Date: 22nd March 2019 at 4:02pm
Written by:

It was Steve Merritt, the musical genius who fronts The Magnetic Fields – the greatest band you’ve never heard of – who wrote the wonderful words “Bitter tears keep me going. Through the years, freely flowing.”

I’ve always loved those lines, and I could assign them to any number of people I know and, indeed, to the entire cast of Sevco: The Soap Opera.

I thought of those lines yesterday when I read the following lines in an Evening Times article; indeed, these lines open the piece, a piece with a similar headline. “Social media is not a platform for niceness, kindness or sensible debate – so a perfect place then to discuss Scotland’s latest international football embarrassment …”

What filled me with amusement was that the author of those lines had spent the entire day doing his level best to make sure that niceness, kindness and sensible debate were kept as far from his own social media profiles as it was possible to get.

Instead, he had turned Twitter into his very own grievance gallery.

This is not for the first time he’s done so, which, actually, is part of the story.

I’ll get to that bit in a moment, but first introductions are necessary.

I’m referring, of course, to Neil Cameron of The Herald Group, a professional so unprofessional that the words “absolute numpty” don’t do justice to how bad things really are with him. In a media filled with small men in jobs way too big for them, he is the pygmy’s pygmy and the full measure of his awfulness is reflected not only in the vitriol he pours out on Twitter in an endless stream but in some of the content of his columns.

Take his disgusting article on Leigh Griffiths just a few months ago, an article in which he chose to call our player a liar over his gambling issues – “He denied this week he is a gambling addict, insisting his problem is with mental health issues. If this is 100 per cent true, and I suspect it is not …” – and worse, where he used language so abysmal that it should never have seen daylight in a national newspaper. “The heid has never been fully screwed tight,” he wrote at one point.

That article was disgraceful, and the reaction to it was one of fury and disgust from many in the blogosphere and elsewhere.

It fell so far below what was acceptable that voices were raised against from many within his own profession.

I have rarely seen such unanimity over a single piece on social media in all my life. It was quite an achievement to get that response.

Look, I blast the media with regularity on this blog. But many in the press have my absolute respect, even those with whom I often disagree. There are some of them I would read just to enjoy the poetry of their writing, not because I like what they have to say. That’s more common for me when reading politics pieces than with football ones, and it’s more likely to be in the English press than here in Scotland, but there are notable exceptions.

Take Stuart Cosgrove, for instance. He is a journalist’s journalist. I do not listen to his show on Radio Scotland, but that’s because I don’t think Tam Cowan has a brain in his head. But Cosgrove is a highly gifted, perceptive man and when he chooses to write he is insightful and brilliant and well worth paying attention to. The same applies to Graham Spiers who is a wonderful wordsmith who has been courageous down through the years in saying some things others won’t. I was thrilled when Kevin McKenna wrote a piece for this blog this week, because he is a superlative writer who can hold forth on any number of subjects, with wit and intelligence. A few years back, he wrote a quite beautiful article on why he can’t abide the Anyone But England sentiment in the Scotland support, and whilst I found myself disagreeing with the central point I read it all with a smile on my face. Everyone knows how much respect there was in the blogosphere for Jim Spence and there is near universal acclaim for Michael Stewart, and for very good reasons. He is outstanding.

I even have a measure of respect for some of those I castigate.

Take Keith Jackson, for example, a guy this site ribs mercilessly to the extent it has actually spoofed him on numerous occasions.

Now, that guy isn’t a great writer and his pro-Ibrox outlook draws disbelief at times, but over the last couple of years there have been moments when he’s shown something above and beyond, when honest to God journalism has happened on his watch.

Take his article in April 2018, about a bust-up involving Murty and Nicholl and another involving Morelos and Halliday; that was an excellent piece, which laid bare deep divisions inside the Ibrox club. That story generated so much heat that King, realising he wasn’t going to sell season tickets on the back of the shambles, rushed out and approached Gerrard about the job.

Cameron is an opinion writer, not a newshound. That’s an important distinction.

I’m not a newshound either, although I often get given juicy information and I can research like someone born to it when the need arises. I understand why people in the news business gravitate to it; on the occasions when I’ve broken a story there’s a rush that goes with it which cannot be replicated by anything else I’ve been involved with. It is better than Jack Daniels.

Opinion writing is what I do; it’s a different kind of journalism, but that’s part of the problem because I’ve compared it to snooker in the sense that an observer who never picked up a cue can watch two people play and think that the game looks easy.

Because it kind of is, isn’t it? You have a stick, you aim it at the white ball and you try to make the white ball hit a set of coloured balls and you score points whenever one goes in a pocket. The rules, which say when you can pot a ball and in what order, might seem like little more than a framework to make a simple game more difficult and challenging.

But actually pick up a cue and try it … Good God.

It’s no wonder certain people can make a living out of doing it well. It’s one of those things I’ll never get a grip of.

