From Pillay to Post

(Half the reason I wanted to write this was so I could use that horrible pun in the title.)

I wanted to respond, in detail, to the comments from Songezo Zibi in the Mail & Guardian, and hopefully provide some additional context about what posts like Shelley Garland's actually means in 2017.

With no further ado:

The debate about the Huffington Post SA’s now deleted blog by a person with a fake identity and its recently resigned editor, Verashni Pillay, is very important. While it has been easy for many to bash Pillay for some obvious editorial failings, it is important to set out clearly what she should be expected to account for.

First, the blog should not remain deleted for long - we have it on the good authority of the new Editor, Ferial Haffajee, that the post will be restored:

In case it's not, here's an archived copy: https://archive.is/TcmhV . In either case, I'm not here to discuss the merits of the post (UPDATE: I did that here), or what Pillay is to be accountable for. I doubt the latter even has any weight, since she's already resigned.

Instead, I'll get straight to the commentary.

We should be clear in our minds that we do not conflate failure of editorial process before publication, and judgment after the publication of an article. Differentiating between the two is very important, as I shall set out later.

Failure of editorial process before publication? That should not matter - if there is no publication, then any failures are immaterial. If there was a major screw-up and the article was blocked from publication in time, that's a success for any internal processes, no?

We must also not allow the fake identity of the author of that blog to cloud our judgment about the matters of principle at hand. This is because the fake identity issue is a red herring. Even if the true identity had not been hidden, there are very important principles at play nonetheless – including the selective silencing of views some of our compatriots may not like.

Using the word "compatriots" makes me more than a little nervous in this context, but we'll roll with it.

The fake identity is a massive issue, since HuffPo clearly stumbled over themselves to publish this article in a hurry, without any verification - of neither the author, or some of the most substantial facts therein.

However, this should not come as a surprise. We're dealing with the Huffington Post here, a brand which has never been overly concerned with journalistic ethics. For one, their core business model is essentially just the recycling of clickworthy content:

The HuffPo is a digital sandcastle. Its three pillars are: 1. Unabashed aggregation machine recycling roughly 300 stories a day from other medias;  2. A modest amount of original production (largely drawn from newswires) that forms the kernel for a vast debating space involving thousands of unpaid bloggers  3. A powerful and well-managed stream of celebrity stories

Source: The Traffic Bubble

That model has not changed substantially since 2010, and it's clear to see from the South African edition that they're just trying the same approach here. The entire Shelley Garland debacle falls squarely under point 2 - it was an unpaid blog submitted to HuffPoSA that kicked all of this off.

When your business model is essentially oriented around driving traffic to a site loaded with ads (AdBlock counts 9 distinct slots on the homepage, and Privacy Badger blocks 16 potential trackers), plus if you can abdicate responsibility to an unpaid blogger for any fuckups (which HuffPo tried to do, desperately, by blaming the "system"), then you're not going to be too concerned with getting it right the first time.

Especially if getting it wrong is profitable, as Comrade Sipho reminds us:

Screenshot of @comradesipho

When you're already playing on ethically shaky ground, no herring is a red herring, and everything can and will be used against you when you screw up.

I do agree with the second half of Zibi's comment, in that there are very important principles at play. I just doubt it's the ones he's talking about.

It was poor of the Huffington Post to not ascertain whether or not an external contributor was a real person. This is because later the person may be needed in case there is a Press Council inquiry. Also some edits may need to be run past a contributor, so their full contact details are essential.

Was it poor? No.

The contributor does not need to be a real person. We live in a highly-connected digital age in which journalists exposing corruption routinely need to use extraordinary security measures to guard their identity.

Trusting the editor with your identity, then publishing under a pseudonym, is taking a big risk in a country like South Africa, which has an overactive state intelligence apparatus combined with poor institutional data security.

Furthermore, it was an unpaid blog - free content handed over to HuffPo, from which the author would not benefit in any substantial way. In this context, there's nothing at all to be gained from being able to reference a real person here.

This is because later the person may be needed in case there is a Press Council inquiry.

For which there exist legal avenues and means of tracing people's identity. From what I understand, they didn't even need to go to the police to eventually resolve Shelley Garland as Marius Roodt.

To assume as a default position that every piece of content (such as public comment) submitted for publication on a news platform HAS to have a strong, real identity attached to it, is really dangerous.

