|You gotta spin it to win it|
|Stop the presses!|
|We want pictures|
“”It's the site for awful people which pretends it's 'rational'.
|—Mic Wright, about UnHerd|
UnHerd is a British right-wing current affairs website launched in 2017. Its symbol is a cow, apparently an animal which "like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". This led to speculation that its editors had never encountered any cattle.
Its mission statement is to stand back from the regular news cycle and political tittle-tattle and give voice to more thought-out alternatives. Its first editor said it was for "people and things not given a fair hearing, or even listened to at all".
But as is so often the case with people shouting about unheard voices being cancelled, it is staffed by tiresomely overpublished media professionals: Vice judged "its contributors are a parade of people who already have big media profiles, or are think-tank directors with books out". Mic Wright called UnHerd "part of a right-wing ecosystem of people, think-tanks, and publications that cosplay as outsiders while having access to the people at the heart of power and often having had access to the levers of power themselves at some point".
Much of it is given over to moaning about "wokeness", defending transphobia and other prejudices, and dancing around issues about race and IQ. The Morning Star suggested it was less right-wing than some competitors like The Critic, despite sharing a certain anti-Muslim approach that sought to stir up racist sentiment in what UnHerd calls the "white working class".
But despite its mission statement, a lot is devoted to the minutiae forming the mainstream news cycle, just like every other current affairs website. It's unclear how an article about podcast bro Joe Rogan endorsing a Republican candidate can be considered a deep and thoughtful look behind the news (cow tells cows to vote for yet another cow). But if you need clicks for revenue, that's how you get them.
Columnists include Julie Bindel, Giles Fraser, Tanya Gold, Matthew Goodwin (of Kent University and the Legatum Institute, and the philosopher John Gray. UnHerd has also breathed new life into that old blowhard Curtis Yarvin.
Its original editor was Tim Montgomerie, who is also known for his work on the website ConservativeHome, which as its name suggests is a politics website for fans of the Conservative Party. After leaving ConservativeHome in 2013 he worked for the Times for a year. Before ConservativeHome, he wrote speeches for Conservative politicians William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
Sally Chatterton later took over as editor.
It was originally funded by Paul Marshall, who made a fortune in hedge funds. He was formerly a donor to the Liberal Democrats, pushing them to adopt more right-wing, business-friendly policies; he then switched to the Tories and supported the Brexit campaign. He provided funding for UnHerd to operate without a subscription for its first 3 years. However it now tries to prevent non-subscribers from viewing it, on the basis that nobody would be sufficiently interested to circumvent its protection measures.
It also appears to have friends in high places: at the time of its launch, former Tory chancellor turned newspaper editor George Osborne let Montgomerie write a column for the Evening Standard about the deficiencies of modern journalism (i.e. that modern journalism should be more like UnHerd), and Montgomerie followed up with an article on UnHerd defending Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard.
Its science editor for 4 years was Tom Chivers, who is sometimes praised (e.g. by Ian Burrell of the i) for his equivocation and refusal to come down on one side or the other of an issue when the evidence is uncertain. This manifested over the COVID-19 lockdown where he didn't really commit to either side. Mic Wright described Chivers as the person on the staff who "does the 'eminently reasonable analysis of a current event from a tediously rationalist perspective' pieces, providing ideological air cover for the real headbangers and bringing in the FBPE[note 1] crowd." Chivers left the paper for a job at the i in 2022.
UnHerd's other coverage of the COVID pandemic tended towards the skeptical. An article entitled "How Facebook censored the lab leak theory" functioned as a defence of misinformation; almost every expert reckons the lab leak theory is unproven at best. UnHerd also celebrated the headteacher and founder of "a school based on scientific principles" who wasn't going to make anyone wear masks.
It has published pieces by Douglas Murray, including a defence of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve against opponents derided as cancel culture, appearing under the absurd headline "Why is the woke mob so scared?".
In 2019 it published a defence of the "young, brilliant" academic Noah Carl who had recently been sacked from St Edmund's College, Cambridge after concerns over his research and his links to the far right. UnHerd condemned his sacking, blaming tactics used "by Left-modernism to quash free enquiry". In reality, Carl was sacked following an inquiry in which, according to the Master of St Edmunds, "The panel found that Dr Carl had put a body of work into the public domain that did not comply with established criteria for research ethics and integrity."
Chivers asked in 2018 "Should we edit genes to boost IQ?" He concluded it was inevitable and we should accept it and try to control it.
It has recruited a number of TERFs including Julie Bindel. Bindel has written several pieces including an interview with fellow TERF Kathleen Stock, a transphobic academic who quit her job after her trade union, the UCU, chose to show solidarity with trans students rather than support Stock; Bindel portrays Stock as "a mild-mannered, liberal academic" whose distrust of trans people is shared by "nearly 99% of the planet". It's unclear how many other views held by 99% of the planet the lesbian separatist Bindel would endorse. Stock quit her job after a letter from 600 academics criticised her "harmful rhetoric" for the way it "reinforces the patriarchal status quo"; the philosophers condemned the "tendency to mistake transphobic fearmongering for valuable scholarship, and attacks on already marginalised people for courageous exercises of free speech", which could equally be a description of UnHerd.
- FBPE is "Full Brexit Prompt Exit".
- The weird history of the cow site: Why Unherd shouldn't be seen as 'respectable'., Mic Wright, about UnHerdConquest of the Useless, 28 July 2020
- UnHerd’s rejection of the new isn’t as groundbreaking as it seems to think, New Statesman, July 2017
- News websites are seeing record online traffic – the public clearly trust journalists more than they think, Ian Burrell, i, 18 May 2020
- Is it time for the media to stop taking politics seriously?, Peter Preston, The Guardian, 6 AUg 2017
- The UnHerd and the Whining of the Perfectly-Well-Represented, Vice, 25 July 2017
- Standpoint, the Critic and UnHerd: who’s their daddies?, Morning Star, accessed 30 Aug 2022
- Joe Rogan tells Americans to vote Republican, UnHerd, 29 Aug 2022
- Curtis Yarvin UnHerd.
- About, tomchivers.com, accessed 29 Aug 2022
- How Facebook censored the lab leak theory, Freddie Sayers, UnHerd, 31 May 2021
- The COVID lab-leak hypothesis: what scientists do and don’t know, Nature, 8 June 2021
- Headmaster: I refuse to make pupils wear masks in class, UnHerd, 28 Feb 2021
- Tag: Eugenics, Unherd
- Why is the woke mob so scared?, Douglas Murray, UnHerd, 26 Feb 2021
- How the woke inquisition broke Cambridge, UnHerd, May 2019
- Statement from the Master regarding the outcome of the investigations into complaints about the appointment of Research Fellow, Matthew Bullock, St Edmund's College website, 30 April 2019
- Should we edit genes to boost IQ?, UnHerd, 16 Oct 2018
- Kathleen Stock: I won’t be silenced, Julie Bindel, UnHerd, 4 November 2021
- Outraged academics condemn government for handing anti-trans professor Kathleen Stock an OBE, Pink News, 6 Jan 2021