Response to Noel Doran

Belfast Project protagonist Anthony McIntyre responds to Noel Doran’s post criticizing McIntyre’s blog, The Pensive Quill. Just a note on this piece: folks who have been following the discussion will know that one of the issues that has cropped up is the supposed difference in ‘tone’ between this blog and TPQ. I think there is a difference, and I will enforce my comment policy on this post as on all others, but I have not edited the substance or style of Anthony’s post or asked him to edit it, because I think his, ah, pugnacious style is part of the story.

It was pleasing, if hardly intellectually stimulating, to find Noel Doran at last do something other than use the threat of legal coercion to silence voices he takes umbrage at. However, it has hardly gone unnoticed that he concluded his piece with a call for a robust piece of writing to be suppressed. I will not wait to the end of this current piece to tell him that is not going to happen. The article by Paul Campbell stays in place, and if wasting time suits him, Noel Doran can have a censor lawyer use up a paper mill churning out threatening letters by the tonne.

Mr Doran might not have witnessed much else that has been going on in front of his nose lately but he has seen the inanity of coming to Letters Blogatory to make his case when it was much easier for him to have done what he was repeatedly invited to do, make it on the relevant blog, The Pensive Quill. His excuse, rather than his reason, was that TPQ is vulgar and confrontational. It seems he has at last read the contributions by the partner of his journalist, Allison Morris. True, TPQ confronts censors and libel bullies. That much won’t change. If he fears being confronted by people not willing to roll over in the face of his threats, he should seek help for either his phobia or his bullying.

On the point of vulgarity, he may as well cite the idiocy of blasphemy. Regional accents used to be regarded as vulgar back in the day when only BBC English would pass muster. Things have changed: vulgarity is a matter of taste. TPQ does not concern itself with parliamentary language. A daily newspaper might feel it has to but that is hardly a reason for Mr Doran not to engage on TPQ. He spends enough time reading it so presumably is comfortable with the ‘vulgarity.’ Or does he read the vulgar bits with his hands over his eyes? Much more plausible is that what he finds vulgar is a public challenge to his penchant for censorship. In my view, the reason for his absence is that he feels more at ease in the company of those he considers to be from his own social milieu, those he might consider a cut above the rest. It is the attitude of a pompous snob, a social class thing. Too bad, we won’t be doing hoity-toity to facilitate him.

Noel Doran is not in a position to determine the credibility of TPQ. He is much too busy trying to maintain his own in a community of journalists increasingly perplexed by his bizarre behaviour and his resort to libel bullying as he labours valiantly, but hardly victoriously, to either shut up or close down a small blog which has raised serious questions about the conduct of the paper of which he is editor.

My wife Carrie Twomey, former editor of The Blanket, has with consummate ease swept aside his claim of contradictory behaviour in respect of the use of pseudonyms and his disingenuous intimation that he had only wanted to engage without any legal threat. There is no need for me to labour the issue and pull the same decaying tooth twice. People can look into the substantial cavity in the Irish News narrative and judge for themselves. In fact, people need look no further than the pages of the Irish News itself, where it runs anonymous letters, has a weekly column devoted to reprinting anonymous/unverified comments from readers, and frequently uses the by-line of “Staff Reporter.”

One of the most recent examples of the work of the “Staff Reporters” is the front page report on the murders of Kevin Kearney and Barry McCrory. A photo of Mr McCrory’s broken-hearted and grieving family is prominent under the headline “Arms Cache Linked to Murdered Drugs Baron” while the article itself is based on allegations from unnamed “informed sources” claiming that one of the dead men, Kevin Kearney, was “regarded as being the boss of one of Belfast’s most disciplined crime gangs,” and that he headed a “major drugs gang.” The Irish News also claimed that a weapons cache discovered in August belonged to Kearney’s ‘gang.’ All of this may well be true; after all, the Irish News chose to publish it, so presumably they can stand over its contents. And, as they say, the dead can’t be libeled, can they? No irony lost here on the hurt feelings of the grieving family depicted a few days later at a funeral in another front page photo as they opened their morning newspaper and read of what unnamed ‘informed sources’ and ‘Staff Reporters’ said about their murdered loved one.

That is how the news media works. Pen names, such as ‘Anonymous’ in the letters section, are at the Editor’s discretion. If the Editor deems that there is a legitimate need to protect the identity of an author, that identity will be withheld; the Irish News, and its Editor, stands over the content of the material in the act of publication.