Especially when it's free content, clearly not in the public interest, and serves only to drive outrage impressions to HuffPo's ads. In that event, being able to accurately identify the author (and/or scapegoat them for it) is actually a liability, as it turned out for Marius Roodt.

Also some edits may need to be run past a contributor, so their full contact details are essential.

Again, no - the content came in via email, the only communication channel that exists for these submissions. It is literally impossible for a blogger to submit content without leaving their return contact details - the contributor is one reply away.

I'm not sure what Zibi's obsession is with making sure all submissions are fully validated and traceable, but I can only imagine he has not been the subject of a major hack that exposed all his sources. Contributors of potentially controversial material in 2017 have every right to privacy, including the use of fictitious aliases. All the more so if the message is more important than the messenger.

Finally editors check for plagiarism, and with Google available these days it is routine to run a check on an author and what they have written. You also check the facts attached to the arguments and ask the writer to use the correct facts. I am not certain the Huffington Post did this; otherwise the fake identity issue may not have arisen at all.

I do agree with this one. The article used incorrect facts, and used them poorly. But I disagree that the facts were not checked - I think they were checked, but in such a cursory manner (probably just making sure the hyperlinks worked), with the assumption that:

  • It wouldn't matter if the facts were wrong, this is the internet after all
  • We can just blame it on the contributor (this is a free blog we're hosting at our expense)
  • What are facts anyway lol it's all words on a screen

The end result being, whatever poor process that HuffPo had in place for publishing such incendiary content did not catch any one of the many red flags. Frankly I'm astonished that they didn't fire the intern over this one, and instead sacrificed the Editor - overkill if it was a simple systemic glitch, no?

There is nothing wrong in publishing an article under a pseudonym, by the way. The Rand Daily Mail publishes long essays by one ‘Lily Gosam’. The only proviso is that the editor must know the real identity of the writer and be in agreement on the reasons for the concealment thereof. It is during this process that the motives of the author of that blog may have become clear, and the editor may have had a basis for rethinking whether or not to publish.

Pseudonyms, again, are only okay to Zibi if they can be traced back to a real person on demand. And again, I think this line of thinking is dangerous, in a country where the citizenry cannot trust the Police to be impartial, or that the state will not use its surveillance powers to root out people they don't like.

And while I do agree that some thorough checks may have revealed malicious intent on Garland's part, this was not done, and I think it was not done because thorough checks are simply not HuffPo's business model.

Remember, for all the blowups that just took place, chances are they made a tidy sum off the traffic to that article all the same. In the digital publishing space, all news is profitable news.

That is quite apart from censoring the content of the blog itself because it may offend. Protection from offense is not an automatic right.

With you on that one! Unfortunately the content of the blog was not only offensive, racist, sexist, poorly-informed, unsubstantiated and (arguably) unconstitutional, it also falls afoul of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

'harassment' means unwanted conduct which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates, or creates a hostile or intimidating environment or is calculated to induce submission by actual or threatened adverse consequences and which is related to - (a) sex, gender or sexual orientation

Under that definition, the article was clearly harassment aimed at a specific group - white men. It was serious, created a hostile environment, and was arguably calculated to induce submission by threatening adverse consequences (taking away the vote).

There's also Section 10, Prohibition of Hate Speech:

(1) Subject to the proviso in section 12, no person may publish ... words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to: (a) be hurtful; (b) be harmful or to incite harm; (c) promote or propagate hatred.

The article calls for white men to be barred from voting, and accusing white men of being behind major social and political tragedies. Even if the author does not directly incite violence (which is the Constitutional line), that article clearly falls afoul of this section of the law - it's a clear intention to promote and propagate hatred on the basis of gender and race, by blaming one gender and one race for a substantial portion of evils in the world.

So while I agree that protection from offense is not an automatic right, I don't think any clear-headed reading of that article (or the hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts along a similar argument) can be read simply as offense. More like an actual violation of the law.

It is not the job of editors to protect their readers from views they may not like either. If that were so there would hardly be a reason to have a publication at all. Invariably, either in the news or opinion section, somebody would find something offensive.

No, but it is the job of editors to protect the public discourse from racist, sexist garbage that seeks to incite hatred and is in clear violation of the law.

