This entry was posted on
Monday, December 14th, 2009 at
3:22 pm and is filed
under Old Media.
This year, I’ve been subjected to a series of personal attacks as a result of one story:
One of the most surprising/disappointing attacks came from Private Eye, a magazine I’d previously trusted to be fair, if not always accurate.
The attack followed Private Eye reading that story on my site, emailing me for more information about it, and then publishing it as if it were their own discovery.
A writer called Adam Macqueen admitted that it was he who had scrubbed any mention of my contribution, then (eventually) threw £50 my way and expected that to be the end of the matter… and it probably would have been if he hadn’t gone on to describe my correspondence about this as the rantings of a “nutter on a bus” on the website of another Private Eye writer.
Macqueen went on to misrepresent my being upset about this as justification for his outburst and gave several misleading responses to queries about it. A typical deceit can be seen by comparing an earlier private message from Macqueen to a later public comment:
There’s obviously been a failure of communication here, and it’s my fault: I was tipped off to look into this story by a contact of mine, I handed it on to [name snipped] to check out. I didn’t know she’d been in contact with you, so didn’t realize there was any need to credit your blog (I think she intended to, and I swiped through it in red pen). – [Adam Macqueen, Feb 2009, via email]
I didn’t write the Private Eye article that Tim Ireland is so upset about. I did, however, email him as soon as I found out he’d been involved in it, apologising for any confusion and telling him the Eye would be sending him a standard freelance payment, which I assume is why he’s attached my name to it. – [Adam Macqueen, May 2009 (source)]
Here’s another example, just to show you the first one wasn’t an accident. Macqueen can only be referring to our private/professional email correspondence in the earlier comment, but he later sought to place his remarks in an entirely different context by claiming he was talking about something entirely different and not-at-all-connected-to-his-employer:
Oh my god! You made eye contact with the nutter on the bus! You should never, ever do this. I found this out the hard way a few months back… – [Adam Macqueen, May 2009 (source)]
I compared Tim Ireland’s behaviour on someone else’s blog to that of a “nutter on the bus”… [Adam Macqueen, June/July 2009 (source)]
On the subject of context, the circumstances in which Macqueen’s remarks were made is also important; I am not so thin-skinned that I can’t take an insult or a bit of banter; rather, I have been the victim of an ongoing campaign of smears and harassment orchestrated by two distinct camps of Conservatives (each with something to hide) and Macqueen’s outburst contributed to that.
[DETAIL: At the time Macqueen accused me of being a nutter, Glen Jenvey had just falsely distributed hundreds of false claims that I was convicted paedophile, Iain Dale (a former colleague of Macqueen’s) was making matters worse with his political game play and a false accusation of stalking, and Dominic Wightman (a former colleague of Jenvey’s) was anonymously jumbling the results, with a claim that I was such a nutter that I may have faked the Jenvey attacks, if not the entire story. While making it clear that there’s NO connection between the worlds of Jenvey/Wightman and Dale/Macqueen, there’s little doubt that Wightman was then (and is now) knowingly using the smears from Dale’s corner to his advantage. Wittingly, willingly or otherwise, Macqueen made himself part of this smear storm, and could have backed out at any time with a simple apology. Regrettably, he chose to stand by his remarks and/or lie his way around them, and sees no cause to withdraw his remarks today, even though I still have to deal with the fallout, months later.]
Seeking an explanation or apology for his outburst, I emailed Macqueen, who used the fact that I objected to being called a nutter as proof of his claims that I was a nutter. In light of Maqueen’s now repeated attempts to misrepresent private communication I felt I had no choice but to write an open letter to his editor. He later used this as proof of his claims that I was a nutter, and even misrepresented my attempts to put this into context as evidence of a bizarre conspiracy theory.
Tellingly, he felt unable to back up his claim by simply referring to our earlier correspondence. This was the main issue for me, and what made it a matter for the editor;
I maintained that Private Eye had stolen my scoop, and their only public response to this, through the main writer involved, was that I my objection to this amounted to nothing more than the rantings of a nutter on a bus. Further, I was being smeared as a direct result of the same story that they had taken credit for, and their writer sought to join the pile-on (which was the height of rudeness if nothing else).
