Thursday, 25 March 2010

Andrew Brown. A legend in his own mind.

So, a week has passed since ‘Summerislegate’, and, quite rightly, his Lordship has now been allowed back to CiF, and in many ways, the dust seems to have settled on what was quite an interesting, yet ultimately brief episode in the grander scheme of The Guardian website and its history.

Having maintained my non-posting stand over the last seven days, and after enjoying the period of cool, considered reflection this afforded me, I began to re-consider my own ‘flouncing off’. After the ‘break’ from a 14 year relationship, I’d even started to imagine what might constitute an online newspapers version of ‘make-up’ sex.

Then I saw this beauty from everyone’s favourite columnist, Andrew Brown:

I have been sitting quite hard on the comments in the last few posts on the Catholic scandals, and I wanted to thank everybody who played along, and to point out exactly what has been gained as a result. I could say that the comments have been much more interesting and pleasurable to read if they weren't full of expressions of disgust and accusations of complicity in paedophilia or its cover-up. That's true so far as it goes, but you might object that there are plenty of people who delight in abuse and love to breakfast off a cappucino of hot frothing outrage on a base of acid bitterness. Why should those poor souls have to go elsewhere for nourishment? Because we don't learn anything from them, that's why.
The great thing that comments can supply is contact with the people who do know better than the writer does about the story, either because they are smarter, nicer, better informed, or more experienced, or have spent longer thinking about it. These aren't always the people they think they are.
Like any decent journalist, I am confident that I know more about any particular story than 98% of the readers. This may sound horrendously arrogant, but that's the nature of news. The person who has it does think themselves better informed than the one who hasn't.
I am also conscious that I know a lot less about any given subject than the remaining 2% of the readers. These figures are of course adjustable up and down to taste, and depending on the subject involved. If I were to write about piano music, or football, the novels of Charles Dickens, or East Enders, almost anyone interested in the subject would know a lot more than me. But on religion and some sorts of science I do know a decent amount. I am correspondingly grateful to the people who know more and point out the errors. Certainly I have learned a lot from the discussions of the last few blogs, and been forced to think a lot. Thanks.
This sounds as if it is all about me, but it isn't. It's for the benefit of everyone who reads the site. But it won't work without reasonably strict moderation, because it's much harder to think clearly when you're being called an ignorant idiot and the accomplice of criminals. I don't believe that expressing sheer naked contempt changes anyone's mind; it certainly doesn't work on the despised object. With a subject like this, where sentiment runs all the way from Old Bathrobe to Stevhep it really matters that we play the balls and not the men.
This isn't a plea for agreement. A good thrash will often sharpen and widen disagreement especially when it's on a subject of real importance, as this one has been. But that happens only when the participants think they are being listened to and there's no quicker way to kill off that feeling than angry pre-packaged responses. Whether these are personal abuse or trolling, they are clearly banned in the talk policy and that is quite strictly enforced here.

Now, this is something a bit special, for several reasons, but particularly in the context of events last week.

Indeed, one of the ‘strikes’ accrued by Lord S, prior to the third that led to his banning, was a result of comment he made on an Andrew Brown thread, after AB had made some quite erroneous claims about Terry Sanderson and the NSS ATL, that were widely disputed and criticised by many BTL, and after Brown had then himself joined the debate to casually mention that he thought the ‘majority of those below the line had a mental age of less than 10’.

Therefore, to me at least, this would seem to fly right in the face of Andrew Brown’s claim to know more than 98% of readers (who were, on this occasion, more than willing to show Andrew his errors, even using proper links, facts and quotes and that, which for us non-journo types, was surely a very challenging business).

Likewise, the episode would also seem to undermine Brown’s stand against personal abuse, what with his original errors amounting to a personal attack on someone by, at best, deliberately twisting and mis-representing their position to suit his own ends.
I mean, I’m no expert, but making unjust, unsubstantiated claims against a ‘person’, in an attempt to vilify them, would seem to me like quite a good example of personal abuse, would it not?!

Finally, Andrew Brown’s own BTL salvo, embarked upon with the purpose of calling us all mentally retarded, would, again, seem to be an almost textbook definition of the ‘trolling’ phenomenon that he seems so keen to take a stand on, right!?

Seriously, you couldn’t make this shit up!!

But wait, just when I thought that I could never possibly agree with Andrew Brown, on anything, ever, he then joins in Below the Line too, offering us this little gem:

It may sound arrogant, but finding out about stuff quickly is one of the core skills of journalism, and if I'm no good at it by now, I might as well give in.

Well, Andrew, to be fair, you’ll get no argument from me on that one....


  1. Also, if anybody does happen to a) read this, and b) see the AB piece, I'd recommend paying particular attention to Fencewalker's comments.

    Especially these from last night:

    See, with the Enhanced New Attitude that such posts demonstrate, CiF Belief stands to gain immensely : the page hits are there, and the editorial line, brilliant, and better-informed than 98-99.9% of its readers, is preserved in all its crisp, purified excellence. Forward to a future untramelled by contrary opinions!


    Could you perhaps employ your powerful brain to solving this word puzzle? I've tried it out on 46.5% of all CiFfers so far, to no avail. So I'm going to cut to the chase and ask the head honcho, big cheese, the religion Mekon. It goes like this:

    This Article Will Make You Laughing A Stock Complete.

    If you get anywhere, please email the answer to:
    Fencewalker (aged 9 3/4)

  2. Good stuff James! A very humble admission of his own omnisicence from AB, or Friar WTF as I've christened him...

  3. Cheers turminder.

    (I like the friar WTF thing too. Seems more than appropriate!)

  4. He certainly jumped the plesiosaur with this one and got deservedly flattened.
    Good point you raise about the nature of some of LordS's "convictions". I'm sure someone on the thread mentioned 'entrapment'.
    Very kind of you to single me out, btw. I think you could have done some effective demolition work there - must haave been difficult not to jump in. Principles can get darned pesky.
    Seconded on "Friar WTF".

  5. Arrgh, James posted a long-ish comment earlier, but hasn't appeared.
    1) Good piece
    2) Ta for the mensh
    3) How did you manage to keep away? Stern stuff 'n' all that - you'd have been good there, though.

  6. Fencewalker,

    Hahaha - I think my blog's struggling with the fact that people are actually commenting, hence the gremlins.
    I did seriously contemplate posting the following on the AB gem:

    Andrew, I'm confused as to what constitutes personal abuse.
    For example, is calling you a c@nt considered personal abuse?

    I'm also confused as to what constitutes trolling. Is it when someone comes on the thread, and instead of engaging in the debate, merely calls you a c@nt?

    Finally, I'm having trouble with this 'when I write a story, I know more than 98% of the readers' thing!
    If, for example, I wrote a story called 'Andrew Brown is a c@nt' (although, admittedly, not news so much as common knowledge), would the nature of me having this news mean that it trumps any response you may have, because you do not?

    i.e. - meaning that you are a c@nt?

    but decided to put it up on UT instead, where the mods couldn't get at it.
    Besides, you seemed to have had it pretty much covered there anyways.....

    (also, I took a sneak peek at The Guardian today, and found the latest Bidisha offering - ran away again..)

  7. The - one - bizarre thing about AB's trolling is that some of his colleague, like David S pop up and defend him as if he's done nothing wrong. I quite like David S, so I can't imagine he's that unaware.
    If I saw a work colleague act AB's way in such a forum, I think the best I could do would be to keep shtum.

  8. btw, have a look at Jonathan West's much more considered response to the papal 'apology' on his blog.

  9. !! only just found this - need to tweak blog settings, should be getting updates... - very good. naughty fencewalker. heheheheh.