Melanie Phillips on Winterval

About half an hour ago I sent Melanie Phillips an email regarding her repetition of the famous ‘Winterval’ myth on which I happen to think myself quite the expert – having traced the myth back to its origins in 1997 and written extensively on its development over the years since. Amusingly Melanie Phillips has been kind enough to get back to me already, and here is what she wrote:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

It’s a great answer, essentially stating that I am wrong because I couldn’t possibly have a better understanding than people such as ‘bishops’ and presumably all of the journalists happy to repeat the myth over the years. It’s a wonderful defence: the majority must be right. Although it must be said that such a defence hasn’t proved terribly reliable down the years given that at some point majority correctness (the Mail can feel free to use this) dictated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it until a few individuals pointed out that this wasn’t true. Truth is dictated by fact, Melanie, not sheer weight of believers.

No, I just miss the point and Birmingham council’s explanations were ‘disingenuous and [also] missed the point’ – even though such explanations were actually completely transparent (indeed they were baffled, a year after the first successful Winterval period, that anybody could possibly believe that they had done away with Christmas, given that they so clearly and unequivocally hadn’t). The council merely explained (repeatedly) that Winterval was a cynical marketing ploy to extend Christmas beyond the traditional Christmas season. Christmas, in all of its glory, was celebrated in Birmingham as normal which is why in 1997 and beyond not one person complained about it being ‘banned’ or marginalised in any way – as Melanie would know were she humble enough to read my essay which clearly explains this point.

Such a response would be amusing, were it not written by a supposedly ‘professional’ journalist.


In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I originally sent to her website:

Melanie, I noticed in your recent Daily Mail article that you again repeated the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils have attempted to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’. This myth has been debunked many times, indeed I have written an extensive essay on the subject which was covered by BBC Radio 4. As it appears you have somehow missed this can I point you in the direction of this essay so you can apologise to your readers for misleading them: http://www.thedisinformed.co.uk/2010/12/12/the-winterval-myth/

And I have now replied to her reply:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [ http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

UPDATE:

Melanie Phillips has responded to me this morning:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

I politely tried to engage with Melanie Phillips over a factual matter and she responded with arrogant abuse. I published her response to me because I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing. If she writes in public, she should stand by it in public, if she emails a reader prepared to engage with her she should not say anything she wouldn’t be happy for others to read. It is that simple as far as I am concerned.

As for her claims that I would have to pay her ‘significant damages in a libel action’ should she wish to pursue it, I invite any lawyers who read this blog to post an honest appraisal of my article on Rory Weal and Melanie Phillips to see if I am indeed guilty of libel or defamation – or indeed ‘false allegations’ or ‘twisted distortions’. Her article is free for anyone to read, as is mine so people can make their own minds up.

Just remember this little email exchange the next time Melanie Phillips complains that the ‘liberal elite’ are guilty of shutting down debate or existing in their own little bubble.

56 Comments

  • Peter says:

    To be fair, if anyone is qualified to write about missing the point, it’s Melanie Phillips.

  • Ray says:

    As you well know – and Bishops and dog walkers and mimes know this – journalists are never never wrong. Clearly it is reality which is at fault and you never see reality post up a clarification, do you? No you don’t which is why the Daily Mail is the number one newspaper of the year ever.

    I always imagine these columnists being the horrible shouty types you see in a pub – the ones with the best car (even if it’s crap) and the best opinions. And who get thrown out,that is the best.

  • Mike says:

    Melanie Phillips eh? What a cunt.

  • Jon says:

    Stunning. It might be helpful to know exactly what you said to her/asked her (I am thinking specifically of the “period around it” part) – that way Phillips’ wrongness can be exposed in full.

    Well done on getting a response, though. I wonder if anyone will ask her about the boy she trampled on (which you wrote about earlier).

  • Andy says:

    Dunno if you’ve seen Tabloidwatch’s post which she’s apparently responded to?

    Good to see she’s embracing the blogosphere!

  • Mick says:

    I doubt there are many cities in the UK that celebrate Christmas with as much enthusiasm as Birmingham does – all with the full support of the council. Just look at New Street in December. I always thought that Melanie Phillips was mad but this also serves as a good example of the persecution complex of her fuckwitted, warped, immoral newspaper.

  • Phil says:

    Personally I’d sooner hear ‘winterval’ than ‘xmas’, as christianity is a thoroughly unpleasant business which needs to stop. That so many people can still believe in magic and fairies is all rather tragic, so I look forward to the day when all of these death cults disappear and take their all of their ceremonies and festivals to celebrate fictional people with them.

