Battle of the Columnists
Public battles between newspaper columnists are often fun to watch. More fun than watching bloggers fire salvos at each other because, well the audience is bigger. But a battle with both bloggers and columnists involved? How much fun is that?
The column incurred the ire of a columnist in The Australian, one PP McGuinness. Based on some past exposure to his ... err ... antics, it would be no surprise to me if McGuinness took issue with the basic thrust of of Moyer's speech. But instead he picked out a single factual error, wrapped it up in a lengthy rant against Ramsey, with a rather tenuous analogy to Dan Rather thrown in, and dumped it on unsuspecting Oz readers in his Saturday column. Hilarity ensues:
Does the editor never ring Ramsey and say: "Look, Alan, gutter abuse of the Prime Minister and loony prejudice as well as consistent misrepresentation of the facts is just not what a quality newspaper publishes?"
I wonder if this was actually delivered, not to Ramsey, but to McGuinness when he was fired from the Herald (or left to persue solo projects, or spend time with the family, or whatever)? As one Crikey correspondent observed:
Anyone old enough to remember Paddy's looney rants on Paul Keating's psychological state of mind, ethics etc (presumably no-one at Crikey) would have got a laugh.
As for the factual error, it was a fair enough criticism. Moyers claimed something that wasn't true, and subsequently apologised. Ramsey should have spotted the apology and not used the fact in his column, as it certainly wasn't critical to Moyers' central argument. The Herald's website version did subsequently edit the column and published a correction.
McGuinness credits Tim Blair, the "best of our local independent bloggers", for finding the error. Interestingly, Blair is also a hack at the ailing Bulletin - but McGuinness chose to identify him as a blogger and ignore his credentials as a "regular" journo.
Blair disputes Ramsey's contention that the huge Iraqi civilian death toll has been barely mentioned in the Australian papers. Blair manages to come up with a whole eight mentions in the Sydney Morning Herald. And he only gets that many by double counting. Out of thousands of stories on the Iraq war, that is, indeed, barely mentioning it.
If there's a serious point to take away from all this, it's that taken as a group, there seems to be very little qualitative difference between newspaper columnists and bloggers. The two groups each exhibit virtues and suffer from vices that are remarkably similar. Or to put it another way, you need to be just as critical when reading columnists as when reading blogs. Except this one of course.