There's a difficulty about writing about Daily Mail columnists without falling into a couple of traps.
It's become something of a cliché, the wringing-wet liberal getting all antsy about something provocative that a Mail columnist has churned out, raising yourself into a sense of righteous anger over someone else's terribly un-PC and controversial views that they churn out, every week, to a deadline and to a word count.
"Oh, there you go again," people will say, shaking their heads and tut-tutting at you, "getting all wound up by the Mail and the sentiments in it. Every week you get surprised by the fact that Richard Littlejohn doesn't vote Labour or that Melanie Phillips hasn't discovered atheism – what do you expect?"
Sometimes it can feel a bit obvious, a bit ordinary, a bit banal, to challenge columnists who are only there to bulk out the newspaper or website with some colour, whose views are bound to vary from your own.
The second trap people can fall into is promoting the very thing you're unhappy about. If you get angry about some terribly controversial and un-PC views, which are nicely laid out every week under the journalist's photo byline and illustrated by cartoons and photographs of celebrities, you might just bring them to a wider audience.
If you get angry about a Mail columnist in the privacy of your own living room, that's one thing. If you do it on Twitter, the power of the hyperlink means that you may well be inviting lots of other people in the echo chamber to get similarly angry about the same thing, who will tell their friends with similar views about how awful it is, and they'll click on the link to look at how vile the views are, and so on, and so on.
Reel 'em in
The Daily Mail's website gets millions of visitors a day. I'm starting to wonder how many of them are angry liberals peeping at the horrors from behind the curtain. It's not recorded in web traffic statistics whether you approve of the content that you've just seen or not; your presence is just added to the total. Advertisers and potential advertisers don't get told that a lot of people who visit Mail Online are swearing under their breath as they read the awful toxic words; they just get shown the numbers.
I say all this because, as I write this, I am reading on Twitter that some people are upset by a piece by the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir in which she talks about the reaction of "gimlet-eyed" celebrities on Twitter to the death of Amanda Holden's baby.
To my mind, it seems like perfect flamebait: it's Jan Moir, of Stephen-Gately-death-nastiness fame, once again spouting off in public after a human tragedy, except this time there's the bonus idea of sticking the article full of celebrities' names and insulting Twitter. It's a perfect pointy stick to rattle around inside the hornets' nest.
I'm not saying Jan Moir doesn't believe her views about public events, which she has been producing once a week in Word format for a long time now; I'm just saying it would be easy for people to think such articles were designed to provoke the kind of reaction that would see the website swamped with traffic.
But, all of that said, if you do disagree with these articles, what can you do? Thousands of complaints to the PCC did not lead to a massive censure being aimed at the author after the Gately piece. Do you complain anyway, just to put your disapproval on the record? Do you write your own response, detailing your emotional reaction to the piece? Do you walk away and try to forget about it, knowing that something which you find unpleasant has gone unchallenged?
My own view is that this Moir piece isn't terribly offensive, but it is flamebait, and should be treated as such. She isn't unpleasant towards Amanda Holden, and saves her attacks for Twitter celebrities, who may write their own responses if they wish. Perhaps we should put away the flaming torches and the pitchforks until such time as they're needed.
Now, I realise that by writing this, and by tweeting about it, I have drawn more attention to the Moir article than it might otherwise have got, for which I apologise in advance. They win, whatever you do. Perhaps the only thing to do in future is not only not to write about Daily Mail columnists, but not to write about writing about Daily Mail columnists. Or is that a cliché, too? I don't know, but if you want a happier day, don't click on the link. I said, don't click!