    Why don’t we celebrate Darwin, Einstein, Hawkins, Dawkins, and other great scientists instead? Heck I’d sooner we all celebrated Steve Jobs day than something as foul as christianity, islam, or any other magical man in the sky cult.

  • Lex says:

    Melanie has always been awesomely arrogant but blimey…Im a bit taken aback. AUNTIE MEL KNOWS BEST LITTLE PEOPLE!

    I just cant cope with this deluded level of right wing frothery.

    *Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind.*…Yeah, every Christmas my kids say *Mam, when are we putting the winterval tree up?*

    PS sorry for shitty typing/punctuation..keyboard is knackered, no speech marks or apostrophes…plus have new clunky wrist brace that makes me type like a trained baboon.

  • MacGuffin says:

    Your original email was perfectly reasonable, yet she responded with a stream of insults.

    I really don’t understand what she thinks ‘your message’ is. Your message was, partly, that Christmas was never renamed Winterval – the very myth Melanie repeated on Monday.

    If she thinks Winterval was a way of ‘not referring to the Christmas season’, how come the Winterval posters had ‘Christmas in Birmingham’ written across the top (see: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Jn-LeUC-BnU/TRSFMR015bI/AAAAAAAABq4/g3rOmO3Yf-g/s1600/winterval.jpg)

    And who, incidentally, ever said Christmas only referred to Christmas Day?

    Melanie said in her Mail article that ‘various places’ ‘renamed’ Christmas as Winterval. I wait to see if she will name all these places. I won’t be holding my breath.

  • 5cc says:

    For what it’s worth, there are two logical fallacies in her reasoning there – the argument from authority and the appeal to the people.

    The rest of her argument requires her to provide evidence – and since she’s doing no more than flatly contradicting the people who coined the term, her whole argument amounts to “La la la la la, I am not listening.” That and an odd conspiracy theory, which isn’t unusual for Phillips.

  • Martin says:

    The ironic thing is that evangelical Christians have been campaigning for decades to limit Christmas to actual Christmas in the national consciousness, and to disassociate the extended commercial season from the religious celebration.

    Winterval seems to me to do that rather neatly.

    Not that I expect Mel to have any inkling of what anyone with actual (as opposed to outraged kneejerk) faith cares about.

    If I were an evangelical Christian, I’d be as pissed off with her as any other sane person (ie non-Daily Mail reader)

  • Vicky says:

    Oh yes Melanie. Every year, as I walk around the massive birmingham german Christmas Market , hot chocolate in hand, I wonder why the council have so blatantly banned Christmas!

  • hannanibal says:

    there is NO way Phillips will bother to read your essay (but I sincerely hope she does). She doesn’t want her views challenged and she doesn’t care one jot for the truth. The fact these people call themselves journalists is bordering on madness.

  • Rogue_Leader says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t she ENTIRELY ignored the main thrust of your argument (that Winterval is a myth) and pretended instead that you’ve written to her telling her that Winterval is brilliant and all inclusive an’ shit?

    She seems to do that a lot.

  • Rogue_Leader says:

    “have new clunky wrist brace that makes me type like a trained baboon.”

    Luxury. I *dream* of being able to type like a trained baboon…

  • Dee says:

    Wow. Just wow! I, for one, have never seen such an arrogant and ignorant response (although given it’s from her it’s hardly surprising).

  • raliel says:

    ummm….winterfest would to appear to be about inclusivity of all cultures, rather than the obscuring of one…….as it happens all the main christian festivals are are hijacked pagan festivals….the ONLY reason christmas happens when it does is to tie in with the winter solstice and the death and birth of the sun….easter is even better as no-one even bothered to change the name! Every time you give a child an easter egg or decorate a bonnet with spring flowers, or depict the easter bunny, you are engaging in the veneration of the goddess Eostre, a pre roman goddess of sex and fertility

  • sharon says:

    I’m offended by the notion that we should support and protect a religion that is so feeble and incapable of persuading anyone of its truth that it couldn’t withstand other faiths being given ‘equal prominence’ – even for a couple of weeks a year…

  • Cpoffers says:

    I think this exchange highlights the major glaring flaw of your Winterval Essay: the people that genuinely NEED to read it won’t, because they’re so mired in confirmation bias and preconcieved notions.

