Victoria Coren Mitchell and comedian Leo Kearse have clashed on social media over remarks that he made about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on GB News.
After six years, jailed charity worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe was finally returned to the UK from Iran earlier this month, after the government agreed to settle a £393.8m debt relating to a decades-old arms deal.
Following a press conference Zaghari-Ratcliffe gave upon her release, she has been accused by internet trolls of being “ungrateful” to the UK government for paying the debt.
On GB News’s The Headliners show, comedians Kearse and Diane Spencer suggested Zaghari-Ratcliffe was acting “ungrateful” after she returned home to her husband and her seven-year-old daughter. Zaghari-Radcliffe missed most of her daughter’s childhood due to her imprisonment.
Only Connect host Coren Mitchell shared a trailer promoting the show on Wednesday (23 March), writing: “My word. I’m not one to criticize other people’s attempts at TV – I write a column in which basically every week I say that something’s brilliant.
“But if this stumbly, cackling, racist incompetence is what GB News puts out as a TRAILER… what on earth is the rest of it like?!”
In the clip, Spencer can be heard saying: “We don’t know what has been whispered in [Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s] ear for the last six years, she may have been sitting there alone, or she may have had someone coming in everyday.”
Kearse then suggested Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “been radicalised” and said that her name was “Iranian for ungrateful”.
Following Coren Mitchell’s tweet, Kearse posted: “According to @VictoriaCoren, my comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Markle are ‘racist’. Could anyone explain this?
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“Even putting myself in the mindset of an overthinking self-loathing white savior wokeist I can’t stretch to find the racism.”
Coren Mitchell then hit back with: “Zaghari-Markle? I don’t know whether the irony is greater if you meant that deliberately or if you typed it by mistake!
“Look, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I’m very pro-comedy and I respect your freedom to say whatever you want. I just thought the program looked s***.”
In more tweets on Thursday (24 March), Coren Mitchell explained exactly why she perceived the clip to contain racist remarks.
When approached for comment by The Independent, Kearse said that Coren Mitchell’s explanation was “incoherent”. He added: “She says I associate the concept of being Iranian with ‘ungrateful’ which is negative and therefore racist. But I do n’t, I clearly criticize a person, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, for being ungrateful to a country that paid £400m for her release from her, and for directing her none of her ire towards the Iranian regime that actually impressed her.”
In a long statement that has been paraphrased, he said that “smearing someone as ‘racist’ without evidence or justification should be classed as a hate crime” as it “stirs up hatred and violence against that person”.
He defended his colleague Diane, saying she is “fantastic”, adding: Regardless of whether anyone agrees with my joke or not, it’s a valid comment that represents the opinions of people who aren’t typically seen or heard in mainstream comedy. It worked as a joke because people found it funny. Not everyone has to find a joke funny for it to be funny.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Coren Mitchell addressed claims that she is a hypocrite for calling out Kearse.
“There is literally nothing I can say or do, here, that would stop people saying I’m a hypocrite, I’m a fascist, I want to ban you, I wouldn’t say the same about [x] or [y] – those are just Twitter tropes, infecting the medium like bacteria,” she said.
“I have publicly defended Jeremy Clarkson’s joke about shooting strikers, I’ve written in support of Jim Davidson, I’ve surrounded this whole thing with a constant celebration of your freedom – they accuse me of hypocritical lefty tribalism anyway. Still, it’s not something I suffer from…”
Coren Mitchell drew criticism last month for speaking out in support of Jimmy Carr, when a joke he made about the traveler community and the Holocaust caused outrage.
The Independent has contacted GB News and Coren Mitchell for comment.