Tuesday 26 October 2004

Unintentional hilarity.

I used to think that Ian Mayes, The Guardian's readers' editor, was pretty good. He has, in the past, happily written articles full of common sense and reasonableness. Then he spoils it all with this bollocks, containing some of the most stupid sentences I've read in a while, even by the standards of Operation Clark County.

For more than a week the Guardian has been under an unprecedented email bombardment from the United States.

You might think that this was a brilliantly ironic preamble to an honest assessment of the situation. Unfortunately not.

Although the G2 article did not presume to say which way it wanted the unaffiliated citizens of Clark County to vote, the front page of the main broadsheet that day carried the open declaration: "What you can do to beat Bush - with a little help from the folks in Ohio."

Again, apparently no irony intended here. He really does mean that the campaign's intention was merely to influence the election, not to influence it in a particular direction. Had Guardian-readers written to US citizens urging them to vote for Bush, the paper would have counted that as a major success. Mmm.

It was clear that a "spamming" campaign was involved.

Ah, what refreshing honesty. Oh, hang on: he only means the responses to the campaign, not the campaign itself. Writing to a citizen who has not subscribed to a mailing list and who probably does not read your paper to give them your unasked-for opinion is, apparently, not spamming. Writing to a journalist in order to give your opinion of a campaign that that journalist's paper is running is, apparently, spamming. Right.

One Guardian journalist, with dual American and British nationality - a strong supporter of the exercise - believed the reaction illustrated the intimidatory tactics of the angry right.

But the campaign itself, apparently, illustrated neither the condescension nor the stupidity of the angry Left. For some reason.

The intention was to smother free speech. The G2 exercise sought to open up debate.

This is becoming quite fascinating. I simply can't see the difference between the two: Guardian-readers wrote to people to give their opinion; people wrote to Guardian jounalists to give their opinion. Free exchange of ideas, right? Apparently not. I suspect this is a demarcation issue: it is a journalist's job to tell people what to think. You can't have just any untrained pleb writing his opinion, least of all writing it to a journalist. I wonder if the NUJ are going to get involved.

my own view is that the paper in carrying out the exercise through the intrusive use of the voters' list, has prejudiced some of the goodwill it has built up in America and unnecessarily excited its enemies.

The last four words are right, at least, but does this man really believe that his paper has built up goodwill in America over the last three years? Really?

It has sought to intervene in the US election, with unpredictable consequences.

Unpredictable? By whom? A quick browse around political blogs in both the US and the UK will reveal predictions of exactly this result, all published the moment the campaign was suggested. Ian Katz, the editor behind the campaign, has admitted that The Guardian received accurate predictions of their campaign's result before they even went to print, but just refused to believe it. What utter eejits.

The editor of the Guardian, defending the exercise, said it was a crucially important election in the face of which many felt a sense of impotence. "What we did was simply to invite personal acts of communication from one individual to another. ..."

That's all fair enough. I don't object to Operation Clark County on principle; I just think it was phenomenally stupid, since it was guaranteed from the outset to increase support for Bush (which is fine by me, but not, I think, what The Guardian had in mind). What I don't get is why some personal acts of communication from one individual to another consitute "a spamming campaign", "the intimidatory tactics of the angry right", an attempt "to smother free speech", while others are OK. I can only conclude that what they really mean is that they wanted to invite personal acts of one-way communication from one individual to another and not back again. But we knew that.

This is very interesting:

In a poll I conducted among Guardian staff who had been following the story, of 71 respondents, 13 thought it a legitimate and worthwhile exercise, 14 were undecided and 44 were against it. Among the reasons given by the latter, reflecting complaints coming from the US, were that intervention in the democratic processes of another country was not "legitimate newspaper behaviour"; and that it was arrogant and self-aggrandising.

Several were dismayed that the internet effect had apparently not been anticipated, one saying that the speed with which links to the Guardian story spread showed that "this perceived insult has legs". Another commented: "It seems a shame that, in this interactive age, with email and weblogs all around, we rejected any attempt to have a real conversation with US voters."

Amazing: it looks like the majority of The Guardian's staff have common sense and a true sense of democracy. I hope some of them get promoted. Maybe we can look forward to better editorial policy in the future.

I can't remember who it was who first said it, but they were right: one of the great strengths of George Bush is the way that his very existence reduces his opponents to lunacy — not just to imprudence or to anger or to militance, but to actual frothing-at-the-mouth, counting-to-three-on-your-thumbs lunacy. Which, for connoisseurs of human stupidity, is yet another good reason to vote for him.


Anonymous said...

When I was a child, the perfect response to the Guardian's reaction would be:

(adopt sing-song voice)
"You can't take it!
You can't take it!
You can't take it!
You can't take it!
You can't take it!"
(repeat to fade>)

I think you're right: It's fine for journos to intrude on the public in a condescending way, but woe betide anyone who responds.

I hope Bush gets back in just to see the reaction from the left. If he gets re-elected, it means they are in a minority and as such will perceive themselves to be surrounded by hostile forces. I predict their attituddes and actions will be even more aggressive and graceless.

Laban said...

That is a fine post which sums it all up admirably.

They can dish it out, but they can't take it.