Are People Getting The Trojan Horse Affair All Wrong?

Nick Hilton
7 min readFeb 25, 2022

Damocles, the Sicilian courtier of legend, wouldn’t have made it to the top of the world of podcasting. With great audience — and great acclaim — comes great scrutiny. And the biggest podcasts in the world are born into the cultural landscape with a sword hanging above their head, held only by a single horse hair (or the podcast equivalent — perhaps a hair from Joe Rogan’s lush mane).

Perhaps the biggest new podcast launch of this year so far has been The Trojan Horse Affair, a collaboration between British journalist Hamza Syed and S-Town host Brian Reed. The show looks at a curious and, frankly, disastrous incident in British inter-faith relations, when a hoax letter sparked an inquisition into the Muslim leadership of a series of Birmingham schools. Anyhow, if you want to know more about the content of the podcast, you should try listening to it.

You should try listening to it particularly because a few people involved in the debate over the show — which has raged from pretty much the moment it was launched — seem like they might not have. The show takes an unusually unequivocal line, positioning itself as crusading journalism of the type we don’t tend to see in a genre of podcast documentary that could loosely be termed ‘true crime’. Syed leads the charge: he is clear in his belief that the letter was a hoax and that its cut-through was both symptomatic of a preexisting Islamophobia in the British establishment, and the generator of a further tranche of anti-Islamic sentiment. Reed, the American outsider in the story, supports and coaches Syed, while trying to remain neutral himself. But the result is a podcast that does have a clear agenda.

The fact of it having a clear agenda is not something that bothers me. Perhaps it helps that I, broadly, agree with that agenda. But, equally, if I chose to listen to a podcast called Nick Hilton is a Podcast Hating Snake I’m not sure I could doubt its integrity on the grounds of it finding me a ‘podcast hating snake’. More pertinent, I suppose, are questions about the podcast cherry-picking evidence and misrepresenting its interviewees. The New York Times has had to re-record certain elements of the podcast, which is about as close as our industry comes to a correction or retraction (but probably a necessary pre-emptive measure after the

Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder Email: