A quick bit of background: One of the features on FFF's blog is a weekly slot where women who've used formula can post their stories - their reasons for doing so and the emotional struggles that so often went into the decision. It's a great slot not only for allowing people to vent, but also for dispelling the myth that formula is just for women who are too lazy to breastfeed and those formula-feeding mothers could have breastfed if they'd just cared more/tried harder/done a more efficient job of being Supermum. Unfortunately, it does have one big drawback - reading so many stories of breastfeeding-gone-wrong, all collected in one place, might potentially be offputting to mothers-to-be who are considering breastfeeding but wavering about the possibility. When FFF mentioned this concern, Alan agreed with it, and stated:
This is precisely the reason I offered a counter-anecdote about the experience my children's mothers had (no need even of lactation consultants, never any thrush, mastitis, etc.). At least one person complained that posting this anecdote was insensitive to all the readers of the blog who have had trouble; but it was precisely for those newer readers you mention,--who have yet to attempt breastfeeding and might start to wonder if they could ever possibly accomplish such a seemingly Herculean task--that I wanted to provide a competing narrative, one which happens to be just as true and accurate as the others.
And I think that's actually a good idea - if properly and sensitively done. Unfortunately, this is how Alan actually did it. Alan, what I want to explain here is why the way you went about it didn't work, why it annoyed people, and why it is, in fact, practically a case study in how not to do it.
The first thing you said in that comment, after the basic information about number and ages of your children, is that none of them ever had/is planned to have 'a drop' of formula. Subtext (whether intentional or not): You disapprove of formula to the extent that you think it worth avoiding even in the smallest quantities, and speak approvingly of the fact that you have managed to do so. Problem with this: It potentially alienates any woman who's already used formula (with either their current baby or a previous one). They may become concerned about the possibility of you criticising them for their formula use, and this may put them off speaking to you for any help or advice that they might have felt able to seek from you had you handled the conversation differently. (And, unfortunately, this may extend to making them that bit less likely to seek advice from pro-breastfeeders in general, for fear of criticism. I think the effect of that one line would be a small one, but, when that's within the context of a very anti-formula-feeding society, these effects can add up.)
Following a quick detour onto the topic of your ex-wife's horrible labours (ooops! just lost anyone who wants to steer clear of labour scare stories), you make the point you were trying to make in the first place about how easily breastfeeding all went, and then promptly move on to boasting about how long your two older children breastfed for. Now, look at that for a moment through the eyes of a mother-to-be who's wavering badly on the issue of whether to breastfeed at all and who isn't too keen on the idea because she thinks it's sort of icky. How do you think she's going to feel on hearing about breastfeeding for two or three years? Yes, it might be inspiring – or it might be daunting to the point of putting her still further off the whole idea. (And let's face it, the women who'd find that story inspiring are the ones who are pretty keen on the idea of breastfeeding anyway. With a comment like that, you're likely to end up preaching to the choir and putting off the very women you actually most want to preach to.)
That gets even worse when you write about the child who wouldn't take anything *but* breastmilk for an entire year. The reason many women give for not wanting to breastfeed is that they want somebody else to be able to feed the baby now and again. For women who feel this way, you've just confirmed their worst fears about breastfeeding.
Your comment then hits its nadir in the next paragraph, where, in a moment of truly staggering tactlessness, you let us all know that you don't believe your children's IQs would have been as high had they been formula fed, despite the fact that this was in response to a post in which a woman had been talking about how guilty and distressed she felt about having to feed her baby formula. Without, apparently, the least thought about how that might make the original poster, and the many other blog readers in the same situation as her, feel. Does that answer your question about who you attacked?
[In all fairness, as Alan has pointed out to me in comments, he has since stated his regret for choosing that particular post to comment on.]
Following that, there were three more paragraphs of fairly random points related to general themes of breastfeeding, formula feeding, and lactivism, by which time I think everybody was at a bit of a loss as to where you were trying to go with this and the point you'd originally been trying to make was pretty much lost in the general rambling.
Alan, you asked why anecdotes of problem-free breastfeeding wouldn't be welcome on the blog. Well, I don't think your anecdote of problem-free breastfeeding was actually the part of your comment that wasn't welcome. I think that if you'd just sympathised with the OP, made your point, and shut up (“I'm so sorry to hear things went so badly for you. Sounds like you were really unlucky – that sort of problem really is unusual. I know my wife and my ex-wife both managed to breastfeed easily, and really enjoyed it. What you went through must have been awful.”), nobody would have minded. Instead, you had to not only make it into Random Ramblings Of A Lactivist, but do this so tactlessly that it was completely counterproductive to your cause. And, if you want to be a successful breastfeeding advocate, you just can't get away with that kind of clumsiness. You stated in another thread that it would all be worthwhile if your comment could convince even one person to breastfeed. What you've failed to take into account with that argument is the very real risk that going about it so badly will put off rather more than one person in the process.