Likewise with the Irish News’s popular weekly column, Off the Fence, which selectively publishes comments submitted by anonymous readers. From experience, the paper does not verify the identity of the callers whose words they print; anyone can call or text the paper, call themselves whatever they like, and the comments they submit are carried without any follow-up from the Irish News. “Real GAA Supporter,” “Shane from Belfast,” and “Lurgan Orangewoman” are some of the names used. Occasionally, some comments are carried without any ‘name’ at all. Is it because the subject is Sport that this practice is acceptable to Noel Doran?

“Do as I say, not as I do” appears to be the editorial guideline being advocated by Noel Doran on Letters Blogatory.

On numerous occasions Noel Doran has been asked to back up with evidential specifics the charges he has made. He has singularly failed to do so, opting to hide behind the vaguest of generalisations and seductively waving the cheque book at the censor lawyer. On the issue of the personal safety of Allison Morris, I am wholly confident she is under no threat whatsoever as a result of anything that appeared in TPQ. There is more chance of her being hit by one of those fictitious Hezbollah rockets she discovered in South Armagh. What may be under threat is her credibility. Perhaps that is what really irks Noel Doran. He has placed his trust in her and is sensitive to his judgement being called into question in the wake of some of her stories.

He claims that it would not be legally appropriate to go over the defamatory claims on TPQ. That is because it is our contention that there are none. As I have insisted time and again, what is demonstrably ‘misleading and false’ was his own journalist’s claim on this blog as to why she did not attend my appeal hearing in London.

Noel Doran’s seems obsessed with establishing what he believes to be the true identity of Paul Campbell. Had TPQ inserted ‘Staff Reporter,’ ‘Anonymous,’ or ‘Ardent Paul’ rather than Paul Campbell, would he have been satisfied? Not at all. His quest is for one reason: so that he can fire off another letter from a censor lawyer. He seeks to legally coerce Paul Campbell as well. I am indifferent to his efforts and have not the slightest intention of assisting him.

Throughout he has churned out a load of vacuous waffle rather than address the issue at hand: the actions of his own reporter regarding the interview with Dolours Price. Contrary to the professed belief of Allison Morris I had no objections to her interviewing Dolours Price. Had I such objections I would have raised them at the time rather than writing a piece that was in no way critical of what appeared in the Irish News.

The contention pertains not to Ms Morris’s interview per se but to what Ms Morris did with the parts of that interview which did not feature in the Irish News piece. It is my unshakeable belief based on what Ms Price divulged to me coupled with the timeline, that Ms Morris passed this on to Ciaran Barnes. Information that Ms Price claimed to have revealed only to me and Ms Morris appeared in the Sunday Life under the by-line of a friend of Ms Morris, the same friend who together with Ms Morris made baseless accusations against me to the NUJ. It would be defying logic to believe anything else. If there is an alternative explanation then Noel Doran is free to offer it rather than censor the narrative that questions his own journalist’s account. He need not tell me the tooth fairy left it for Mr Barnes.

My case is this: Noel Doran, like most other journalists familiar with the issue, knows exactly what happened with the Allison Morris material. But rather than deal with it he has opted to become a libel bully. Both he and the underhand cabal at the Irish News will be tackled every step of the way. It does not matter how many censor lawyers he employs or libel bullies he aligns with. The Pensive Quill will not be silenced.

About Anthony McIntyre

Anthony McIntyre is the author of Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism and the co-founder of The Blanket online magazine. He is a former member of the IRA who served a prison sentence at the Maze Prison and participated in the prisoner protests there.

11 thoughts on “Response to Noel Doran

  1. To me the biggest mystery about the Paul Campbell kerfluffle is: what is it about the writer that justifies a need for anonymity? Yes, I know, it’s the editor’s judgment. But what made this a good exercise of judgment? Ordinarily when I read an anonymous opinion piece, it’s clear why it’s anonymous. Either the writer has a clear privacy interest (e.g., a victim of sexual abuse writes in support of new laws to prevent sexual abuse) or the writer is running a real risk of retribution (e.g., a whistleblower). But “Paul Campbell’s” piece isn’t that kind of column, as far as I can tell. Why did he require anonymity for what was really just an attack on others? Why could he or she not stand behind the work? That’s the question that I think has never really been answered.

  2. The second biggest mystery: assuming anonymity was warranted, why would you not tell your readers “Paul Campbell” was a pseudonym? Again, of course, you’re the publisher and it’s your judgment. But why was this a good exercise of judgment?

  3. One last point: it looks to me like the paper has a rule against anonymous letters but that it makes an exception for sex abuse victims. If that’s right, it seems reasonable to me. What do you say?

  4. Hi Ted,

    Thanks again for providing space on your blog for this topic again. I’ve added you to my Feedly reads specifically for your coverage on this. Though I have to admit your usual content is quite specialist and while an insight into topic areas I’m barely aware of sadly I am taxed by a standard of writing at least two education levels beyond my reading level.

