Monday, 26 April 2010

A spooky internet pest writes...

Generally speaking, I'm not one of those people who gets a throbbing great hard-on talking about the effect of the internet and blogging on political discourse; if I have to read another meandering blog post about how Web 2.0 has sparked a paradigm shift or something I might well have to take a lighter to my eyeballs. However, as a massive fan of laughing at people, I will make occasional exceptions in cases where it's a bit funny, and so it's proved to be with Proper Telegraph Journalist Cristina Odone and her complete bewilderment at the perils of this new-fangled internet thing.

A week ago, Odone penned a sloppy attack piece on the Lib Dems and Dr Evan Harris MP in particular. In the aftermath of the first televised debate between the leaders of the three main parties, in which Nick Clegg surprised everyone by appearing to be marginally less shit than a beleagured PM widely held responsible for our fucked economy and wax-faced Tony Blair impersonator David Cameron, papers started falling over themselves to a) remember who the fuck these 'Liberal Democrat' dudes were and b) attack them. Odone's piece was titled "The Lib Dems are a Jekyll and Hyde party. Forget nice Mr Clegg. What about 'Dr Death'?", although it may as well have been titled "I've got to slag off the Lib Dems and have just realised I know dick-all about Clegg, but have remembered that I don't like that Evan Harris".

The nature of the criticism was pretty poor. It had the feeling of a blog cobbled together at the last minute, with lazy references to how Harris is referred to by opponents as "Dr Death" because of his not-that-controversial views on abortion and assisted dying. It called Harris "pop-eyed" regarding matters of religion, accused him of believing that "God is bad, his followers mad", and called the Lib Dems' apparent secularism "sinister" and "creepy". The whole thing was garbage; lazy, unsupported attacks on Harris which distorted his views. (Disclaimer: I'm not really a Lib Dem voter myself, but in keeping with a lot of people who value the evidence-based approach I have a lot of time for Harris as an individual, who's always seemed like one of the good guys). This being the internet, the link gets shared, and the comments section under Odone's piece was quickly filled with rebuttals, including a good one from Harris himself responding to the various accusations and clarifying his position on abortion and euthanasia.

Now, at this point, a good journalist would have either admitted she was wrong, or posted a follow-up piece justifying her depiction of Harris and the Lib Dems, using old-fashioned stuff like quotes and facts. An average journalist would have ignored the comments, which are never as widely read as the piece above the line, and gone on as if nothing had happened. Then there's always the third option; whine petulantly at your critics, accuse them of being some kind of mindless mob, and conspicuously fail to deal with any of their criticisms in terms of their substance or otherwise.

You may well have guess from that laboured set-up that Odone chose the third option, in her already infamously-titled effort The Lib Dems' spooky posse of internet pests. Odone bleats:
I’m spooked. Although I’ve been a commentator for years, I’m new to blogging. So it’s come as a bit of a shock to discover that everything I write that is even mildly critical of the Lib Dem sacred cows, Nick Clegg and Dr Evan Harris, provokes instant, ferocious and unchecked response
"Mildy critical" is a bit rich for an article which describes the person being criticised as "Dr Death", as though Harris were a cartoonish supervillian smashing babies in his lab with a hammer and becoming visibly sexually aroused as he does so. Instead of backing up her attack on Harris, she simply complains about those who called her on her bullshit for doing so. She suggests that the people criticising her are trying to shut down the discussion, apparently oblivious to the irony of saying that in a piece which is smacking them down for responding at all. Her response drips with theatrical over-reaction; her critics unleashed "the forces of hell" on her, she implies that Lib Dem supporters who responded are "thugs" who don't use the tactics of a democracy, asserting that there is "no room in the Lib-Labs’ intolerant culture for discussion", that they are "demagogues" displaying "knee-jerk hostility".

The democracy accusation is the most enjoyable one for me; there's something about its complete lack of self-awareness that would almost be endearing if it wasn't so brain-poppingly stupid. Being criticised for what you say is part of the essence of democracy; in the old days journalists would write whatever nonsense they liked and not know what the reaction was, but now they get an instant, sometimes deservingly brutal, judgement. Free speech, innit? But no, Odone stamps her feet at the criticism instead of dealing with any of it on its merits, and for people like me it's hard not break into a bit of a smile watching her flail about having been caught out running her mouth without thinking. And let's be clear here; no-one is trying to get Odone locked up or silenced, we just reserve the right to use the internet's interactive nature to tell you when you're being a bit of a prat. Feel free to hurl abuse at me below!

P.S. why not join our evil debate-silencing gang of web creeps at the sinister Facebook group, or flex your Lib-Dem-Thug-4-Life muscles on Twitter using the #spookyposse hashtag?