Cameron's Apology


Inger Sheil

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Scott must finally feel vindicated.

I think more highly of Cameron for having made the apology.
 

Inger Sheil

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I've been in touch with Murdoch researcher Jenni Atkinson, who sent me the following link:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/england/hampshire/dorset/3911745.stm

Jenni had a leading role in initiating and organising the Murdoch campaign - a role that has not always received full acknowledgement. Not only did she help kick it off, but she and her husband managed much of the media.

I've received permission to post the following:
quote:

I was in Kippford with Scott and Siv on Tuesday when it happened; we were all out to a nice dinner together, but totally unaware that Cameron was even in the UK! Both of them were delighted on learning the news late on Wednesday; Scott has given a couple of interviews to the local press.
Jenni notes that she, too, feels vindicated.​
 
May 12, 2005
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I'm glad the Murdochs and Jenni have been heard. It was an issue many felt strongly about. I think Don Lynch publicly said a while back that it was his advice to tread lightly in this area. Cameron had different ideas, of course. But it's good to know he's had a change of heart on a decision that must have devastated Murdoch's relatives and those close to them.
 

Bob Godfrey

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I note that Cameron has stated that it was probably (my italics) a mistake to include the shooting incidents. But has he had anything to say about portraying Murdoch as a man prepared to 'do business' in the matter of access to lifeboats? This I have always felt was the greater injustice. And what of a retraction prominently displayed in the film's credit sequence? At the end of the day it doesn't really matter what Cameron now thinks if millions of filmgoers continue to believe the 'True Lies' they will see on screen.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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This entire incident involving Cameron’s portrayal of Murdoch appears to me to have all the characteristics of a feeding frenzy. Before anyone jumps down my throat for saying this, please consider a couple of observations from my point of view:

- Nobody knows exactly what happened on the Boat Deck that night. The evidence is too ambiguous for anyone to say with any certainty what did or did not happen in those final moments.

- "Titanic" (1997) was a quasi-historical movie, not a documentary. Fictional characters were interwoven with characters that represented real people in order to tell a love story. Because of this, various liberties must be taken with the history in order to accommodate the fantasy and make for an engaging mass-media entertainment product.

At the time that “Titanic” was made, the consensus of the consultants on the film — a group that included some of the most respected historians in the community -- was that there was not enough solid evidence to determine exactly what happened on the forward starboard side of the Boat Deck during those final moments. A shooting by an officer in charge was described in survivor correspondence, but no firm indication was given of whom that might have been. I was not there when the decision was made, but from what I understand, it was decided after discussion between Cameron and his consultants that since Murdoch was in charge of the area, he would be depicted as the “officer suicide” that would be used as a vehicle to convey the crew’s desperation to the audience.

Because Murdoch was a real — and by all accounts, honourable — character, Cameron’s decision to have the fictional Murdoch consider a bribe and later shoot himself proved offensive to surviving relatives. Cameron was made aware of this and his acknowledgment that the families had a right to take exception, given while in Southampton to receive recognition for his contributions to maritime archaeology, was (as far as I know) unscripted and sincere. Cameron has basically stated that he now appreciates the impact of using a real character for fictional purposes, if he didn’t already before.

Now it appears that this is not enough for some, that a retraction for his portrayal of Murdoch in “Titanic” is required. This is where I detect a “feeding-frenzy” mentality. People smell blood in the water and they want more. Maybe I’m wrong in this, but that’s the impression I’m left with as I read through this forum.

Before this topic goes too far along that path, let’s consider one very important, albeit oft-neglected, factor. I don’t believe that the topic can be fully discussed unless we also consider Cameron's portrayal of Murdoch in his 2003 documentary about Titanic, "Ghosts of the Abyss." In that film, Cameron speaks to the history of Titanic, rather than the fantasy. In GotA, Cameron speaks of Murdoch as a true hero, who spent his last moments working to launch lifeboats. If anyone is looking for physical evidence of Murdoch's last actions, the retracted davit standing ready to receive Collapsible A — that Cameron lingers on in GotA — is about as solid as we can expect.

