Friday, 28 January 2011

Things I need to say

I expected a strong reaction to my last post, but some comments took me by surprise! I'm going to address some points in this post and then I hope to be able to move on and actually attempt to achieve something on the Sarah Palin front. Palingates is not about me, after all. And it's not a fan club. I will say all I need to say about myself and this situation this time only, then try to resume normal business (if I can).

Let me start with a well known fridge magnet quote, in honour of the original subject of Palingates: "You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs."

Anybody who has followed Palingates since the very early days will know that I'm a reasonable person. I started this blog to look into Sarah Palin's record. The research involved in compiling the list of gates was relatively simple. I would choose a topic, ask Google, hit the links, double check the facts for any contradictions, try to spot any inaccuracies and write my posts. Choosing the pictures was the fun part and I still love it. Life was simple and the worst that happened in those days was the odd palinbot showing up to contest my findings or accuse me of being French (some will remember dear old Videmus Omnia, a C4P founding father) and one very abusive e-mail telling me to keep my nose out of Alaska and wishing me some unpleasant diseases.

The blog grew steadily and gained some respectability. It was still a small blog when I was contacted by Patrick, a well known name from Palin Deceptions, a blog where I spent many hours, fascinated with the research skills of their team. I was in awe of Patrick and Kathleen and very curious and excited to meet them. They spent a few days with us, met my elder son, my husband, our cat, and were charming, intelligent people. We had a very good time together.

I thought their talents were wasted and suggested they start their own blog. They said many times that they didn't want the responsibility of running a blog. I invited Patrick to write guest posts about Babygate, a topic that I had touched in passing a few times, just to keep it alive. I didn't have any new material and my own research skills were very pedestrian for tackling a topic so full of twists and turns. He agreed and I thought I had hit the jackpot, scoring a "celebrity" guest poster.

We had just sold the little houseboat we had back in England and with that money we paid all our outstanding debts and booked a trip to Australia to visit our younger son after two years apart. I asked Patrick if he could hold the fort during my absence. He was happy to step in and his name was added to the list of authors, with full admin powers. This period coincided with the "Going Rogue" book bus tour. A now former friend of Palingates spotted the tail numbers of a private jet which was in fact Sarah Palin's "bus" and Patrick wrote a post that found its way into the MSM. I couldn't contain my excitement about this great development.

When I returned from the trip, Patrick was well established as a co-blogger on Palingates and happy to continue to be part of it. The blog grew and everything was looking good. In February 2010 the Andrea Friedman episode of Family Guy was aired, among a lot of controversy. I was contacted by a reader who had a copy of Andrea's press release e-mail, which I quoted in the post about the episode. Some people challenged the contents of the e-mail, implying that I had added the controversial paragraph about Sarah Palin carrying Trig around like a loaf of French bread, because it had not appeared in an article on the New York Times on the same subject. I published my very first screenshot as an update to the post. It was the most successful post on Palingates in terms of pageloads and was linked by major news outlets. I think Patrick was spurred on and determined to beat the record, so he worked harder than ever, producing many more widely linked posts and getting further mentions in the media.

In March there was an incident involving The Mudflats. There was some crisis about attribution concerning the post about the Venezuelan company Mystik Oil sponsoring Todd Palin in the Iron Dog race. Without my knowledge, Kathleen had sent an e-mail to Jeanne Devon, protesting that she had spent over eight hours researching the post and Mudflats had used the material, including a video, on the blog and on Huffington Post, without proper attribution. This e-mail gave Jeanne a two-hour deadline to remedy the situation or the matter would be brought to the attention of the editors of the HuffPo. I was taken aback but stood by Kathleen and asked that in future, any correspondence related to Palingates be run by me first. I wrote to Jeanne apologizing for the incident, received a very nice reply and thought that was the end of the matter. Most of the Alaskan bloggers dropped their links to the blog, harsh words were written about Palingates and we lost some important allies. I wrote a post trying to defuse the situation, didn't drop the links to the AK bloggers and hoped to move on.

