A Staff Reporter

Remember that peculiar article in the Guardian after it fired Dilpazier Aslam? It was two weeks ago now, but I want to mumble a few belated words.

Rightwing bloggers from the US, where the Guardian has a large online following, were behind the targeting last week of a trainee Guardian journalist who wrote a comment piece which they did not care for about the London bombings. The story is a demonstration of the way the ‘blogosphere’ can be used to mount obsessively personalised attacks at high speed.

That’s peculiar stuff. There were leftwing bloggers not from the US who criticized Aslam. And why call it ‘targeting’? (To make it sound illegitimate, that’s why.) And ‘did not care for’ is a silly way to characterize the issue. And what is this ‘obsessively personalised attacks’ business? It was disagreement and criticism; it was neither obsessive, nor any more personalised than any other disagreement with and criticism of a particular commenter is, and it was not an attack. So what’s up with all the rhetoric?

These ravings were posted alongside more legitimate questions as to whether a newspaper should employ a reporter who belongs to a controversial political group linked to the promotion of anti-semitic views. Aslam’s comment piece…did not mention that the author was a member of the radical but non-violent Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir, proscribed in Germany and Holland as anti-semitic.

There it is again – that word ‘radical’. Along with ‘controversial,’ which is an anodyne way of describing Hizb ut-Tahrir. That’s one reason I want to mumble a few words. I think the Guardian has that problem I mentioned the other day, about getting all confused when the word ‘radical’ turns up. Yeah, Hizb ut-Tahrir is radical, but not in the way Greens or socialists are radical. It looks to me as if the Guardian kind of thought they were. You know – angry, militant, activist, radical, sassy, boat-rocking – it’s all kind of the same thing. Well – no.

Scott Burgess, a blogger from New Orleans who recently moved to London, spends his time indoors posting repeated attacks on the Guardian…

Spends his time indoors?? Oh, come on…

Indoors-staying Burgess quotes from Private Eye’s take on the Guardian’s silly-looking hissy fit.

Nothing in the brief Guardian career of Dilpazier Aslam – even the “exclusive interview” he conducted back in March with Shabina Begum, the girl whose legal fight to wear the jilbab was backed by Hizb-ut-Tahir, the same radical group of which he himself was a member – became him like the leaving of it. When the paper belatedly decided on 22 July that his ‘continuing membership of the organisation was incompatible with his continued employment by the company’, it was not without a last shriek of defiance on its website. A lengthy rant claimed that ‘right-wing bloggers in the US were behind the targeting’ of Mr Aslam, pointing out that ‘the ‘blogosphere’ can be used to mount obsessively personalised attacks at high speed’, before mounting one of its own, on ‘Scott Burgess, a blogger who spends his time indoors posting repeated attacks on the Guardian’. And who was the author of this piece which sneered at bloggers for their anonymity and the speed at which they rushed to judgement on the net? ‘A staff reporter’.

The thing that Scott Burgess reports that I didn’t know, however, is that the ‘staff reporter’ byline is unusual – very unusual. I wondered about it – I certainly noticed it, because as soon as I started reading that truly ridiculous article, I wanted to know what buffoon had perpetrated it, and was a bit staggered to be unable to – but I didn’t realize how unusual it was.

In fact, a search of the Guardian archives indicates that, within the last 3 years, a total of only three stories have been published completely without attribution. Two of these involved memorial services for individuals associated with the newspaper, and one was filed from Zimbabwe by a reporter with very good reasons for anonymity.

Not the Guardian’s finest hour.

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