Yesterday at lunch I read a blog post in The Australian by Caroline Overington that made me so angry I actually had to go for a walk around the block to calm down. The flippancy with which I believed she was treating Cyclone Yasi had me walking around clenching my fists. As I’ve written before, I lived for 11 years in Cairns and so I have quite a few very close friends who were bunkering down on Wednesday night; and knowing the area so well, the scenes of destruction shown in the media yesterday morning hit very close to home. And so when I read what I took to be her very blasé view of the destruction caused by Yasi, well I was angry in a way that I am never so when reading some piece in the media that gets me irritated.
On my drive home, which takes about 30 minutes, and during which I usually start thinking about what I will write, I was writing some bloody angry prose in my head. After dinner, I sat down, as I always do, and let fly on the keyboard. I went in as hard on Overington as I have ever gone in on anyone. It felt bloody good. I had the evidence, I had the pictures, and I had the words all on my side.
And as I always do, I posted the link on Twitter, and lo did the tweets follow. And many were not pretty at all.
I soon reflected on my piece and felt that I had overstepped the mark and so did a slight retraction. I posted the retraction on Twitter – and apologised to Caroline for what I had insinuated. She hadn’t asked me to, and no one had said I should. Many people – including some journalists, tweeted to me that I had no need to retract what I had written, that she was fair game, and that I had not written anything legally wrong.
And yet in my gut, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I was wrong, even if not in a legal sense. It is to do with the tone of my piece, and given I was attacking Caroline Overington for the tone of her piece, I think it is only right to admit I got the tone of mine wrong as well.
Now I attack journalists and politicians everyday on this blog. When I get stuck into The Australian I’ll insinuate stupidity and bias and bias and stupidity. And you know what – I think I am on the money every bloody time. (You may disagree, and that’s fine by me.)
But here’s the thing: when I go in hard on something Matt Franklin or Patricia Karvelas has written, I go in hard on what they have written. I could not give a stuff about what they think privately. That is, the focus of the attack is their words not them. I may insinuate that they are poor journalists; but poor human beings who don’t love their friends and family? No. Now maybe with politicians I play the man a bit more than the ball, but again I keep the attacks to those based on what they say, and stay away from personal slurs. (Professional slurs? You betcha.)
I have a wonderful curse that I am generally able to throw out a line of sarcastic scorn with little trouble. It is a curse because whenever I do it – and I mean a personal, spot-on, right between the eyes hit – I hate myself afterwards for a very long time. Once about 18 years ago I drilled my sister with a line of scorn. I doubt she even remembers it now, but I still think about it pretty regularly, and I hate the memory of the look on her face just after I said it. Now my sister and I spent most of our childhood arguing with each other, but that was the only time I said a line to her that I had thought up earlier and workshopped in my head and then let fly when the moment arose.
What does this have to do with my post yesterday?
Well that is the one time I have let fly a post that as soon as I thought about, I knew I would hate myself for having written.
I think Overington made a joke that badly misfired. And that should have been my target. And yes, it largely was. I took her words off the page and I showed them to be stupid and uncaring. But you know what? At the end of the day it was just a stupid joke on her part that she has now acknowledged on Twitter could be seen as flippant. Did it deserve scorn? Yeah I think it did. She is paid to write for the flagship paper of News.ltd. If she, and The Australian, cannot be criticised for what is published on its site, then we might as well all give up on democracy.
But in my anger I let the tone drift from scorn on her attempt at a joke, to scorn on her. I suggested she was uncaring, whereas what was right was that her words could be read as uncaring.
Now some may say, who cares, what’s the difference?
Now some may say, so what? She wrote it, she gets the scorn.
But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I had missed the mark. Not by much. It isn’t so much what I wrote about was wrong, but the way I went about it.
A couple things on Twitter last night hit me. Stephen Spencer – a bloke in the press gallery I have a lot of time for, and certainly no friend of The Australian or news.ltd – tweeted:
He then followed it up with:
people who supported Deveny now bagging @overingtonc and vice versa. Not a fan of the pack attack.