Unless if that job title has seriously changed in the era of digital news, where truth and justice are balanced against monetizable impressions, in which case I'd implore HuffPoSA to just be honest about what their internal KPIs are.

I also believe Pillay further dug herself into a hole with her handling of the matter after it blew up. Social media debate can put undue pressure to deliver a position in minutes or hours when careful consideration is required. I think she succumbed to this pressure and got herself into more trouble with explanations that were incoherent in parts and muddled the issues at play.

Her initial response almost read as if she didn't actually read the article in depth before defending it, so I'd grant her a pass on that.

Her second, more considered apology, not so much. In a quest for "honest, inclusive conversations" she defended a clearly racist position, then went on to state that "white men still enjoy disproportionate power", a claim that is not self-evidently true, and cannot (I think) be backed up with any proof.

Least of all in a country where almost every single state institution has been successfully corrupted to twist the entire apparatus of government in the defense of one, black President. If it's not power to:

  • Have 783 criminal charges hanging over your head
  • Get elected President anyway
  • Orchestrate the looting of billions from the state coffers
  • Get away with violating ICC statute (Al-Bashir incident)
  • Sell out the country to a wealthy foreign family
  • Tank the economy (twice!) to force through an unwanted nuclear deal
  • Still be able to install your own puppet president

Then I honestly don't know what power is. From where I sit, that seems like a grossly disproportionate use of power, and the only recourse white men in South Africa seem to have, is to dig in and defend the businesses they built. Or emigrate.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the cultural and political power that black people wield, to the point where black politicians routinely escape judgement for using overtly racist language that directly incites violence against whites. Meanwhile, whites are expected, by and large, to shut up and be grateful they haven't been targeted for Economic Transformation yet.

What white power? But I digress.

What is suggested in the blog itself is, as a friend pointed out to me, no more incendiary than the reader comments one sees on some prominent news sites. Some of the most horrid racism, homophobia and misogyny are commonplace. For a long time News24 reader comments were known for exactly this.

That's not a defense. Wow.

Reader comments occasionally come from racists, homophobes, sexists and morons. That does not mean that any publication with even a shred of integrity can sink to that level. To call it "commonplace" as a defense is ludicrous - crime is also commonplace. Does that mean we should just give up and accept it?

The entire reason we give journalists and editors so much power over the national discourse is because we trust them to give us impartial, unbiased, and truthful views of current events. Not circuses like this.

Just the other day we were debating Helen Zille’s comments on colonialism by which she still stands. These offended many black people. Cartoonist Zapiro and painter Brett Murray of The Spear fame are another case in point. These are all people who were using platforms owned and curated by others to publish their views and work.

We've (or at least I) have already established that the Garland article was not offensive, it was hateful, racist garbage. And also offensive, but that's besides the point - that's just the cherry on the cake by now.

In May 2015, as editor of Business Day I had to make a decision on whether I should retain the late Allister Sparks’ column after he called Hendrik Verwoerd “smart”. These comments outraged many black people.

What's interesting throughout this entire piece is that Zibi seems to weight the outrage of black people more important than the outrage of white people. All the cases he brings up are where white people say something racist or stupid, but nowhere do I see mentions of Malema or Zuma directly inciting violence with rubbish like "one settler one bullet".

I retained him and many of those advocating that Pillay must be chased to the hills today supported my decision then. For the record, for the reasons given then, some of which apply to the Huffington Post issue, I stand by my decision.

Fair play to you, then. If, in that instance, you stood in defense of offensive expression because you felt it added to the national discourse, good job.

Except that's not quite what happened.

Sparks committed a disastrous faux pas last year when he told a largely black DA audience that apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd had been one of the country's most intelligent politicians.

Among others he listed was not a single black politician.

He was crucified in the court of public opinion and made to publish an apology on pain of losing his column in Business Day. He was devastated.

Source: Sunday Times, "Allister Sparks: Legendary editor who courted contention" (25 Sep 2016)

I guess Zibi's benevolence, guardianship of the principles of free expression and withholding judgement from the court of public opinion only extends so far.

Back to Zibi's comments.

We must therefore reflect upon the inconsistency in the reaction to Pillay in relation to what has for so long been allowed to pass as commentary before. It is intimately connected to what I am about to set out below.

