Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Don't know what you've got till it's gone.

They must have known it was coming, but the defection of the Sun back to the Tories after 12 years of "supporting" Labour has still quite clearly shook Labour. While the paper's representatives claim that it was yesterday's speech that finally confirmed they could no longer support the party, it's been obvious that the switch has been coming ever since last year's Conservative conference, when it gave David Cameron the sort of positive coverage he must have dreamed of. Since then the paper has been overwhelmingly anti-Labour without necessarily being anti-Brown. Some of the signs have been slight: calling Cameron "prime minister" when he was invited onto the paper's recently launched piss-poor online radio show was one, but the demand for an immediate general election earlier in the year was far less guarded.

The final nail in Brown's coffin was more than likely David Cameron's decision during his speech on quangos to focus almost solely on Ofcom, the regulator which is currently investigating whether Sky has an unfair stranglehold on the pay-TV market. With Cameron's culture secretary making menacing noises towards the BBC, which the Murdochs have all but declared war on due to the fact that their news websites simply can't compete with the far superior corporation offerings, it's clear that the Murdochs can now trust Cameron not to hurt their businesses just as they once trusted Tony Blair not to. That's the first condition of Murdochian support filled; the second is that you're going to win, and few are willing to bet anything other than a Conservative victory come next year.

It's still curious then that the paper has come out so decisively for the Tories when there is still plenty of time for anything to happen. The paper, after all, didn't swap sides until March in 97, when the Labour victory was already in the bag. As unlikely as it currently seems that there could yet be a fourth Labour term, it's not the first time that Murdoch's papers have got it wrong recently: the New York Post endorsed McCain last year. As a comfort, it's unlikely to warm the hearts of the Labour leadership.

More likely to do so is that the Sun is no longer the behemoth that it once was. While gaining the support of the Sun has always been second to gaining the support of Rupert Murdoch, the other major reason why Blair and Alastair Campbell entered into the original pact with the devil was, as Campbell said himself, he was never going to allow the Labour leader's head to be in a light-bulb on the front page on voting day again. While actual support for a political party from a newspaper on voting day has little to no impact whatsoever on the votes cast, it was the constant demonisation, undermining and ridicule which Kinnock was subject to, especially in the tabloid press, that helped to ensure he never became prime minister. The key difference today is that the Sun is no longer the attack dog it once was; while the paper ostensibly supported the Tories up until March 97, Kelvin MacKenzie famously told John Major after Black Wednesday that he had a bucket of shit and that the next morning he was going to pour it all over his head. MacKenzie might still be a columnist, and the likes of Bob Ainsworth might now be the person having a bucket of shit thrown over him repeatedly, but unlike back in 97, the media has now diversified to such an extent that the paper doesn't have the hold it once did. If anything, the paper has overplayed both its hand and its influence: it is still feared and respected mainly because of its former reputation rather than because of what it currently is.

One of the many repeated myths spouted today by those who deal in clich├ęs is that the Sun follows its readers rather than getting its readers to follow it. Perhaps at times they get surprised by the strength of reaction, but this is a newspaper that wraps itself in what it thinks its readers want as defence against criticism, as a reassurance that it's what they want, and finally to tell them that because they're saying they want it, then it must be true. If anything the Sun is probably one of those newspapers which has the least loyal readership: the circulation of the broads, while falling, has not changed hugely since the advent of the internet; the tabloids, with the exception of the Mail and the Daily Star, have seen theirs fall massively. At one point the Sun dropped below the 3 million sales mark, triggering an almost panic-stricken price cut. Even with its lower circulation, the Daily Mail now almost certainly sets the agenda far more often than the Sun does.

This didn't of course stop the love affair between Blair and the paper, which remained to the advantage of both. For Blair, always determined to annoy the left of his party while reaching out to the cherished middle Britain, it served a double purpose. For the paper, it meant exclusives of even the most banal significance: Piers Morgan in his diaries was furious on a number of occasions about the access which the Sun got while the Mirror was shut out, most famously when someone (probably Cherie herself) told Rebekah Wade that the Blairs were having another baby, a story which Morgan believed was to be a Mirror exclusive. It meant obscene cooperation between the two, including policy stitch-ups involving asylum seekers. While New Labour and the Sun's politics may not look close at first examination, both shared, indeed share a contempt for civil liberties and an unaccountable lust for social authoritarianism, even if Blair could never come close to putting the paper's demands into action. On foreign policy, the two were inseparable: the Sun has always believed that might is right, and the fact that Blair dressed up his wars in the language of "liberal interventionism" only made them even more attractive.