    Whilst I’ve mainly followed this saga on Anthony’s and other sites I think I can keep myself within the discourse levels expected from your more refined and genteel comments area. Maybe it’ll become a civilising influence on the ragamuffins and ne’er-do-wells that comment on the Pensive Quill but alas I expect when the British jackboot failed to civilise these croppies a robustly policed comments zone might not be up to the job either.

    However, I’m rambling as is my wont and before even the smallest of medicinal tinctures, so I will address a point or two that your three comments immediately brought to mind.

    Did we read the same article from Dr McIntyre? (I call him Dr because whilst he says he doesn’t like it of course he does, what man doesn’t like his place on a pedestal)

    You have made three comments on the topic of pseudonymous comment. When I read the good Dr’s article all these points not only seemed to have been addressed but to have been the central thrust of the piece.

    Of course it would be idiotic to compare the use of a pseudonym by an author or commenter on a blog with the quite correct granting of anonymity to letter writers to a newspaper who have been the victim of sexual abuse. There is perhaps a small argument to be had over why victims of that crime are granted anonymity when making their points in public and not other victims, but that is a pointless conversation for another day on another blog.

    The Dr’s prescription to Mr Doran (if I knew his titles I would apply them) was that when he criticised the use of a pseudonym he should examine his own house and provided 3 examples where Mr Doran permits pseudonyms within his own publication.

    You have latched on to the sole example that few would disagree is a legitimate instance of providing anonymity and in no way comparable to the use of pseudonyms by a blog author or commentators.

    However, you failed to note the two further examples cited:

    the ubiquitous ‘staff reporter’ that appears not only within the Irish News but on it’s esteemed front page as the byline for lead stories which also use, quite legitimately, unnamed sources.
    the anonymous comment that is permitted weekly and in large amounts within the Irish News sports pages. Some may say sport is not news, and I’d agree – it is much, much more important than news.

    However, the anonymous comment on the Irish News sports page is often controversial, highly critical and sometimes abusive (though they seem to tone it down a little for the benefit of more fragile readers).

    The ‘staff reporter’ with their ‘sources’ is also a pseudonymous writing with unidentifiable and unverifiable content. Of course any person of sound mind would accept that Mr Doran on occasion would by necessity need to protect both his reporters and/or their sources by not identifying them. I would not seek to force Mr Doran to identify his ‘staff reporter’ or ‘sources’ I trust his judgement on these matters will be to protect one, other or both and not based on anything untoward. I would never think to question those judgements by raising them in a conspiratorial manner.

    The main difference between the Dr and the Mr is that one seems to assign an individual moniker to each author, whilst the other permits many to use the anonymity of a single ‘staff reporter’ byline.

    To me it seems permitting a pseudonym to a blog author would be well within the practices of most newspapers and indeed by assigning what I assume is a unique name Dr McIntyre is actually operating at an arguably higher level of integrity than the print media in ensuring each pseudonymous entry is seemingly attributable to a single individual .

    Now returning to pseudonymous comment, that has been part of the internet since it’s birth. Dr McIntyre has pointed out quite rightly that whilst The Irish News may having a reasonably strong position against it on readers letters, with exceptions, this does not apply to the entire publication.

    Being a man of simple mind and simple pleasures and a regular reader of the Irish News the sports page is my first port of call. It has long been the habit of the sports section to allow ridiculous, controversial, rude or borderline abusive comment to be carried within it’s columns. They’ve carried a rather irate contribution from myself after a disappointing managerial situation within a team I follow. They did not seek to verify my identity and permitted highly critical comment without any identity check under a clearly fake name. This is their norm not the exception.

    All these points seemed to be clearly made in the blog you have just carried and then commented on three times.

    The point seems very clear, that when Mr Doran is complaining about pseudonymous content he is perhaps unwittingly practicing hypocrisy. His paper is ‘guilty’ of the same actions he complains of on a much more regular basis to a much wider audience than Mr McIntyre.

    However, the point I’d like to raise high is that what Mr Doran doesn’t do is address the very substantial criticisms raised against him and his publication.

    He has brought what should be a discussion on serious allegations that his publication may have contributed to a major and perhaps irreparable impact on academic research and oral history gathering in conflict situations into an exercise in pedantics and distraction.

    There are very important and far reaching elements of this story.The by-line Paul Campbell is not one of them. Its a distraction and to be honest a tedious one.

    I’ve expended far too much of my vocabulary and time on this, I’ve little and like to keep it for more interesting and important matters so this will be my last comment on this quite ludicrous game of Where’s Waldo.