    Still, good job for trying.

  • Chris says:

    I freely admit not to be a lawyer, but from my limited law education she hasn’t a leg to stand on. She wrote the words, you used them.

  • Ridds says:

    They don’t like it up em do they?

  • tim footman says:

    So Melanie thinks it’s libellous to accuse someone of talking nonsense. So presumably we have to pretend that everyone we encounter is entirely correct. Which is exactly the sort of cultural relativism that Melanie’s been complaining about for decades.

    Except I can’t accuse her of hypocrisy, or she’ll sue me. So I’ll just say she’s differently correct, and alternatively sane.

  • Emma Geraln says:

    Winbterval! Again… every bloody year some idiot spouts this rubbish. In order to work at the mail I guess it must be required that one has an IQ of 25 or is completely dishonest.

  • Mat Baker says:

    As much as the DM mafia annoy me, I just wonder what the actual point of such exchanges are?

    No-one will come on here and defend Phillips, and wrong as she may be, she will continue to write her half-truths and blatant lies because she works for an organisation that makes its money scaremongering the moral minority with half-truths and blatant lies.

    Nothing will change; this is a huge part of modern journalism, and is just typical of the superficial and disingenuous twenty-first century British society that we live in.

    Substance is boring. Scurrilous rumours and inflammatory nonsense sells papers.
    Selling papers makes money.

    Making money is all that counts.

    The truth? Who gives a shit?

  • Claire says:

    None of the many Christians I know are/were offended by Winterval or Winterfest or whatever. No. They’re too busy being offended by a huge arms fair selling weapons to dodgy regimes or spending massive amounts of tax-payers’ money on useless weapons of mass destruction. But will Mad Mel take up the issue on behalf of these beleaguered Christians? What do you think?

  • A says:

    at some point majority correctness [...] dictated that the earth was flat

    As a point of fact, this is not true. The Earth has been known to be a sphere since prehistory; the Greeks worked out what size it was (Christopher Columbus later claimed they were wrong, and in fact heturned out to be the one who was completely and utterly mistaken, a fact that everybody forgets), and Dante Alighieri even wrote an poem in the fourteenth century about a journey down through the Earth and out the other side, complete with tedious amounts of details about antipodean timezones.

    (The sun going round the Earth, though, you’re right, they did think that).

  • Alex says:

    She’s right inasmuch as you shouldn’t publish email correspondence without the other parties permission though (as far as I understand it).

  • Finton Stack says:

    She shows no evidence of even having read your email or essay: this is clearly just a form email she throws out to every challenge or objection.

    Also:

    “false allegations”; “gross misrepresentations”; “selective reporting”; “twisted distortions”; “gross abuse of trust”.

    Sounds a bit libelous to me, Mel.

  • Sean O'Keefe says:

    Around three years ago, during one of her appearances on Question Time, Melanie Phillips claimed that, contra to the overwhelming scientific consensus, Arctic ice was increasing. I had my laptop open at that moment and decided to see if she had written about it for her latest column. I did not have to search long, for it was the second headline on the Mail’s front page. Sure enough, their story took the same angle as Phillips and predictably, the hundreds of comments underneath were of the “See, it’s a myth put about my socialists and greens!” variety.

    The article named the research institute who had apparently made the claim and expecting to find they were the front of some oil company, I sought out their paper. In fact, it showed Arctic ice had decreased over 25 years. There were occasional small increases but crucially, ice decreased ever-further the next year. In other words, the pattern of decrease mirrored any other statistical decline: down a lot, up slightly, down a lot more, up a tiny bit, then down again…

    The data for the latest year of the survey showed one of these small increases but the conclusion of the scientists was incontrovertible: the long-term pattern was one of decreasing Arctic ice and they expected it to continue.

    Perhaps Phillips’ comments were prompted by an entirely different scientific paper and it was just a coincidence the exact same argument was on the front page of the Mail’s website at the same time their star columnist was on television. Yeah, in fact I’m sure of it because somebody so intellectually dishonest would never hurl around accusations of disingenuous behaviour from others.

  • Mr Larrington says:

    ‘kinell, the batshit mad harridan has excelled herself this time!

  • Andy Richards says:

    Re. the update. What an arrogant, stupid hyprocrite she is. So sue me Mel!!!

  • hannanibal says:

    HAHAHA! LMFAO! As if she can sue you for re-printing an e-mail! The vanguards of free speech at the Mail are at it again. Shut down any dissent with a lawyer threat.

