Tabloid Journalists Attempt to Whip Up Twitchfork Mob against Blogger

(Expanded: thanks to West of Westminster for bringing a couple of extra details to my attention)

Daily Star showbiz hack Nigel Pauley censures Tim Fenton (@zelo_street) on Twitter:

@zelo_street @tabloidtroll we live in a democracy + you are free to air ur obnoxious views and to mock cancer victims. No problem with that (1)

Pauley’s accusation forms the central prong of a typically unsavoury Twitchfork: Richard Price, who writes for the Daily Mail, fumes that:

Usually ignore vile bloggers who spend their lives attacking journalists out of spite, but @zelo_street goes too far… (2)

While a certain Matthew Drake (it’s not known if he is a journalist) adds:

@richpeppiatt @zelo_street what a tragic little union you boys are mocking cancer. Being jobless must give you so much time to bond. (3)

Richard Peppiatt was included in that last Tweet following an earlier rebuke from Pauley:

@richpeppiatt … What unpleasant company you are keeping these days. People like Zelo who mock life threatening illnesses. Less than Zero.. (4)

Peppiatt, it should be recalled, is a former journalist with the Daily Star who quit in disgust at the newspaper’s standards last year. There is therefore perhaps ill-feeling towards him from Pauley [UPDATE: see below; Pauley denies that there is any such ill-will].

Also on board is Harry Cole, who is an enthusiast for this sort of thing.

However, all these Twitter jibes are all outdone by an indignant J’Accuse posted by “Tabloid Troll” on Storify, which he subsequently advertised with 20 Tweets addressed to cronies, journalists, and cancer charities about a “a cancer mocking troll” (e.g. here and here).

Readers will not be entirely surprised to learn that, despite the chorus of outrage, Tim Fenton did not in fact make fun of Pauley’s illness or express any malice about it. Here’s what he wrote, and the context:

[Pauley] has set great store by protesting vehemently that I should not pass adverse comment on him, as he is recovering from “a life saving operation“. But, typically, he is not averse to putting the boot in himself… Pauley commented, on a photo which Rice claimed was of me, “I’d be in denial if I looked like that“.

…Pauley could easily stand in for the lead in a Wallace and Gromit film without anyone noticing, except that his ears are funnier than the plasticene one’s.

That’s it. Really. Pauley made fun of what he took be Tim’s face and Tim responded in kind, focusing on the prominence of his ears; there is nothing that might reasonably be taken as referring to signs of illness, despite Tabloid Troll’s attempt to spin the Wallace comparison into the claim that Tim had compared Pauley “to a piece of plasticine”.

Pauley and Tabloid Troll also discern “sneer quotes” around Tim’s reference to a “life saving operation”, and Tabloid Troll claims (5) that Tim has accused Pauley of “faking cancer”. However, the phrase was in fact was a direct quote from Pauley himself, made on 17 August when Pauley wished to withdraw from an argument on another matter:

I am currently recovering from a life saving operation and have no wish to get drawn into pointless online Spats and abuse. (6)

In the hours that followed this call to be left alone, Pauley went on to make Tweets accusing the blogger Tim Ireland of stalking various individuals, drawing on the kind of material I discussed here and here.

But there’s a second act to this unedifying story; there is strong evidence, which has been assembled by Tim Ireland, indicating that Tabloid Troll is a journalist named Dennis Rice. Rice denies it, and Tabloid Troll has since made a half-hearted pretence at being a “collective” of journalists. However, this pose is undermined both by numerous Tweets written in the first-person singular, and by the strange detail that the entire “collective” apparently recently went on holiday to Spain in the same week.

Given that Tabloid Troll had published a photo of someone whom he believed to be Tim Fenton, Tim responded with a request in kind:

And, if any helpful people out there can supply a recent photo of Dennis Rice, so he too can pass before this blog’s examination – email address, as ever, at right – that would be much appreciated. 

Tabloid Troll noticed this, and wrote:

…cretin is now blogging asking for a pic of TT

But as Tim notes:

I have not made such a request: I’ve asked for a photo of Rice (twice).

