Fact Checking Oz Katerji

On February 9th 2021, freelance investigative journalist Oz Katerji started a lengthy thread on twitter about his support for trans rights.

As part of this he made repeated false assertions in a manner that should raise alarm bells with anyone who cares about honest conversation.

In this piece I want to look at just one single claim in detail, explain why he is incorrect, and show how when we come to believe ourselves “good” and opposition “bad” it is all too easy to bend reality in service of defending our self image.

The initial thread took a combative tone from the outset, and generated exactly the sort of argumentative replies you would expect:

In more than one response, he made the following claim with reference to the LGB Alliance:

As a result, Bev Jackson and Kate Harris of the LGB Alliance reached out via DM and offered to meet.

How do we know this, you ask? Well, Oz helpfully shared this DM publicly on twitter, along with his response:

This predictably blew up in the replies, and as justification, Oz made some variation of the following claim at least a dozen times:

His claim, based on this article, is that the LGB Alliance is allied with “far right” organisations, and it is specifically this assertion that I want to focus on.

If you put yourself through the onerous task of reading the article, you find that the central claim turns on a single tweet made by Bev Jackson in April 2019.

Thankfully, you can spare yourself a click, because Oz helpfully shared the tweet itself. He also expanded on his claims of “links to the far right” by asserting that the group “were happy to share a platform” with the Heritage Foundation.

Given that Oz is an investigative journalist, one might reasonably expect him to be able to investigate the 32 words of this tweet to find clues as to its meaning.

The first sentence states that the “leftwing silence on gender in the US is even worse than in the UK”. This provides a hint to the observant reader - furnished with the background knowledge that Bev Jackson is in the UK - that an article about matters in another country might not directly involve the tweet’s author at all.

The second, and final sentence refers to “this story”, and follows up with an external link. At this point, the authorship and content of the piece itself still remain a nail-biting mystery. Could it actually be a lengthy confessional by Bev Jackson, revealing a shared platform with Heritage?

If only there were some way of reading the article itself to gain further context.

So, absolutely nothing to do with Bev Jackson or the LGB Alliance after all.

A quick skim through reveals that it is a story written by a desperate and concerned parent struggling to find anyone in mainstream US media who would take them seriously or publish their views, and ultimately attending an event arranged by the Heritage Foundation.

Can we glean anything else from the tweet? Well the truly diligent reader might notice that the date it was sent (April 2019) was actually several months before the founding of the LGB Alliance in October 2019.

Thus, by reading 32 words, one date, and clicking a link we can establish that the tweet refers to someone else, in another country, doing things Bev Jackson had not herself done, six months before the LGB Alliance existed.

I can understand this exhaustive process being too taxing for all but the most dogged investigator.

So it turns out that Oz claimed that the LGB Alliance “were happy to share a platform with” Heritage, and that they “have an alliance with far-right organisations”, but cited a tweet and an article based around that tweet that backs up absolutely none of this.

In fact, what is abundantly clear is that this article is really about expressing sympathy with other people who feel they have been left with no recourse because of the polarised state of discourse on this subject, and perhaps cautioning “the left” from freezing out dissent.

In all, Oz recycled screenshots of this tweet or the Pink News headline that was based on it a dozen times.

So what has happened here? Oz has become so convinced that the LGB Alliance are a hate group that he is not only happy to tell a pair of veteran LGB rights campaigners to go fuck themselves, but to also share his own abuse of them publicly for approval from his followers.

Yet a key piece of factual information he repeatedly relies on as the basis of continued abuse and dismissal of Kate Harris and Bev Jackson is obviously false, in a way that takes less than a minute to verify. He seems to have become unable to see the reality before him, simply repeating the headline, over and over, and attacking anyone who disputes his claim.

There was a particularly revealing response at one point when he was asked to pause for a moment and consider if it was realistic to believe that veteran leftwing rights campaigners had suddenly transformed into hateful bigots:

There can be no question. The past must be rewritten to service the present.

Oz is kind and inclusive, therefore the people he disagrees with must be hateful and bigoted - indeed, must always have been bigots. It is the only possible permitted explanation.

My prediction, were Oz to be challenged with evidence that he has been spreading a false smear would be some combination of the following:

  • Denial, and a doubling down that it does actually mean what he said it means, when it plainly does not.

  • A switch to some alternative evidence for the claims he made, that might also prove to be equally disingenuous under scrutiny.

  • A switch to some evidence that Bev and Kate were in some other way hateful, and therefore deserving of whatever invective they had been subjected to.

What would be thoroughly unlikely would be an admission of being wrong - because if that were true, he would have publicly insulted a pair of blameless lesbians, without provocation.

That would be the sort of thing a bad person would do, and since Oz is a good person, doing good things for virtuous reasons, that can’t possibly be true.

It can’t be allowed to be true, and in service of that, anyone who tries to persuade him otherwise has been blocked or branded a bigot.

We have always had the capacity to dig a hole for our own psyche, becoming impervious to inconvenient truths, and social media has supercharged this process. Any amount of vitriol we might direct at our opponents is justifiable in the service of the good.

This whole sorry piece is about one single fact. A simple, easily understood one, that takes seconds to verify, yet one that is contentious and has been used as the basis of widespread smears for well over a year now, with no end in sight. Fact checking and consensus on truth feel increasingly impossible in the age of social media, and it is destroying our ability to have meaningful conversations. How do we ever come back from divisiveness like this?

The sad truth is though that someone who already believes LGB Alliance to have “ties to the far right” is unlikely to have read this, and even if they did this will not change their mind. If your worldview relies on something being true, then an outsider challenging one piece of evidence makes no difference, because surely other evidence exists. You and your circle are good people, and nobody would believe this sort of thing for no reason would they? So, it is just a matter of finding the evidence to support what you already know to be true.

Leaving aside the futility of all this, what Oz has tweeted here is clearly not substantiated by the evidence he’s provided. Whatever other assertions he makes, whatever else his position is, whatever other facts he relies on, anybody reading should be able to see that, shouldn’t they?

And anybody - especially an investigative journalist - could have verified this for themselves before sharing it so widely, so many times, and with such venom as was displayed in this thread.

I think it should raise the question for anybody reading his other interventions on this subject: if Oz is wrong about this, what else is he wrong about?

Update 13/02/2021:

Many thanks to Jeremy Duns and Jesse Singal for pressing the issue, Oz Katerji has now issued a correction to the claims he initially made.