"Totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass"

I must admit that I'm not such a great fan of the style of some posts that appear on the Cambria Politico blog, but in comparison to many blogs I have read it usually contains nothing I would take any great exception to. There are many blogs that I would take exception to.

At present, the blog has taken down a post in response to an email from Huw Lewis' office in the Assembly. The crux of the allegation made by Matt Greenough was:

Leaving the entirely puerile tone to one side, there is a clear implication running through the piece that Labour AM, Huw Lewis, suffers from a mental health problem. This is an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion.

Source

I am in no position to know what the original post said, but a redacted version with the supposedly objectionable content removed is here.

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I find this a very sad development. Politicians, by virtue of putting themselves in the public eye, are obvious targets to be lampooned for what they say and think. In fact I would go so far as to say that the media has a moral duty to do it, and that it has been an established part of our political tradition for centuries.

Perhaps the now-removed article did go too far, I can't judge. But the way the issue has been handled, to judge by the rest of Matt Greenough's email, would certainly appear to be heavy handed.

It might also be self-defeating. I think that once the threat of legal action, namely:

I am also asking for legal advice in relation to taking the matter forward relating to the specific blog post.

... has been resolved, the original article is likely to resurface. And so, by trying to stifle what may have been only an expression of opinion, Huw Lewis could find that what his office has done has backfired on him ... and he might just find that he has hung himself with a name that he will never be able to shake off.

Perhaps—and I hope it is just perhaps—this sad escalation was merely an attempt by an over-zealous member of Huw's staff to "control things" as part of his current election campaign. Perhaps it was never seriously intended as a legal threat, but was merely an attempt to take the article out of circulation for the next week or two ... until after the election is over.

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I myself picked up a mistake in Huw's manifesto, and Huw took it in good humour when he could have reacted much more defensively. I think that was the right response, and very much to his credit.

It would add to his credit if he could bring himself to make it clear that this email from his own office was a regrettable over-reaction.

Wales needs lively political debate. Lampooning our politicians has just as important a part to play in that as more serious stories, articles ... and even what we post on blogs.

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11 comments:

MH said...

Just a note of acknowledgement. Che Grav-ara beat me to the punch on this one.

His version is here.

Guffington Pist said...

I must admit that I'm not such a great fan of the style of some posts that appear on the Syniadau blog, but in comparison to many blogs I have read it usually contains nothing of any interest to anybody. There are many blogs that I would take exception to, but this is certainly one of the worst.

At present, the blog has decided to throw its way behind the unproven and offensive crap about Huw Lewis on the Cambria Politico bog (correct). The crux of this support is:

Leaving the entirely simpering and pandering tone to one side, Syniadau is one of those also-ran blogs that is totally blinded by the belief that Labour are nothing but a bunch of insidious fascists all too ready to remove the few powers that Wales has, and probably chuck those uppity bastards into concentration camps into the bargain.

Syniadau is in no position to know what the original post said, but hey, why not comment ignorantly upon its supposed comment, without stopping for one moment to check a single damn fact and then return to the mirror to admire its own cleverness in quoting from the Lewis team letter? Bet those fascists never saw that coming.

- I find this a very sad development. Politicians, by virtue of putting themselves in the public eye, are obvious targets to be lampooned for what they say and think, and that obviously includes labelling (and libelling) them mad, no matter whether it's true or not, and whether it stigmatises those with mental health issues. Next week - a round-up of Chubby Brown's best jokes.

In fact I would go so far as to say that the media has a moral duty to report lies - instead they perpetuate them every day ... about Labour. Thanks to ill-informed bedroom wank monkeys like Syniadau, that established part of our political tradition for centuries has returned.

Wales needs lively political debate. Lampooning our politicians has just as important a part to play in that as more serious stories, articles ... and even what we post on blogs. Tomorrow - why have they let women and blacks in the Assembly? A humourous sideways look.

MH said...

Thank you, Guffington Pist.

You have given us a good example of the standards against which the original post might reasonably be judged. If what you have said is not as much "an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion" then it is difficult to imagine how much more serious that post must have been.

I am fairly sure that the text of the original post will eventually come to light somewhere on the internet, and we will then all be able to see whether the allegation made by Huw's office is well founded or not.

Huw should take what I have said very seriously. If it turns out that the email was an unjustified threat designed to silence criticism that he merely found uncomfortable during a sensitive election battle, Huw will have damaged his own reputation. He is ultimately responsible for what is sent out from his office.

I believe—and I certainly hope—Huw is decent and honourable enough to sort this matter out now, rather than try to "forget about it" until after the election is over. The ball is in his court.

MH said...

I've just seen that the original article has been reinstated.

