Publishing emails…

I have had some criticism on Twitter and in the comments on site – not to mention from Melanie Phillips herself – for publishing contents of the emails that she sent to me. I can understand the criticism, and it is something I have never done before and I doubt I will ever need to do again. I do receive a lot of email correspondence through this site and I do treat it all in absolute confidence as anyone who has contacted me will know (hence why this has never been an issue in the years I have published this blog). The emails from Melanie Phillips I published today and yesterday will not change that.

I initiated contact with Melanie Phillips not really expecting any response – other journalists I have contacted regarding my Winterval essay haven’t even acknowledged me – so I think I was a little surprised to hear back from her so quickly. Her response was aggressive, condescending and contained only fallacious or irrelevant arguments and clearly demonstrated she had no intention of reading any of the essay to verify whether she had indeed mislead her readers.

I had started politely, but given Melanie’s past history of bile-filled attacks on all manner of subjects and her dishonest, underhand and disdainful attack on a 16-year-old boy yesterday I felt publishing her email was in the public interest. I say this because Melanie – whilst you may say that she is a columnist – can still be labelled a journalist and as such she is an example of the kind of writer that is happily accepted and handsomely paid during these heady times of press ‘self-regulation’. Her attitude towards a member of the public who had politely pointed out that she was guilty – I didn’t even say intentionally – of misleading her readers over the Winterval claim she made just demonstrated how utterly untouchable journalists / columnists believe themselves to be.

I published her words because I wanted to demonstrate why occasionally this blog descends into unhelpful, despairing swearing aimed at a certain journalist or columnist; it is the frustration of knowing that irrespective of fact, evidence or truth the people I write about will never engage with me or any other media blogger, no matter how extensively you may have researched a given topic or how clear the error is. Winterval is a myth. It is as simple as that.  It was coined in one city (Birmingham), for two years (1997 and 1998) and yet Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’

That is factually incorrect in every possible way:

  1. Christmas was never ‘renamed’ Winterval, Christmas in Birmingham in 1997/8 was Christmas as usual (see poster and you’ll see that Winterval is the small logo, bottom right, not replacing the much bigger ‘Christmas in Birmingham’)
  2. This non-renaming only took place in one city: Birmingham.

It cannot be any clearer that Melanie Phillips has mislead her readers by making a factually incorrect claim, and worse than that, she is repeating (indeed embellishing by making it ‘various places’ rather than just ‘Birmingham council’) a claim that has been debunked numerous times before and should never have been repeated again given that any Google search quickly reveals the truth.

All it needed from Melanie was an admission – one tiny admission in a career full of misleading or factually incorrect claims (she how she lost a libel case along with The Spectator after refusing to back down over untrue claims she made – rather than apologise she just repeated them) that she had got it wrong. However, she didn’t, she just responded in the same way as she always does, writing as if the truth inhabits a completely different realm to that occupied by Phllips. Even when provided with clear, irrefutable evidence that she was wrong, she couldn’t even admit it, let alone apologise to her readers or make any attempt to correct them.

That’s not abiding by the common etiquette that should come naturally to any writer, any writer irrespective of salary, audience or purpose. It is certainly entirely against the spirit of press self-regulation and the personal journalistic responsibility and basic integrity that should go hand-in-hand with such a system. This is why I – hypocritically if you like – also shunned any etiquette and printed her response. She has no rules when it comes to publishing words, so why should I? Let’s not pretend taking the higher ground is going to achieve anything when she can’t even admit to the tiniest of mistakes – and none of the Mail writers seem to care one bit about facts or truth.

It’s not as if the Press Complaints Commission are an option either.

So, I was left with an email from Melanie, and I took the opportunity to publish it, to hopefully destroy any fleeting belief that Melanie Phillips has any journalistic standards whatsoever, or even the vaguest interest in not misleading her readers.

So, sorry Melanie, for publishing your emails – but please clearly understand this: you were not damned by me, but by your own words.