Tim makes an obvious inference from this. Tabloid Troll’s next Tweet added the detail that:

Noticed one of his chums is looking for that picture on LinkedIn (7)

But how would Tabloid Troll be aware of this, unless he has access to Rice’s Linkedin account? Tabloid Troll also claims that

as an undercover hack someone putting my pic… up anywhere is putting my life in danger (10, 11)

Tim was then sent a photo, which he inadvisedly published without checking; the photo was in fact that of another journalist, who had been killed in Afghanistan in 2010. It was a silly mistake which could have easily been avoided: Tim ought to have run the photo through the Google Image search feature; the icon of a camera on the right-hand side of the search box can be used to upload images, or they can simply be dragged in from the desktop. Alternatively, there is the TinEye search engine. However, Tim met his obligation to deal with his error, promptly amending his post and adding  an apology to the journalist’s family and “to any of his friends and colleagues who may have looked in.”

Tim’s correction, though, was never going to deflect the inevitable barrage; Tabloid Troll  purports to believe that Tim is “mocking” the dead journalist, and he looks forward to friends of the journalist from the army “visiting” him. This thought was inspired by a certain  self-described “Editor/Journalist” named Darren Ingram, who fantasises about someone giving Tim “a dig in the ribs”.

Finally, having smeared Tim Fenton as someone who “mock[s] cancer victims”, and having attacked Richard Peppiatt for “the company” he keeps, Pauley is now ready to change the subject:

@tabloidtroll @zelo_street @richpeppiatt: Can we all move on please? I’d appreciate it. Thanks. (8)

Of course, the above is just one ephemeral example of the kind of unedifying rubbish that deluges the internet on an hourly basis: shrill denunciations made in bad faith, tossed as red meat to baying cronies.

In this instance, though, professional journalists are involved. In other words, people who ought to know better. Or is it the case that Twitter is merely a new vehicle for old journalistic vices?

UPDATE: Nigel Pauley has responded to the above, via Twitter:

@Barthsnotes How’s an assertion of his right to free speech an accusation? I have no issues with Rich – ask him. PrettyPauley blog came Ist (9)

“Pretty Pauley” is a reference to this Zelo Street post. There is no need for me to comment on the obtuseness of his denial that his “you… mock cancer victims” tweet contains an accusation. I will take him at his word that there is in fact no ill-will between him and Peppiatt.

Moving on:

@Barthsnotes he wasn’t to know I was recovering from cancer +the pic was taken days after serious op but does now and has not taken it down (12)

This is an indication that Pauley wishes to have it both ways: he knows that Tim has not mocked his illness, but he wants us to believe that Tim has nevertheless fallen short in a duty to revise his post anyway. Pauley might have had a point, had Tim inadvertently drawn attention a physical feature that was the result of illness, but there is no reason to suppose that he has. Pauley may not be the world’s handsomest man, but neither am I – and if the worst I ever have to put up with is a claim that that I resemble an animated character, I will consider that I have got off very lightly. It’s the kind of mild mockery one finds in every issue of Private Eye magazine, and it’s rather less biting than the comment that Pauley originally fired off against against Tim. Besides which, Pauley has stated that he wasn’t even particularly bothered by a Wallace comparison.

And third:

@Barthsnotes the real moral of this tawdry tale is that it is easy to mock others but impossible to always be right. We all make mistakes. (13)

It’s not clear from this if Pauley is here showing self-awareness that he has also “made mistakes” in his matter, but either way, this may be an appropriate point at which to conclude our discussion of the subject.

I will, though, make clear that, like Tim, I also wish Pauley a speedy return to health.

UPDATE: A few weeks later Pauley returned to form under the influence of his peers, and he now accuses me of being someone who “likes baiting those recovering from operations!”. Chilling to see what a lifetime of being given money to write for papers like the Daily Star does to your soul.

One Response

  1. […] Earlier today, the Twitter user who uses the name “Tabloid Troll” wrote an intrusive and inaccurate blog post about Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads, claiming that he had been forced to leave his SEO job after being exposed as having used his company’s facilities “to smear and abuse a whole host of public figures, journalists, and witnesses to the Leveson Inquiry”. The story, despite coming from behind “the coward’s cloak of anonymity” (to borrow an apt phrase from Nick Cohen), was gleefully re-Tweeted not just by right-wing gossip trolls such as Paul Staines, whom we do not expect to have any standards, but also national journalists bearing grudges: Tim has more than once uncovered instances of journalistic dishonesty or bad practice, including the “Terror Target Sugar” fiasco, which led to hefty legal bill for the Sun. Those endorsing Tabloid Troll’s claims include Neil Wallis, former editor of the News of the World, and Nigel Pauley, a Daily Star hack about whom I wrote previously in relation to Tabloid Troll here. […]

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