Thursday, December 18, 2008

Damian Thompson: how not to blog

Comment: last week Damian Thompson published some leaked, confidential documents relating to internal discussions in the Latin Mass Society, and supplied commentary on them which turned out to be erroneous. Yesterday he quoted from a leaked early draft of a report about Muslim schools by the thinktank Civitas, including items which were removed from the final draft, which Civitas had to ask him to take off the blog. 

What these two posts have in common is that, first, they have clearly damaged the source of his information (the LMS and Civitas), but, second, Thompson is supposed to support the aims of these organisations. He is always banging on about the Traditional Mass and the dangers posed by the growth of the Muslim community and its institutions. While it is understandable - if perhaps not legal - for bloggers to quote damaging leaks from organisations they do not like, Thompson appears to be equally happy to do it to organisations which are are on his side. This isn't so much irresponsible as just nuts.

Why does he do it? Presumably for the sake of readership numbers. In other words, he is acting like the worst kind of tabloid journalist: going for sensational stories with no regard either for accuracy or the consequences of his actions.

This blog has picked up a great many stories from 'Holy Smoke', and we have probably contributed to those readership numbers. We hope that his many readers will nevertheless understand the reality: Damian Thompson is not a crusading journalist exposing the truth, but an egomaniac whose desire for publicity sometimes leads him to uncover things which should be uncovered - but equally, sometimes damages the very causes he espouses.

This is a lesson which should be learnt by all Catholic bloggers: think before you post!


James said...

I'm not defending Damian Thompson and his leaks which I admit I find bewildering...


At least we know who he is...

Catholic Action UK is a faceless organisation with no names. Perhaps it would be a good move to put some identification on your 'about us' page so that we know who you are.

It's fairly standard procedure for English Catholic blogs...

Hercules said...

Knowing who Damian Thompson is not much help, is it? It doesn't stop him doing what he does.

This is not a 'faceless organisation': it is an anonymous blog. Many, many blogs are anonymous. It wouldn't help us escape justice if we libelled someone, but it allows us to maintain a separation between different aspects of our lives.

What is important to a blog is the blog's reputation, for fairness, accuracy etc.. If we have done wrong, point it out.

James said...

I don't particularly want to argue about it because I have a lot of respect for your 'anonymous blog' and the work you do.

You do refer to yourselves as "we" so I thought of you as an organisation. If a very small one.


As you say - the reputation of the blog is important. I would say the reputation of the blogger is also important. I just think it would be better if we knew who you are.

I didn't mean to accuse you of any wrongdoing.

Hercules said...

My point is just that blogs and their authors can gain good or bad reputations while remaining anonymous. Everyone knows that 'newcatholic' of Rorate Caeli is reliable, for example; sensible people steer clear of certain others; regular readers learn the idiosyncrasies of the different posters on the Cornell Society etc. etc.. I don't see that anonymity makes much odds to that.

As to 'we' there is more than one contributor.

Adam said...

Mr Thompson makes an interesting comment in his review of André Comte-Sponville's 'The Book of Atheist Spirituality' in the Telegraph.

"The Book of Atheist Spirituality will do more good than harm. Christians are unlikely to read it or, if they do, lose their faith as a result. Its target market is the fast-growing constituency of young, middle-class atheists or agnostics who have absorbed from Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman a patronising disregard for the Christian heritage of the West."

While the book may indeed act as a corrective to the works of militant atheists, I'm perplexed that Mr Thompson should claim that Christians may loose their faith as a result of reading the book. He's read it presumably, has he lost his faith? As I've said elsewhere, Mr Thompson reminds me of Charles Maurras.

Comte-Sponville's book is an interesting read. But I just can't see how a Christian might lose his or her faith as a result of reading it, I certainly haven't.

I'm glad you have picked up on the damage that some of the posts on the Holy Smoke blog has caused. The St Vincent plan in Liverpool, for example, was irrevocably damaged by misreporting on the Holy Smoke blog. Unlike The Book of Atheist Spirituality, Holy Smoke is likely to do more harm than good.

Hercules said...

Thank you, Adam.

I think the word 'unlikely' in your quotation is intended to carry over from clause to clause: 'Christians are unlikely to read it, or, if they do [they are unlikely] to lose their faith'

However your point is well made.

On the side of the angels said...

