Thursday, 18 March 2010

Bobby Kennedy and the Guardian Fiasco

"Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice."

These words, from Robert Kennedy, have stayed with me since I first read them, and have, I hope, influenced and shaped my actions and my approach to life.

Most recently, the sentiment has been at the forefront of my mind in a ‘row’ over moderation and censorship on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website. OK, no law had been flouted, but other than that, the Kennedy quote seemed apt.

I first read the quote in a book lent to me by a great teacher, who also, when I was about 14 years old, used to let me read his copy of The Guardian at lunch. At the time, I instantly felt drawn to the ‘worldview’ offered me by the paper, and recognised that, perhaps for the first time, I seemed to be seeing important events through a lens that addressed the questions and concerns that I myself had, from a position that closely reflected my own.

Like another Bobby quote:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance”

The Guardian seemed to me, to be standing up for the ideals and values that I too held, and sending out the ripples that I thought the world most needed.

I stuck with the paper, through the changes in my own life, and through more seismic ones in the ‘real world’ until, upon relocating to ‘abroad’, I naturally honed in on the newspapers website as a link to the land I’d left, and onto the CiF part in particular, as both a way to compensate for a distinct lack of friends/social life, and to provide a source of entertainment, humour, and at times, wisdom, that reminded me of friends and family back home.

In the relatively short period of my own participation, however, I have noticed a drift from the very things that drew me to the Guardian all those years ago. I don’t intend to make a huge list of their faults, but generally (in my opinion), there has been a very biased approach to articles around particular subjects, a very capricious and inconsistent approach to moderation, and, perhaps most worryingly, a definite hint of contempt for those posting ‘Below the Line’ on the website.

All three of my concerns were highlighted and proven true, in the recent Lord Summerisle case.

An article was posted, by an uber-feminist lesbian, who seemed to be making some quite outrageous and derogatory claims about a certain celeb, who had been unfaithful, and then, by extension, most men who cheat, claiming to offer an authoritative view into the minds and psyches of ‘offenders’.

Lord S questioned whether the authors experience, sexuality, lifestyle etc, put her in such a position of authority as to be able to make such broad, sweeping claims, and asked if he, writing as a heterosexual male, made similar assertions about females in same sex relationships, it would have been accepted and published by the Guardian.

When this comment was deleted, LordS then asked, why, and, whether, had he written the above article, such a question of him would have been justified, and indeed, allowed to stand. After a small debate on the ‘What Do You Want to Talk About’ thread, news reached us that Lord S had been banned from CiF, and given that this was his ‘third strike’, it was to be permanent.

This caused a bit of a furore, and many posters, myself included, took issue with The Guardian, and its moderation/editorial policy. After considerable backlash, and vocal opposition over a couple of days, The Guardian eventually sent out the troops, who, although I’m paraphrasing, came up with some variation of ‘yeah, well, if you don’t like it, fuck off, or ‘the moderation issue again– boring – get over yourselves, everyone else thinks we’re great’.

Now, this response, I suppose, was slightly better than no response (which had until that point, been the stock policy with regards to calls for a discussion on/clarification of moderation policy, and the one they rapidly re-adopted after being called on the many problems with how they had responded), but, for me at least, it offered a definitive insight into how The Guardian views those who comment on ‘their’ website, and how much of a flying fuck they give about us Below the Line, who, ultimately, make the site something more than a collection of pseudo-intellectual journo buddies, writing to each other on a social networking page.

After hanging around for a little while, in a futile and final attempt to prompt a debate, I made the decision to leave the site, for the foreseeable future at least.

Now, this was by no means, an easy decision. Regardless of how sad this may be, the absence of CiF in my life, leaves a pretty gaping hole, with not many other options with which to fill it.

Consequently, the end of my fourteen year relationship with The Guardian has, lest things there change substantially and rapidly, come to a sudden, and for me, bitter end. And while I’m certain that they themselves don’t give a shit, and though I fully acknowledge that my walking away will ‘leave no ripples’, I have done it anyway.

