Noel Doran is the editor of the Irish News in Belfast.
A US blog on international judicial assistance may not often be asked to consider the curious story of an Irish writer who does not exist, but regular readers of Letters Blogatory are unlikely to be surprised by the latest twists in the case of Anthony McIntyre.
Anthony, lead researcher on Boston College’s much discussed Belfast Project, offered a perspective on his bizarre decision to publish personal attacks on an Irish News journalist under an invented by-line, and I am grateful to Ted Folkman for the opportunity to respond.
It seems to me that the basic credibility of Anthony and his blog, The Pensive Quill (TPQ), is on the line, and I feel that the areas where he has contradicted himself, and failed to observe the basic standards which he and his websites have set out in the past, can be readily identified.
I should acknowledge from the start that I have attempted to directly engage with Anthony on these matters, only to find him find him immediately referring me to his lawyer (see his August 22 email).
We can obviously both rely on solicitors, if that is his wish, but my preference has always been to reach a voluntary agreement on the removal of offensive material from TPQ.
This is standard practice for responsible bloggers, and is exactly what Anthony did on the last occasion when I pointed out that he had published a defamatory article about The Irish News 16 months ago.
Anthony has indicated that he intends to take a different approach this time, and says he regards himself as a victim of censorship, although I believe it would be much more accurate to say that presenting misleading and indeed false allegations, without any discernible form of research, has very little to do with freedom of speech.
I do not think that at this stage it would be legally appropriate to go over the defamatory claims which have appeared on his website, and, unlike Anthony, I am certainly not going to refer to perceptions about anyone’s private life.
Instead, I will concentrate on the strange circumstances surrounding the appearance of one Paul Campbell as the author of another extremely hostile piece about The Irish News which surfaced on TPQ.
Paul was introduced simply as a ‘guest writer,’ as regularly happens on TPQ, and Anthony subsequently went out of his way to insist that his new contributor was an important figure.
Anthony used his website to lambaste the work of the Irish News journalist Allison Morris and said in a comment to his post: ‘not one f#$! do we give. It is the Battle of the Blogside and we are up for it. And with writers like Paul standing at the ready we will be there to the end.’
It was only after a series of online challenges that he finally admitted the truth—Paul Campbell, the writer with whom he was standing shoulder to shoulder in what was portrayed as a great struggle, is not a real person.
Anthony still continued to defend his use of the pseudonym and maintained resolutely that he and Paul Campbell were two separate individuals. Responding to a query, Anthony said (in a later comment to his post), ‘If you think the author was part of the TPQ team (as) either me or my other half (Carrie Twomey)—that would be a gross mistake. I always write under my own name; she under hers or Rusty Nail. The author was a guest writer wholly external to TPQ but obviously writing for publication in TPQ and on those grounds would be within their remit to talk to whoever they like as TPQ.’
This unusual form of words could only be taken to mean that Paul Campbell, whoever that person may really be, had carried out the research and interviews for the article which eventually appeared on TPQ.
However, a simple check with Hugh Jordan, the Sunday World journalist quoted extensively in the Paul Campbell piece, immediately confirmed that the only person who had contacted him was not ‘a guest writer wholly external to TPQ’ but Anthony himself, specifically requesting that a comment should be forwarded to his own email address.
This was an enormous u-turn from the firm position taken on the use of deceptive by-lines when Anthony and Carrie Twomey edited another website, The Blanket.
In a 2003 piece headlined ‘Nameless, Faceless, an apology to our readers: have the courage to stand over what you say,’ Carrie made her feelings on the practice clear.
It has come to our attention that a recent contributor to the Blanket, “Adam O’Toole,” is in fact a pseudonym. The Blanket has a long standing policy of not publishing anonymous articles, and of discouraging the use of pseudonyms, especially in polemical articles that attack named persons, unless there is a legitimate reason for needing a pseudonym.
Carrie concluded: ‘In knowingly deceiving us he also deceived our readers and because we took him at face value ultimately we are at fault for publishing his deceit. Whatever else may be said about the Blanket, a “Coward’s Corner” is something we have endeavoured since day one that we would never become.’
It is plain that the Paul Campbell piece, which used a pseudonym to attack a named person, is precisely the kind of article which Carrie found so repugnant when she and Anthony edited The Blanket.
There is little point in approaching Anthony through TPQ, which has established a reputation for confrontation and vulgarity, and—even though he previously wrote that he would not allow personal abuse—still features articles and comments in which those who do not agree with his views are labelled as ‘liars,’ ‘low-lives,’ a ‘viper,’ or earlier this month, ‘a bunch of c@#$%.’
Anthony’s recent posts have included suggestions that The Irish News is involved in an attempt to shut down his website and that I, as editor of the paper, somehow dictated the contents of a letter to him from the National Union of Journalists. A single call, which was never made, would have established that both allegations are entirely false.
The way forward for Anthony should be to look at the initial descriptions he applied to Paul Campbell, compare them to the principles he once attached to his websites and decide if he intends to stand over his publication of the piece of August 7. A positive reply to my request for the removal of the article carried under a fabricated by-line would be a welcome step.