BPSDBWhile organizing Monbiot vs Plimer debate (full background here) The Spectator put Monbiot in an impossible position which forced the cancellation of the event. They clearly knew more about Plimer’s intentions than they were telling. The only real question is whether they colluded with Plimer in doing this, as some evidence suggests, or if it was mere happenstance.
So what happened?
On 29 July 2009 Plimer directed the Spectator to organize the debate, including giving a specific date; this is before any debate had been agreed to. Why this date in particular? why in London? why not ask Monbiot if he was even available at that time? (he wasn’t) To me it reads very much like Plimer had other business in London about this time and it would be convenient for him as he would be there anyway.
Regardless, the date is being set before there is even an event. Monbiot has not agreed, in fact he states sooner would be more suitable IF a debate can be agreed to.
Conditions for written questions and answers are agreed to, but unfortunately Monbiot is not specific enough in designating exactly when Plimer was to respond with his “precise and specific responses”, which will prove an error. As we now know, Plimer would waffle and weasel for weeks, anything other than actually answer the questions.
The Spectator went ahead with scheduling a slightly earlier event. On 6 Aug 2009 this email from The Spectator to Plimer came to light:
Dear Ian, I would like to introduce myself, Phoebe Vela, I am in charge of the Events for the Spectator. As I sure you are aware, we finally managed to hold George Monbiot’s feet to the fire and get him to agree to debate with you on the topic on Wednesday 21 October 2009 in London. … I hope you will agree that Matthew d’Ancona taunted him on your behalf in order to guarantee a good event.
Despite Pheobe’s subsequent assurances to the contrary, “we finally managed to hold George Monbiot’s feet to the fire” and “Matthew d’Ancona [editor of The Spectator] taunted him on your behalf ” hardly sounds like a neutral third party.
Then on 21 August 2009 The Spectator says “we are going to start the marketing for the debate scheduled on 12 November 2009” even though there is no sign of Plimer answering the questions. This despite The Spectator being fully aware of the Plimer’s failure to do so, an issue they asked him about on 06 August 2009. We have no idea if and how he replied to them, merely that they were aware that it was an issue.
Monbiot had been having surgery, so it is not until 02 September 2009 that he is able to tell them very clearly “Please be aware that Professor Plimer has not yet met my conditions for the debate and shows no sign of doing so. I repeat – it cannot go ahead until he has done so. So please do not market it yet: he will be wasting your time and money if he won’t meet my terms.”
Could not be clearer; as per the initial conditions for the debate, no answers, no debate, “do not market it yet.” Just to be sure he adds “Throughout our correspondence, you have given me the impression that you either haven’t listened to or haven’t understood a word I’ve said. So please confirm that you have read this email and understand its contents.”
Monbiot’s dilemma is clear. From an ethical perspective it is only fair to be absolutely clear with The Spectator. Further, once The Spectator “markets” the debate it will be virtually impossible to refuse later as i) he will be labeled as chickening out (too late) and ii) it is entirely possible they would hold him liable for financial damages if he withdraws once they have invested in it.
Finally, if at this point he has faint hope of ever seeing Plimer’s answers, then getting locked into debating regardless will mean he has no hope of ever seeing them. Since intellectual honesty and personal integrity clearly mean nothing to Plimer, this is the only lever Monbiot has left. Pressured by The Spectator Monbiot cannot simply let things proceed and keep waiting to see if Plimer will ever abide by his promise.
The plot thickens
On 07 September 2009 The Spectator says “Gentlemen: we have a debate to organise and marketing to begin and we cannot continue with this ceaseless exchange of e-mails. Too many pre-conditions are being laid down. George: we have reached a stalemate on pre-debate Q&As. You have always made it clear that you won’t debate without these answers.”
Excuse me? if Monbiot “always made it clear” that he “won’t debate without these answers” exactly what “pre-conditions are being laid down”? If they are referring to Monbiot, then obviously they know he is not laying down any new preconditions. If they are not referring to those, then what are they referring to?
Further, it’s been almost a week that they have known that Monbiot will not go ahead without the agreed upon terms, terms they have known about for month. What have they said to Plimer? what did he reply? How is it a stalemate and how do they know? Are they aware that Plimer has no intention of meeting the conditions?
Pardon my presumption, but it would seem to me that a neutral third party with money and prestige at risk would:
- recognize that the problem is Plimer not meeting the conditions he agreed to;
- be pressuring Plimer to meet them so that the event could proceed;
- communicate to Monbiot what they know of Plimer’s position eg whether he has told them anything, and if so, what?
So what does The Spectator do?
So we must proceed on the basis that you will not now be part of the debate. That is a great pity and many will wonder why the pre-conditions were necessary. But so be it. We’ll miss you — could have been a great debate.
On the assumption that George will not now debate you, can we proceed on the following basis: on the agreed date of Thursday 12 November at 2 Savoy Place, London WC1, you will give a 30 minute lecture on global warming and then take questions/points from the audience for 60 minutes.
- The deadline (11th September) has NOT passed, yet it is clear that they know Plimer will not meet his obligations. How do they know that? With four days left for Plimer, how do they know he does not yet intend to fulfill his word?
- Why, given that there is time left, does the message to Plimer NOT include any inquiry about the status of the questions, whether he intends to fulfill his obligations, and just what he intends? It seems to me that these would be very logical questions that a neutral third party would be asking in this situation.
- They take it as a given that Plimer is coming anyway and will give a lecture instead. Granted it is posed as a question, but I find the tone more one of confirming details rather than negotiating a whole new and unexpected scenario.
- Why assume that Plimer will come and lecture? why not enquire whether Monbiot would care to give a lecture since it is Plimer who has (or will) default? Monbiot is in London anyway, whereas Plimer is in Australia; unless one had a lot more information it would seem that the logical assumption would be that Monbiot is the one most likely to be available.
Despite the fact that it is clearly Plimer who is at fault, The Spectator is only to eager to dump Monbiot and go with Plimer. Plimer is the one who has derailed the debate, yet Monbiot is the one they treat as at fault. We cannot know what actually went on, but it seems clear to me that The Spectator knew far more than they were telling.
Was the Spectator colluding with Plimer all along? Did they and Plimer both know from the start that Plimer would never answer the questions, and hence it was possible Monbiot would refuse? Was Monbiot the mark for a scam by a con man and his shill?
We cannot know, but something stinks here.
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