Once again, this decision, this course of action, knowingly adopted despite its futility, can also perhaps best be expressed by Robert Kennedy, a person whose words, at one time, thanks to a twist of fate, were synonymous in my mind with the once great Guardian, but which now provide me with the incentive and desire to walk away from it....

“First, is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills - against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man”.


  1. Nice one! It was noticeable that many of those criticising the G over the two 'biggies' recently (LordS and _that_ AB thread) specifically said that they were _disappointed_ in the G. They weren't (just) snarking or stirring - they felt _let down_.

  2. Good stuff James, I think the problem is we do love Cif. Too much perhaps? Look at the way any change ellicits an almost Luddite response, what in the Borders is called the "Aye been", "There's Aye been, nae xyz in Auchterfukit, n we dinnae need ain the noo!"

    Your words; '..The Guardian views those who comment on ‘their’ website, and how much of a flying fuck they give about us Below the Line, who, ultimately, make the site something more than a collection of pseudo-intellectual journo buddies, writing to each other on a social networking page.'

    Made me think, "but aren't we 'just a bunch of pseudo-intellectual blogging buddies, writing to each other on a social networking page.'"

  3. Thanks Philippa.

    It is a disappointment, more than anything, I think.
    I appreciate that something the size of the Guardian is going to have problems maintaining x, y, or z, and that they're never gonna keep everyone happy, but I do feel it's a bit more than that at the moment.

    Simplistically put, it sort of seems that, more and more, I'm calling the Guardian on stuff I used to rely on them calling, if that makes sense...

  4. Good article, James. Thanks.

    The latest I saw on the 4th Birthday Bash page (having been given an example of censorship) was Seaton admitting that there appeared to be a problem and then rapidly saying that it was, of course, one isolated and unique mistake from which nobody should construe a wider picture of institutionalised ideological media manipulation and deliberate silencing of debate.

    This will convince nobody outside the congregation of idiots housed at CiF Towers who, presumably, are all sitting in a circle with tightly clenched eyes and hands clasped against their ears, going, "Wah! Wah! Wah!"

    It was nice to see that part of Seaton's defence was to attempt to smear JayReilly.

    The obvious problem would seem to be that if you put an idiot in charge, idiocies will be the outcome.

    You said: "Simplistically put, it sort of seems that, more and more, I'm calling the Guardian on stuff I used to rely on them calling, if that makes sense..."


  5. Thanks Turminder.

    I agree, too. And I think because we love it, and because we invest in and contribute to it (often quite obsessively), it's quite hard, for me at least, to deal with some things (and lord knows I've been trying to ignore them).

    And, you're almost certainly right about us lot being a group of 'psuedo-intellectual' blogging buddies too*, but I think that the key difference is, while we're all 'like-minded' to a point, I think we're all coming from some very different and very interesting places.

    It's this, BTL, that adds the best ingredient to the Guardian, because it tempers, and sometimes, counterbalances the opinions/worldview of those ATL, giving CiF a credibility that it would lack, in my opinion, if we weren't there, or these alternative viewpoints become increasingly stifled because they don't 'toe the party line' or whatever.

    This is why, I feel that their current approach to moderation, and at best slightly indifferent attitude to us, is a little worrying, especially if it continues/increases...

    *Although, in my defence, I'm just happy to have people to talk to, the psuedo-intellectual stuff's quite secondary...

    PS - photos are mine, thanks. Taken with a mobile mostly, believe it or not!

  6. Wow, another one.

    Thanks atomboy.

    If I'm going to be honest, I think the thing that got me most about this, has been the attitude of The Guardian.

    Like you said, Seaton was quite unpleasant (as was Georgina Henry, although to a lesser extent), and (if he can be said to have done so) he only made a 'token' effort to address grievances after he'd tried to be all wittily dismissive of them, and that hadn't worked.

    I'd been raising the issue of moderation for a few weeks prior to this, as had others, the requests were ignored, and then they go act all shocked and righteous when this happens, like we should always be grateful, unquestioning and submissive!!

    Them being right, always, from the start, has now, it seems, become more important than anything else...