Those who know me know that I have always seen Murdoch as a hero. I believe Lightoller when he claimed that he saw Murdoch working the falls until the end (which means that I also don't hold with theories concerning Murdoch committing suicide). I have also talked with Jim Cameron in person about his portrayal of Murdoch in both the 1997 film and the 2003 documentary. Because of my association with Cameron through GotA, I have been accused by pundits of letting my admiration for Cameron blind me to Cameron’s “unjust” portrayal of Murdoch in “Titanic.” Whether or not this is true, the fact remains that my access to Cameron has given me a perspective that has not been filtered through or “spun” by the popular media. I can rightly assert that Cameron has expressed his sincere conviction that Murdoch was a true hero. He has confided that in private, but more importantly has expressed it publicly in a documentary for the large screen. For anyone searching for a retraction, one better than any disclaimer in a film's credit sequence can be found in GotA. Jim Cameron looked at the wreck in 2001 and saw in the retracted forward starboard davit proof of what Lightoller claimed about Murdoch's last moments. He included this in GotA in what has to be one of the documentary's most poignant moments. Cameron provides physical proof that would suggest that his earlier fictional portrayal of Murdoch was mistaken...in other words, he more strongly contradicts himself than any of his detractors could. In so doing, Cameron provides an essential piece of evidence that any historian who debates the “officer shooting” incident should consider.

Jim Cameron has publicly stated that he realises that assigning fictional aspects to an historical character is a tricky business that carries with it the potential of offending that character’s family and friends. He has contradicted himself in a documentary and in so doing, has added evidence and a fresh perspective to the historical debate. Personally, I don’t see what else can be expected of the man. He certainly shouldn’t retract a fictional storyline that he constructed to fill the gaps in existing evidence in order to tell his story...if that were required, then the historical discussions in this forum would bog down in countless retractions. In my opinion, anything more than what has already been done smacks more of humiliating Cameron than setting the record straight about Murdoch.

As Jim Cameron learned a lesson about adding fictional aspects to a historical character, so too should some people avoid learning their history from popular entertainment. “Titanic” was a fictional love story that used the Titanic disaster as a stage on which the principal characters performed. Why are we arguing about historical inconsistencies in a story that is by its very nature historically inaccurate from the outset? And why, in this historical debate, are the facts presented in a documentary by the same director virtually ignored?

OK, I’ve had my say…now you can jump down my throat.

Parks
 
C

Christina Rindt

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Hello Parks
I may have missed a page but aren't member families of actual characters that are being used for fictional purposes consulted for permission to be used? Wouldn't the families have had a say about the characterisation?
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Christina,

Studios employ an entire army of lawyers to resolve questions like the one you raised. I'm not knowledgeable enough in that area to give you a satisfactory answer.

Also, "family" is not a cut-and-dried term. Murdoch had no offspring, so his direct line ended not long after his ship sank. How distant does a relative have to be before that relative can no longer make a complaint to the studios? I don't know.

Public figures (especially those from history) give up some rights to privacy, but again, a lawyer would have to show you where the line is drawn, if anywhere at all.

I do know that if there had been a requirement to gain the approval from every living relative of a historical figure depicted in "Titanic" prior to the script being shot, the film would never have been made. I say, "every living relative," because family members themselves argue over how their famous relative should be (or, should have been) portrayed...the more members of a family there are, the less chance there is that the "family" will speak with just one voice. It's a legal nightmare that gives me headaches, just thinking about it.

Parks
 

Bob Godfrey

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Hallo, Parks. Always good to hear from you, even when we disagree! Might I say first of all that I, along with most of us here I'm sure, associate you personally with the historical accuracies of Cameron's film rather than any departures from same. As you have explained, it was Cameron's decision to provide us with one of several possible interpretations of the conflicting evidence concerning the shootings, and I have in the past expressed a view that if such an event did happen as depicted this would not necessarily detract from what might be expected of a good officer performing his duty in exceptional circumstances.

