In the sweaty incubator of news…

WHAT possible connection could there be between a man sticking up for badgers and foxes, and a young woman affronted by a compliment?  On one level nothing more than both appearing on the same page in the newspaper I was reading. But there is more to it than that.

The link lies in the sweaty incubator of news. Pop something in there for a few moments and it will soon spawn into a many-celled monster.

The TV presenter Chris Packham has been faced with calls for him to be sacked by the BBC following an article he wrote for BBC Wildlife magazine in which he argued that conservation groups were sitting on the fence over foxhunting and badger culling.

Packham has been under pressure to resign from the Countryside Alliance, even though all he did was state something that would seem fairly uncontroversial to many people. He may be single-minded and rather nerdish. What he’s not is some sort of activist hell-bent on pushing animal rights propaganda on the BBC, which is how he has been portrayed by the alliance and its chief executive, Tim Bonner. No, he’s a little odd perhaps, but totally dedicated to wildlife.

Barrister Charlotte Proudman was given the greater part of the page in yesterday’s Guardian, with Packham squashed at the bottom. Her photograph filled four of that newspaper’s fat columns – which isn’t life-sized or anything, but is pretty big. Packham was pictured on a much smaller scale while a badger appeared to whisper sweet nothings in his ear.

There was an irony here. A large picture was used of a woman who complained when a man complimented her LinkedIn picture. Before going any further, it is worth pointing out that this must be the first time that website has been linked with anything as lively as a controversy.

The man whose compliment annoyed Charlotte Proudman was leading solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk (he was never going to be a bricklayer with that name, was he). He saw her profile picture and sent her the following message: “I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture. You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.”

Now that was what you might call an unsolicited comment, and it was certainly not the best idea Carter-Silk had had since that distant day when his two surnames snuggled up together.

Proudman complained about his sexism and said that she wasn’t on LinkedIn to be “objectified by sexist men”. His defence was that he had only been commenting on the quality of the picture. This was a little odd. What sort of a person goes around assessing the picture quality on LinkedIn? Perhaps there was no proper soliciting to be done that day.

A sexism storm blew up after that, or so it says here. Much of the hostile attention was directed at Proudman for being a humourless member of the “feminazi” – not a term I’ve encountered before – who couldn’t take a compliment.

Man On Ledge feels little sympathy for either of these people.

If Carter-Silk had paused before sending his message, he might have concluded that telling a young woman she looked good was not a smart move. And if Proudman hadn’t gone and put the exchange in the Twitter airing-cupboard, then the story would not have risen quite so dramatically.

In short it’s all down to our old friend ‘what if’. What if Carter-Silk had been a little more cautious in his compliments; and what if Proudman hadn’t been so trigger-happy in taking offence? This should have been a storm in a cappuccino cup, but turned into a social media tempest.

You may well ask what Charlotte Proudman looks like in her picture. But I’m not falling for that one.

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