Belfast Project: Anthony McIntyre and Allison Morris Square Off

Belfast Project protagonist Anthony McIntyre has been highly critical online of Irish News journalist Allison Morris—a dust-up in which, I’m sorry to say, Letters Blogatory played an incidental role. In March 2013, I reported on McIntyre’s suspension by the National Union of Journalists for breach of its code of conduct: the suspension arose out of Morris’s claim that McIntyre had published an item on his blog, The Pensive Quill, that, by linking Morris with the British authorities, put her life at risk. In late July, I reported that an appeals panel had reversed the suspension, and I noted that neither Morris nor her fellow complainant, Ciaran Barnes, had attended the appellate hearing. Morris commented about the reasons for her absence, and McIntyre promptly asserted that her stated reasons were lies. McIntyre’s readers published a bunch of, ah, pointed remarks about Morris, and her partner defended her in perhaps intemperate ways, and the whole thing blew up, as these things sometimes do on the Internet.

Morris’s solicitors have now sent a cease-and-desist letter to McIntyre, which he promptly published despite the fact that the letter said: “Private & Confidential—Not for Publication.” It seems to me that whatever the merits of Morris’s claims (I express no opinion on matters of Irish defamation law), she or her solicitors have misread the situation. I have read a lot of McIntyre’s stuff, and it seems to me that he loves a good brawl and that he relishes the role of David against any Goliath that may come along. So any lawyer who didn’t understand that the first thing McIntyre would do would be to turn the cease-and-desist letter into a rallying cry on the web hasn’t paid attention to the Streisand Effect. The best thing to do would have been to let the story lie.

There is one interesting new twist: the correspondence McIntyre had with Noel Doran, editor of the Irish News, suggests that there is a dispute about whether McIntyre fudged the byline of one of the articles he published about Morris. Turnabout is fair play, I think, so I invite McIntyre to address the following two questions: did he write the article, and if not, who did?

About Ted Folkman

Ted Folkman is a shareholder with Murphy & King, a Boston law firm, where he has a complex business litigation practice. He is the author of International Judicial Assistance (MCLE 2012), a nuts-and-bolts guide to international judicial assistance issues, and of the chapter on service of process in the ABA's forthcoming treatise on International Aspects of US Litigation, and he is the publisher of Letters Blogatory, the Web's first blog devoted to international judicial assistance, which the ABA recognized as one of the best 100 legal blogs in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

8 thoughts on “Belfast Project: Anthony McIntyre and Allison Morris Square Off

  1. Ted,

    in response to your questions; No I did not write the article. I write under my own name. Paul Campbell is not my name.

    If the author of the article wishes to make any comment they are free to do so.

        1. Do you think that is really fair? Every blogger has his or her editorial policy, of course, but it seems to me that it would be better to require an author to use his or her real name, especially on an article that is so strongly critical of another person. What is the justification for allowing pseudonyms in such a case? (I am assuming that the author is not, in fact, named Paul Campbell, which seems to me to be a fair assumption in light of what you have said and not said).

          1. Ted,

            By all means feel free to draw the inferences you think appropriate. I have nothing to add to what I said. I neither seek to persuade nor dissuade you.

            I use my own name for writing. I feel have to be able to stand over what I say.

            Speaking in general terms without any specific reference to this case, I allow anonymous abuse to come in about me. I shield others from abuse I don’t protect myself from. So it is fair at that level.

            At another level I have long held to a position that the accused should know who their accuser is. For that reason I don’t prefer the use of pen names. But they are frequent on blogs. We clearly allow them in the comments section of our blog. I think the discussion would be much poorer without it.

            There are some circumstances I can think of when the matter being discussed is of such public interest that a balance is struck between on the one hand the need for a wider public discussion and on the other a request for anonymity. Whistleblowers should be protected where it can be shown that what they blow the whistle on is important enough to be in the public domain, and that by withdrawing their anonymity would be to diminish public understanding or put them under threat of harm.

            So, I think there is no iron law but something which is to be managed on a case by case basis, performing the balancing act as we go. And there are some other variables to be considered such as whether the anonymous writer is the only one making the case or is part of a wider raft of opinion. We will not always get the optimum result.

        2. Another perspective on this: there is a difference between a pseudonym that plainly is a pseudonym and a pseudonym that looks like a real name. The commenters on your blog generally use the former. It seems to me perhaps that Mr. Doran’s objection to the “Paul Campbell” article (assuming that that is a pseudonym) is that you seem to have represented him as a real person.

          1. That is indeed another perspective on matters Ted. It is a question of what call editors at any level make. Even people who use pseudonyms are real people who can make real arguments. What is not real in such circumstances is the pen name. I imagine the objection is to the critique not the name the author writes under, fictitious or otherwise. If the author wishes to add anything to what has been said it is a matter for them.

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