It’s old news that one of the glass-jawed News Ltd bloggers with whom we engage regularly refuses to link to people who criticise him (or even, in some cases, is too cowardly to even name them), whilst responding to their posts with half-quotes the context of which he deliberately discourages his readers from checking for themselves. Instead he links to friends talking about the people to whom he’s responding. Those people might have a link to the original content by the opponent – but in the meantime the reader must read a second party who agrees with the polemicist before getting to it. (If the reader isn’t sick of clicking on links and bothers to continue through.)

Refusing to link generally appears to be a petty effort to deprive “enemies” of website hits (a technique which I’m happy to advise is not as successful as you might expect), while linking to mates instead has the convenient opposite effect (although, as noted, it’s fairly minor). It can also enable someone who is, say, an editor of a major newspaper, to publicise the kind of dirty and contemptible attacks on his target that he would LIKE to write but can’t.

That’s bad enough, but sometimes the mis-linking seems to cynically add credence to attacks that may well not deserve it. A link is provided under the text needing support, and it is implied that it backs up the assertion made – and it is only if the reader clicks on it that they will discover that it does no such thing. Everyone else – at some sites, probably the majority – will automatically assume the linked content says pretty much what the linking text says it does. You can see the opportunity this technique, if more widely-adopted, would provide the cynical and shameless.

There was a disturbing example of this sort of misleading linking on Andrew Bolt’s blog yesterday, in which, in a post titled “Marr vs asylum seeker: who’d best know?” solely dedicated to contrasting what David Marr had said with remarks by an Iraqi asylum seeker, the only source Bolt provided for his loaded paraphrasing of Marr’s commentary was his own unsourced earlier attack on Marr (although if you didn’t click on the link you’d never realise that):

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The link is not, as you’d expect, to a transcript of Marr saying or writing the words Bolt has apparently so paraphrased. It is instead to Andy’s earlier unsourced paraphrasing:

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Of course, he gives no direct quote of Marr ever referring to Afghans patronisingly as “mere Afghans”, or even gives us enough details to find it for ourselves – but the slur is now buried underneath several iterations of links, so unless the reader bothers to follow the links back, what’ll stick in their mind is this loaded and patronising word being apparently used by Marr to describe these particular refugees.

Now because Bolt’s never given us the source, we have no idea whether Marr said anything like Bolt’s paraphrase or not. He might have – he might not have. We’re put in the unsatisfactory position of simply having to take Bolt’s word for it. All we’re given is a link that looks like a reference that would back his assertion up – but which actually isn’t.

Which is pretty poor journalism.

I’d have thought the rule was fairly simple: if you’re going to quote an enemy in order to attack him THEN QUOTE HIM. Don’t quote your earlier paraphrasing of him. And don’t paraphrase (particularly in such a loaded way) without giving your readers a reasonable way to check the original.

Seriously, be fair.

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