails for teetotallers to the editor of a drinks magazine and he responded by saying: “I think all non-drinkers should be hunted down and ritually disembowelled one by one”, I honestly don’t think I would be offended.

Knowing how hard it is for freelances to even get a response from time-pressed editors I might even feel appreciative of the fact that he or she had bothered to respond to my email.

If Nelson was offended and upset by Sitwell’s comments she deserves an apology and has received one. In my view that is where the matter should rest.

Dominic Ponsford is editor-in-chief of Press Gazette.

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