  • mac says:

    Winterval was thought up as a catchy, inclusive name to cover bonfire night, Diwali, eid and Christmas and New year. Anybody who still doesn’t understand that is a fuckwit of the highest order.

  • Pogsurf says:

    If Phillips has given her permission to show the e-mail above, why don’t you publish it? Or is your argument that because she has had something published she has lost the copyright over her own correspondence?

  • Peter Lorenzo says:

    I do question the sanity of some people. I also start to think the idea for licensed journalists may not be such a bad idea if they had to pass a threshold of competence to write for the public. It may just clear out a number of sanctimonious shouty people who clearly believe their opinion is RIGHT….ALWAYS RIGHT WHATEVER THE FACTS!!

    I do rather like her point about keeping discussion public and then threatening to sue for libel (huh??) when in the interest of transparency you print her response. Bemusing.

  • Lorraine says:

    Melanie Phillips Auto Translator

    “Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action.”
    —Shit, I’ve been found out, attack, attack!—

    “There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written.”
    —Many, many things, lots and lots of stuff, so many…—

    “I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission.”
    —I will not do so, however, because I can point to no thing you actually got incorrect and I’m really a bit pissed that you shared my crappy reply to you publicly. Comment, free speech and privacy applies only to journalists under section 8.ULL.5H1T of the Journalism Code of Ethics—

    “Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.”
    —I really have no comeback at all and now I know other people can see I better stop the conversation, as people may see what a condescending, lying shit I really am.—

    Disclaimer: The Melanie Phillips Auto Translator may produce the truth which Melanie Phillips could take to be potentially defamatory and/or libelous. Do not use indoors or near a fire. May contain nuts.

  • Katy Cat says:

    Hi Mel, if you pop back to read any of this, can you ask Richard if he would like to join in the debate? We could do with more of the Mail’s esteemed journalists (sic) being a bit less, ahem, digitally excluded and popping in on blogs now and again. Look forward to seeing you on QT soon (though I’ve not seen Richie on there for ages: his TV career seems to have declined somewhat).

  • Wow. Straight to the libel card eh?

    Looks like the Streisand Effect is about to come into play!

  • Peter watkins says:

    Nothing new. Before she was kicked off the spectator having brought them too close to the police for comfort when she got herself and editor fraser nelson investigsted for racial harasment, and was witheringky embarassed by panorama s editor for making up facts with which tolambast hia programme on illegal israeli settlemets, her blog only included comments ffrom supplicants. All detractora were banned. She is paranoid to a fault. Does not debate, merely propzgandises, AAlmost 100% for the ultra prthodox religious right in israel.

  • David Waldock says:

    Whilst I agree that Melanie is an idiot, and wrote misleading copy, I would be absolutely furious if an email I wrote to you was published in an attributed way without my concept. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy when replying to personal correspondence, and this doesn’t forward your agenda, it merely annoys the person with whom you were trying to engage.

  • the_voice_of_reason says:

    A lawyer writes:

    At the outset, I would observe that the “Your article is wholly defamatory, but I’m so busy and important that I’m not going to bother telling you what the dematory comments are, nor can I be bothered making you bankrupt EVEN THOUGH I COULD” tactic has been going on at least since the early years of “Private Eye”, and no doubt before that. It is always employed by the wealthy against the less wealthy.

    As Ms Phillips has not (even although married to a lawyer) bothered to specify what matters of comment are defamatory, I can only presume that she refres to your allegations that she is (a) telling lies, and (b) insane. Refrences to her as “lazy” and having a “warped worldview” would fall within the definition of fair comment.

    Turning then to her own words, and giving them their everyday meaning, it is difficult to read the words ” No mention, note, of what he owes to his parents’ own efforts for his well-being. Indeed, to him they appear to have made no such contribution” as meaning anything other than “this boy seems to regard his parents as having contributed nothing to his upbringing”, a statement that is factually incorrect.

    Equally the reference to him having spent his “whole life” as a “state serf” is not open to nuanced interpretation. Based upon a comparison between the article and the facts as reported elsewhere, the words “lazy” “blinkered” “stupid” all fall within the term “fair comment”. Use of the words “you insane woman” can, in context, be presented as a rhetorical device rather than an actual allegation that the journalist is in fact mentally ill. It has to be read within the paragraph as a whole – not looked at in isolation. The words “using completely dishonest tactics” are slightly more difficult, but are arguably a description of journalistic methods of selective quotation and use of misleading comparisons, rather than a specific assertion that a statement of fact has been made that the writer knows to be false

    That only leaves the allegation that she is “happy to lie”. Happy to purvey a misleading version of the facts? Yes. Happy to publish without undertaking basic fact-checking? Yes. Happy to make assumptions and base arguments upon them? Yes. I don’t though, see anything she’s said that she knew to be false at the time of writing, so I’d remove the word lie and replace it with “mislead”.

