Leave it go
Abby OReilly // 26 June 2009
Anna Mikhailova, the journalist who ‘outed’ Zoe Margolis as the author of Girl with a one-track mind, has written an article attempting to justify her actions. Instead of apologising or taking the opportunity to reflect impartially on her, frankly, disgusting attempt to forge a career in journalism, she has instead tried to elicit sympathy for her investigative endeavours by claiming Margolis’s anonymity was a “marketing gimmick.” Furthermore she claims that the criticism her expose engendered around the blogosphere has been “deeply damaging” and could have “threatened” her career. She’s not remorseful, instead still labouring under the delusion that she was performing a public service. She wasn’t.
While Margolis has written a response to Mikhailova’s piece, there are a few salient points worth addressing. Firstly, this has in no way “threatened” Mikhailova’s career but has, in fact, made it. This, as she proudly claims, was “the first high-profile ‘expose’ of an online writer’s anonymity,” and as a result Mikhailova walked straight out of university to the Times’s newsroom where she began a much coveted job as a reporter. Very few people have the opportunity to begin their careers on a national newspaper and the Times, like many other rags, has done nothing but demonstrate the extent to which the British media favours the scandalous and denigration of others, rewarding the morally reprehensible behaviour of wannabe hacks with staff jobs. Mikhailova, instead of seeing journalism as a medium of communication that enriches the reader’s understanding of the world, was unfortunately caught in this maelstrom of sensationalism and backstabbing that has come to characterise the press and therefore, not suprisingly, favoured self-promotion above all else. Simple as.
Secondly, she bemoans the appearance of “fresh character assassinations” around the blogosphere everyday as fans of Margolis’s blog, and those who sympathised with her position, used the Internet as a platform to express their distaste at her mistreatment. It’s not nice and it’s not pleasant being criticised by a wealth of anonymous commentators online. My personal, albeit considerably smaller scale, experiences have taught me that. But they have also taught me that if I want to write something controversial I have to be prepared to accept that people aren’t going to like it. Was Mikhailova expecting the Pulitzer?
Ok, so someone set up a false sex blog under her name. So what? She was receiving, while still a student, a level of criticism and attention usually only given veterans of the British media. Plus, as she says, she had support: “Cue an extensive effort by the Sunday Times legal team to take it down — successfully, thank goodness.” Lucky girl. It’s a shame that Margolis didn’t have the privilege of an expensive legal team fighting her corner, eh? It’s not nice that personal details, along with photographs of Mikhailova, were published on the Internet – and I wouldn’t condone that – but surely she must understand that she was, likewise, the author of Margolis’s complete and utter lack of privacy – only on a much larger and more detrimental scale. The old adage that you should treat others as you would like to be treated yourself is probably worth mentioning here.
There was no need to ‘out’ Margolis’s identity, and Mikhailova fails to provide adequate justification for doing so, or to offer an insight into her motivation. The content of Girl with a one-track mind is in no way enhanced or diminished by knowing the author’s true identity, and Margolis was metaphorically publicly flogged for having the audacity to speak candidly about sex. Because that’s what it was about. Let’s not forget that the issue here is not just that Mikhailova chose to ‘out’ Margolis, but that she drew on aspects of Margolis’s professional and personal life (even writing about her parents) to present her as a morally degenerate woman with a “shameless interest in sex.” Of course, the whole media debacle caused Margolis heartache. How could it not? And if Mikhailova, instead of waxing lyrical about how detrimental it had been for her, accepted her proactive role in causing an individual a lot of unnecessary upset, then she would have at least gained a slither of credibility.
As it stands she was and is an ambitious journalist who abandoned her integrity to get what she wanted. That’s fine. But don’t write a pointless piece trying to explain away what you have done without, in fact, offering any explanation at all. Mikahilova just sounds like a school yard bully who’s upset because nobody wants to play with her anymore, and is using the argument that this is a natural consequence of the disparity between new and old forms of media to try and invest her actions with legitimacy. The blog is a medium that offers its users anonymity, and as such can provide insightful, interesting and blunt commentary on a range of topics which might otherwise not be given air time. It also allows a diverse range of people – those who for personal or religious reasons, for example, cannot speak publicly – a platform to share their views free from condemnation.This is the point, and what journalists like Mikhailova are doing is forcing bloggers into self-censoring their opinions before publication for fear that they may gain too much attention and be considered too influential to remain faceless. Instead of pedalling yet another article out of someone else’s misfortune, maybe Mikhailova should just leave it go?