But the seeds of discord were sown and things didn't improve very much from then on. Other differences in approach between P & K and myself started to emerge. I wanted the blog to focus on politics and Sarah Palin, leaving stories about the Johnstons to other blogs. When Mercede Johnston launched her blog, something that can only be described as a pissing match (between Patrick on this side and Dennis Zaki and Gryphen on the other) erupted in the comments. I asked Patrick to stop it and to try and stay out of the comments. Posting links, clarifying some points was OK by me, but chit-chat and comments about other bloggers was not OK.

I think this coincided with the story about Bristol's condo in Anchorage, when a post showing a photo sent by a reader had the added bonus of showing photos of Mercede's car, questioning her ability to afford it. Here I must say that there was an agreement in place: We should run our posts by each other before publication. I sent copies of my posts for discussion by e-mail. P & K outlined their posts on the phone. I never saw copies of the final drafts beforehand. Some internal rules were being broken and I was becoming very stressed, repeating myself constantly and unable to assert myself properly because of the stress.

They still wrote fantastic, information rich posts, kept coming up with up-to-the minute news, stayed up all night updating posts, networked like mad and greatly contributed to the blog's visibility out there.

Then the trigger-happy banning started. I had to reinstate a perfectly genuine reader who had disagreed with Kathleen and banned as a result. I wrote to the person and blamed it on a Disqus hiccup. The reader returned and is a very valued and respected contributor. The Mercede episode moved a certain SarahHalfTime to make some challenging comments. A joker started posting comments using a similar handle and identical avatar at the same time, just for fun, which confused things further. P & K wanted to ban the original SarahHalfTime and we had a big argument about it. They also wanted to introduce guidelines for commenting. Call me naive, but I believe that establishing rules for commenting would inevitably bring out the devil in some and turn us into enforcers. I had faith in the readers and expected some degree of self-regulation. After all, our readers are intelligent adults, capable of critical thinking and I really believed things would eventually settle down. P & K said I didn't know how to run my blog. But SarahHalfTime stayed.

I couldn't cope with all these arguments and long, heated phone discussions anymore. So I decided to leave the blog. I had to make a choice and made the wrong one. I couldn't match their stamina or their ability to come up with hot news or their resources for deep research. I thought they had much more to offer to the now fairly large community of readers than I could ever hope to offer. I wanted a clean break and asked them to start another blog, import the contents of Palingates and start afresh. But Paypal sends receipts which clearly identify the recipient. Patrick didn't want to risk losing his anonymous status, so all the accounts stayed in my name. I wrote a goodbye post full of white lies and took a backseat.

I love Palingates and couldn't stay away for very long. I started doing some bits and pieces and writing the odd post, always deferring to Patrick as the editor. But I was resentful, regretting my decision to give up my blog. My husband spotted some comments that implied I was a quitter and a couple of comments by Kathleen made me a bit more unhappy and bitter. I sent them a very explosive e-mail which I now regret. My protective husband, watching from the sidelines and unable to console me, sent them an e-mail as well. I was told I could have the bloody blog back. Kathleen calmed things down and it was decided that I would come back writing posts again, with an implicit agreement about sharing editorial decisions. I was happy to be back and let little remarks about how they had always left the door open for me go by the wayside. It was still my blog, I didn't need to be invited into my own home. The joint editorial thing turned out to be the same joke it had always been, one-sided. A few bits and pieces were sent to me for my opinion, but not all the main posts.

The Shailey Tripp post was quickly outlined over the phone, I made some suggestions and went to bed. I can't describe my horror when I woke up to that post and the comments that ensued. My inbox was full of shocked reactions to the post. I spent all day exchanging e-mails with Kathleen and in the course of this correspondence, I understood how all the information in the post came to light and why some names had been mentioned. The post was unethical, out of any meaningful context and exposed too many details about a person who has no relevance in the political landscape. If Sarah Palin falls as a result of this scandal, all the credit belongs to the National Enquirer and Shailey Tripp. This story fell completely outside the remit of a political blog. My e-mails were met with evasiveness and Kathleen's last reply opened with a zinger: "You're entitled to your viewpoints..." I wrote a final e-mail, spelling out my reservations very, very clearly. There was no reply to that one at all. I slept on it and the next morning it became very clear to me that they had to go. I prepared the post and rang Kathleen. She became very distraught and couldn't listen to what I had to say. She told me to stop talking over her and let her finish what she had to say. So I listened. She said "I'm glad, I'm really glad. Thank you very much." Then she hung up and I hit "publish." The two minute notice should read as seven months or longer. The post has been deleted because it impacted the lives of people other than Shailey Tripp, and who have no bearing on any Sarah Palin related issue.