That’s what opinion writing is. It’s snooker on a word processor, in that it’s deceptively simple looking. Because, after all, everyone has opinions right? If you can string two sentences together then you too can do what the wonderful Marina Hyde makes look so easy.

Yeah. Until you try it, and many have seen their pretensions of greatness wrecked by simple exposure to actual audiences, people who may not know the difference between participles and adjectives but who can hear the poetry in a line or a paragraph and who equally recognise clanging prose, crass self-promotion and, especially, utter nonsense when they read it. Some people can do it and some people can’t. The difference, as Stephen King laments in his magnificent book On Writing, is that this is a field in which it is possible to simply get by and actually get paid for doing it. No other creative arena rewards mediocrity quite like it.

Cameron is living proof that what looks so easy is far beyond the skillset some folk have.

In the Griffiths article he boasts of his real talent as the “trick of flicking up a beer mat and catching it with the same hand before it hits the table.” Oh how his readers must wish he’d stuck to that instead of trying to be something he isn’t. If only his employers felt the same way.

The Herald appointed Neil Cameron football editor.

I once hoped that this was merely an example of The Dilbert Principle – Scott Adams wonderful notion that in some corporate structures people are promoted to the level at which their incompetence can do the least damage – but that would have kept Cameron clear of the word-processor forevermore.

Instead I have to reluctantly conclude that there are some within the dying trade of print journalism who have gone so far into melancholy that they harbour no enthusiasm at all for self-preservation, either for themselves or for their industry.

Cameron is an embarrassment to the profession, and his lack of skills is only part of the reason why. His online behaviour is worse. This is a man who if there were a gold medal for lack of self-awareness would have an armful of them. He is a hypocrite of a truly astonishing sort, a man who castigates fellow reporters and writers with an open contempt and then wails bitterly about those who scorn him for it, labelling them people who “hate journalists.”

But as Cameron has made clear over and over again, he fits that description far better than many of those he attacks. And it was one such instance that brought him to this week’s prominence, and sparked his outpouring of self-pity on Twitter.

In May 2016, Cameron launched an unhinged personal attack on the award winning writer, blogger, journalist and author Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, accusing him of making up stories or outright plagiarising them. The attack labelled Phil “a vile man.”

What makes this all the more astonishing is that Cameron spat venom at fellow journalist Brian McNally during this spat, in which he slagged the NUJ at the same time as he hid behind them. “A union is for every member. And members should not attack one another,” he wrote in the same tweet as he told his professional colleague to “get a grip.”

He then accused Phil of “(seeming) to hate journalists who he knows nothing about” which, itself, is an incredible charge to level at someone he knows nothing about, and who, it just so happens, is a member of the very same NUJ who’s standard he had raised shortly before. Whether Cameron likes it or not, Phil carries the same press card he does, only with a lot more credibility based on years at the very sharpest end of a difficult business.

From around 2010 and all the way through the travails of Rangers and then Sevco, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain has been one of the most important and astute commentators. Not only has he written opinion pieces which have illuminated all the key events, but he has done real journalism too.

He has broken wide open stories like the Hugh Dallas email. He told of how The Famine Song had created disquiet and anger amongst the political classes in Ireland and here at home. He was the first journalist in Britain to inform Rangers fans that HMRC had sent their club a death dealing tax bill. His work on the problems facing the club under Whyte were encapsulated in his hiring a photographer to snap shots of sheriff officers turning up at the ground to serve them notice on the Wee Tax Bill. He scooped the media on the securitisation of season tickets over there and has been right at the forefront of every Mike Ashley development and each defeat the Sports Direct supremo has inflicted on the club, even as the media was telling us that the Ibrox club was winning.

Phil’s blog is twelve years old next year, but even at the start he was a respected professional with a vast body of work behind him. Indeed, his first article on his site recounts how it had been twenty years since he sold his first opinion piece to a national newspaper; that’s the record this guy has in the industry, a record that cannot be denied by a single one of his detractors, no matter how much they might want to try.

Cameron’s accusation against Phil, that he had manufactured stories or stolen them from elsewhere, is not exactly a unique point of view, but those who express it most vocally are on the far fringes themselves. Cameron is one of the few people in the mainstream media who has such open contempt for his work. Others, even those who disagree with Phil, have a bit more respect. They understand exactly why those allegations are impossible to ignore.

So did the NUJ, which took Phil’s report against Cameron seriously enough to open a case against him.

It needn’t have gone as far as it did either, because Cameron was offered mediation proceedings to resolve it amicably and refused all such entreaties.

On top of that, he had three years in which to present evidence that his allegations – serious allegations – were factual and never bothered to put forward even one.

Then, in a fit of pique, and ranting against the very union whose standards he had thrust in others faces, he very publicly quit the NUJ in a huff earlier this year, using Twitter to excoriate fellow professionals and bloggers alike.

