Friday, March 16, 2007

Under pressure

I wrote back in early February this piece recounting my glee at reading Rick Mercer's oped basically ripping Noreen Golfman into teeny, tiny little pieces. This was Noreen's original piece. I haven't been able to find her defence after Mercer tore her apart. The Independent doesn't have it online and I haven't been able to find it reprinted elsewhere.

Why am I mentioning this now, six weeks later? Well, because there is a follow-up. Macleans did a fairly sympathetic story on what Golfman's life has been like since Mercer attacked her. Ryan Cleary did a piece in the March 9 Independent defending what she said. Both point out that Golfman has been under particularly vicious attack since Mercer's piece ran. And it only takes a quick Google search using "Noreen Golfman" and "Rick Mercer" to find many blogs commenting on and that most of the comments are exceedingly negative towards Golfman. Some of have taken it further, with Golfman claiming to have received harassing phone calls and threats.

Cleary defends Golfman, which isn't much of a surprise. You're not much of an editor if you don't stand up and defend your writers unless they're complete nutjobs (it's not without precedent that an editor has hired a columnist and later discovered he or she was insane). I think he makes errors in his defence. For example, I suspect that many of the letter writers didn't miss the point of defending Canadian troops who are trying to defend freedom in Afghanistan by writing letters ripping Golfman. They understood and appreciated the chance to state in no uncertain terms that they don't think much of her or her opinion. I always found that to be a bit of a week and generic defence, although I'm sure I've probably used it in the past.

And while I don't care for Golfman, I would never go so far to say she's a nutjob. It's also highly unfortunate that she's been subjected to harassment, phone calls and threats.

Understand, I think that every letter ripping her and criticizing her opinion on this matter is justified. I did it on my blog. Mercer did it with his letter (and he didn't miss the point, Ryan. He nailed it with a laser beam like efficiency you rarely see) and hundreds of others have used similar means to say, very strongly, that they didn't like what she wrote, that she was entirely off-base.

If people are willing to take the time to articulately express an opinion (no foaming, cursing, or using vulgar insults), write and sign their name to it, then you better find your spine and deal with it. Either that or stop writing a column. Say what you will about Margaret Wente, and many did, she took the overwhelming scorn from calling Newfoundland "a scenic welfare ghetto" with some spine and dignity. She owned up to what she said and moved on.

Understand, no one should have to put up with abusive phone calls or physical threats and Mercer wisely distances himself from the morons who have engaged in this behaviour. It is unacceptable. If you don't like what someone has to say, then debate them or ignore them. Honestly, the best way to get rid of a columnist you don't like is to not pay attention to them. If editors think that's happening, the columnist will be dumped for someone who generates debate. I wouldn't be surprised if Cleary gave Golfman a raise after the racket she's caused. That's good newspaper sales, right there.

I know I ought to feel bad for Noreen. The personal abuse is uncalled for and wrong. But still...her original oped piece was a vapid, shallow thing. And she's been writing them for years. I haven't read many since I moved up here, but unless she's taken a radical leap forward, I found them boring and smarmy when I was living in town. This time she just had the misfortunate of wandering into a vastly superior writer's crosshairs. I wouldn't mourn her being dropped from The Independent if for no other reason that they could then find a better columnist to replace her.

Not one whose opinions are more palatable or pleasing to me or other readers. Just someone who is more...interesting. And barring any miracle shift in her writing the past year or so it's been a long time since anything Golfman wrote was particularly intelligent and clever.


Stephanie said...

Golfman is a hypocrite. A mainlander who went too far in her criticism.

I respect her for going out on a limb in criticizing Mr. Mercer, however the old chestnut, "Can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen b.s. rings true here.

Christopher Greene said...

"Honestly, the best way to get rid of a columnist you don't like is to not pay attention to them. If editors think that's happening, the columnist will be dumped for someone who generates debate."

My feeling exactly. Somebody should tell that to Submissions @ the Muse, who dumped their controversial sex columnist in favor of a boring one who stirs up no debate whatsoever. Getting people riled up is what oped is about!

Edward G. Hollett said...

Boy you are a real bastard.

I had held off commenting on Golfman and had one this weekend ready to go.

Now I have to go back and re-write it to play up some aspects you didn't address. You covered the important bases and did it well.

You also stole two words that were kicking around my brain: vapid and shallow.

on top of that you reminded Cleary that Mercer didn't miss the point, so much as hit square in the centre and drive it - and Golfman's argument - through a wall.

To take issue with only one of your points, Stephanie, Golfman did not go out on a limb to criticise Mercer. She did so deliberately to take a swipe at a very successful local comedian who has gotten to where he is, like so many others, without remaining in this province and staring at Confederation Building until it hands out cash.

If she wanted to go out on a limb - i.e take a genuinely principled and brave position - she'd criticise many in the local arts community who while they ought to be critical of any government instead get weepy and teary-eyed and tug their forelocks in gratitude for crumbs from the Crown.

Of course, that wouldn't get Noreen invited back to too many of the fetes run by the circle she moves in. Taking the odd nasty phone call or e-mail from a nutjob is par for the course for anybody with a public profile - media people included. Most don't swoon, even figuratively, about the supposed price they pay for their "bravery" in the face of calls from idiots. Bravery would be nailing the genuine sacred cow in this piece.

Instead of that, Golfman smacked at someone else. Little did she know that what she would get back was a sharply worded eloquent rejoinder to her pretentious tripe.

Turns out Rick knows how to skewer without pomposity and it didn't take a doctoral degree to do the job. Now that must have really stung her.

towniebastard said...

Christopher, I was disappointed the Muse sex columnist didn't return as well, but I don't know if that was the Muse editor dumping her or the columnist choosing not to return. It takes a person with a particularly thick skin to write a sex column on MUN campus and not only sign your name to it, but put a picture to it as well. I imagine she dealt with her share of crap and perhaps simply grew tired of it.

Thanks for the kind words, Ed, although it was late when I finished that and I was tired. There were certainly points I would have liked to have emphasized more. Like Cleary's "Mercer missed the point." No, my friend, if he had hit the point any harder and with more accuracy it would have achieved orbital velocity.

I'm also trying to be somewhat sympathetic to the abusive phone calls and letter. No one should have to deal with harassing crap, but on the other hand if you're a columnist you need a thick skin on this. Few people with a newspaper attract more scorn and personal hatred than a good columnist.

I never got it ofter, but when I did I don't think I shied away from it too much. When the staff and students of Booth Memorial wanted to kill me I thrived on most of the abuse, but I'm sure that was a minor level of hatred compared to what Golfman received in the past few months. But again, you need that hatred sometimes if you want to play at the higher levels.

Put it this way, I imagine Mercer has received more than his share of hatred over the years and he probably loved every minute of it. Golfman crumpled the first time it got serious.

Anonymous said...

Ed, yourself and Craig hit the nail on the head. Ed, I think that is the best thing you have written in the 2 years I have your read your blog. Do us readers all a favour and write a little more often about something more than "Danny-Land" partisanship everyday. Your blog would be be more fun and I would be less de-sensitized to the political rants. Unfortunately, I forgot how good a writer you are.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Anonymous, if you've been reading my stuff as long as you suggest, then you'd know two things:

1. it isn't partisan; and,

2. there is a heckuva a lot more there than the stuff you mentioned.