To set the scene:
- Julie Posetti is a journalist/academic who used Twitter to quote a former News Ltd journalist about what it was like to work for that company, particularly under Chris Mitchell;
- Mitchell claimed Posetti defamed him but hasn't actually issued any writs, or done what you need to do to launch legal action in Australia other than (apparently) have discussions with lawyers; and
- Sally Jackson is employed by News Ltd to write about Twitter and other online media. She appears to be the nearest that company has to a social media expert.
Jackson wrote about the Mitchell-Posetti thing here. It's a strange article, talking in generalities about a case which has not been made let alone tested in court; and stranger still is her responses to criticism.
It's strange to write an article about something that's "unremarkable". All sorts of unremarkable things happen and they don't make it into the mainstream media. There are eleven paragraphs about defamation generally; the sort of bland generalities you get from lawyers when they're not being paid, like when you talk to them at parties. You have to scroll down to the twelfth and thirteenth paragraphs of her article before you get to the nub of it: Asa Wahlquists's former boss, and Sally Jackson's current boss, is using Jackson to write an article that he should have (but couldn't or wouldn't) write himself.
Jackson left out the fact that the ABC broadcast a recording of what Wahlquist actually said, which makes a nonsense not only of the crucial thirteenth paragraph, but the whole article. It reflects poorly on Mitchell, hiding behind his underlings to soften up his would-be defendant. Naturally, Mitchell gets the final word.
After Watergate, we know that any attempt to cover up can be worse than the crime itself, and so it is here. Jackson's responses to tweets challenging her to respond to the Wahlquist audio are astonishingly inept for a social media expert. She won't participate in a debate that she can't frame. Criticism that addresses the issue is lumped in with ad-hominem attacks, so that any criticism of her article is a personal attack upon her. That's why reasonable challenges are met with shrieks like "nasty", "troll" etc. Jackson's responses remind me of people who flap their arms wildly when set upon by flying insects: this doesn't actually repel the insects or even discourage them much, it only gets the person upset, diminishes their dignity and makes further attacks more likely rather than less.
To be fair to Jackson, she would be reluctant to make a comment that might interfere with any Mitchell-Posetti action, particularly if it counted against the would-be plaintiff. She's done in this article what most journalists do: get a coupla quotes, slap them together, let the subbies sort it all out and move on, to the next story or the pub or whatever.
The idea of being held to account for a story one has written goes against the whole idea of journalism, apparently. The fast pace of journalism these days makes careful consideration of what one writes almost impossible. In any organisation you can explain that you're only doing what the boss told you to do, but journalists jeer at people who use that defence (known as the "Nuremberg defence" if you want to take it to extremes), so Jackson can't explain that she's put her own name atop an article that Mitchell should've had the courage to write himself. Jackson obviously resents having to answer for an article over which she had so little understanding and less control. Her shrieky all-about-me responses, the idea that all criticism can be reduced to the lowest common denominator and easily dispatched, shows that patriotism isn't necessarily the last refuge of people like Jackson and Mitchell.
Jackson's failure to engage in Twitter about her article (well, the article under her byline) have the smell of fin-de-siecle, let-them-eat-cake about it. It shows that the "fourth estate" is no more accountable than the other three, despite accountability being its purported reason for existence. It shows that a social media expert can fail to understand their round, making the kind of category error like a court reporter failing to understand that someone doesn't go to prison just because they've been charged by police.
Speaking of legal issues, I'm prepared to bet that Mitchell won't actually issue a writ against Posetti. You need a writ to commence legal action in Australia (a bland generality in keeping with Jackson's article), an announcement that you've been chatting with lawyers isn't good enough. Imagine Mitchell talking with News Ltd lawyers, each using the conversation to justify their own existence, like something too sad or pointless for Pinter or Beckett. Only journalists are impressed by announcements. That kind of announcement only serves to intimidate someone like Posetti and limit her criticisms of your organisation, or to give your unremarkable paper the shot of publicity that supposedly leads to those elusive goals of increased sales and market clout.
If they did, then News Ltd lawyers are the kind you'd want to come after you. They, not the players or the fans, put SuperLeague Australia where it is today. They took on Bruce Guthrie and were evaluated by the judge who found in Guthrie's favour. I notice that there hasn't been a lot of action against the execs responsible for Melbourne Storm breaching the salary cap: that bunch have caused News Ltd far more grief than Posetti, Wahlquist and Grog's Gamut put together, and if there was anything there you'd expect the mighty News Ltd legal team to perp-walk them to maximum advantage. For all News Ltd's size and reputation, I can't think of a single occasion where they've really nailed someone on any aspect of law. Civil libertarians laugh at heavy-handed secrecy provisions of government, and in the same way those on the receiving end from News Ltd's lawyers might fancy their chances more than they probably do - assuming there is anything of substance to be received.
And this is how empires end: News Ltd has seen off challenge after challenge, sweeping before them corporate titans, big unions and leading politicians. Empires don't end by being smashed: if John Malone or Tiny Rowland had beaten Murdoch in some corporate power-play, News Ltd and its operations like The Australian wouldn't be fundamentally different to what they are today (except that a proprietor not born here would probably have shut down The Australian and offloaded Mitchell, Jackson et al). Empires end up nibbled to death, like the once-mighty Roman army chasing various bands of Goths in ever-decreasing circles. For News Ltd, hiring Tim Dunlop and mucking his blog about so that it became a dithering parody of itself, and lately going after Grog's Gamut and now Posetti, is less fearful than it might have been. It's almost pathetic: the kind of pathos reserved for the anorexic or drunk who can't even face up to their problems, let alone act on them.
Sally Jackson has been blasted on Twitter by some. In the same forum the journosphere has closed ranks with their all-critics-are-trolls thing (if politics is showbiz for ugly people, what does that make journalism?), bullshit as comfort food for the ego. Jackson must stand on her own dignity because it's all she can rely upon: her employer and her 'profession' have let her, and others like her, down. People are right to expect more and better from the mainstream media, and are right to use whatever media they can and whatever targets are within range to express that.
It's true to say that Jackson did her best, she may even get a Walkley for it (accurately quoting your boss may well constitute "excellence in journalism"); yet, those of us who decry her article as piss-poor have a point. Someone in Sally Jackson's position could play a crucial role in helping her employer deal with changing circumstances but it's clear that, like almost all journalists, Jackson lacks both the heft and the wit to do this. Keep this in mind if you would hold Sally Jackson accountable for what appears under her byline.