"Allowed to pass" as commentary? I'm guessing I missed all the previous instances where someone called for the disenfranchisement of an entire group based solely on race and gender. Post-1994, of course.

I'm assuming that it's only a problem if you target a specific race group. In this entire editorial, Zibi basically says nothing except to defend Pillay, so that should give you an indication of where his priorities lie.

The next issue to consider therefore is whether the view that white men should (globally, I understood) be denied the right to vote for a period so that the rest of us, including white women, should fix the problems they have caused. This is in a case in which this very blogger or another, was insisting on their views following editorial checks which were borne out by the required factual information.

Fun fact: If white men in SA were denied the vote, then by the 2019 general election there would only be a 4% knock in the size of the voting pool. Combined, black men and women of voting age will total over 77% of the eligible voting population.

I'm not saying we should take away the votes of white men in South Africa - I'm just saying that if we did, it's unlikely to have a material impact on election outcomes anyway.

On Zibi's point though, I'm confused by the second half, since there was no factual information in that post. It was deliberately picked to be misleading and (in the case of the JSE stat) outright incorrect.

Let me first deal with the unconstitutionality of this view. It is common cause that it is because the right to vote does not hinge on race. This is what we were and cannot, and will not be going back to it. It is therefore a view that is violently inconsistent with our Constitution.

Finally, something I can agree on, without qualification.

Publishing views that are inconsistent with the Constitution is not wrong, however. There are many South Africans who believe the death penalty should return. It would be wrong to propose that those views must now be silenced.

So here's some contorted logic for you.

Publishing views that are inconsistent with the Constitution should remain legal. That's my feeling on this too. There was a time where the Constitution of South Africa prevented black people from voting, and there were lots of contrary views published on that.

The question at any point should be, "is this idea pulling us closer to justice?" - especially if the common notion of justice is at odds with the Constitution. These views, when argued, should have the common intention of pulling us closer to justice: to equality, to truth, and ultimately to peace. When advocating an unconstitutional idea, it cannot also be unconscionable, as is the case with disenfranchising white men.

I'm not sure how you can conflate the two. Do you just permit any and all speech, no matter how illegal, hateful, racist and sexist under the banner of "not silencing views"? That's a pretty slippery slope, and some thoroughly contorted logic to believe there's an equivalence between discussing the idea of the death penalty, and advocating for removing the vote from an entire population group.

Others believe that land should be confiscated from white people without paying them a cent for it. We read about this in newspapers and hear of it on other platforms without anyone demanding that the editors concerned must resign.

I agree. It's really disconcerting that people like Andile Mngxitama are given platforms on eNCA and ANN7 to openly call for people to illegally occupy white-owned land as a precursor to confiscating it.

Unfortunately that seems to be the reality of the discourse today - essentially no sanctions apply if you hold radical, racist views and happen to be black.

There is a clear difference between proposing such a legislative step and inciting people to go and attack or hate a certain group of people.

See above for the mostly-ignored Mngxitama stuff. Also see above for where the Garland article fell afoul of PEPUDA. While there is a clear difference, the article was in breach of the law, and was in no way constructive in context of any nation-building project you might imagine.

This is particularly true in a country like ours where there is an accurate and recorded context where the three and a half centuries to 1994 are a period during which Europeans; white men in particular, violently and systematically dispossessed and then oppressed black people.

Oh god. This again.

For one thing, no, there are no "clear and recorded contexts" stretching back over 350 years. Objectively-written history does not reach back that far, and historians today have to piece together the stories from fragments of journals, ledgers, certificates, and other archived documents.

Secondly, history is not nearly that clear-cut. For instance - the battles between the Voortrekkers and the Ndebele in 1836 were the first recorded European vs African conflicts on South African soil - and hostilities were initiated by the Ndebele, not the Voortrekkers.

I won't deny that the period between 1830 and 1990 saw the Europeans in an advantageous military and political position, but I'm definitely going to reject the overly simplistic narrative that white people simply showed up and started dispossessing black people.

Finally (just one more): it took the white settlers over 180 years (from 1652 to 1836) to actually make contact with aggressive local tribes. Prior to that, most of the land in southern-eastern South Africa (Western, Northern, Eastern Capes + the Free State) was unclaimed - meaning it was occupied peacefully, and taken from nobody.