    I’m Waldo and so’s my wife.

    Any chance Mr Doran will deign to address the substance that has been put to him rather than this dog chasing a bluebottle sideshow which was interesting for a while, but quickly becomes slightly annoying?

    Regards,

    Kev.

    1. Kev, thanks for the comment. Anthony McIntyre’s post says nothing about the questions I’ve asked. He is writing about the Irish News and its choices, not his own editorial policies. I do think he has made a factual mistake about the Irish News’s policies. It appears that the paper does not permit anonymous letters, but that it makes an exception for sex abuse victims. That seems a reasonable policy to me, and I think McIntyre is wrong to claim that publication of an anonymous letter from a sex abuse victim means that Noel Doran is hypocritical when he criticizes the “Paul Campbell” piece. I also think it’s borderline silly to compare anonymous comments on the sports page to anonymous opinion pieces. That’s just common sense to me.

      The “Paul Campbell” debate may or may not be tedious, but to be honest it’s the only reason I’ve had an interest in this last bit of Belfast Project drama. So I’m afraid you’ll have to bear with me!

  5. The marked difference appears to me that ‘staff reporter’ is clearly stating what it is Paul Campbell was presented as a real person with no explanation to readers. Only after the fact was it admitted by Mr McIntyre and reluctantly so. I’m still none the wiser as to why they felt the need to use an anon writer or why Mr McIntyre doesn’t explain why this person whoever they are didn’t carry out their own research as he hasn’t disputed the fact it was he who sourced comment for the article and not Paul Campbell whoever that is. The rest just seems like using lots of words when a few would do in order to deflect. If no explanation is forthcoming we have to assume there isn’t one and readers of Mr McIntyre’s blog will have to view future comment with a great deal of scepticism.

    1. Gray, thanks for the comment. I agree with the thrust of your comment about the lack of explanation of the need for anonymity, though I don’t think that a bad editorial decision—if that’s what this was—is really a reason to view TPQ with any particular skepticism.

  6. Ted,

    Thank you for maintaining faith in the right of reply principle. I guess it is only proper and courteous that I acknowledge your questions, even if we are now at the point of understanding each other in the way that creationists and evolutionists do: a palpable absence of shared ground.

    As I have not at any time commented one way or the other on the status of Paul Campbell, I am not going to be of much assistance to you in your continued deep interest in a ‘kerfluffle’. Kev, has shrewdly addressed the points raised in your question in such a fashion as to make additional substantial comment superfluous.

    Again, without prejudice, should editors who allow writers to use a pseudonym inform their readers that the by-line is such? Where a pseudonym is used because of safety or employment issues, indications that a pseudonym has been granted might defeat the purpose of its use. As we see in the resulting ‘kerfuffle’ being made over Paul Campbell, some who seek to trace the author would no doubt pose a risk to his safety and employment; what has yet to be addressed is the substance in Campbell’s piece which dealt with such intimidation. I shouldn’t need to point out the problems the issuance of threatening legal letters would bring to an individual not in a position to deal with such threats. And from the outset of this dispute in May of last year the Irish News has been determined to fire threatening volleys from censor lawyers. This is a risk publishers, rather than their contributors, should take on the onus of confronting. One reason TPQ is labelled ‘confrontationist’ I guess.

    The Irish News Editor has, and uses, the discretion over which letters to publish anonymously. This fact is not in dispute. I agree with you it is reasonable for it to do so. I presume where an editor allows anonymity for those who feel they might face intimidation as a result of what they write, it would also be proper. Perhaps you disagree.

    As stated previously, I would not use a pseudonym for my own writing. I disagree with their use. But in a pluralist world we often permit what we disagree with. Ultimately, as suggested by Kev, and your own interest notwithstanding, I tend to view the Paul Campbell issue as an attempt to deflect the gaze away from the elephant in the room.

    By this point the issue of by-lines is more than exhausted and if mutual understanding is not achieved by now it never will be as there’s only so many ways to say the same thing; I don’t know how we could be any clearer.

    1. That’s as clear as mud. Mr McIntyre’s response appears to be, “can you all stop asking difficult questions I don’t want to answer.”

    2. I hope I’m not the creationist in this discussion, but I will leave that for you to decide! I agree that we are not going to see eye-to-eye about this, and I agree that this is not exactly earth-shattering stuff.

      1. Ted,

        I have spoken of the gap rather than assign the positions! We can both agree on one thing: neither of us want to be the creationist. As you rightly say, nothing earth shattering to it. And neither you nor I are annoyed about any of it. Again, thanks for hosting the exchange but I do feel Noel should have made his case on TPQ.

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