My concern is mainly with the suggestion that Murdoch was a man likely to accept money in return for a seat in a lifeboat. That incident was pure fiction and cannot be justified by the ambiguity of evidence. I have seen a variety of reports of Cameron's apology, all making reference to the shooting scene, and I am genuinely curious to know if he made any specific mention of this other aspect of his Murdoch characterisation, which I consider to be the more damaging to the man's reputation. Granted the scene is a little ambiguous and could be interpreted as showing Murdoch ignoring rather than accepting the offered cash, but I doubt that many of the audience saw it that way. I'd be interested to know if the 'bribe' scenes were ever discussed with the historical advisers, which might shed some light on what interpretation the audience were expected to place upon them.

A simple statement within the film credits to the effect that some actions attributed to real people are fictional would hardly be setting a precedent. Such inclusions were once commonplace as was, of course, the standard statement for purely fictional screenplays: "Any resemblance ... blah blah ... to any person alive or dead is purely coincidental". I appreciate that GotA presents an altogether different and more accurate view of the real Murdoch, but the size of the worldwide audience for a documentary must be very small compared with the mass appeal of one of the most popular features ever made, so I doubt that many people will have the opportunity to consider both interpretations. Among my own circle of friends and family there are none who have seen or intend to see GotA, and likewise none who haven't seen 'Titanic'.

These are of course my personal views, offered as considered opinion and not in the heat of communal frenzy. Any resemblance to the views of any other person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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Mar 3, 1998
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Bob,

I think that you and I share a common distaste for the attempted bribery of Murdoch. This, of course, is not even hinted at in the evidence and I know of no historical consultant who would have come up with or support any such scenario.

As far as I can tell, the bribery scene was intended solely as a fictional plot point to: a) connect the fictional character, Cal, to real events on the Boat Deck; and b) highlight the repulsive character of the film's villain, Cal. I don’t know from where the idea originated. Yes, we may have gotten the idea by that point in the story that Cal was the direct opposite of Jack Dawson (thereby making Rose's romantic choice obvious for the audience, which prefers romantic stories in simplistic good-vs-evil terms), but sometimes the audience needs that point reinforced over and over again. "Murdoch" was too busy to argue with Cal when the money was first offered -- only later did he throw the money back in Cal's face. As a plot point in the fictitious story, it worked. As a historical assertion, it failed miserably. Jim Cameron told me that he had no thought of disparaging Murdoch's character with that scene. Only later did it become apparent that some people would interpret the scene to mean that Murdoch came close to taking bribes in real life. For this, Cameron has expressed true regret.

So, what should he do? As I mentioned in my last post, Cameron has acknowledged his mistake and has since highlighted the heroic side of Murdoch in his very next production concerning the disaster. I doubt any other film director has gone to such lengths to correct a perceived wrong. You mention a retraction or disclaimer...I'm not sure what good that would do, especially in light of what Cameron has already done. Usually, retractions are offered by people who cannot right the wrong in any other way; in this case, Cameron did have the opportunity to correct himself and he took advantage of it. I don't know where the retraction would be used...if put into some as-yet unplanned future release of "Titanic," it would only be a footnote in the end credits and would mainly serve to make the original "unaltered" version a collector's item. :)

I said that Cameron corrected himself with an overtly positive portrayal of Murdoch in GotA. You replied that not too many people watched GotA. You then say that a retraction inserted into the end credits of “Titanic” would be seen by more people. I don’t follow that logic. If the people who watch “Titanic” can’t rouse themselves to watch GotA, why do you think that they will pay attention to historical footnotes in the end credits?

Speaking of end credits, I don't know that "Titanic"'s doesn't include the standard "Any resemblance...blah blah blah...coincidental" disclaimer. It very well could be there...someone should check.

Let’s face it…as proud as I am of GotA, I have to admit that people just don’t pay to watch true history. Most people like their history spiced up a bit, broken down into good vs. evil, with a little sex thrown in, to boot. That’s why “Titanic” made billions, and GotA did just OK. Of course, I’d rather talk about GotA, but I have to admit that without “Titanic,” there would have been no 2001 expedition or GotA. Sometimes, you have to give the public what they want in order to be able to do the things you need.