Arguably, there have only been two occasions when Labour genuinely needed the support of the Murdoch press. Without the unstinting loyalty of all Murdoch's organs between the Iraq war and up to the end of the Hutton inquiry, there was still a possibility that Blair could have been forced out. In 2005 the paper all but abandoned the party except over Blair's wars. The real reason why remains Murdoch's certainty that the war was going to lead to oil at $20 a barrel, something that has not even come close to reality. The other occasion, is, well, now. Just when the party needs support, it loses it. This was the especially brutal part of the Sun's sudden but long in coming decision, knowing full well that it was not just kicking someone while they were down, it was the equivalent of a desecration of a corpse. Any hope that there might be the slightest boost from Brown's speech has been neutralised. David Cameron really must be delighted with the outcome, and again, this only highlights exactly why he's installed Andy Coulson as his very own Alastair Campbell.

As for the Sun's actual supposed reasons and dossier of "Labour failure", they're mostly so flimsy as to be not even worth bothering with. The dossier puts together often completely irrelevant data, and when it doesn't, it naturally cherry picks the information it relies on. On justice the paper absurdly highlights the cost of legal aid, as if the giving those who can't afford it access to briefs was a bad thing. It highlights the rise in alcohol tax receipts since 97 without pointing out this might be something to do with err, the rise in tax on it and not just increased sales. It compares the spending on police with the rise in deaths by stabbings, without mentioning that last year saw the lowest number of murders since the 80s. It also uses the 2007 figures rather than the 2008 ones, which saw a fall from 270 fatal stabbings to 252. Their data even directly contradicts some of the claims made in the leader, such as here:

But they FAILED on law and order, their mantra "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" becoming a national joke. Knife murders are soaring.

Their dossier shows that knife murders between 2006 and 2007 soared by, err, 1. In 2005 they were down to 219, then leapt in 2006 to 269, only two more than there were in 2002. As pointed out above, fatal stabbings were down to 252 in 2008, hence proving the editorial completely wrong. The weapon used should be irrelevant: it's that there are murders, not that one particular weapon is used. The idiocy continues:

Smirking criminals routinely walk free in the name of political correctness, while decent people live in a virtual police state of snooping cameras and petty officials empowered to spy and to punish.

The idea that criminals walk free in the name of political correctness is so ludicrous as to be not worth dealing with, while if there is a virtual police state, it was the Sun that helped create it. When has it ever opposed more CCTV cameras or more state powers? Answer: never.

Most disgracefully of all, Labour FAILED our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving them to die through chronic under-funding and the shambolic leadership of dismal Defence Secretaries like Bob Ainsworth.

Again, their dossier shows that spending on defence has risen year on year. The real people who failed our troops in Iraq were those who demanded they be sent in in the first place, but the Sun has never pointed its finger at itself. It wasn't those fighting them that left them to die, but then it also clearly wasn't Baby P's parents that killed him. It was instead the system:

Billions blown employing a useless layer of public service middle-managers like those who condemned Baby P to die.

Everything about this leader is backward looking, trying to turn the country back to halcyon days which never existed. Murdoch, despite his Australian-American citizenship, is a nationalist wherever his newspapers are. Loyal in China, neo-conservative in America and anti-Europe here, he somehow imagines that if only we were to spend more on defence and give the troops what they "need", they'd instantly "win". This doesn't of course apply to anyone else, but this is the kind of outlook we're dealing with. The leader concludes with:

If elected, Cameron must use the same energy and determination with which he reinvigorated the Tory Party to breathe new life into Britain.

That means genuine, radical change to encourage self-improvers, not wasting time on internal party wrangling or pandering to the forces of political correctness. It also means an honesty and transparency of Government that we have not seen for years.

We are still a great people and, put to the test, will respond to the challenges we face.

The Sun believes - and prays - that the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain.

