Two-thirds of voters in a Twitter poll for Press Gazette thought Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell did not deserve to lose his job over his “killing vegans” remarks in an email reply to a freelance pitch.
The results come as journalists registered their outrage at the BBC Masterchef judge’s resignation yesterday over the comments, which were first reported by Buzzfeed News.
In his reply to a pitch about a “plant-based meal series” for the in-house supermarket magazine from freelance Selene Nelson, Sitwell said: “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?”
Sitwell’s departure from the John Brown Media title made the front page of the Evening Standard’s second edition yesterday and today’s Times, having stoked fierce debate over freedom of expression.
Other journalists and politicians have also shared their thoughts…
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) October 31, 2018
This is getting absurd now. Sitwell made a joke. A JOKE. A FUCKING JOKE. If we can’t laugh at vegans, who the hell ARE we allowed to laugh at? We have GOT to stop these ridiculous and sinister witch hunts by the offendotrons with nothing better to do. https://t.co/HlNYOFlweh
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) October 31, 2018
William is a brilliant writer and an old friend, this is all a great pity. https://t.co/oavt9pOiim
— Jacob Rees-Mogg (@Jacob_Rees_Mogg) November 1, 2018
It is politically correct to suggest that wanting to murder people might not be good https://t.co/irY8LJMjvy
— hussein kesvani (@HKesvani) November 1, 2018
William Sitwell is one of the most talented magazine editors of his generation. This sad moment which reflects poorly on modern society will be some other publication’s gain
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) October 31, 2018
FFS. Daft thing to say but this is OTT https://t.co/MElSU0coSw
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) October 31, 2018
Let me get this straight: magazine editor makes obvious joke in private email to freelancer who pitched him – and now he's had to resign?
All because the vegan social media mafia threw their lentil toys out of the pram? Ridiculous. https://t.co/6HESiVMHg4
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) October 31, 2018
Srsly, Waitrose is not an investigative story that’s been gagged, it’s a shitty email in response to a vegan pitch —this isn’t about press freedom, it’s about the freedom to be a bit of a jerk to someone less powerful.
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) November 1, 2018
Jesus wept: the Waitrose thing isn’t a free speech issue. The government wasn’t involved at all.
When you edit an advertorial magazine for a supermarket, it is wildly stupid to offend freelance writers, and even stupider to offend a big chunk of your customer base. https://t.co/tifAaIhHEU
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) November 1, 2018
How about a nice template email, sort of: “Thanks for thinking of [say] Waitrose, but this isn’t quite right for us. Good luck with placing it elsewhere.” See? Like saying: “Fuck off. I’m going to kill all the vegans.” But, no resigning.
A former editor.
— Deborah Orr (@DeborahJaneOrr) October 31, 2018
sorry, I thought this Waitrose row was about appropriate professional behaviour, but is it now a free speech issue? Is it free speech now to just go around being inexplicably rude to people you deal with professionally?
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) October 31, 2018
John Brown Media has said it was now working with Waitrose to find a replacement editor for the magazine, which distributes just under 700,000 copies, according to ABC figures for the six months to the end of June 2018.
In an Instagram post on his resignation, Sitwell wrote: “Firstly, to reiterate my apology to any food- and life-loving vegan who was genuinely offended by remarks written by me as an ill-judged joke in a private email and now widely reported.
“Second, a word about my team on Waitrose and Partners Food. For two amazing decades I’ve worked with simply the best crew in the business.”
The food and travel writer Selene Nelson, who passed the email on to Buzzfeed News as part of a pitch for a piece on hostility to vegans, has since written an opinion piece for the Independent.
Following the “backlash on social media” to Sitwell’s resignation, she said: “In the past few hours I’ve been asked repeatedly for my thoughts on the matter.
“I can’t comment on the precise circumstances of William Sitwell’s departure, but I do think his response – to a pitch from a journalist expecting a professional reply – was a shame, and speaks to a wider problem.”