Look at this photograph.
What do you see? A chap trying to grab the camera, right? Maybe he and the photographer are horsing around, or maybe he’s genuinely annoyed but, either way, it’s pretty obvious what he’s doing.
Obvious, at least, to anyone looking neutrally at the image. But if you have been told that the man in the picture is a UKIP candidate, and you start from the conviction that most or all UKIP supporters are racists, you might see a man making a fascist salute. This is what the Daily Mirror saw and, in consequence, it has had to issue an unreserved apology to the man in the photograph, Alex Wood.
About bloody time, too. Two years have passed since the Mirror published its hugely offensive front page about the “shame” of UKIP’s “Nazi” candidate. Following that article, Alex Wood lost his job, his home and his reputation. All because of the Daily Mirror’s prejudice.
I say “prejudice” rather than “gullibility”. As with the faked photographs of British soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners – the photographs over which Piers Morgan resigned as editor – the Daily Mirror was seeing what it wanted to see. If your view of the world is sufficiently angry, self-righteous and sour, you will start seeing racism everywhere. Behavioural psychologists call it “confirmation bias”, and it’s a surprisingly strong trait. For example, in tests, when words are slowly illuminated on a computer screen, we are able to perceive the agreeable words before the nasty ones. We literally see what we want to see.
To be fair, all human beings are subject to confirmation bias. What’s funny in this case is that the Mirror sees itself as a crusader against bigotry and prejudice. Indeed, its attack on the blameless Mr Wood was motivated by its belief that it was exposing intolerance. And yet it was doing precisely the thing that it imagines UKIP supporters – and Rightists in general – do, namely making unwarranted assumptions about an individual simply because he had been placed in the mental category of “Other”. When it comes to vicious, blinkered chauvinism, the Left really is unbeatable.