Someone drew my attention a couple of days ago to a comment posted on Twitter by a newspaper columnist named Rachel Stewart.
I hadn’t consciously heard of Stewart but she knew about me. She tweeted: “I read Karl du Fresne in the Dom and, quite apart from the fact that I agree with him on nothing, I think to myself they could have me.”
The first thing that struck me about this desperate cry for attention was her stupendously inflated self-regard. A quick look at Stewart’s Twitter account reinforces the impression that she has an ego the size of Mt Taranaki.
I imagine it’s even more rampant now, since she advertises the fact that she was voted the top opinion writer in the recent Canon Media Awards. I, on the other hand, have never won any sort of award. I don’t enter awards because they don’t generally count for a hell of a lot, other than to the people who win them.
The judges who matter, ultimately, are the people who read the paper. And it’s just possible that one reason why I get published is that there’s an audience for the opinions I express. This may not have occurred to Stewart. Perhaps she’s so accustomed to bathing in the admiration of her Twitter followers – people for whom the 140-character limit is a blessing because it saves them from having to develop any coherent arguments – that she’s been deluded into assuming that everyone thinks just like her.
Well, they don’t. The angry left-wing wasps who swarm on Twitter are far less representative of mainstream opinion than I am. I suppose that’s why they’re so bitter. They’re frustrated, and they give vent to their frustration through infantile personal attacks on anyone whose opinions they dislike. Just ask Mike Hosking, who weathers a barrage of venomous abuse every day.
Same old, same old, you might say. But Stewart amps it up a notch when she suggests I should be sacked and replaced by her, presumably because she believes the public would be better served by reading her opinions. This is a novel position for a newspaper columnist to take. It suggests a very low tolerance of free speech, which ultimately is what all columnists – Stewart included – depend on.
Am I over-reacting? Probably. “Rise above it,” a wise friend said. But the Irish in me (du Fresne being a proud old Hibernian name) makes it hard for me to ignore a taunt. Besides, you get to a point where you feel the urge to strike back at the buzzing wasps.
Here’s something for Stewart to consider. I don’t object to her having a platform for her views and I expect the same in return. Indeed I don’t object to any left-wing commentator having a platform. I often read them and sometimes even nod in agreement. I have never believed that any “ism” has all the right answers.
I would go further and suggest Stewart should force herself to read my stuff, even if she has to hold her nose while she does it. Having to confront the unpalatable fact that other people have different opinions can only be good for her – that is, unless she really doesn’t like the idea of a pluralistic democracy, in which case things are worse than I thought.
And here’s something else for her to consider. There might actually be issues on which we agree – the environmental damage done by industrial-scale dairying, for starters. As far as I know, I was writing about this long before Stewart launched the public crusade against the dairy industry that made provincial headlines this week.
Trouble is, some people – and Stewart may well be one of them – are locked into a binary view of the world that requires people to be categorised as either bad or good, with no grey area in between.
I’ve noticed that one strange consequence of this mindset is that when I write something that lefties might be expected to agree with – an expression of support for trade unions, for example, or a condemnation of the historical treatment of Maori, or the aforementioned dirty dairying – they magically don’t see it. A mysterious fog comes over their eyes. It doesn’t register with them because it doesn’t fit the binary world view that people must be either totally right or totally wrong.
Put another way, they’re more comfortable seeing me as an unreconstructed right-wing dinosaur who couldn’t possibly have anything of value to say about anything. Nothing can be allowed to disturb settled assumptions.
It’s all a bit tiresome and infantile, but the consoling factor is that criticism of me by Stewart and the type of people who follow her on Twitter is arguably the highest form of flattery. If I wasn’t getting under their skin, they’d ignore me.