John Walker's Electronic House

Barnett Attempts To Spin

by on Feb.12, 2009, under Rants

It appears I’m considerably naive. One outcome I was expecting from the Goldacre vs. Barnett incident was, at some point, an act of contrition on the part of Barnett. Not because I think she is honourable – she has made it very clear through her actions that she is not – but because I really thought she would eventually snap under the weight of the attention the debacle has generated. By the time her name was being mentioned in parliament as a consequence of her dangerous actions, I thought she might buckle. Instead, she’s having her agent try and spin the events in her favour.

An Early Day Motion, currently gathering signatures, contained the line,

“expresses its disappointment that ill-informed comments by presenters such as Jeni Barnett on her LBC radio show will continue to cause unfounded anxieties for many parents and are likely to result in some parents choosing not to vaccinate their children”

By now Barnett must surely have noticed that her attempts to delete the posts from her blog were futile. They’re available elsewhere in full, with comments, for everyone to enjoy. But apparently this isn’t enough to have stopped her attempts to spin the situation.

Remarkably, her agent is telling some porkies to the press, claiming her reason for removing the reader contributions from her site was because there were, “hundreds of extremely personal and abusive comments”. In a story published on, agent Robert Common declares that poor Jeni is an innocent victim, presumably hoping no one will visit the original posts and read the comments themselves, as this might slightly detract from his claims.

Of course, Barnett filters her comments, so there is the possibility that she was receiving others that were abusive, and not posting them, and the volume of these may have been more than she was prepared to put up with. That would make for a semi-reasonable reason to prevent further comments being posted to those two articles. However she chose not to do that, but instead to delete all the comments, and then prevent further posting. A very strange decision indeed. The next day she completely deleted both posts from her site. Since commenting on them was impossible (to the point where it would not let you even submit), it’s hard to see why she would need to remove the polite, intelligent debate from her site, let alone remove her own remarks. Unless, as I so naively thought, she had become embarrassed by the bilge she had written. Clearly not.

LBC are claiming that Barnett is also receiving personally abusive email at their station. Barnett does not make her personal email address available, so this can only be to her work address, which I’d bet a fair amount is read by her producer/assistants. Even so, it would be enormously disappointing if those asking her to stop spreading myths, that directly lead to the deaths of children, were personally attacking her. From my experience of the debate over the years, it has tended to be the hysterical anti-MMR brigade who have the greater trouble with manners. As has been the case here, of course, with Barnett publicly abusing polite and informed callers to her show, insulting them on air, and then further insulting them on her blog. (Perhaps this is another reason why she removed them? To hide her indefensible comments?)

The spin from her agent was given space after Goldacre had, reasonably, posted to his own site to discourage people from being unpleasant to Barnett. Despite Goldacre making it clear that both Barnett, and the LBC programme director, Jonathan Richards, had behaved very poorly throughout, Barnett’s agent chose to quote Goldacre’s apologising for any unpleasantness that’s appeared. He didn’t find room to quote when Goldacre added that Richards’ communications were “rather intemperate and unkindly written,” or that Barnett had been, “deeply unpleasant to and about individual people with less money and voice than herself.”

At the same time, LBC are being quite confusingly stupid about it all. Rather than putting their hands up and offering to present the other side of the debate fairly, or apologising for the misinformation, they appear to be digging their heels in. Throwing lawyers around, shouting down the phone at Goldacre, and apparently showing no regard for balanced journalism, what was once a wonderful radio station is now a corporate machine. It’s another sad fact to emerge from the debacle.

So Jeni Barnett is attempting to play the wounded deer, with the mean nasty scientist types reversing up for another strike. I don’t support or endorse anyone sending her abusive emails. I also doubt very much she’s had many, especially when her agent deliberately attempted to suggest that the comments on her blog were equally offensive, when the reality is there for everyone to see and read.

It’s very important that the vast majority of intelligent people who are rationally and critically aware that the MMR causes no demonstrable harm do not get portrayed as the cruel bullies. Especially when the person at the centre of it all was both cruel and bullying to callers to her show who dared to disagree with her motherly instincts. Especially when the likes of the prize fruitcake Melanie Phillips are writing dangerous nonsense like this. MMR is serious business, and the Barnetts and the Phillipses are doing measurable harm. The fight against that can’t be overturned by spinning the perpetrators as victims. These are people directly responsible for the endangering of children, with recorded cases of brain damage and death due to their actions. It’s deadly serious. It’s not about a rich lady on the radio getting called an idiot in an email.

P.S. For another example of Jonathan Richard’s astonishing manners, have a look at this. (The station has since replaced the stolen images on their site.)

3 Comments for this entry

  • NM

    I have noticed that people willfully misinterpret robust rhetoric and firm argument as “abuse” when it suits them. Especially when the person in question is insecure and emotionally imbalanced. I invite you to read Barnett’s previous blog postings, full of woo-woo and self-loathing, to determine whether this might be the case here.

    Someone asked why there was such a fuss about this. Well, imagine you had a loud, opinionated person on radio suggesting that feeding children poo was a good idea. You’d be outraged and disgusted. It would be a big deal and you would wonder about the sanity of that person. Well, here’s a person who ignores many decades of data about the safety of MMR (we’re not talking about one or two studies, we are talking about hundreds, all over the world). It looked like we had achieved a rare victory against nasty nature, as we had against smallpox. Had it not been for people like Barnett, we would have.

    But now, because of the unfounded advice from people like her, children WILL get brain-damage and die this year who would not have had people like her had kept their mouths shut.

    That is serious, and no whinging about “abusive Email” can deflect this.

  • mandrill

    LBC should sack Barnett and their advertisers should withdraw their custom until this happens. Her response is in the same vein as those uber-right-wing evangelicals who call for the forced conversion of those of other (or no) faiths, support the bombing of abortion clinics, judge everyone who crosses their path as being ‘hellbound’, and then cry ‘I’m being persecuted’ when the flaws in their belief system are pointed out to them and they’re told to piss off..
    Jeni Barnet belongs in the same mental institution as these people and should not be given air time to propagate her insanity.

  • johnarr

    It’s a shame she doesn’t have a book on Amazon. I’d like to see what 200 ironic reviews would be like if posted by scientists.

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