To me, this "extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion" seems to be a piece of perfectly ordinary ridicule that I would hardly have taken notice of. Huw Lewis’s office has made it into something far bigger than it would otherwise have been.

If calling someone "Screwloose" warrants legal threats, then Huw is not well served by the likes of Mr Greenough. If it was done on his initiative he should be sacked

On the other hand, perhaps Mr Greenough was simply doing what he was paid to do. If it was done with Huw's consent, then Huw will richly deserve all the ridicule he is going to get.

He must act quickly to dissociate himself from the email. I'll give him a day or two to do so.

Guffington Pist said...

One very quick question - on whose authority do we have it that a legal threat was issued? Can you post the contents of the letter or writ on your blog, please?

Penddu said...

GP - If you check the earlier posts on the Cambria blog, you will find the copy of the letter. When you are in a hole it is usually best to stop digging.

Penddu said...

Here: http://cambriapolitico.com/2009/11/labour-thugs-try-to-stifle-free-speech/

Penddu said...

I remember reading the original post before it was pulled, and it hardly registered - but from now on I shall always refer to the male member of the Neagle household as Screwloose.

Someone should be congratulated.

Adam Higgitt said...

MH

You have sought to elevate the discussion about this development to one of the issues. I'm glad you have, because it's that I'd like to discuss rather than the specifics of this incident.

You seem to suggest that it is wrong for politicians to invoke the codes of conduct and laws that exist to protect them (as citizens) from unfair or untrue abuse. Surely it is an affirmation of the adequacy of these arrangements when that happens? Somebody writes something about someone else. The subject believes s/he has been wronged (beyond what can be considered fair or legitimate comment) and refers the matter to arbiters, either statutory, voluntary or both. I fail to see how this is a "sad" development. If it is, we may as well insert new clauses that remove elected politicians from these protections.

We all support free speech - but most of us do so only up to a point (the "you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theatre" argument). With that in mind, we either support the existence of the PCC code and the laws of defamation, or we don't. If we don't it is legitimate to bemoan episodes such as these. But if we do, we can hardly complain when somebody actually uses them.

Best

Adam

MH said...

Thank you for your comment, Adam. Although we might disagree on various issues, I certainly respect what you have to say and, in particular, the way in which you say it.

As I said, I don't have much time for the sort of political sniping that all too often characterizes a blog like Cambria Politico even though, in political terms, we are on the same side. To be honest, I'd have to say that I'm a little embarrassed by it, because I think that my side of the political argument can be advanced in far better ways.

But equally I have very little time for a blog like Aneurin Glyndwr, which seems to engage in exactly the same sort of sniping from a different direction.

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Now that the original post has been reinstated, we can all see and judge for ourselves whether the threat of legal action made by Huw Lewis's office was justified or not.

Could it, by any stretch of the imagination, imply that Huw "suffers from a mental health problem"? Could it, by any stretch of the imagination, be "an extraordinarily serious allegation made in a totally unacceptable and staggeringly crass fashion"?

Of course it couldn't. It was merely ridicule.

Put it into perspective. How many times do we hear politicians being described as "mad" or "crazy"? You cannot, I'm sure, believe for one moment that this constitutes "unfair or untrue abuse".

What angers me is that Huw Lewis's office has used legal threats to try and protect himself from the sort of ridicule that any politician should expect to receive in a healthy democracy. The day we are not allowed to laugh at our politicians will be a dark day for us all.

As I said, Huw has a day or two in which to dissociate himself from this email. If he does, it will add to his credit. But if he fails to, he will deserve all the ridicule he is going to get for trying to use the law to silence someone who laughed at him.

Anonymous said...

Exactly right - insulting someone is not the same as defaming them. If it were, then calling a politician stupid or lazy or mad or unhinged or all the other things they - and we - get called all the time would be actionable.

It's very sad that he tried to silence someone who insulted him. Lewis is not himself innocent of insulting people, nor indeed are his staff.

I'd ne interested to know whether Lewis's staff really did go to lawyers on the basis of 'Screwloose' alone, or whether they simply threatened to. If they didn't, then it shows they knew from the start they were bluffing, which would make them dishonest chancers trying to bully and bluff, and if they did it means they're hypocrites, because frankly 'Screwloose' is a lot less unpleasant than some fo the things they've called people.

What is most worrying is the first option: trying, cynically, to silence someone by threat, while knowing damn well they don't have a leg to stand on.

The implications of this are terrible: if Cambria had backed down it would have set a dreadful precedent for free speech and the Lewis gang would have won despite being wrong.

I don't like the style of the many of the Cambria bloggers, but frankly I know what the Welsh Labour party's like and this is kid's stuff compared with what they get up to against their opponents.

We have seen an instance of a very serious attempt to shut down opposition through threat and bluff. I'd be worried about that, whatever party I supported.

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