  7. hallo James

    Just dropped thru the UT wormhole.
    I.m a long time Guardian reader - my Dad before me when it was the Manchester G.

    The recent problems with moderation and damning to the outer darkness leave us all with a 'how to express myself dilemma'

    so much of the genuine concern or anger we feel has to be modified , become polite.

    Nowhere left to express deeply felt concerns which we'd like to try to address. WE have to use depotentiated language , plead meekly or be banned.

    good old robust debate, spade recognition and downright fury have become socially unacceptable.
    yes - disappointment sums it up. Mind - I suppose we are all a bit lilly livered to expect the Gardian to do it for us.


  8. Hey Leni,

    I agree, there's getting fewer and fewer places to express deeply felt concerns that don't fit into paradigm x, y or z, and, recently, I've found myself frequently saying stuff like 'but if we can't do it with The Guardian/CiF, Where the Hell can we?'

    I've always tried to keep my postings on CiF reasonably polite (I've also failed sometimes, granted), although I do think passionate and involved discussion is a good thing, and I certainly have an issue with the boundaries of that discussion being randomly/capriciously set beforehand, and rigidly enforced, or, even moved mid-thread (outside of legal issues, obviously).

  9. Good piece. The G's behaviour has been thoroughly shabby, and cracked the thin veneer they apply of not being fatally compromised corporate tarts, with an incredibly thin skin when their narrow preconceptions are challenged. It's not abuse they fear but being shown up, for the shallowness and idiocy of their identity politics tropes being exposed, for their openness to be demonstrated as a sham etc

  10. Alisdair

    Haha. Brilliant. Thank you.

    (that's cheered me right up!)

  11. Good piece James. I'm waiting to see what their response is on LordS; if he's allowed back I'll give it more time. Maybe the new post-Georgina broom might change things?
    AtomBoy's quite right on Seaton's response. Usual snarkiness and internally illogical.
    Still, you've won yourself some followers.
    So what are your terms for return, or is that it? (Hope not, but I understand your reaction to their toolishness)

  12. Trouble is, though, Seaton made his response on a thread that people have assumed is dead so no-one's really looking. I've flagged it on Whaddya but I think people are too busy have Proper Friday Nights.

  13. How is it suddenly half past three.
    Fucking time travel. James, I refuse to visit a site where there might be Morloks.

  14. Hey Fencewalker.

    (I'm glad you showed up. It was killing me that I couldn't respond to you from the other day on Whaddya. So, for your very kind words, thank you!!)

    As for your question, as I understand it his lordship will be allowed back next week sometime, and that's great.

    But, I do think this whole thing was the result of an underlying problem, that just happened to 'infect' a (rightly) well-loved and well-respected poster, who, luckily, knew how to get word back to us lot, who could mount a defence on his behalf.

    However, until these underlying issues are sorted out (including the much sought after debate on moderation, etc), I think it's just going to keep happening (probably unnoticed on most occasions), and to be involved in CiF, 'fearful', or guarded because of arbitrary moderation, is, for me, just not acceptable.

    Like I've said here and on there (before I 'flounced'), it just seems like something is very, very wrong, no matter how much we want to tell ourselves otherwise..

    (And apart from the odd bit of uncontrollable facial twitching and severe cold sweats, the last couple of days haven't been too hard....)

  15. Haha - I haven't figured out the time thing!! I don't know why it's saying that (and local time is 8pm, so it can't be that either...)

  16. I agree about the underlying issues. I'm pretty set firm that if LordS doesn't come back I'm off. I don't know about the rest. Partly, I just don't want to leave just because they're being dicks. Isn't CiF partly ours, no matter what they say? Partly I'm hoping things will change post-Georgina. Partly, I'm hoping we'll grind them down (a bit pie-in-the-sky, I know). Anyway, if I do go post Summerisle's return, it'll probably be a drift off (nearly did that at the end of Feb anyway) rather than a big stomp. Though the idea of a Blaze of Glory does have some appeal.
    Anyway - CiF's all the poorer for your absence. You did damn good work on Whaddya when this blew up in taking the lead. Much enjoyed your posts in my Feb/Mar lurking phase, too.