Sub-Churchillian jingoism which turns the stomach. This is the relationship which Labour is crying and angry about losing today, to such an extent that it seems to have almost made Gordon Brown walk out on an interview. Labour never needed the Sun, but now it doesn't know what it had.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

American Missiles Target Russia

The United States has tested some missiles, previously, that could reach Russia.

Some countries don't like America or trust what it does with it's weapons and so want it to stop being a pushy git and chill out.

The US President (may have) said that it's nothing to worry about, they're just part of a massive military programme.

But the Secretary of State (might have) said that any action by Russia against the US will result in all out war.

The US has faced pressure in the UN about it's being a dick.


What do you reckon then? Good enough for the Sun? Should I be waiting for the job offer to appear in my email anytime soon?

No? Why not? If it's good enough for Tom Wells, then it should be good enough for me...

Iran Targets Israel


...screams the headline.

IRAN yesterday goaded the West by test-firing missiles that could hit Israel or even EUROPE.
Experts say the Shahab-3 and Sajjil rockets have a range of up to 1,300 miles.

That could include Israeli cities, US military bases in the Gulf and south-eastern Europe.


Iran goaded the West (note the capital letter. Where is this place they call the 'West'?) with missiles that could hit Israel or EUROPE.

These missiles have the range, but are they targeting us?

Later, Iranian Air Force chief General Hossein Salami declared: "All the missiles hit their targets."


Is everyone here? *does a quick head-count* Good. Those missiles weren't targetted at Israel or Europe then.

Iran insisted the war games by hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were just part of a military testing programme.


Missiles were tested by the military in a programme to develop long range weapons. Ooh. A that statement seems to checkout ok.

But defence minister Ahmad Vahidi warned Israel any military action against his nation would result in all-out war.


This is the bit that justified the headline: Iran has missiles. They could reach Israel. Iran threatens war on Israel if Israel attacks Iran. Ergo Iran's missile are trained on Israel.

By that logical, Everyones missiles are targeting everyone else.

But what did Israel say? Did Israel threaten Iran if it carried on with the testing? Are Israels' missiles, of which some are nuclear, pointing at Iran?

That warning from Ahmed Vahidi is a response to something, it is also not a quote, so is it out of context? Is it a warped interpretation of what was actually said? Seeing as there is nothing to substantiate the declaration in the headline, I would take all that with a pinch of salt.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Going "soft" on perverts.

If there was ever a chance that Dominic Mohan would be less overbearing compared to his predecessor when it comes to the protection of children, then that's gone out the window with today's "exclusive" claim that a "[Q]uarter of pervs go free", as alluded to on the front page. The actual article, by Brian Flynn, has to be one of the least illuminating and most lazy examples of supposed investigative journalism in quite some time:

THE Sun can today reveal how Britain's soft justice system allows hundreds of child sex fiends to escape court action.

In a special investigation, we found more than a quarter of child abusers are let off with a caution by cops.

The shock figures emerged in responses by 33 police forces to Freedom of Information demands by The Sun.


This then is a method which has been previously pioneered by the mid-market tabloids, where they submit FoI requests to the country's police forces, not all of which reply, with an article to write already in mind. Both the Express and the Mail have used this to supposedly show how many "foreigners" are either committing murders or rapes in this country, and has been dealt with in the past by 5CC. Those requests though have been much narrower in scope to this one, and also far better defined and explained. The Sun's request, presumably, as it is never properly outlined, is for the numbers of individuals who have been charged and cautioned with "sexual and physical abuse offences against kids", their best description, not mine. This understandably covers a whole multitude of sins, some, but which by no means all, are covered in this document explaining the changes which came in under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

To start off with, only 33 forces have responded when there are 44 in total, so the statistics are by no means complete. Here though are the shock figures:

In total, 8,043 people who committed sexual and physical abuse offences against kids were charged in the year to April, while 2,764 were given a caution.

Just to illustrate that these 2,764 given a caution hardly cover the most serious offences, the paper then gives the only breakdown in actual offences in the entire piece:

Even beasts who rape under-age children can get just a ticking off. The statistics included 20 who raped girls under 16 and eight who attacked young boys.

