We weren’t exactly shocked to see the Scotsman still trying to flog the “evil cybernats” routine this morning with another story about Susan Calman, with the paper seizing on some comments from Fiona Hyslop as their excuse to keep the issue alive.
Today’s article, though, is noticeably more restrained than yesterday’s. It’s liberally sprinkled with disclaimers and caveats noting that the threats and abuse had been alleged, rather than reporting them as empirical facts. It even notes that Ms Calman has declined to comment further on the supposed events, implying that there were questions to be answered.
Then we got to the comments, and things started to get a bit weird.
We were browsing the story at 7am, and noticed that it already had close to 300 comments, which seemed an awful lot. So we read a few, and were overcome with a sense of deja vu. We went back to our post from yesterday, clicked the Scotsman link in it, and found that it now redirected to the new piece. The original Scotsman article, full of unsupported statements of fact, had been entirely overwritten and effectively no longer exists – at least not in a form accessible to search engines.
Curiosity aroused, we took a look at the print edition of today’s paper to see if the Scotsman was simply pulling another silent online backpedal. But the new version appears as a prominent full page, alongside a secondary piece detailing the “Unsavoury history of ‘cyber-nats'” - which of course only reflects the actions of those on the pro-independence side, with no mention of Unionist threats or abuse.
And just in case anyone still wasn’t sure what to think, there’s also a startling, staggeringly crude editorial cartoon, depicting a hideous gang of freakish mutant Yes supporters marching with flaming torches past a gallows (whose noose is in the shape of an SNP logo), chanting Calman’s name and wearing fake ballot papers emblazoned “SAY AYE OR DIE!”
Meanwhile a worried Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney are depicted looking on – clearly laying responsibility for the alleged, still unsupported “abuse” fully and solely at the feet of the SNP, despite there being no evidence of the supposed abusers having any connection to the party (if they exist at all).
The First Minister is shown holding a copy of The Economist – beyond any reasonable doubt a reference to the “Skintland” furore of last year, in an unmistakeable attempt to liken him and the rest of the SNP leadership to the “humourless, small-minded” lynch mob persecuting poor delicate Susan Calman.
So on the one hand we have the paper retreating from its definite, unequivocal statements that there were death threats and abuse – in the face of the continuing absence of a single scrap of supporting evidence for what’s now FOUR separate stories in two days – while on the other publishing a cartoon which not only reasserts the allegations as fact but embellishes them massively.
Long-time readers may of course be thinking at this point “Well, so far you’re just describing an average day on the Scotsman”. But the unusual aspect is that the new story hasn’t simply been added to yesterday’s shock-horror report in the online archives, but has overwritten it. (Which is doubly strange, because the new story explicitly makes reference to the previous one.)
It’s not entirely unprecedented for the Scotsman to simply “vanish” a dodgy story, of course, nor even for it to covertly replace one with a more innocuous version. But it’s quite rare for it to do it and then keep battering away at the same story the next day.
The sinister aspect, though, is that the print edition of yesterday’s paper is now lining budgie cages and cat-litter trays. It will disappear from history, leaving only the online version, and anyone looking for the original in future will find that it has been vaporised.
There’s no ethical or technical justification for this whatsoever – we very much doubt the Scotsman has run out of webspace. It is, quite apart from anything else, extremely misleading to still have all the original comments, which refer to a completely different text, still in place. But it’s also deeply disturbing for the Scotsman to simply rewrite history. If it’s ashamed of yesterday’s story (and on every journalistic level it should be), it should apologise for it. If it isn’t, what’s it trying to hide?
Ironically, this website was the recipient of an actual “barrage of abuse” yesterday for calmly questioning the lack of evidence in the original piece. We were called “the vilest possible person”, a “bully”, the “tosser of the week”, a “misogynist” and “cybernat knuckle-dragger” and much more besides, as both Unionists and what we like to call WetNats (pro-independence types desperate to be feted as “reasonable” by the No camp) lined up to excoriate us for daring to ask for proof of an unsupported claim. And unlike the Scotsman, we DO have the evidence to back that assertion up.
(Though we feel duty-bound to acknowledge that the paper’s arts editor Andrew Eaton-Lewis stuck his head above the parapet and very honourably challenged some of the more abusive comments, first on Twitter and then in a piece in the arts blog today. We hope – probably in vain – that some people will reconsider their kneejerk responses in the light of today’s events.)
The phenomenon of the “memory hole” is now becoming so worryingly commonplace in the Scottish (and UK) media that we’ve added a new tag collecting together all the examples of it we’ve tracked. Because if we take our eyes off them for even a second, there’s no telling what our media will get away with.