18 thoughts on “Publishing emails…”

  1. Bravo. Very well done. Journalists should be accountable for what they write – after all, they do frequently attempt to hold others to account. In my opinion, Melanie Phillips embodies the most ignorant, self-important cretin that a journalist can possibly be. Facts matter nothing to her writing or to her reasoning. I can, in complete honesty, say that I have never heard or read Melanie Phillips construct a single rational, sensible argument of any kind. Her vile, prejudiced gibberish should be considered laughable. I am dismayed that any news or discussion outlet is daft enough to offer her a serious platform. It is evident from her writing and speaking that she has no real respect for others and I feel very strongly that, in return, she should never be shown any.

  2. It’s an interesting point to consider, whether or not one party in a correspondence or conversation has the right to make public the contents of that correspondence without the other party’s express consent.
    I’m sure as a writer for a major national newspaper Melanie Phillips has never performed such an act, or condoned someone who has. I doubt she would ever describe, for example, the taping and publication of comments made by an MP in private to someone he thought was a constituent, as “unguarded comments”. Nor would she try to deflect attention from serious and systemic invasions of privacy by national newspapers by having an unhinged rant about the BBC.

  3. I think hiding behind ire at the publishing of her emails is similar to P. Hitchens’ focus on the rogue quotation mark – a substantial failure/refusal to look the larger issue in the face.

    Winterval was not countrywide, it was not an attempt to remove Christmas, it was not a ‘politically correct’ attack on Chritianity. All of this is – as you have shown – demonstrably true. To continue to peddle this myth in pursuit of an agenda (what was it Hitchens said – the Marxist plot to destroy civilisation from within?) is pretty disgraceful. But, that’s the Mail for you.

    If it didn’t have such a large readership willing to have its prejudices confirmed regardless of the truth, it would be laughable. But it isn’t.

  4. While I see your point of view completely, and Melanie Phillips appears to be a mad old bat, who appears to have no controls.

    I can also see why people were a bit irritated.

    Although one wonders why a journalist, replying to questions about a fully publicly available article would presume it would be shared with no-one.

    Perhaps you should have just referred to her reply without posting in full, to put you safer in a “Fair Use” context.
    If your interested I tried to look up some rules on this – here’s a mostly US interpretation, but I couldn’t find out more.

    http://performancing.com/legal_issues_of_posting_e-mail_correspondence_on_blog/

  5. I think you were right to publish the email, it was in context and demonstrated not only your point that she doesn’t care about the truth but the fact that the Melanie Phillips is a person of poor character.
    However by divulging a confidential email you have to accept that your own standards are flexible depending on your needs.
    That’s not so much a criticism of you as a reflection on this and what I would in the same circumstances.

  6. The newspapers quite freely use personal emails within `news’ items (thinking about the classic mother-in-law to be email slating her future daughter-in-law) so if it is bad form why do they do it?

  7. There is absolutely nothing wrong about publishing someone’s emails to you on a public forum, consent or not. It would only be wrong if you had promised or contracted to not do so beforehand. The idea that such a protection is automatic is asinine, and the people talking about ‘copyright’ really do not know the first thing about the issue.

    She wrote you a stupid, evil threat. You published it to expose and mock her. Do not apologise for this!

  8. I don’t see why you have apologised to Mad Mel. As her email was comment on comment on a publicly available article I think you had every right to publish.

  9. I really don’t see anything wrong with publishing her emails to you. If she had wanted them kept confidential she should have said so. Every journalist knows there is no such thing as “off the record” unless those terms are agreed in advance of the conversation.

    (From a journalist)

  10. I think it’s shame you published the emails, not out of any sympathy towards Mels privacy, but I’m sure you would have been interested in carrying on the correspondence. With hindsight would you have published the emails or waited a little longer? Publishing the correspondence gave Mel (at least in her eyes) the perfect excuse to take her ball and go home.

  11. Unless it’s marked private and confidential I wouldn’t worry too much. Even so, nothing can happen if you release what was considered private and confidential into the public domain unless it contained something commercially sensitive.

    She just didn’t like the backlash and perhaps her supporters agreed with her.

  12. I’m sure that the Mail wouldn’t hesitate for one moment should they wish to publish emails that exposed ignorance in action…

    Oh wait, they’ll never expose their selves, would they?

  13. This is great writing – effectively the arrogance of an unregulated position of power against a man of reason. She has met her match, but her apparently unchallengeable authority, even if misguided, is the law, it seems. Why not submit a letter on the matter to one of the broadsheets?

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