So only 28 who admitted to rape were given a caution. For someone to only be given a caution for such a serious crime, especially against a child, there has to be significant mitigating circumstances. One of these is explained in the above document on the Sexual Offences Act 2003: since the act was passed, anyone under 12, regardless of whether they consented to sex or not, is considered to have been raped if they take part in any sexual activity involving penetration. This still applies even if the person they have sex with is 13 or below the age of consent themselves. Since it's hardly in the public interest to prosecute to the full extent of the law young children for such serious offences, a caution will often be the best option. The changes in the law were additionally not meant to be used when, for example, a 15-year-old consents to sex with a 17-year-old, unless there was abuse or exploitation involved, but this is not always the case, hence a caution will again sometimes be given. Other examples of where a caution will be considered the better option will be where the offence involved a member of the family of the victim, which the SOA expanded to include step-family members and others. The Sun also adds its own explanations as to why a caution rather than a prosecution will sometimes be best option:

Legal sources said reasons for the caution option include victims not wanting to go through a court process, perhaps if the attacker was a family member.

Evidence could also be flimsy, meaning a fiend could get off whereas under a caution guilt is assured. But one source said: "It must always be a last option."


Well, precisely, and the Sun has provided no evidence whatsoever that suggests this isn't the case. All it has done is present some out of context figures with no information whatsoever as to what offences have actually been committed, which would help us to ascertain whether a caution is a reasonable end result to the offence or not. It's also provided no comparison figures as to whether the number of cautions has actually gone up or down year on year, which would further help to show whether or not this is a change in policy and genuine further evidence of it being a mockery of Labour "being tough on crime". In short, it's a typical piece of tabloid journalism, so flimsy that as soon as you look at it in any detail you notice that it's coming apart at the seams. It's an example of doing the very bare minimum as an attempt to prove an already held hypothesis.

This is without even considering the Sun's leader column on the subject:

SHOCKING figures show one in four proven child abusers - including child rapists -- get off with a caution. That means almost 3,000 known paedophiles are on the loose - many of them likely to re-offend.

The Sun presents nothing whatsoever that justifies calling those given a caution paedophiles, and it also hasn't the slightest basis for claiming that "many of them" are likely to re-offend. This is just base scaremongering using the terms which are most likely to cause fear in both children and adults.

Raping girls under 16 - or even gang-raping a boy - goes virtually unpunished.

Except the article shows that only 28 cases of rape out of a total of 10,807 offences were concluded with a caution - we can't even tell how many cases of rape were prosecuted as the Sun doesn't provide us with those figures. That's hardly going virtually unpunished. The Sun does however have an explanation:
But there is a culture of idle incompetence at the very top - with both politicians and police chiefs. The message from on high is: Jails are full so turn a blind eye.

This is abject nonsense. The jails being full has very little to no influence whatsoever on the CPS deciding who to prosecute and who to not. The courts and judges may indeed be influenced by lack of space when it comes to passing sentence, but the CPS simply decides on the merits and circumstances of the case. The possibility of prison doesn't enter into it.

This stunning failure of justice is a crime in itself.

And innocent children pay the price.


As will innocent children and adults who believe the fearmongering which the Sun fails to even begin to back up.

Well, that's that then.

A to scale approximation of the apology compared to the original story.

Another week, another "apology" from the Sun over their disastrous in retrospect "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" story:

OUR story on January 7 about a 'hit list' of top British Jews on the website Ummah.com was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism.Following Mr Jenvey's confession, we apologise to Ummah.com for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

In the pantheon of apologies, this is hardly the most contrite or convincing of ones. It also gives next to no context: what in the article was inaccurate about Ummah.com? The nearest suggestion we get is that Islamic fundamentalism was involved. Anyone wanting to know more would have to search or go to the Press Complaints Commission's site to find out what the actual complaint was about:

A representative of www.ummah.com complained that an article had inaccurately suggested that the website was a forum for Islamic extremists. The story was based largely on the views of a ‘terror expert' named Glen Jenvey who expressed serious concerns about the website. The piece quoted a number of comments posted on ummah.com and suggested that extremists were seeking to ‘target' well-known British Jews. The complainant said that Mr Jenvey's claims were unfounded and that there was, in fact, some evidence that he himself had posted the quoted comments in order to create the story.