I did not like the bribery and officer-shooting scenes. I was glad to hear Jim Cameron have second thoughts on the issue. I am glad that he had the opportunity to show his true feelings about the man during GotA. I am glad that he acknowledged his regret while in the UK. I don’t see where anything else he can do at this point will have any constructive impact on those offended by the fictitious scenes. A retraction at this point would just be a reiteration of what he has already stated…that he may have been wrong in his choice of how to plug the gaps in the historical evidence. But why limit himself to Murdoch? I also disagreed with his portrayal of Ismay, Smith and Moody (also corrected in GotA). Others disagree with his depiction of the Strausses, Colonel Gracie, even Andrews. Should he apologise for making “Titanic?” What about the depictions of the historical figures in “Titanic: The Musical?” Smith and Ismay screaming at one another…that’s not supported by historical fact. Where’s the apology there? No…I am of the opinion that we should just view “Titanic” as popular entertainment and move on from there.

I am of the belief that anyone who is seriously offended by the Murdoch scenes in “Titanic” should watch GotA if they expect a response from Cameron. If they do not or cannot see GotA, then I have no other alternative to offer. I, of course, am speaking for myself. Jim Cameron has already done far more than I would have expected him, or any other director of popular entertainment, to do.

Bob, I’m not decrying your position or opinion. I’m responding in the spirit of point vs. counterpoint. I don’t take exception to our disagreement and I hope that you don’t, either. I would rather we discuss this over a pint of beer than in the dry and sterile environment of the online discussion forum...we’d get so much more accomplished that way.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Parks -

Your unique perspective on the Cameron movies, their historical and filmatic approach, is always appreciated
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I only wish that the same frankness that takes place in face-to-face conversations was always possible in on-line public exchanges.

I agree with much of what both you and Bob have said - I think it is important to highlight his later depiction of Murdoch in GOTA, which is by far the best Murdoch on-screen to date (the miniseries Murdoch was execrable, and even the ANTR Murdoch was not a particularly good portrait of the man - witness his lackadasical loading of Boat 1 as shown in the movie!). I wasn't particularly pleased with GOTA's Lightoller, but that's another issue ;)

I think where Cameron left himself open to criticism - as opposed to, say 'Titanic: The Musical' is his very public insistance that he was 'accurate' in his depictions - what was the quote from breaking new ground? If you don't see Jack and Rose, 'It's accurate'? Tell that to James Moody, nursing his cup of tea and acting as a speedbump (but we've all heard my views on that point before...)

I've sat down and spoken with Scott Murdoch about the movie, as well as researchers like Jenni who worked to raise the public's recognition of the problematic elements of Murdoch's depiction, and what impressed me was their lack of rancour. All they really wanted was for people to know that the highly contentious depiction of Murdoch was not incontravertably 'accurate'. I am appreciative of so much that Cameron has done, and I'm personally glad that he both modified his original depiction of Murdoch in GOTA, and that he made the public statements recently reported. I can't speak for them, but I know that some Murdoch researchers who had acted on the campaign took the point of Murdoch's depiction in GOTA, and were pleased with it (don't know if Scott has seen it yet - I must ask).
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Inger,

You, of course, have been closer to the families and crew researchers (your peers) than any of us. Your observations and conclusions are essential to this discussion.

I will say that the pointing out of errors by the community was not in vain. Some of the criticisms levelled at the 1997 film were remembered when it came time to shoot GotA. I can't say if they were on Jim's mind, but they certainly were on mine. Believe me, every time Brett Sauey ("Moody") turned to me for advice, my first thought was, "What would Inger say?"

It bears repeating that the teacups in the 1997 film were there because that's what Cameron's crew (I don't know who exactly put the teacups in the actors' hands) felt the audience expected to see on the bridge of a British ship. They were making a popular movie that would include an audience larger than our relatively minute group of Titanic enthusiasts. GotA, on the other hand, scaled the scope back a bit...it was meant to appeal to more than just the Titanic community, but not to the entire world's demographic. Because of this -- and the fact that it was a documentary, not a fantasy -- there were no teacups on the bridge.

