In a post about Crikey editor Jonathan Green’s appointment to a new editorial position at the ABC, Andrew Bolt inserted an update that included the following:

I’d also urge the ABC to be very careful of Green’s quality control over his writers and blog readers. I was forced recently to write the following to his boss, Eric Beecher, the famous campaigner for “quality journalism”, and am still considering my options, as they say:

Last week I drew your attention to comments and blog postings you had published over the space of just a few days calling me a “proven liar”, “nutty”, “unhinged”, “underhand”, “loopy”, “paranoid”, a “hypocrite”, a “racist”, “dishonest”, “hysterical”, “petty”, “evasive”, “deluded”, “irrational”, lacking in morality, someone guilty of “deliberately misrepresenting” people, “full of poisonous shit”, and a “notorious liar” who practices “lies, misrepresentations, and deceit”, “lies, distortions and smears”, “fakery” and “cowardice and dishonesty”, while giving “tacit approval” to “extremist sickos” and “playing the paranoid schizo’’, resembling in my person an “asylum for the criminally insane”. You conceded that these comments included a number of statements that were “untrue and unnecessarily personal in tone”.

Since then one of Green’s writers has urged in a headline that I be ”sodomised”, and his site has said of me that “we are dealing with fascism, plain and simple’’ and, referring to me and my readers, “I sometimes think Stalin had the right idea – line a million or so of ‘em up against a wall”. Yesterday I was named in a Crikey article as someone so corrupt as be evidently driven to scepticsm by “a desire for funds from fossil-fuel companies”, and was smeared besides as “undoubtedly more dangerous” than a “Holocaust denier”, and, in time, ”morally worse”.

Let’s get some facts and perspective on what Bolt wrote.

To begin, I’ll note that Possum has written his own post defending himself against the charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated sodomy with a mathematical instrument. You can read his post and form an opinion.

Next, I’m not going to say much about Clive Hamilton’s article, but I will note that he does not directly attack Bolt in the way Bolt implies. He lists Bolt as an example of a climate change denier and makes an ethical or moral argument about climate change deniers – you can read and form an opinion about both Hamilton’s article and Bolt’s characterisation of it.

To the best of my knowledge, the remainder of the quotes Bolt provides are from Pure Poison (although it has been suggested that some might be from the Poll Bludger), so let’s take a closer look at things. I have to start by saying that I’m surprised that Bolt is so troubled by comments that contain some rude statements about himself for several reasons. First, this week he approvingly quoted Sinclair Davidson’s argument that:

… to reject the legitimacy of conversation on the basis of tone is to place form above substance.

Our posts, and many of our comments, use evidence and argument to criticise Andrew Bolt’s writings. But instead of addressing or responding to any of that content, he chooses to focus on the tone of some comments. I don’t see how he can reconcile this with his endorsement of Davidson’s position.

Second, when he discussed concerns about comments on his own site last month he noted that:

On the other hand, it’s clear that some associate the most confronting comments on it with me personally.

As one prominent person from the Left told me in anger, these are comments I endorse. That I encourage. That secretly do my dirty work. Media Watch has implied the same.

The worst comments are said to be inspired by me, and the best not.

These claims are dishonest, or at best merely confused, yet I cannot deny the damage they have done.

Yet when it comes to our site, Bolt attributes the worst of the comments not only to us as authors but to Crikey’s editor.

But aside from his apparent general acceptance that a bit of rough and rude language is acceptable in a blog’s comments, there is the fact that his own blog has allowed many of the same comments to be made about people who are not Andrew Bolt. For example:

Al Gore – Proven liar.

Andrew McGahan – Unhinged propagandist.

Gough Whitlam – Underhanded. There’s not a single fibre of virtue or principle in that fellow.

Kevin Rudd – Paranoid

Al Gore – Hypocrite

Gordon Brown – Dishonest

Nathan Rees – Hysterical

Anthony Albanese – Petty and mean

Kevin Rudd – Liar

Jill Singer – Deals in smears

Professor Stephen Schneider – Evasive

Kevin Rudd – Fakery

Jerry Melillo – Deluded

Kevin Rudd – Coward

Brumby and Rudd attending disaster sites after Black Saturday – only there for a sicko photo op

But aside from wondering whether he applies a different standard to negative comments about himself than his opponents, I have another reason to be surprised about Andrew Bolt’s current attack – we agreed that many of those comments were inappropriate, and we took steps to change our comment processes and culture more than eight months ago.

Here is what Bolt leaves out of the tale he gave his readers:

  • He sent that original message to Eric Beecher in late February, about one week after this site had launched. At that time, comments were published without moderator approval (apart from the first comment made by each individual user).
  • The comments he quoted as being published “since then” were published on 28th February and 1st March – again, without prior moderator approval. You can see the “Stalin comment” here, and note that it was quickly condemned by Jeremy as well as several other commenters. The “fascism comment” is here, and can be read in the context of claims that legitimate, polite disagreement was being edited on Bolt’s site. You can form an opinion about the appropriateness of those comments and how we handled their publication.
  • On 2nd March, Jonathan Green posted an apology to Andrew Bolt and an explanation of the standard of discussion we were aiming for on our site.
  • In response to the obvious problems with not moderating comments before they appeared, on 2nd March we changed the blog’s settings. Since then, no comment has appeared on this site without being approved for publication by a site author. When we have concerns about a comment, a back-channel discussion takes place until we agree on how to proceed. If need be, we reject or edit comments, and commenters who repeatedly demonstrate that they won’t comply are blacklisted. We have also attempted to steer commenters toward our desired tone and culture of discussion. This sometimes involves sending emails explaining the problems with a comment and asking the commenter to rephrase what they have written in a new comment. If a comment is acceptable for publication but we have some concerns about the tone then we often post our own reply in an attempt to steer the conversation. In the rare event that we make a mistake in publishing a comment, we fix it as quickly as possible and attempt to address any concerns.

I note that Andrew Bolt has not quoted any comments since we made those changes. And I also must say that after those first couple of chaotic weeks, I am generally proud of the level of debate we have had at this site.

So, this is what Andrew Bolt has attacked us over – something that doesn’t seem so incompatible with his own site’s standards, that happened months ago, and that we addressed. And that brings me to my greatest concern about this attack. Back in the first couple of weeks after our site’s launch we acknowledged problems with the discussion on our site and took steps to change both the procedure and the culture. One month ago, I noted that the culture of comments on Andrew Bolt’s site was something he needed to address. Bolt himself described himself as “agonising” over what to do about commentary on his site.

But is there any evidence that he has changed anything? He holds up his quick reaction to the homophobic comment about David Marr as evidence that he addressed the issue. But his own tactics do not seem to have changed, and comments engaging in unsubstantiated personal smears such as this still appear:

No Mick, sorry mate, I reckon it was 100% of those papers was funded. That academic is known in that institution as a bit of a bully – but then again to be in that position in a University, he had to bury a lot of competitors.

We have worked to improve the standard of discussion at this site. When will Andrew Bolt do the same?

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