I was somewhat taken aback when editor Ian Hislop then sought to dodge this issue, but I was even more surprised when our email conversation was brought to an abrupt end by someone at Private Eye setting the email system to classify any further email from me as ‘spam’.
Yes, you read that right and, yes, I double-checked. I tried from both accounts I had previously successfully used to communicate with Private Eye, and both returned the same error message, rejecting it as spam.
That’s where I had to leave it for months while I dealt with the extraordinary attack by Dominic Wightman that caused so much disruption, but when I recently got back to Private Eye (seeking credit for my story and an apology from Macqueen), they would not shift from a vague claim that they had actually sourced the story from somewhere else.
The main problem with this contention is that anyone doing the necessary web-based research would have found my research, conclusions and story as a top search result for any of the names involved, even if they’d cottoned onto the ‘Alan Sugar terror target’ con immediately.
After I pointed this out, Private Eye sought to clarify their position by pointing out that I was “just a blogger”.
Yes, you read that right and, yes, I double-checked. While they were careful to stress that this was not a formal policy (just a prejudice), Private Eye did make it clear that they are not in the habit of crediting websites “with only a few hundred hits*” and that’s the end of it, as far as they’re concerned.
(This, after years of mocking/castigating other print titles for lifting material from websites without permission or credit; the hypocrisy is breathtaking.)
So when I publish something and stake my reputation (if not my house) on it, that counts for nothing; it’s not until a professional journalist reads it and then passes it on that it becomes real. I’m welcome to think otherwise, but they stand by their writer who maintains that I am a nutter. That’s the current position of Private Eye, and they see no reason to discuss the matter any further.
I’ve tangled with some vindictive tabloid scum in my time, but I can honestly say that Private Eye is the only print title to have responded with a personal attack like this. My faith in this magazine and the people behind it is a little shaken, to say the least. Obviously in the past I allowed for the occasional inaccuracy and even the odd agenda, but I always regarded the Private Eye team to be fair-minded as a whole. Not any more. If anything, I see their refusal to sign up to the PCC in an entirely new light.
FFS, at one stage they even tried to defend their writer Adam Macqueen on the basis that at least he didn’t call me paedophile. Now there’s some upstanding standards for you.
*UPDATE – I would maintain that the number of ‘hits’ anyone gets is irrelevant in this argument (I did the work and made the key discovery, which they passed off as their own, end of) but I think it’s worth comparing our current performance in Twitter as a little sign off:
It’s also worth noting that Adam Macqueen has a personal (recently-retired) blog, and also runs a blog for Private Eye. Both of these blogs are, we can assume, cut from a different cloth than most blogs and are therefore of some significance.
UPDATE (9pm) – In the Twitter chatter this afternoon were a few references to An Evening with Private Eye at the National Theatre. The event promised a Q&A session that was open to all comers, so I went along at the last minute (standing room ticket) and managed to get this out of Ian Hislop during that session:
Me: Why does Private Eye take stories from weblogs and pass them off as their own work?
Hislop: We don’t.
[he quickly moves on to the next question.]
Me: Why does Private Eye not credit weblogs?
Hislop: That’s a really good point… that I’m going to ignore.
Lady: What criteria do you have before you publish a story?
Hislop (deeply sarcastic): Well, it depends if it’s been published on a weblog first.
Though Ian Hislop appears to have lied (or perhaps misremembered) in response to the first question and dodged the second, his arrogance is clear from the jest that followed; the editor of Private Eye regards bloggers to be unworthy of credit or acknowledgement.
Perhaps that’s why he regards his response so far to be adequate; Hislop maintains that “I do not accept that my contributors wilfully stole your material as you allege” and that’s fine so long as he continues to ignore the detail of the matter, especially the smear and behaviour from Macqueen that followed (a clear sign of bad faith in itself).
I won’t consider the matter closed until credit is acknowledged in print and Adam Macqueen apologises for his outburst.
MINI-UPDATE – Tut. Where are my manners? I forgot to express my gratitude that Ian Hislop didn’t respond by calling me a paedophile.