In The Sydney Morning Herald we see an article by Cathy Sherry, an academic from the University of New Wales, writing in defence of Melinda Tankard Reist.
By now, I am sick of this issue - much as it has raised many interesting questions that need more debate. There are other things that I'd rather be posting about, but I can't forebear commenting on this particular piece, as it so totally wrongheaded and dangerous. You'd think, to read it, that Melinda Tankard Reist was the one being bullied and silenced.
In fact, she is by far the more powerful person in the dispute she is having with Jennifer Wilson. One is a public figure with enormous political and media support behind her and easy access to the mainstream media. The other - i.e. Wilson - is a relatively unknown blogger and occasional writer of online op.ed pieces. If this is a David and Goliath situation, Melinda Tankard Reist is no Daniel, and Wilson is far from looking like Goliath.
And let's not forget that Tankard Reist is the one who invoked defamation law to try to control what her opponent can say. There are many other ways she could have handled things. These included simply ignoring the obscure blog post that she objected to. Alternatively, she could have used her ample access to the media to reply to Wilson's views on their merits ... or she could have allowed her various cronies to do so.
There's not much doubt who is the bully in this case, and who is the underdog being bullied. Nor is there much doubt that people like Cathy Sherry enable bullying by rushing to the defence of the bully (it's remarkable how often this happens!). Sherry doesn't even mention that the dispute blew up in public when Tankard Reist's lawyers sent Wilson a letter of demand, with a threat of a defamation action, over content that their client objected to on Wilson's blog.
Perhaps I could find something to agree with in Sherry's article if it were not so fundamentally wrong about the key issues and the power differential that's involved. Yes ... I, too, don't like orthodoxies. I, too, dislike debate that takes the form of crude personal attacks (I'm sure that Tankard Reist has received some of these, but of course so has Wilson). There are interesting discussions to be had about how people should conduct themselves in public debate. But sending a letter of demand with a threat of suing for defamation is, at best, a heavyhanded response, and the kind of thing that we should avoid. Except in extreme situations, the civil courts are not the place to settle such disputes between people taking part in public debate on matters of government policy.
It doesn't look like this issue is going away any time soon. I wish Tankard Reist would simply withdraw any threat of taking legal action, and the immediate issue would be resolved. But there's no sign, at the moment, of any such resolution. I guess we must stay tuned and be prepared to help Wilson if we can, should the legal side of it proceed that far.