The record shows that we’re not particularly big fans of Catherine Deveny’s writing here at Pure Poison, but on what we can see, her summary sacking today by The Age for some remarks she made about the Logies on her personal Twitter feed over the weekend seems both extreme and disturbing.

Extreme, because off-colour or not, her joking remarks were not in the context of her work for The Age. A personal Twitter feed, whether “public” or not, is not a newspaper column. And they clearly weren’t so extreme that The Age felt it must immediately sack her when it learned of them – instead it milked the story by putting its article on the incident at the top of its website for a couple of hours. If her remarks were truly shameful, embarrassing, or unforgivably offensive – if what she’d said really was a summary sackable offence – they certainly didn’t act like it.

But worse, and most disturbingly, is how quickly they folded, and on what flimsy provocation. Yes, The Age – supposedly a fearless member of the Fourth Estate, on whom we can rely to stand up to the powerful on our behalf – apparently got spooked by all the negative comments. ON AN ONLINE STORY! Negative comments! Your Neil Mitchells and Andrew Bolts had been goading their sheep into mindless, self-righteous, sanctimonious outrage, and sure enough the angry tweets soon became angry comments on their own story.

So they sacked her.

Why? Not because she stepped over a line, but because there was “a storm of controversy” over her tweets. That was, it appears, the crime:

However, her response did not sit well with readers – many of whom launched scathing attacks of their own on Twitter and in the online story’s comments section.

More than 200 comments had been published by 6.30pm today.

Ooh! 200 comments! So there you are. Contrary to Age Editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge’s disingenuous justification that “the views she has expressed recently on Twitter are not in keeping with the standards we set at The Age”, the paper clearly didn’t care until it looked like what she had said was really unpopular. You can say what you like, but if 200 people comment furiously about you, well, you’re out.

Never let it be said that Fairfax can’t see which way the wind is blowing, and won’t lie down in whatever direction that is. Regardless of what that means to their own writers.

(It’s also interesting to observe someone like Andrew Bolt gloating over Deveny’s loss. As a controversial and deeply disliked columnist himself, I’m not sure he’s all that wise to be celebrating the precedent. Imagine if his paper was as easily cowed as The Age – I’m sure they get a lot more than 200 readers condemning his output.)

ELSEWHERE: Ben Pobjie, Daniel Burt and Sophie Cunningham at Meanjin weigh in.

UPDATE: And Amoir and Jonathan Green.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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