I wrote a piece, titled ‘Springtime for Demagogues‘, for the online magazine Quillette.
In it I included the following section, referring to a tweet made by Frances Coppola, whose writing I read and enjoy.
This was to demonstrate that, in cases such as this, smart people can say and do silly things.
Coppola’s response was to make a threat of ‘libel charges’.
Threats of libel might be difficult to bear for some.
However, on realising that the complaint was unfounded and the threat ludicrous I was happy to let it unfold as a small Twitter affair. My article was shared heavily and in the subsequent few hours I picked up nearly 100 new followers. Standard Streisand Effect.
Perhaps it is still worth a reminder that a false allegation of libel is libelous. I know this because I read it from a distinguished online commentator.
Her complaints against me are varied.
I had somehow breached copyright.
I had failed to see that her comment was satire.
This is because I had taken it out of context.
I had acted with malicious intent.
I had declared her insane.
I hadn’t offered a right of reply.
In short, I am a disgrace.
She blocked me after that final tweet but has carried on in my ‘mentions’ for the last 2 days. There are scores more of such tweets and I don’t much care.
Her complaint about contacting her and a right to reply is an odd one. When arguing with Richard Murphy she asked the following.
Yesterday evening Coppola demonstrated her lack of a right to reply by replying in the comment section of the piece.
Twitter storms blow over, of course, but as her accusation that I’ve misrepresented her – and done so knowingly – can be read whenever people read the article, I think it’s worth addressing.
Here is her comment:
I explained to Coppola that I read the conversation, in context, at the time. She still claims this was satire, a deliberate strawman. To support it she further claims that the person she wrote it to was aware of this at the time.
The problem with her explanation is that she said lots of other things similar in nature and to several different people.
Here is a link to the archived version of the conversation.
Here is some of that ‘context’.
I won’t offer too much analysis of the context. I think it speaks for itself.
If this silly little affair runs on then perhaps I will have to write longer explanations, and there are plenty of other small points to argue.
Regarding ‘insanity’ she said the following.
[You]…imply that I had suffered some kind of mental breakdown (you use the term “insanity”). I assure you that I have suffered no breakdown…
Here is a definition:
I meant the second one. I was saying Coppola’s tweets about this were irrational. The use of ‘insanity’, which I suggested was a temporary bout, was figurative.
There is a long history of using ‘insanity’ or ‘insane’ in such a way. Writers with far more influence, experience, and profile than I have used it in this manner. For example:
Some people even title entire pieces in such a way.
A search for ‘stupid’ and ‘stupidity’ will reveal countless other examples.
My original piece suggested that a temporary bout of insantity can occur under certain circumstances. It appears, from Coppola’s response to it, that pointing this out can induce much more sustained varieties.