Which brings us to Cameron's claim that the film was historically accurate. How much of that was Cameron's earnest belief, and how much was selling of the product? That, I can't answer. I know that Cameron put a honest effort into making the film as accurate as possible, but let's face it...the basic concept of the film was historically inaccurate. It is very difficult indeed to have a fictional set of characters run through the entire ship, meet every important historical figure and be there for almost every conceivable event without taking some liberties with the truth. The film could not portray 1912 and entertain audiences in 1997 (can you imagine the reaction of modern audiences if Lowe had been allowed to speak his mind?). I realise that ANTR attempted to do that, and there was no need for Cameron to copy that precedent. If Cameron was going to make his love story resonate with modern audiences, then his fictitious lovers had to endure great challenges and prevail over evil, all while striking chords with young audiences of the late 20th Century. How does one do that, and be completely and utterly authentic?

It's an almost insurmountable task and not something that I would ever try myself. I was much more comfortable working on GotA, where individual scenes were shot in isolation, with no unifying thread other than the true history of the disaster. No accommodating fictitious characters, no intertwined subplots, no need to link characters artifically. So much easier, much more historically accurate.

No matter how much one strives for authenticity in a popular movie, there is, and will be, an inherent lack of accuracy. That's why I would speculate that Cameron's claim about the accuracy of his film was more salesmanship than anything. At the time of the film's release, everyone was predicting that "Titanic" would sink...Cameron certainly wouldn't have helped matters if he had gone on the interviews to say that the film's sets were pretty accurate, but that the actors would be attempting to convincingly portray a 1990s perception of life and love aboard Titanic.

Obviously, I do not take the 1997 film as history, but rather as entertainment. On the other hand, I realise that the film is so much more to the relatives of the personages portrayed in the film. To them, I can only recommend that they watch GotA, where we tried very hard to do everything right for history's sake, not the box office's (the Walden Media people might have had a different perspective, though).

Will there be another Titanic film in the near future? I don't see how, but one never knows. Nobody ever seems to get the last word in on the subject, though.

I sincerely hope that Scott Murdoch has had the chance to watch GotA. For that matter, I hope that everyone who ever watched GotA will remember the part about Murdoch. Inger, you know that in all the time you've known me, my entire research has been pursued under the assumption that Murdoch was an exemplary officer in every sense of the word. I believe that Murdoch was the first to sight the berg, that his quick reaction caused the ship to miss the visible portion of the berg (only to strike along her bottom, unfortunately), that the sinking process might have happened quicker had Murdoch not reacted as decisively as he did, that Murdoch did not take his own life (or bribe) and that he worked tirelessly for others' good until the water took him. I may be no relation, but any slur against Murdoch affects me greatly. It took a long time, plus an exposure to the entire process of movie-making, to understand why Murdoch was depicted the way he was in Cameron's excellent film. I wish that I could convey the lessons I learned, but my words fail to express the depth of my feelings and the full benefit of my experiences. That's why I'll close with the recommendation that you look at the surviving forward starboard davit in GotA and see what Jim Cameron saw...evidence of a man's heroic actions. You'll have no doubt that Cameron has done everything he can to make up for the earlier fictitious portrayal.

Parks
 
May 12, 2005
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Is it possible that more has been made out of people's happiness at Cameron's retraction than is warranted? I haven't seen a feeding frenzy here or elsewhere but maybe I missed something.

Also, it may be considered petty to point out, and if so I apologize, but it seems unnecessary to have the importance of cinematic license explained. Anyone who has worked in or studied film is aware of it's importance and even average Joes can grasp it.

Two other points:

1) I wasn't aware that anyone here had attacked or even seriously criticized Cameron. What I saw was just an expression of relief that he'd reconsidered his former views. I know I have nothing but respect for the man and his work.