To somehow call all 350+ years of European involvement "violent dispossession" in an attempt to justify modern-day expropriation laws is a very dishonest reading of history. At the very least, forward-date the start of your narrative to the 1830s, when the wars actually began.

This is what colonialism and apartheid were about. No matter how uncomfortable this fact is, it is not the job of any editor to cushion the force of its reality from those who may find it objectionable to state it.

Again, that's a very simplistic reading of the situation, but I've quoted enough history for one article. I'll just acknowledge the intent - that shielding the public from uncomfortable truths is not the job of the news media.

An intent I usually agree with, but mainly in instances where the uncomfortable truths serve the public interest - like how we have a bought President, multiple crises in education, energy security, water security, physical safety, and looming problems in food security.

To invoke "sometimes you gotta take medicine that tastes bad"-logic to defend the publishing of something that could only possibly serve to divide the nation along racial and gender lines is absurd.

I know it is uncomfortable for some to hear or read people say this: There is a global political and economic racial order, on top of which are white males.

Because it's not true.

There is no such thing as an "economic racial" order. There are economical orders - laws and agreements between countries that facilitate trade. And there are racial orders, unfortunately, but they don't stretch far outside their areas of origin (thankfully).

The implication is that the global economy is somehow "owned" by "white males", neither of which are true. Manufacturing and production is dominated by China, which is not dominated by white males. What's dominated by white people is the other end of the spectrum - debt-driven consumption, in which the US and Europe take the cake.

Nominal GDP IMF WEO 2015

This is where Zibi's ideology begins to show clearly. For whatever reason, it's advantageous to him to believe (and to get other people to believe) that:

  • the global economy is dominated by whites,
  • that's an inherently bad thing,
  • the reason being: white people are inherently bad?

There seems to be no factual justification for his belief that "white domination" of the economy is an inherently bad thing - other than the fact that white people are involved.

It is historical fact and is borne out by Europe’s military and economic hegemony for the centuries that preceded America’s global power. America itself, however, is a country so dominated by white men that they make decisions on women’s rights without women being present.

Ah, definitely a problem with white men.

The historical fact is mostly true - it doesn't acknowledge the Arab and Chinese expansions, but we'll gloss over that. Instead I'll pick at the point about the women's rights thing, which (while being true) is utterly irrelevant to an argument about editorial accountability.

It is, however, more ammunition for the "whites are basically bad" paradigm, which is crucial in propping up his other, equally irrelevant point about the supposed "global racial economic hegemony". Which again has nothing to do with editorial accountability.

This is why we have the socioeconomic asymmetries we have in our own country, where a white child is more likely to have better opportunities in life than a black child. This is why we have the BEE Act, the Employment Equity Act and other legislation.

Since we're barreling headlong into the now-obviously-fake-and-racist Garland article, I'll play along.

Yes, there are socio-economic asymmetries, and I believe a big reason for that in 2017 is 20+ years of the ANC government failing to scale the infrastructure necessary to educate and equip a generation of born-free children.

To be fair, I don't know if any government in a country as small as ours could have coped with scaling the country by 15 million new citizens (42% growth) in 20 years, so my critique is not so much of the ANC, as it is with the general notion that whites are somehow automatically to blame.

While the government was trying to build the country with a combination of public schools, increased taxes, and wealth-redistributive legislation, the dwindling white community kept doing what they were doing before: studying hard, working hard, and starting businesses - mostly without government aid. It should come as no surprise, 20 years down the line, that whites are still (for the most part) doing relatively okay.

Meanwhile, that BEE Act? Not panning out.

One thing that post-Apartheid South Africa could have learned (and should have learned, maybe) is that building a successful, productive country is really hard work, and requires participation at all levels. Simply trying to legislate your way to equality is never going to work.

But I digress, again.

They are there to ensure that the racial inequalities, from which white men have historically benefited the most, do not continue and threaten our nation-building project.

I really want to move on from this, but I can't just leave this one hanging.

Those inequalities ended with CODESA. From the ratification of the new Constitution onwards there were no legal or technical barriers stopping black people from studying or starting businesses. Economic equality is something that is built - it requires work and investment over time to create a business, or to invest in wealth-building assets.

The biggest threat to the nation-building project right now is definitely not coming from white people, or any benefits they may have accrued as a result of Apartheid - it's coming from a singularly and spectacularly corrupt President, and the party which keeps him in power by sowing divisions along racial lines.

