Defamation not such a sweet little honey pot no mo’.

[This week’s column is earlier and, to be honest a bit lighter, because I’m writing from a hospital room waiting to go into surgery, so I’m gonna be a bit out of it for a while. I’ve set last week’s column to free, so if you’re in the cheap seats up back, go wild on that one too. I’m hoping to be back on deck by the end next week]. - JB

I used to be a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and while doing that job I experienced two serious moments of blowback. Both from a feature I wrote on Australia’s neo-Nazi movement.

Bear in mind, this was in the early 1990s, when neo-Nazis weren’t all over the Seven Network, or writing Op Ed columns for The Australian.

(I kid, Rupe, I kid! Most of your worst trollumnists aren’t Nazis, they’re just loved and appreciated by Nazis for their services to the master race).

Anyways, I file this story, and some things happen. A couple of Nazis, like, actual Nazis, turn up at the Rolling Stone offices looking for me. And one guy, who insists he’s not a Nazi, even though he’s pictured with a dozen or so other Nazis at a ‘training’ weekend, lawyers up and sues the magazine.

(The ‘training weekend’ was a paintball piss up in the bush). 

I gotta tell you, the defamation claim was way scarier than the Bogan Gestapo visit, which I missed anyway.

Rolling Stone settled with the deffo guy, the only one in the photo who didn’t have a current membership card for National Action – the kinder, gentler face of the Fourth Reich down under.

The publisher made a commercial decision to simply make it go away. I was never personally under threat from the action, because in those days I was busted arse broke. I had no assets. I was what the lawyers call, with sniffy contempt, a man of straw. But it was a sickening feeling, having that thing hanging over everyone else at the magazine. 

Having had that experience I have real sympathy for Shane Bazzi, currently being sued by Peter Dutton, and with Jo Dyer, so recently caught up in Christian Porter’s defamation claim against the ABC. A claim which went nowhere and now looks like costing the prick more than half a million dollarydoos.

It used to be that politicians could throw out defamation threats like a compulsive flasher flopping his chopper into the salad bar. The end game was the same for both. To intimidate and paralyse in the singular instance, and spread an exemplary terror more generally.

Also, I suppose it was nice to have Packer or Murdoch build you a new pool.

Dutton has no prospect of a payday from a win over Bazzi. I don’t know Shane, but I’d guess he’d probably trigger most barristers’ sniff response.

In his case, then, it’s all about the terror Dutton means to spread among the rest of us.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought the Demon Spud was certain to get his way. He would gut a few online activists and drape their entrails from his castle walls, to make an example for anybody contemplating giving him a touch up online.

But something has changed.

Crowd-funding. 

More than three and a half thousand people have now pledged more than a hundred and fifty grand to Bazzi’s legal defence fund. You can get on here if you’d like to help out. It doesn’t completely tip the scales in his favour. Australian defamation law grew out of the pressing need of nineteenth gentlemen hypocrites to defend their reputations from inconvenient worriments like the truth. It does a pretty good of that up here at the End of Times, too.

But maybe, just maybe, social media will turn out to be different from the legacy media. When everything is distributed and atomised its much harder for those in power to pick a point of critical failure and bring the pain.

Even more crucially, as Christian Porter is finding out, the risk matrix is way more complicated than it used to be, and politicians who once might have relied on terrifying their critics into silence, now have to measure whether legal action might backfire, horribly.

[That’s it from me this week. Wish me luck under the knife, and look after yourselves while I’m out of action. Also remember, if you didn’t get last week’s bit on Health Minister Greg Rhymes-With-Hunt it’s now out from behind the paywall.]