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Monday 21 May 2007

Mail savages 'Whitehall's jogging blogger'

Barder: 'Whitehall's jogging blogger' [actually one of several]

Sunday's Daily Mail carried a long, malicious attack on civil servant Owen Barder's blog.

Barder works for the Department for International Development.

Tim Worstall has taken the article apart on his blog. The Mail did things like quote from comments as if they were Barder's own words — the article is full of misquotations and falsifications. It's what an Aussie would call a 'beat-up'.

Unfortunately but perhaps not surprising Barder has taken his blog down — his personal site's still there though.

Worstall, who's of the right and opposed to all Barder stands for, nevertheless recognises an injustice and the underlying threat is represents:

I have to admit that I think this piece in the Mail is really rather extraordinary. As above, you can see that it's a mixture of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.

Which is really something that all of us other bloggers might want to start thinking about. If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that's rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn't it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.

Traditional here to start quoting Voltaire but the problem with that is that Voltaire never actually said it. I think we all know the Pastor Niemoller quote by now as well, don't we? So I'll just content myself with a small in joke shall I?

I am Spartacus!

Worstall also notes in the comments that although he has posted about this on the Mail's message board - surprise! - those comments have yet to appear.

I hope Barder sues the Mail. I'm sorry to see him bullied into taking his website down — he's done absolutely nothing wrong.

They need warning off. Otherwise anyone blogging, anyone, can see their words misquoted back at them (or words put in their mouth). A good legal decision would clarify the situation.

Same goes for the issue I mentioned before — about Google search of our electronic trails being used in HR.

I think the defining lines are clear, otherwise why would anyone who works also do a blog? (Or post on a Bulletin Board or write to a newspaper). What hasn't happened is clear legal (and political) line drawing, although it is good to see HM Opposition thus far steering clear.

Bottom line: people are allowed a life outside work and a political opinion. That's actually legally codified!

If employers want people to give that up they generally remunerate them very well or there's some other intangible prize.

A few right-wing bloggers (echoing the Mail) have said that his private life and opinion 'brings the civil service into disrepute' (aka, he has no right to a private life). But it has been good to see so many bloggers who would disagree with his opinions defending Barder.

Perhaps in producing such a shoddily researched article, the Mail has done bloggers a backhand favour? Jeremy Gould, another Whitehall blogger, comments that "something has happened". Indeed. Maybe The Mail over-reached.

The Mail makes a big deal of Barder's salary. Given the Mail's evident 'high moral standards' wouldn't it therefore be fair in their moral universe to trawl the electronic utterances of their journalists to see how the two match up?


  1. Man that is a drag. The useless old farts of the MSM...really. Thanks for tipoff

  2. Meant to say, that was William at Ideal Gov

  3. What exactly is there for Owen to sue over? The Mail article uses some unnecessarily emotive language, but although it grabs the wrong end of the stick on a few points, it's the right stick. Owen does have a blog, he does speak frankly on it, and this isn't typical civil service behaviour. He can't even claim intrusion, since the Mail is only quoting stuff he put in the public domain himself.

    I don't know Owen, but I tell you what: I've worked most of the last 12 years in the civil service, most of those as a full-time civil servant myself. And if the Mail ever accused me of not being a typical civil servant, I'd take that as a compliment.

  4. If you put words in people's mouths you can sue, for one thing Simon. Tim Worstall isn't just demolishing the opinion but the Mail's misquotations etc. That's what I mean by the journalistic shoddiness of it - I don't think it would hold up for them legally if Owen has a real go.

    Obviously, it's a political and personal decision for him but the Mail has now defined the public spin/record on Owen and the law should give him an opportunity to try to correct that.

    I'm very interested to see how DfID reacts plus his Union — they should defend him.