  17. And if it's achieved nothing else, it's shown LordS how popular he is. Certainly wouldn't have happened in the unlikely event I'd been banned, or plenty of others. They really shot themselves in the foot.

  18. Fencewalker

    Again, kind words thank you. Although I'm sure there'll be any great mourning over me leaving.

    I do think CiF is ours, partly, but in an 'it's their ball, and we have to be grateful' kind of way recently, and they keep changing whatever game it is we're supposed to be playing, without bothering to tell us, too.

    But, for what it's worth, it's the posters and the BTL banter that I will miss, and the interactions with people like yourself, who make CiF such a pleasure, and it makes me sad that the Guardian values other stuff over this sense of community that has been created by it's users.

    Right, off for some dinner.
    Please keep me informed though, over the next few days, if it's not too much trouble.

  19. Yes, that attitude really sticks in my craw. And it is so contradictory to the values they supposedly "live". I do wonder if all their staff, other than Matt and Georgina, are happy with that.
    I agree on the BTL thing, too. I could quite happily lose the ATL completely. Just have BTLs commissioned. Most of them (viz. Jay, Ally) are far better informed on what they would choose to write about.
    Enjoy dinner. Do let me know if there are any cheap record shops stuffed with Joao Bosco albums in the neighbourhood.
    I'm sure other people will keep you informed too. Aren't you lurking?

  20. Fencewalker,

    I was sort of lurking immediately afterwards, to see how stuff panned out, but when they adopted the 'let's shut whaddya every couple of hours to stop stuff panning out' approach, I sort of stopped bothering. *ahem* mostly.

    And now it seems that they've also adopted a 'let's seduce other lurkers to fill the gap/appease advertisers' approach too, so it's looking less and less likely that they intend to 'address the issues'.

    Seems therefore, that it's a bit more than just a Matt/Georgina thing, although I'd like to think there are some there who see the issue in a different light. Fingers crossed I s'pose.

    (And, if you're genuinely interested in Joao Bosco stuff, give me a shout. It seems like it's some sort of law for pretty much every record shop to stock his/any Brazilian artists' entire oeuvre....)

    Take care.


  21. Think you're probably right, but ultimately I don't see how they can sustain it. At some point someone's going to get wise and start a CiF equivalent that's more responsive, and the Graun will suffer. Even they can surely see that?
    I'm tempted to take you up on the Bosco thing, but I can feel my credit card quailing at the idea of gaining access to another channel to sap *my* dwindling pot of resources. I did find the original of the one I wanted on Discogs and it was mind-destroyingly expensive. If you run across an original copy of Jorge Ben's Africa Brasil, OTOH...(No! No! Stop there!).

  22. Fencewalker

    If you just want CD's that are quite hard to find there, they're probably not too hard to find here, and also probably not that expensive, so I can check that out next time, if do want to give me some titles/specifics.

    If you're after vinyl/originals however, they might be a bit harder to find, but I do frequent a few 'flea-markets' of a weekend, so I'd be more than happy to keep an eye out for anything in particular (I'm there looking through the music and books anyways...)

    Again, I'm not sure the price would be too high, unless of course, it's full on limited edition 'worldwide' collectors stuff, obviously - but I do often find the 'one man's junk..' thing is quite apt in these kinds of places.

    (I've bought a couple of quite nice cameras that I'd consider antiques, and I even tried to pay more for them, but the woman, bless her, was of the 'why, they're old and don't work properly' school of thought, despite my attempted explanations in pidgin Portuguese).

    Anyway, your call, obviously, but there's no harm in me looking, I'd say.

  23. Get the behind me, James. It really is too dangerous!
    It would largely be vinyl. CDs I can mostly get from some good sites in the US and France, and most of the stuff I like is late 60s/early 70s. I think the stuff I can't get might be expensive. And I really really do spend too much on records. I'll reserve the right to take you up on it if I really weaken though. Ta for the offer, but I must be strong.
    And now off to make dinner.