Grog rations

After reading Grog’s Gamut’s first posts since The Australian journalist James Massola revealed his name, I was struck by the personal detail which informed his arguments. While it was always there to some degree, Grog suddenly had more freedom to back up opinions with detailed events from his life. I tweeted last night “Reading @grogsgamut’s blog with added personal experiences makes me think @jamesmassola may have actually done us all a favour.”

Grog, who has also returned to twitter, replied promptly: “@derekbarry they were always there – you just didn’t know my name.”

Given the way his story was “always there” I was far from surprised the pseudonymous blogger was outed. Grog’s recent rise to prominence allied to the hints about his life in his work, made me sure his identity would be revealed. He also tempted fate by trusting Massola not to reveal something he told him months ago. Surely he knew the writing was on the wall when he appeared at Canberra Media140 in September as embedded blogger “Greg”.

I was overseas at the time so I missed that conference and I also missed the heat of the Twitter firestorm in “#groggate”. While it was good to see social media flex its muscles against the arrogance of older players, I thought it was amusing how enthusiastically they used the journalism cliché of “-gate”.

But I was still angry when I heard the Australian had outed him for no apparent reason. I foresaw the likely consequences – his employers would force him to cease blogging and Australia would lose a useful critical voice. Though I’d never heard of the name “Greg Jericho”, I’ve known about the blogger “Grog’s Gamut” for some time. His bio was of a Canberra public servant who admitted he looked nothing like his Ralph Fiennes icon. Yet this unknown part-timer was fast becoming one of the sharpest political writers in Australia. He excelled in daily coverage of the 2010 election coverage. His 31 July tour de force “bring the journalists home” article attacking poor journalistic practices caused an ABC review and put him in the wider news. But it the Murdoch empire was Grog’s real target and it was only a matter of time before they would launch a counterattack.

Grog said he told Massola his name ten months ago, but he wasn’t “unmasked” until 27 September. Massola’s article and that of his boss Geoff Elliot who defended him became notorious in the Twittersphere. While some criticism was over the top, neither journalist can have much complaint. They failed the basic test of newsworthiness, completely botching the justification for the outing, because there was none.

Massola’s first sentence, which should be the most important, revealed nothing new. “The anonymous blogger who prompted Mark Scott to redirect the ABC’s federal election coverage is a Canberra public servant,” he wrote. It served only as a false rationale for the name in the second sentence: “Greg Jericho, a public servant who spends his days working in the film section of the former Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts.” Massola passed the blamed to twitter speculation for the reveal and attempted to justify it by saying Grog’s bias might impact the “impartial and professional” way the APS is run.

The unmasking did not sit well with the Twitterati (not least with Grog himself) who blasted Massola for his abuse of privilege, false emphasis, lack of principles and lack of care of the consequences of his actions. Massola had violated a social norm and his boss The Australian Media section editor Geoff Elliott was forced to defend him. Elliot succeeded only in making matters worse with his pompous tone. “If you are influencing the public debate, particularly as a public servant, it is the public’s right to know who you are,” he said. “It is the media’s duty to report it.”

Elliot never made it clear why the public had such a right nor why it was his job to inform the public about that right, particularly when that paper has a long history of pseudonymous publication. It is not difficult to see News Ltd’s political line at work destabilising a potentially dangerous enemy in a manner that was borderline unethical.

Fortunately the Australian Public Service proved Elliot and me both wrong. After a couple of weeks of silence, Grog was back online this week. He may not “deserve anonymity” Elliot summarily stripped him of but he certainly deserved to have a voice. His employers took into account he steers well clear of his own policy area. They took the sensible position no one of reasonable mind could confuse Grog’s views with those of his employers.

Reading the newest Grog/Greg musings show he remains fiercely partisan. His opinions haven’t changed but I detected a greater willingness to use life experiences as collateral because now he could do so without fear of consequence. Though Grog has denied this, it was this new explanatory power I sensed which made me think Massola had, quite unintentionally, done us a favour.

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