He continues to rave about them to this day, and his attacks on other journalists have not abated one bit; yesterday he even took a shot at one of his former colleagues at The Herald, Angela Haggerty, a thoroughly professional woman who could give him lessons on integrity and courage were he to ask for them.

I’ll hold my hands up right now and make it clear that I consider Phil a friend of mine and I have no truck with Cameron either as a person or a journalist; unlike Phil – who has never written a word about him until now and who has never publicly engaged with him on social media – I have done both, although I often wonder why the Hell I’m bothering to.

Aside from attacking him in his own language on Twitter – I always do; I raise or lower my game to the tone of the debate I’m in – I have written about him on this blog several times and make no apology for doing so.

I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not; if I had an NUJ card I’d be need to be much more circumspect, which is one of the reasons I’ve never sought one.

Before the Griffiths piece – which I took him to task for – the last encounter I had with him was in April last year when he disgraced himself and his employer when he leaped headfirst into an argument the MSP James Dornan was having with some of the Ibrox herrenvolk, in which Cameron joked about the notorious “smash a fenian” leaflet with a crass tweet saying he and fellow journalist Gerry Braiden had “hired a bus and everything” and were “looking forward to it.”

As if that putrid attempt at humour wasn’t enough, he expressed his disdain for what was a very serious issue with the suggestion that the kind of appalling sectarianism expressed in that leaflet was a “dark joke” which Scotland and Scottish people “sort of invented like the telly.” At the time I suggested that it was perhaps time for The Herald to consider whether it was a good idea to let him carry his job title and their name on his Twitter feed; it remains there to this day.

Whatever ad hominem broadside he launches in response to this – he can’t help himself – he will offer not one point of debate which contradicts what’s here. He excels at labelling people as liars or haters, and as was the case with Phil, without one shred of proof to support such a scandalous claim; one day, someone is going to sue him for that.

At times it’s as if he longs for that outcome, or else he would not be so hell-bent on reaching the destination.

At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, I see in a lot of his bile and invective some evidence that there’s a degree of self-loathing in there, and an inferiority complex that runs deep.

For one, he is aggressively anti-intellectual.

Yesterday, even as he was attacking Phil for “hating journalists” he fired a spikey shot – for no reason at all – at the outstanding commentator and political writer Owen Jones for the crime of having an Oxbridge degree; quite why this offends him I do not know, but he does seem to reserve the greatest ire for those online who possess a degree of intellectual heft, and Phil can be certainly counted amongst them. I have a degree in media studies, and his shot at me yesterday for “4000 words blogs” was another example of it.

Cameron said in the Griffiths article that he, too, suffers from depression, and as such I am willing to suggest that perhaps we’re a little hard on him at times.

It might just be that we’re mistaking cries for help as cries for attention.

If it proves to be so, and he faces up to his demons, then he deserves our full and unreserved sympathy and good wishes as he attempts to get it together. What made the Griffiths piece so appalling is that Leigh had done so in a public way and Cameron gave him a kick regardless, all the whilst asking “Who? Me?”

I believe that this incident and his response to it speaks of a need for him to do a little self-analysis. He can be pissed at the world as he likes, or he can take stock and enquire of himself why his timeline is such a dreadful state, full of personal back and forth. He claims to hate it, but it doesn’t have to be like that; I have about 2000 more followers on there than he does, and I somehow manage to disengage from it when it gets too ridiculous.

I guarantee I’d get more abuse than he does on a daily basis, except I refuse to respond to 99% of it, and I have blocked more people than I can count. Twitter is a tool to promote the articles, not a forum for airing every personal and petty grievance. He should treat it the same way, and sort himself out in whatever private manner works best for him and if he won’t then his bosses at The Herald should take him aside and insist on it. For his own good.

This time he got off lightly; the union found that he had not substantiated his claims but it could have been much worse had Phil not acted in such a reasonable manner and gone to them rather than to a lawyer. Cameron is heading for an almighty fall if he keeps on acting as he does, and I have to think he has at least the self-awareness to realise that.

In the meantime, well done to Phil on getting a result here. His work on behalf of the Celtic fans, and his work in promoting others in the blogosphere remains unsurpassed. In spite of being a busy man – aside from being in midst of his second novel (the first one is excellent; I will be reviewing it on here soon) and promoting a play he’s written – he continues to bring us good journalism and insight. He is the reason some of us do what we do.

With that in mind, I’d like to point out that he’s seeking nominations for this year’s Football Blogging Awards, in two categories; Best International Content Creator and Best Established Content Creator.

If you want to show your appreciation to the man you can do so by giving him the nod in either or both categories. He certainly earned it.

Finally, as Cameron is clearly so keen on factual accuracy but comes over at times as sloppy or even heart lazy, I’ll render research un-necessary; if he wants to rant about this piece he should know that this wasn’t 4000 words.

As of the end of this sentence it comes in at a mere 3333.