The wonderful world of Melanie Phillips, pt. 964.
Suggesting that resorting to empty threats of legal action is becoming a habit among hacks at the Mail, Angry Mob has since been involved in an interesting exchange of correspondence with everyone's favourite Moral Maze panellist, Melanie Phillips. Having politely suggested in an email that her insistence on continuing to dredge up the "Winterval" myth is misleading her readers, she responded:
Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.
While being told that you're misleading people is never likely to immediately endear you to them, to suggest that disagreeing is arrogant, ignorant and offensive goes beyond sensitivity into the realms of being rude for the sake of it. Rudeness often tends to lead to it being delivered back in spades, and Angry Mob duly delivered:
If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.
Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.
I’ve responded to you via my blog [http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).
I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.
To which Mel then responded:
Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.
While Kevin did give in to the temptation to refer to Phillips as "Mad Mel", a term of endearment much used across the blogosphere, and one to which it's known she has not warmed (the tactics of Stalin, she said, when Jackie Ashley suggested without any malice that some of her thinking could come across as "bonkers"), there's little else in his post which could be construed as defamatory, let alone for which he would have to pay out damages. The worst in fact comes in a comment, with Col describing her as a "shit human being". Not very nice, but again, likely to be classed as abuse rather than defamatory. It also seems all the more remarkable considering that it wasn't so long back that the Spectator, the former home of Phillips' blog, had to pay damages to Alastair Crooke after Mel had made err, false allegations about him. This misunderstanding almost certainly resulted in Mel deciding to "expand and develop" her own website. Then again, Mel has never had any compunction about responding in kind.
What's more, as Angry Mob relates, someone had these wise words to say on the subject of libel a couple of years ago:
Because of the difficulty of proving what may be unprovable, those who express such views are intimidated by the prospect of losing such a case – and then having to pay astronomical legal costs to multinationals or wealthy individuals who can afford to keep racking up the final bill.
So scientists, academics, authors, journalists and others are effectively censoring themselves for fear of becoming trapped in a ruinous libel suit – or are being forced to back down and apologise for statements they still believe to be true.
Wealthy or at least comfortably off individuals like Melanie Phillips perhaps, the author of the above. A statement she doubtless still believes to be true.