2) Cameron's team of historical consultants was led by Don Lynch, let's not forget. It seems that his name gets left out a lot when we discuss the historical consultation involved in the 1997 and 2003 films. Don was the one most closely concerned in getting the "overall" historical facts as straight as they could be under the circumstances. As Don is a friend, it kind of bugs me when I see his involvement glossed over or generalized, however unintentional that may be.
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Parks - thanks again for that thoughtful post. I am certainly aware that, in the years I've known you, you have always treated Murdoch with respect and sought to understand his actions and motivations that night. Your nautical expertise and involvement in Cameron's further research have given you invaluable insight into the bridge crew and their historical vs fictional incarnations. I've also seen something of your journey in relation to Cameron's film and his depictions of the First Officer, but as that involves a good deal of information and confidences not meant to be made public I won't go into that point. I know there are other matters we could discuss, such as the opinions of the naval historian hired to advise Cameron in his depiction of the officers, but again...perhaps that's not for this particular forum.
quote:

The film could not portray 1912 and entertain audiences in 1997 (can you imagine the reaction of modern audiences if Lowe had been allowed to speak his mind?).
That's a good point...to digress a bit OT, I realise that the film wasn't written to tell the story of the officers (although I dislike the idea proposed by some people that they are merely background props), but I don't know how popular a movie that accurately depicted Moody with bad teeth, Lowe with 'very colourful' language, Lightoller talking about 'dagoes' and etc etc would be. One would hope that their other qualities would balance it out - I know I'd prefer that version, but can't see it going down too well in all quarters.

I do wish that you had been alongside Kit Bonner, Don Lynch, Ken Marschall and other advisers for the sections involving the officers when Cameron was making the 1997 movie, although I realise that popular film making decisions overrode some of that advice (I've had a private account of what one of these advisers reported Cameron said when the ambiguity of the suicide evidence was pointed out to him on the set - to be fair, though, Cameron might have a different recollection of the exchange).

I'll see if I can induce Jenni to post here - she has more of an insight into the family reactions, and those who participated in the campaign, than just about anyone. She is also utterly reasonable. There is certainly a fringe element around Murdoch and the suicide question - both for and against the idea - that represents the antithesis of reason when it comes to discussing his screen incarnation.​
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Randy,

There is more to the history of this discussion than what is here in this particular thread. If you want to know more of that history, there is plenty for you to read up on in the archives. I am surprised that you are unaware of past criticisms, because you have participated in some of those conversations yourself.

My explanation about cinematic license evidently must be explained, for the question constantly comes up...so much so that I have developed the habit of not assuming that it is a point well understood. If you grasp the concept, then please move past that explanation until you come to something of interest.

I can never forget that Don Lynch is Cameron's premier consultant for the lives of those who sailed in Titanic. However, it was not my intention to single any one consultant out here. This is not to take away from any recognition of their individual contributions, but rather to avoid getting into detracting arguments about who said what and when. I have in mind the fact that at least two of the consultants are even now, in the wake of Cameron's public acknowledgement in the UK, preparing their own versions of the decision involving the "officer shooting" scenes, in order to defend the roles they played in the decision process. Out of deference to the participants, I chose not to single any one out.

This is not the first time that you have levelled this particular charge at me. It is also not the first time that I have answered it. Do you honestly believe that I am consciously or even unconsciously attempting to belittle Don's contributions to the history of Titanic? On the contrary, I have nothing but the greatest respect for Don's knowledge. I could continue my study of the disaster for a lifetime and still not know a fraction of what Don knows. I have also seen Don on the set and the manner in which he and Cameron interact, so there is no argument from me on how important Don is to the making of these movies (even if I didn't know that already).

On the other hand, I also know that Don is not comfortable having me talk about him, so I refrain from doing so whenever possible. What you see as "generalisation" of his accomplishments is actually my showing consideration for his wishes, as I understand them. If you'd like to change that, you might be in a position to do so, given your ties of friendship.

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Ing,

As a student of Murdoch, I would love nothing better than to talk with Jenni. I hope that you can convince her to join us here.

Parks
 

Bob Godfrey

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Parks, no hard feelings at all. I'm happy for us to agree to differ like the gentlemen which of course we are, and a continuation of any discussion in the pub will always get my vote - in this case Cameron also would be welcome (especially if he's paying!). :)
 
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It all strikes me as too little, too late, and a half-hearted conversion of perception to boot. But I don't have a right to an opinion unlike the rest of you here, so this statement is just words.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Voicing my opinion does not mean that others are not entitled to give voice to theirs. I have responded to Bob and Inger but now it appears that I am offending others. So, at this point, I will withdraw from the conversation.

Parks
 

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