WELCOME to Tweet of the Week. Every Friday I use this column to hand out an award to one person who has tweeted something of significance. There are no strict rules, only that the tweet in question must offer an important insight, define a debate (notorious or otherwise) or mark an occasion.
This week the Tweet of the Week goes to @phillipdewet for:
“Gosh. Three accounts appear, immediately work hard to promote #IndyExpose. IOL accounts retweet them. Then they vanish. The mystery of it!”
Profile: Phillip de Wet is associate editor at Mail & Guardian and a stalwart of South African journalism. His M&G profile says he writes about "politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide". He has about 31k followers on Twitter.
Citation: There have been a fair number of mad documents in SA’s recent past. Of them all, "Castro Hlongwane, Caravans, Cats, Geese, Foot & Mouth and Statistics: HIV/Aids and the Struggle for the Humanisation of the African", the 114-page Mbeki-era HIV/AIDS conspiracy compendium of quackery, remains one of the best.
It was a model for the kind of insecure paranoia that defined the time and, title aside (a gold medal contender for the World Gobbledygook Olympics in its own right), contained gems such as, "the frightening and dangerous reality that some of those who share this vested interest (in "the perpetuation and entrenchment of the currently dominant HIV/AIDS propositions) are ready and willing to do everything in their power to ensure that their view prevails, globally. This includes the use of any means and measures whatsoever, with no holds barred, to destroy and remove all those who oppose them."
As Homer Simpson says: "The bees are in the what now?"
The point is, it was pretty much all nonsense. If you took the time to filter through the mounds of rhetorical garbage — FYI, the current "dominant HIV/AIDS proposition" to which it refers is the small matter of what it elsewhere calls "a thesis", that HIV causes AIDS — you would induce either a pounding headache or violent nausea. Or both.
But the age of the mad document didn’t end with Mbeki. We’ve had tons of them since. All infused with paranoia, driven by an intense sense of victimhood on the part of the inevitably anonymous author and crammed full of so much mind-numbing verbosity and verbiage, they would make horse tranquillisers redundant if ever you could sell words on the open market.
This week saw the latest addition to this elite club hit the scene. Ostensibly an investigative news report from something called the "Journalism Intern Investigative Unit" (emphasis on the "Intern") at the Independent Group, it went by the dramatic title: "Exposé: The dirty tricks campaign against Independent."
Spoiler Alert: It exposes nothing and there is no dirty tricks campaign. Sorry.
You can read the full wonder here: Exposé: The dirty tricks campaign against Independent.
It’s chock-a-block with Castro Hlongwane-style grammatical bullshit. Upfront it has lines such as, "We have seen a staggering 25 articles published by journalists of a particular generation in the last 50 days alone."
Holy mackerel Batman! A "staggering" 25 articles? My god. I certainly staggered when I read that. Almost fell over actually. Dynamite stuff. You are hooked from the get go.
The Independent Group wasted no time promoting the thing. Its official Twitter handle, @IOL, tweeted no less than 14 times, advertising its pending release, most of which revolved around the sentiment, "Today at 6pm, @IndyMediaSA will release the #IndyExpose on a smear campaign against chairman @IqbalSurve. Stay tuned, right here."
Its tough on the Twitter streets, and when you are competing with the likes of Jimmy Manyi (@KrilaGP), who spent a large part of the previous week denouncing evolution ("I DO NOT share an ancestor with any ape"), you need a good PR campaign if anyone is going to pay any attention to you.
There followed some mini-controversy, to which Phillip de Wet alludes, whereby a number of accounts lovingly retweeted @IOL, only to suddenly be deleted. So, as far as drama goes, it was all looking good.
There are nice graphs and lots of numbers thrown at you in the exposé. Something about the amount of critical articles written about Independent Media’s executive chairman Dr Iqbal Surve. There have been a lot of them apparently, and it’s all very horrible for Dr Surve, who is really a jolly nice chap. That seems to be the general thrust of the piece — much unhappiness and gnashing of teeth.
They have been produced by "propaganda journalists" you see? Or "journalists of a certain generation". One could say, "journalists who have a vested interest in the perpetuation and entrenchment of the currently dominant Independent Group proposition". You get the drift.
Oh and the stuff that is going on, goodness gracious me. Right under our noses. Listen to this: "According to well-informed sources from within these white media houses and the DA, this highly orchestrated, well-resourced and strategically planned public relations campaign was designed to destabilise and undermine the reputation of a new black-owned media business and its chairman."
Hell’s bells. We need to get onto this. You know, people say the state of journalism is in a bad way (for reasons unknown, The Cape Times seems to crop up in those sorts of conversations a lot), but in the Independent Group’s "Journalism Intern Investigative Unit", there is much comfort to be found. They really do watch the watchers.
Did you know one journalist is part of a plan to overthrow the whole government? Seriously. "Well-placed sources also claim that Alec Hogg and BizNews have become ‘hired guns’ for a public relations campaign, paid from London to effect regime change in SA."
Wow. Also, Aahahahahahahahahaha ...
I have some well-placed sources in the Independent Group. They have told me that Dr Surve is building a satellite in an underground bunker, just outside Welkom, which, when launched, will control minds using a rare magical crystal he found in the bottom of a cereal box.
The problem is, for all the numbers it throws at you, at no point, in any shape or form, does the "exposé" actually deal with the content of the criticism against Dr Surve. Its primary assumption seems to be the man is saintly and, by default, any critical article must therefore be nonsense. So all you have to do is tally them up. Case closed. It’s the kind of logic you’d expect from the Mad Hatter, just before he told you that he had invented a way to power cars using carrots. You have to admire the self-belief.
Lo and behold if other media house owners, Naspers and Times Media and so on, have not had as many negative articles published about them. Who would have thunk it. It’s almost as if they didn’t take a massive, not properly disclosed, loan from the Public Investment Corporation or purge their newsrooms.
"The data is irrefutable, the motives as clear as daylight," the investigation concludes. It sure is. Only,the conclusions one reaches on reading it are (a) the "Journalism Intern Investigative Unit" is a joke, (b) Dr Surve has an ego as fragile as it is gigantic, and (c) neither have the slightest grasp of what reason, logic, and evidence actually look like.
They are nice graphs though. Very pretty.
That said, it is awesome that the Independent Group is now keeping a running tally of critical articles on Dr Surve. The number one slot is currently held by Ed Herbst, with 34 articles (Curse you Ed!). There is much more that is critical of Dr Surve to be said yet. It’s good to have something to aim for. Perhaps if the Independent Group could offer some sort of prize for first place at the end of each year? Use it, don’t use it.
Anyway, the next edition is bound to be a cracker.
As for Dr Surve, well, some other kind of radical solution outside of exposés is probably best going forward; maybe therapy for the paranoia or generally not behaving like a clownish version of Mao Zedong. Either way, something that addresses the root cause of the problem, you know?
In the meantime, be sure to add the "exposé" to your file of South African craziness, it’s really first-class stupidity.
On that note, I am taking two weeks leave and shall return in the second week of September. Good night and good luck.