After 10+ years of the ANC playing the race card, and pulling every lever they have to keep a corrupt President in power, I don't think you can seriously consider the shrinking pool of white business owners to be the biggest threat to the nation.

Stating these facts is not racist, although many South Africans believe it is and that the laws mentioned above are racist.

BBEEE in particular is, by definition racist, since it discriminates along racial lines. However, since it seems that this is the only advantage the government is capable of giving black people (as opposed to a good education and job opportunities), we're collectively letting that slide.

We must therefore guard against the use of incorrect information by the fake Huffington Post blogger to smother what remains a historical fact,

Happy with that.

and is the trigger for the moral imperative to put legitimate, constitutional special measures in place to advance black people.

Wait, what?

Feels to me like this issue just got hijacked by a black-advancement agenda. It would seem to me that the stated goals of denying white men the vote, and advancing black people, are not even considerations in the same domain.

This advancement, by the way, to put "legitimate, constitutional special measures" in place is essentially code for "more legislation to divert wealth to black people". It does not, of course, declare which black people are to be advanced. 14 years of B-BBEE have not done a fantastic job of uplifting the poor, so I guess more of the same sort of legislation is the answer? (That was sarcasm.)

We're quite far off from commentary on editorial accountability by this point, but we get back to it in the next paragraph.

It is precisely in the discussion about how to rebalance society from white male dominance that some may propose unconstitutional means, such as disenfranchising white males.

I imagine that during the twilight years of Apartheid, media houses were pushing for true equality by directly challenging the Constitution of the time - which eventually culminated in CODESA, and the drafting of a more equitable Constitution.

That, however, is a very different conversation compared to what Zibi is invoking here, which is "rebalancing" by means of entrenching political inequality. It's also an idea he rejected earlier as "violently unconstitutional".

In either case, yes, I agree with the principle that difficult conversations are to be had, but this one (disenfranchising white men) should never have been tabled in the first place. It was a deliberately fake piece by a fake author designed to generate controversy - how Zibi can equate this with honest debate over an idea people are actually likely to consider, is concerning.

Publishing in an open democracy is about giving citizens an opportunity to vigorously disagree in this way without resorting to violence or inciting it.

Fair enough, though last I checked we were living in a "funny democracy", in which we don't actually have democracy - we have entrenched parties voting along racial and tribal lines, with party slate systems that essentially guarantee voters never get to pick the people they actually want to be in charge.

Third digression.

As a debate it may be quite pointless but there is no law prohibiting people from having a largely pointless philosophical or political debate about one thing or another, such as whether or not the death penalty would solve our problems with violent crime.

Fair point, though I would also argue that pointless, heated, racist debates in the public sphere serve only to muddy the waters and raise people's hackles. In no way is this sort of debate constructive.

This is why determining whether the blog amounted to racist hate speech directed at white men is important. I do not recall that there was any incitement in it.

Uhh...

Garland: It is time to wrestle control of the world back from white males, and the first step will be a temporary restriction of the franchise to them.

That's not incitement? I'm guessing the bar for "incitement" varies depending on your ideological position. For instance, if you have a vested interest in wealth redistribution, then any foul incitement on your side of the debate pretty much has to come with warning labels, flashing lights, and a body count to be considered a faux pas.

One of the editorial failures here was that the Huffington Post, as the curator of the views of its bloggers, needed to get in touch with the writer and ask them to make their views clearer in this respect.

Well, Garland's views were pretty clear, and quite well-enunciated (if completely factually incorrect). The entire article was a clarification on the opening position of denying white men the vote. I don't know how the position could have been made any clearer, even if HuffPo had checked.

The Press Ombud’s ruling is also as poor as the Huffington Post’s editorial processes, unfortunately. The manner in which Retief frames his reasoning for the finding against the Huffington Post is dangerous for democracy because it amounts to a blanket silencing of debate, which often involves people straying off constitutional limits.

It also takes into account the context in South Africa, in which white people are pretty much held up as the national scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. In no way did Garland's post serve the interests of democracy - it challenged nothing, it pandered to the most extreme views, and it gained massive traction thanks to an ideologically biased editor.

In that context - the sheer amount of damage it would have done to race relations - I think the sanctions imposed by the Press Ombud were fair. He didn't even call for Pillay's resignation, but she did the honorable thing anyway.