And he’s right. I hate the pack attack as well. I hate that I could write something that would fuel not just comments on my blog saying “you nailed it”, but that it would fuel abuse at Overington on Twitter. I do think that had someone like Deveny or a political staffer, or even a humble public servant written the “joke” about the lack of damage from the cyclone, there would have been hell to pay from certain right-wing bloggers and columnists in the media.
Doesn’t make it right, and doesn't make it right when I did it either.
And yeah, Spencer is correct: I did go over-the top. Originally it was going to be just part of a larger blog (I was going to focus on the idiotic use on Today Tonight and news.com.au of a countdown clock to the cyclone hitting the coast), but it grew as I wrote it. And as I wrote it, my anger grew as well.
If I ever “nailed a post” (a phrase Overington has used to describe how people react to blog posts) that was it. Doesn’t make it right though.
Her post was two lines long (three if you count the line below the duck-video), and I made every bit of all of them.
Too much in fact.
This doesn’t mean two sentences can never be worthy of an entire post; just not those two.
It was a misplaced, ill-timed joke. Call her on it, sure. But writing a post with a tone that effectively unleashed a pile of hate at someone? Sorry that’s not why I blog.
There’s a lot of hate on the net. I read some blogs on the net and the tone, if not the words, is geared towards fuelling anger. The comments on those blogs reflect that as well.
Last night I wrote a blog post that conveyed that type of tone, and it led to those types of comments.
Sometimes I hate this hobby of mine. Underneath the TV we have two DVD series each of The Wire, The Tudors and Battle Star Galactica. I have the box set of The Pacific, the old BBC series of War and Peace starring Anthony Hopkins, the mini series of Little Dorrit and Bleak House. I have the old series of Power without Glory. I have close to 50 books I desperately want to read. And each night I say, tonight we’ll start watching that series, or tonight we’ll watch that movie, or tonight I’ll go to bed early and read that book.
And yet I don’t. I’ll write a blog post; I’ll chat on Twitter; I’ll tinker with the post; and it’ll be 11:30 and I think oh bugger, not again.
And yet I absolutely love doing it. I love writing; I love the debates and laughs on Twitter.
But last night was the first time I had wished I didn't have a blog. Because even if it was in the mildest sense, I had added to the hate on the internet.
I felt like I did the moment after I had let rip at my sister 18 years ago.
This is my hobby. It has brought me a lot of joy. But a hobby that has me implying someone would prefer to see people dead? Really? Is that what I want to do each night? Is that joyful? Does that tone add anything of value? No, no and no.
I have achieved a certain amount of attention for this blog; and mostly people read it because they agree with me when I attack the media or the Liberal Party – or even occasionally the ALP or Greens – or they read it because they at least enjoy what I have to write about those topics. The one thing I hate most about all of those whom I attack (and especially the media) is when they stuff up, they don’t admit it. They see people distressed by things they have written or said, and do they apologise? No, they effectively say “up yours” and they say they’re paid to be provocative and so we need to deal with it.
Well good for them. And maybe if I were being paid to do so I would act the same. But I would like to think not.
And so I say I regret my post last night. Not because I think I was wrong and Overington right, but because sometimes, being right isn’t enough.
Others – whether because they are paid to be so, or because they enjoy it – can be mean on the internet, and go hard at a person. I choose not to. My post crossed over and I didn’t feel comfortable with where that put me.
What others on Twitter or on this blog think or don’t about whether or not I was right, really isn’t much of an issue to me.
The post had an ugly tone; one I don’t care to repeat. One that made me embarrassed to take any credit for any praise that came my way for it.
The most angry post I ever wrote was one that never saw the light of day. It was in response to my being outed. I wrote it and thankfully had people around me who told me to put it in a drawer. I had written it in red-hot anger. Sure it was all perfectly correct and right. But sometimes, being in the right isn’t enough.
Don’t blog angry.