I made mistakes. I failed to assert myself when I should have and now I'm faced with this mess. I wrote an economical post to explain it and it didn't work very well.

There are two sides to every story and I think Patrick and Kathleen must have found me to be just as annoying and stubborn as I found them. It was the case of a working relationship that couldn't survive and the above are my reasons for the split. I wish it had not happened this way and that I didn't have to offer any explanations. On a personal level, I'm still very fond of both of them and wish them well.

This is a far from economical post and the last one I intend to write on this subject.

In the heat of yesterday's events, I said I bought a fridge with my share of the Paypal money. Let's clarify this Paypal business once and for all. I never wanted to make a single penny from this blog. Many people suggested placing ads or a Paypal button on the blog long before Patrick and Kathleen showed up. I wouldn't do it. I only gave in to the Paypal idea because they were in financial difficulties. My husband and I live on an income of exactly £900 a month. We want for nothing and have a modest but comfortable lifestyle. If we were rich, we would have offered to lend some money to P & K ourselves. We don't have it, so the Paypal button was installed and it was agreed that I should take a share for my own efforts. I would take 40% and they would take 60%. When I "left" the blog, I didn't want any of it, but my husband thought it was unfair, as I still had to deal with a lot of administrative matters and we had to make some trips to the nearest larger village to send them urgent money via Western Union. My percentage dropped to 15%. Yes, I bought a fridge with my ill-gotten gains. It's not a very big fridge, but it has a larger freezer than the old one. I like it. And we spent 4 days in Paris in a very small hotel. If anybody would like their money refunded, please send me an e-mail and I'll send it to you immediately.

The Paypal button is gone, never to return. There will never be another moneyblast and I will never have to be reduced to tears again when donations as small as US$2 arrive. If anybody feels like sending me money, it would have to be as a reward, not for expenses. Running this blog never cost me a penny. The only thing I spend on it is my time.

A note to the self-appointed guardians who patrol the comments: None of you speaks for me or for Palingates. I created an open forum, where people are free to express their thoughts. Ironically, I seem to be the only person without the freedom to express my own thoughts about the comments. Every time I say anything, at least half a dozen people jump on my neck. A lot of readers started asking me if they had offended anyone. No, the vast majority of readers have not offended and are incapable of offending anybody. I expect the real offenders know who they are (they do) and I would like to ask them either to stop doing what they're doing or pick up their belongings and look for another unmoderated forum to patrol. When I invite people to think before they post a comment, I'm not accusing all the readers of insensitivity or trying to impose any censorship. It doesn't mean people can't have a sense of humour. There's a huge difference between a bit of snark and an outright offensive, thoughtless comment. Things may come to the point where I'll have to introduce some guidelines and create more work for myself, watching the threads for breaches and deleting comments. It goes against the grain with me, but c'est la vie....

To the people spreading rumours and innuendo about Patrick and Kathleen, please stop. I'm not party to P & K's interactions with other people on the internet and can only speak for myself. In all the months we worked together, I may have found them annoying at times, but they have never behaved in a menacing way or given me any reason to suspect that they were dangerous, sinister characters.

There are no legal issues involved in the split. There weren't any threats. The corresponcence I received complaining about various uncomfortable situations didn't come from concern trolls or palinbots, they were from people who have followed Palingates for a long time. I haven't been paid off by the Palins.

If these ugly things persist, I'll have no options left and will have to shut down the comments until things settle down.

I hope this extended version of War and Peace will make things clearer to everybody and hopefully the last time I have to write a post about myself or people who have nothing to do with politics and Sarah Palin. If it upsets you, I can't help it. But at least you won't be confused.

I have walked on eggs for a long time, then I realized I could pick up some of them and make an omelette.


I'm going to tidy up the sidebar. The archives will stay intact and I will not delete anything of which Patrick hasn't saved copies for himself.

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