In any case I understood the blogger to be picking on white males, not whites as a race. This is not splitting hairs in a world where white women are also yet to regain their rightful place in a world dominated by white men. Retief disregards this completely.

So the first sentence makes no coherent logical sense. I guess picking on a race is okay if you qualify it with a gender? That somehow makes it not racist?

I imagine Retief disregarded the issue about white women because white women were not the focus of the Garland article. If this commentary by Zibi is any indication, he apparently finds it acceptable to meander into any and every topic that could conceivably push his agenda.

As I explained in my Allister Sparks decision, such decisions need to be capable of consistent application in future. If we follow Retief’s logic, editors may not in future publish any views that advocate the expropriation of land from white people without compensation.

And I'd be glad for that outcome, since there are already instances of people being influenced by that sort of rhetoric, violently attacking farmers as a result. I honestly wish editors would devote more column inches and airtime to ideas which could actually fix our country - starting with education and cutting red tape.

I'm again concerned that this is the example Zibi reaches for (and has so far used as an idea worthy of discussion in the press). Not only is that position unconstitutional, illegal, and has been previously voted down by the majority of the ANC MP bench, it's just as backwards as the dispossession Zibi accuses Europeans of, and will lead us straight down the road to Zimbabwe.

It seems that the press freedoms Zibi is most concerned with are the ones that will allow his views to be aired without challenge. I have yet, in this piece, to see him defend the rights of the likes of Steve Hofmeyr to air his views about white genocide (for instance).

Were I Verashni Pillay’s boss I would have held her to account for the editorial process failures I briefly mentioned above, and not whether the blogger’s views were palatable. Unfortunately Retief has compounded the problem and it stands to reason that his decision must be appealed.

It stands to no such reason - nothing in this commentary so far strikes me as particularly reasonable at all, other than the knee-jerk platitudes about adhering to the Constitution.

You also can't project what you would have done if you were Pillay's boss - we already know what you did when you were Sparks' boss, and we already know you would have just given her a slap on the wrist.

I have no doubt that many are genuinely aggrieved by the blog and the Huffington Post’s decision to publish it, but the very basis of their taking offense must be debated.

The very basis of taking offense at the idea that I should be denied the vote based on my race and gender? What on earth might compel me to take offense at that idea?

(That was sarcasm.)

Pillay’s resignation must be for the right reasons, and that is failure of editorial process at the very beginning of their engagement with the fake blogger, and not for the purposes of putting the fear of God into any editor who dares allow views certain sectors of society may not like. That is not what editors are supposed to do.

Fact is, she did resign. She apologized, then resigned - for reasons she may choose to never make public.

I doubt this incident would have "put the fear of God" into any editors for "allowing views certain sectors of society may not like". If anything, the only fear this should put into editors is that of double-checking the veracity of your source and your facts before publishing.

Which is exactly what editors are supposed to do.

I also hope that the Huffington Post and News24 put their decision to accept Pillay’s resignation in perspective. They need to demonstrate clearly the principle upon which they have done so, and that they did not cave in to outrage which may serve to undermine very critical debate and democratic principles relating to free speech.

So they should have rejected her resignation? That would have compounded a process failure you yourself would have held her to account for. This line of argument makes as little sense as the rest of Zibi's monologue.

Also, caving into outrage is not the same thing as taking an easy out after someone in your employ makes a massive editorial faux pas. If there's one thing you can bet on, it's HuffPoSA and News24's ability to generate more outrage when necessary.


So this has been a long, and kinda numbing journey. I did not expect to actually end up quoting the entire commentary piece, but here we are. I remain glad I was able to use the horrible pun in the title.

In conclusion, my opinion on the Shelley Garland Disaster Abortion Immense Fuckup Armageddon Affair:

  • Writing it was a mistake
  • Submitting it was a mistake
  • Publishing it was a mistake
  • Defending it was a mistake
  • Gloating over the traffic was a mistake
  • But HuffPo essentially doesn't care about mistakes
  • We'll see another one of these in a few months, guaranteed

Happy Monday, everyone!

Wogan May

A South African citizen looking for Truth and Reconciliation among all the noise. Believes in Libertarian principles, and Capitalism as the engine for prosperity.

South Africa

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