  • Matt Bradley says:

    “highly defamatory” … “gross misrepresentations”

    1] no it isn’t.
    2] the reason she isn’t pursuing it is because she has nothing to pursue
    3] hearing those complains coming from Melanie Philips, the phrase “pot, meet kettle” spring only too readily to mind.

    What a total hypocrite. Mind you, hypocrisy is the house style of the Mail, isn’t it. A front page divided equally between complaints about the moral decline of society and sexually provocative photos of underage girls.

  • John Gibson says:

    This is reminiscent of Hitchens’ threat to sue his blog contributors for suggesting that his views shared some similarities with the manifesto of the BNP. And, of course, his subsequent refusal to do so.

  • Claire says:

    Let’s be quite clear about something here. Melanie Phillips is NOT stupid.
    Misled, and keen on misleading, definitely, and lots of other epithets spring to mind, but stupid; I don’t think so.

  • MacMonkeyMark says:

    You had me at Daily Mail. A hateful waste of planetary resources and internet bandwidth. We can at least be thankful that such hacks are kept confined in one truly terrible place.

  • ejh says:

    If you email somebody and absolutely don’t want them to reproduce it on blog that you know they run, it is helpful to open it with a note, preferably in capitals, saying something like EMAIL PRIVATE – NOT FOR PUBLICATION.

  • Duncan Stott says:

    Here is Melanie Phillips’s article from 2009 on how libel is being used to gag legitimate debate:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1237392/MELANIE-PHILLIPS-Death-free-speech-Is-Britain-censorship-capital-world.html

    My irony-o-meter just imploded.

  • Finisterre says:

    —Mike
    —Posted September 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |

    —Melanie Phillips eh? What a cunt.

    You don’t get much more obnoxious and appalling than the Phillips. So why the need to resort to misogyny in abusing her? It’s just stooping to a similar level, and it’s really unpleasant for those of us who come to sites like this precisely to avoid Mail-style prejudice and casual sexism.

  • hannanibal says:

    @finisterre

    Here in Britain “cunt” is a unisex insult for a selfish, nasty person. Such behaviour is described as “cuntish”.

  • Katants says:

    From my days of training in journalism law, I’m pretty sure I recall that if someone sends you a letter or email you own it. Presumably the sender ‘owns’ it too, but you can’t write to someone and then tell them not to show anyone. Not legally, anyway.

  • Johnson says:

    They should change the name to “cunterval”

  • Andy Mabbett says:

    The Daily Mail have today apologised for the article’s reference to Winterval: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/article-2058830/Clarifications-corrections.html

  • deiseach says:

    “Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail”

    But how are you going to be able to find out where to send the cheque for “significant damages”? She’s going to miss out!

  • Alan Dente says:

    I once wrote to this individual, politely raising a number of inaccuracies and vague-but-angry points she made in a different, but equally stupid, article.

    She, similarly, replied almost immediately.

    She was abusive, aggressive, full of misrepresentations and LOUD. She eventually seized upon the fact that I had mentioned the word ‘Christian’ in relation to my argument, told me that I was assuming she was a Christian (I was quite clearly not), and then rather shrilly told me that future emails would be put into the bin, which was where they deserved to sit.

    Quite how she can make such a judgement call when she clearly doesn’t understand any arguments put to her is beyond me. I hope she doesn’t accidentally bin any important emails/letters from the council, police, etc.

  • robinp says:

    Personally I couldn’t care less whether it is you or Melanie P who is the more/less correct.
    But disinterestedly reading your effort above completely fails to impress me except on your own hypocrisy or self-delusion.
    “I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing.”
    But your words were very far from polite, but rather calculated to be needlessly offensive. Furthermore your drivel about her opposition to libel actions is totally misplaced. She explicitly indicated that she had better things to do with her time than trawl through your drivel for libel action material, she explicity indicated she was NOT going to start libel action. And anyway she couldn’t possibly demean you more than your own cheap writing does. Cheers and please try to grow up.

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