I'm sorry but I'm afraid you're wrong on every count:

a] Contrary to what you report ; the incident regarding the LMS contained far from erroneous commentary; the correction issued by the LMS neither countered nor refuted what Damian stated was happening - the reporting actually led to an LMS reaction which could ultimately save the 'Merton' conference which performs such desperately needed training in the EF ; as well as leading to internal reconciliation after a shameful in-house squabbling.
b] Civitas merely asked Damian to slightly edit and peripherally reword his reporting for legal reasons - NOT to remove the clearly factual posting - Damian was simply reporting to a significantly wider audience what has been believed for years ; and in doing so has done a great deal to prevent its furtherance.

c] You falsely claim these were inaccurate reportings - this is not the case ; you also state these had damaging consequences which is yet again not only specious but simply not tenable given the remit and the outcome on both occasions. I should sincerely love to know how the LMS was damaged in any way given their reprehensible in-house fighting and personality clashes ; rather it gave the whole organisation the opportunity to clean up its act AND ensure a training conference would occur.

d] You state that Damian Thompson is an egomaniac . This is one argument which is easily refutable by asking the present blog hosts on catholicactionuk - "what do you know about the present hierarchy ? what would you never repeat on here for fear of the scandal and outrage that would be inflicted upon Holy Mother Church and how it would damage the innocent more than the guilty parties ?" My response is be exceedingly grateful that Damian is NOT an egomaniac ; for if he were, and if he did not give tuppence for Holy Mother church in this country he could bring the whole edifice down about our heads in hours - he knows where virtually all the bodies are buried, he knows who has done what with whom, he knows who's been a naughty boy with their hands in the till and he knows a great deal of the political back-biting, infighting and reprehensible intra-diocesan politicking that occurs ; but he remains silent on these issues because he knows there are good people everywhere who are doing their jobs for Holy Mother Church while reprobates try and destroy it....

e] with nearly half a million page-reads a month ; Holy smoke is becoming one of the most influential religious blogs in the country - and it is on the side of traditional orthodox catholicism in this country - something we can only cherish and cling to - and if certain bloggers have problems with it - they have every opportunity to join the debates on the threads and actually make a difference to the millions of disenfranchised, dispossessed catholics in this country. Damian Thompson has given us a voice we thought hitherto inconceivable - especially within an online national newspaper - shame on you for trying to bring this person into disrepute . Both the LMS and civitas will be exceedingly grateful that Damian actually went out of his way to give their organisations the publicity that no diocese in the country ever would. Now here's an appropriate message for all catholic bloggers - get on Holy Smoke and participate; some of us are fighting tooth and nail for catholicism in this country ; trying to bring it to a wider audience ; and if the only thing ou can do is complain about the blog host and the blog - well I'm afraid you're unnecessarily making yourself into the enemy - you should be mutually supporting each other every step of the way.

I'm getting very tired, sometimes having to spend hours at the pc to the small hours of the morning attempting to defend the church I cherish against the hostile forces outside and within - we're incessantly arguing against and spreading the word about the dangers and evils of 'futurechurch' as it devastates and lays waste vast swathes of the country - I NEED YOUR HELP - WE NEED YOUR HELP ; the last thing we need is for people supposed to be on our side to start casting false aspersions about the integrity and personal motivations of the blog host.

I know the man and begrudgingly love the man , for all his more obvious flaws , but we should all be hitting our knees and thanking God that this man came along and took the fight to the enemy ; instead of retreating back to the whingeing parlours of blogdom where the aflicted merely lick their wounds and bewail for the old days. Join Holy Smoke - Join the fight - the catholics out there need hope ; and we're giving them some of it...for the first time in forty years there's a glimmer on the horizon ; the Benedictine revolution is taking shape and young clerics are beginning to think for themselves and seek tradition and orthodoxy that their elder peers have renounced... PLEASE , PLEASE, PLEASE HELP !!! Join the fight !!!

There are many , many issues reported here which never see the light of day in a newspaper or tv report, never reach the ears or eyes of the average catholic in the street - bring it all with you to Holy Smoke - let it be known to more and more people - this is no time for being a house divided ; and it's ludicrous of you to accuse damian of doing something when this entire posting is ten times more guilty of the same thing - look I don't expect you to allow this comment to be posted; but I beg you, plead with you, join us , spread the message and let's fight for the reclamation of Holy Mother hurch in this country from those who have destroyed so much of it - join in our attempt to convert them and soften their hearts and revert them back to the folds of the mystical body of Christ - please listen - please join in.....
Paul I J C Priest

Hercules said...

Thanks, OTSOTA. I have great respect for you and I agree with most of this. We ARE on the same side; we on this blog HAVE joined the fight - hence this blog! - and we do comment on Holy Smoke, as a matter of fact.

But DT post on the LMS was wrong: the claim that the Merton conference had been cancelled was totally false. It was an attempt to destabilise a good work of the LMS by someone who had lost out in an internal disagreement. To give that kind of backbiting space in the blogosphere is mischievous and damaging.

Again, what chance have future internal discussions within the LMS of being open and honest if every opinion expressed can be ripped from its context and spread across the internet? To publicise leaks of internal discussions is mischievous and damaging.

On Civitas, DT was given advance copy of a report and published aspects of it which Civitas did not want to be published. Have you any idea how sensitive these things are? Do you know what happened to The Policy Exchange when some of its allegations about radicalised mosques could not be substantiated? They were put through the shredder by Newsnight and the whole weary work they had done wasted. DT's behaviour in courting another such disaster is totally reprehensible.

Look, OTSOTA: we appreciate the good Damian does, but we must criticise the harm he does. If conservative Catholic bloggers do not distance themselves from his excesses they will be tarred by the same brush as he is.

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen