There’s a UK-based internet site called Urban Dictionary and I’m lucky enough to warrant an entry on it. The text reads as follows: ‘Rod Liddle — an odious, untalented, bigoted, low-level Sunday Times journalist who engages in buggery with Nazis such as Nick Griffin.’ Or at least that’s some of it. Incredible, don’t you think? — all lies. Or mostly lies — God knows how they found out about the Nick Griffin stuff. Maybe Nick told them, hoping it would boost the profile of the BNP somehow. There’s some more stuff about how I don’t like the football team Crystal Palace, which makes me think it was written by a desolate, acne-ridden, suburban cybernerd who is himself a supporter of Surrey’s only league side. As a description of my good self it is at least partially correct — I do work for the Sunday Times and I am odious and bigoted and untalented — which puts the Urban Dictionary slightly ahead of Wikipedia for accuracy. My profile on the Wikipedia site, which is lauded for its democracy and commitment to facts, appears to have been written in committee by the Muslim Council of Britain, a former BBC colleague who once, unfortunately for the corporation, edited the Today programme, and a handful of militant atheists.
At first I was shocked by the Wikipedia stuff and set about editing it so some of the more egregious errors — mostly from the BBC person — might be expunged. But within a day or two the BBC person and the jihadis and the atheists had been hard at work and the profile was even more skewed and partisan and inaccurate than before. So I gave up meddling with my own profile and, having learned a lesson, started meddling with the profiles of people I hated as much as the BBC person hated me. I went into the profile of the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and added the words ‘cheating Portuguese c***’ in every sentence and was delighted to see that my alterations remained in place for a week or so. From that I moved on — to Wikipedia’s profile of Harriet Harman which, unaccountably, omitted to mention the crucial point that she habitually performed unnatural sexual acts upon geese. And then I made up ever more fabulous stuff about Bono, Peter Mandelson, Patricia Hewitt, the ‘comedian’ Marcus Brigstocke, the pompous, midget, Tory-voting, fox-strangling restaurateur Anthony Worrall Thompson and, obviously, Rowan Williams. I think the Worrall Thompson entry is still up there; incredibly childish, I know. But you know the drill; you have a glass of wine, and then another, and then a third, nothing on TV, wife’s gone to bed — it’s time for Wikipedia.
Ah, the internet. A bunch of Fleet Street columnists were recently whining about the nasty comments they discovered about themselves online, or about the stuff they’d written. Believe me, there is no more self-important, narcissistic bunch of people than Fleet Street columnists, and I include myself in that description, although the blank-headed liberals are the worst. Apparently they were aghast that people were being quite beastly to them on their computers. Pre-eminent among the whingers was the Evening Standard’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who, while happy to inflict her self-regarding witless drivel upon the public every week, became unaccountably hurt when the public responded with nastiness. Not nearly nasty enough by my reckoning, but there we are. But the democratic nature of the internet, championed by all the metro-liberal hags and slags of Fleet Street for ‘giving ordinary people a voice’, is suddenly a hideous infraction of human rights when the guns of the public are turned upon them. Get a grip, will you.
The internet is not the gospel; the stuff that appears there, from the foam-flecked rants about the Jewish world conspiracy and how Gordon Brown is actually an alien lizard creature who wishes to eat your children, to the well-modulated and considered blogs of Iain Dale and the LabourList, is simply an expression of democracy, and democracy does not always conform to the legal obligations imposed upon the national press, thank God. You read this stuff, you weigh it up, you decide for yourself if it is rubbish or not. Emails sent from one person to another are not government statements, rooted in fact. Sometimes there is smoke without fire; sometimes there is scarcely even smoke. You read and you make your mind up.
This all occurred to me while I read the fallout from the Draper-McBride-Guido Fawkes affair — the supposed attempts, by a spin doctor in 10 Downing Street, to besmirch and smear senior Conservative politicians. Or, at least, juvenile billets-doux between a spin doctor and a disgraced blogger to this effect. What shocked me most was not the nature of the emails, which struck me as being precisely the sort of stuff which is probably bouncing back and forth between the spin doctors of Conservative Central Office and their semi-trained rottweilers in blogsville, but the incredibly sanctimonious response from both the politicians and Fleet Street. Could you believe for a single second that Alastair Campbell, writing on his own blog, thought it all absolutely disgusting, quite beyond the pale? Come off it, Al. Another former New Labour spin-doctor, Lance Price, at least had the good grace to admit that the spiteful tittle-tattle exchanged between Draper and McBride was exactly the sort of thing which he had gossiped about while serving the government — and, he suggested, was the lingua franca of the lobby correspondent. And then there are our newspapers, which reported the whole business with grievous expressions of distaste — a position which forced them to adjudicate upon the authenticity and accuracy of the material they had received and pronounce it incontestably false and thus a disgusting series of smears.
Is it all false? Probably. I don’t know for sure, but probably. As I say, in blogsville there is often smoke without fire. And then again, sometimes there is fire. You read, you decide; if the stuff gets reprinted in a newspaper, you maybe have greater reason to believe, given the greater vulnerability of newspapers to the libel laws. Depending, of course, upon the newspaper you read. What you do is use your common sense.
The magnificent final irony is that the whole business was caught by the semi-literate and scarcely even semi-accurate rightish blog Guido Fawkes, which also adopted a sanctimonious position, above the fray. As if. Believe it all or believe none of it, the great thing is that it is down to you. And nobody will help you figure it out. Democracy.