WHAT'S the difference between the UK media and Vanderpump Rules?

ONE involves some very privileged people with posh accents making lots of money by spotlighting desperate attention-seekers and sensationalising the facts to create entertainment value.

The other is a Bravo reality TV series.

Sound harsh? Just look at how the media have handled the strange case of Graham Linehan over the past several days, and ­indeed, years.

Journalists have been falling over ­themselves to get quotes from the former Father Ted, Black Books and IT Crowd writer decrying the cancellation of his planned appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe this week.

Reporting on “cancel culture gone mad” is very much in fashion; it’s the perfect ­topic to get people talking because ­whatever side you fall on, almost everybody is sure to get annoyed about it.

But when the media fails to make a distinction between controversial opinions and abusive behaviour, a cheap approach to generating clicks and ratings becomes outright dangerous.

The National: Graham Linehan. Photo: Wikipedia/Schreibvieh/Graham Linehan

This is a man who was banned from ­Twitter for two and a half years for “­repeated violations of … rules against ­hateful ­conduct and platform ­manipulation”, ­before ­being reinstated when Elon Musk took over, and then briefly suspended again in April for violating rules against “posting violent threats”.

The objects of Linehan’s vehemence have been supporters of trans rights, ­particularly trans people themselves, and over a ­number of years he has expressed ­increasingly ­extreme views and launched countless ­personalised attacks online.

In his words: “the trans movement is the Manson family with better PR”; this is a “paedophilic movement”; “almost every central trans figure is a nonce”; and, ­referring to puberty blockers, “I compare it to eugenics programmes” with “a couple of parallels” to those conducted in Nazi ­Germany.

READ MORE: Graham Linehan: Fringe venue makes statement after cancellation 

These are not reasonable views, and the sheer volume of this content being ­produced by Linehan over the past several years should invite some serious reflection over the wellbeing of this once ­successful and well-loved individual. By his own ­account, his marriage broke up because of “trans activists”.

Yet to read most articles published last week regarding his cancellation and his ensuing threats of legal action against the venue, you would think this was a highly respected person (as he once was) who had been penalised simply for saying he didn’t agree with reforming the Gender Recognition Act, or something to that ­effect.

Some of the explanations for the ­cancellation offered in mainstream news publications include: “concern about Mr Linehan’s views on transgender issues”; his “views on sex and gender”; and his “gender critical beliefs”. This just in: wolf banned from cottage for “Little Red ­Riding Hood critical beliefs”.

This is astoundingly cutesy language to be using about a man who told the Daily Mail after his last-minute “­performance” outside the Scottish Parliament on ­Thursday: “I think trans-rights activists are the most evil people in the world and I do love making them angry because they’re terrible people” who “need to be defeated completely”.

READ MORE: Graham Linehan comedy show appears outside Scottish Parliament

Amazingly, his comments from after the same event as reported by the BBC sound altogether more reasonable. One has to wonder if he censored himself, or whether including this kind of frothing-at-the-mouth diatribe would make it harder to keep excusing handing the man a ­microphone in the first place.

The Daily Mail also reported that ­Linehan broke down in tears, which I can ­only imagine they included to ­demonstrate just how terribly he’s been treated by The Woke Mob™.

But this begs a serious question. What duty of care does the media have to the people they choose to platform, ­perpetuating the continuation of a cycle of conflict which is impacting so ­negatively on their mental wellbeing? Does any ­consideration go into whether someone is in a healthy place to be making decisions about giving these comments in the first place? Or is it all just fodder for the 24-hour “news” cycle?

To the same point: has any show at the Fringe – cancelled or not – received as much media coverage as Linehan’s, which reportedly lasted an impressive 10 minutes before he started crying about trans people?  Do news reporters from multiple media outlets typically gather at a “comedy show”?

These are rhetorical questions because we all know the answer, and while I’m sure the defence would be that “this is ­political”, there are a great many acts at the Fringe with far more interesting things to say about politics than this. If they were really being honest, the ­media would admit that it’s not about the ­“politics”, it’s about the drama.

READ MORE: Graham Linehan considers legal action over cancelled Edinburgh show

And what, then, separates them from the guy holding the camera as a drunk, 20-something woman makes terrible decisions on a trashy reality TV show? (Or, perhaps more accurately, from the guy handing her the bottle.)

Except, the stakes here are much ­higher. And that’s the real difference between the news media and entertainment. People are looking to the news for reliable ­information, something which is increasingly difficult to parse out from the endless stream of content that we all have at our fingertips thanks to social media.

How seriously is the media taking that duty?

From where I’m sitting, the media sits at the heart of a perfect storm caused by the co-occurrence of several factors, and the Linehan example is just one amongst many that points to a serious problem with how large parts of the media are responding to that situation.

On the one hand, we are in the midst of an ideological battle in which many on the right are seeking to rebrand ­extreme, ­reactionary views as “centrist” and ­“sensible”. We live in a time when ­disinformation and mass manipulation by bad actors is easier than ever before. And the competition is greater than ever to capture and hold people’s attention.

Yet it seems the general approach of the media has been to fall at one of two poles – incredibly cynical, or incredibly naïve.

Some seem to live by the mantra, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”; some by the lesser-known mantra “oh, we’re allowed to say that again!”.

For others, there has been a stubborn commitment to carrying on as normal, as though the landscape in which the media operates has not already been radically altered.

See: quoting people from the We Hate Hedgehogs Club about hedgehogs’ attempt at world domination alongside zoologists, as if both are valid and comparable perspectives, hitting publish and then sitting like the real-life equivalent of the Everything is Fine gif while imaginary flames engulf the room. Both are equally harmful.

READ MORE: Study reveals how Unionist tactical voting has impacted Holyrood 

Whether it’s building a brand on being “anti-woke” (like the new TalkTV, which, ironically, discovered the risks of putting someone like Linehan on air last week when they swiftly removed all record of a segment in which he named multiple individuals and called them paedophiles), or repeatedly presenting the grievances of people with extreme views without any of the necessary context (like much of the mainstream media), none of this is providing the service people deserve when they pick up a paper or turn on the news.

Of course, there is also plenty of important and high-quality journalism being produced right now, and it needs our support more than ever. None of this would be worth saying if I didn’t believe the media had a vital role to play in countering the lies and manipulation which are warping far too many public discussions and debates in this country – and the world over.

Critical thinking and serious ­analysis by journalists of these issues, and ­sensible decisions by editors about who to ­platform and how, are urgently ­needed. Perhaps this might start with an ­understanding that the media does not just ­report on culture, it creates it.

The result might not be scandalous or exciting, but then we’ll always have reality TV for that.