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Home > Media

Journojism: Operation Clark County

26 October 2004

Recently the Guardian came up with 'Operation Clark County', possibly the most misguided idea since the cast of It Ain't Half Hot, Mum claimed to be 'the boys to entertain you'.

The Guardian plan is to get readers to write to voters in Ohio - whose details can easily be found on the electoral register, and which were posted on the Guardian website - and persuade them not to vote for Bush.

So what's wrong with that?

Well, nothing, if you enjoy being patronised. If you or I discussed the woes of the world with some of our American cousins, even rabid Bush supporters, over a few drinks, all parties would probably come away with some understanding of where the others were coming from, and why they hold the views they do.

And given the biased nature of the US media, you might well change the opinions of Americans who accept Bush's simplistic view of the world. But imagine getting a letter from a total stranger - and a Guardian reader at that. You'd assume they were telling you what to think because, in their view, you're a Fox-watching, right-wing hick who keeps a loaded M-16 next to your children's bucket of Lego. Or should that be 'Freedom Blocks'?

Of course, these people do exist, as the responses to Guardian letters showed. One seems to suggest that anal rape would be a fitting punishment for Alan Rusbridger et al:

'Stay out of American electoral politics. Unless you want a company of US Navy Seals to descend upon the offices of the Guardian... and transport you to Guantanamo Bay, where you can share quarters with some lonely Taliban shepherd boys.'

This is just plain wrong: everyone knows it's the Americans who are doing the buggery.

Then there were the keyboard patriots, who seem to believe that hitting Caps Lock enables you to win an argument:


And of course there were the 'gags' about crap British dentistry (shame on you Matt Groening and Mike Myers):

'If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit.'

'Shitheads'? 'Dipshit?' We are pinioned by your rapier-like wit, Sirs.

Exactly what gives Americans the right to criticise other nations for not taking care of their physical appearance is unclear, but to this particular letter writer, we have to say: WE'LL GET OUR TEETH DONE IF YOU LOSE ENOUGH WEIGHT TO GET THROUGH A DOOR, YOU FAT FUCK. And as for the previous correspondent: WE DIDN'T SEE YOU KICKING MANY ASSES DURING THE TET OFFENSIVE, BUDDY. AND YOU UNQUESTIONABLY LIKE IT IN THE ASS. FROM YOUR BROTHER. WHO'S ALSO YOUR DAD. WE'VE SEEN DELIVERANCE. WE KNOW WHAT GOES ON.

And this is kind of the problem of this sort of exercise. It easily becomes a forum for idiots, and we become idiots ourselves by wanting to respond in kind to the 'USA KICKS ASS!' contigent. These tossers have always existed, and they're the same breed as the armchair SAS you can find in any British pub, who, if confronted with a real soldier who's served in Iraq and is critical of the situation, would change their minds as quickly as the bloke off The Fast Show.

Of course, the Guardian got many highly sympathetic responses, not least from Americans who dislike the relentlessly dumb electioneering going on in the US. But even Democrats weren't too chuffed to have Guardian readers patronising Americans - and thus strengthening the Republican vote. 'I'm hoping that it is genius satire... Please, please, be rational and move away from this self-defeating hubris,' said one.

But perhaps the worst thing about Operation Clark County is that it smacks of the desperate desire on the part of journalists to get publicity by meddling in the news, rather than just reporting on it.

In journalism, there are only so many things you can do to increase circulation, and one of them is to run a campaign. In theory, campaigns are great because they generate publicity and provide lots of copy for your own publication. Ambitious editors can get on the telly and journos can feel they're making the news rather than reporting on it. Or at least that's why we started the Get Fridays Off Petition. That and because we're lazy.

A problem occurs when newspapers and magazines run campaigns for purely self-serving purposes - a good campaign can raise awareness of issues and have genuine benefits, but a self-serving one is just shit-stirring. This contributor has worked in the medical press, and often has a wry chuckle over a dismal campaign by Doctor magazine a few years back that effectively encouraged doctors to go on strike over an ongoing pay dispute. The campaign
was (luckily for patients) something of a non-event, but, like Operation Clark County, is it wise for journalists to interfere in the real world without knowing what the consequences of a campaign will be?

And in a worst-case scenario, it looks like Operation Clark Country could lead to US special forces storming the Guardian's offices. Here at TFT we've decided to start our own campaign: send us 5 today and we'll hire a Chinook to airlift Charlie Brooker, Laura Barton and Simon Hoggart to safety.

They can deport Judy Rumbold, though. And the Observer's Barefoot Doctor. He can definitely get bummed by the Taliban.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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