Resolution:

The PCC's investigation, launched in January 2009, had to be placed on hold for a period of time because of a concurrent, related legal action. However, on 13 September, Glen Jenvey confessed publicly that he had, indeed, posted the comments on ummah.com which became the basis for the Sun's story. He admitted having deceived various media outlets, individuals and organisations. Mr Jenvey's confession was reported by the Sun on 15 September. In light of this development, the PCC re-opened its enquiries into the complaint from the representative of ummah.com. The complaint was resolved on 23 September when the Sun published the following apology under the heading ‘Ummah.com':

OUR story on January 7 about a ‘hit list' of top British Jews on the website Ummah.com was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism. Following Mr Jenvey's confession, we apologise to Ummah.com for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

The apology also appeared on the Sun's website.


In a way it's a shame that Ummah.com has accepted the Sun's apology, as the PCC will now consider the matter closed. Not accepting it and forcing the PCC to adjudicate and therefore comment further on the Sun's complete abandonment of normal journalistic practice, with the resulting adjudication then needing to be published in full by the paper would have been preferable, but it's understandable that Ummah.com didn't want to take it any further. One of the arguments that Graham Dudman used in his original letter to the PCC which completely defended the story was that Ummah.com in fact was, by anyone's standards, a "fanatics website", with a few select out of context quotes chosen to back up his allegation. Knowing the lack of backbone which the PCC repeatedly displays, they could well of taken this as a mitigating factor, even though the story turned out to be a tissue of lies and that all of Glen Jenvey's supposed credentials, which Dudman lists, were worthless.

The whole incident is though instructive of how the tabloids deal with such complaints. Even when an article which appeared on the front page and made such startling accusations and claims is shown to have been completely inaccurate, the only thing the paper has had to do in any form of reparation is publish the pathetic "clarification" at the top of this post, which was printed in the paper itself on page 12. Any casual reader would think that the Sun was the victim of Jenvey as much as Ummah.com was, when this could not be further from the actuality.

It remains to be seen where Alan Sugar's legal action against the paper will take us, although considering that they have now accepted that the "article was inaccurate", a settlement seems to be the most likely result. As for the others involved at the periphery, such as Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, Tim has just revealed information which shows despite Mercer's subsequent denials, his office had worked and was still working with Jenvey over a month and a half after the Sun's story was shown to most likely be Jenvey's own invention, this time attempting to get his handiwork into the People. The fallout from a front page tabloid newspaper story in early January seems likely to continue for some time yet.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Pssst! Wanna make some money?

From this week's Private Eye, we have two items appearing in the Street of Shame from the Sun, both featuring money-making opportunities.

The first concerns the double standards produced by the Sun's firewall (again) and...



...and the second, about a different way to make money...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Some closure to the Glen Jenvey/TERROR TARGET SUGAR saga.

An indication of just what a disgraceful and shameless newspaper the Sun really is can be seen in their non-apology/clarification for the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR"/Glen Jenvey story which has been posted on their website today. Finally stirred into action by Jenvey's appearance on the Donal MacIntyre show on Radio 5 Live on Sunday, they have naturally passed all of the blame straight onto his already quaking shoulders:

A PHONEY terrorism "expert" has confessed to duping newspapers and a senior politician.

Glen Jenvey has admitted making up stories about Islamic fundamentalism, including a faked list of prominent Jewish "targets", which included Lord Alan Sugar.

He revealed his scheming in an interview with BBC reporter Tom Mangold, aired on Sunday's edition of Donal MacIntyre's Radio Five Live show.

Jenvey told how he fabricated the list of Jewish targets by posing as a fundamentalist on an extremist website where he urged others to suggest names.

He then leaked the made-up list to a trusted news agency, used by The Sun, and online forum Ummah.com was wrongly accused of being used to prepare a backlash against UK Jews.

Jenvey - who had been described as "an extremely capable and knowledgeable analyst" by Tory MP Patrick Mercer - said: "I'm fully responsible for the story. The Sun was deceived.

"The Sun did not know that I was behind the postings.

"I would like to apologise to all the British Jews who we scared and I'd like to apologise to The Sun newspaper."

Jenvey was not of course fully responsible for the story; he hardly forced the Sun to publish what had been supplied to them by the South West News Service, whom he had initially provided the story to (and also presumably paid him through). The fact remains that there was no story here, even with Jenvey's posts on the Ummah.com thread as abuislam. It was a thread, as the initial post pointed out, to use entirely peaceful methods (writing letters) to supporters of Israel. You can criticise the fact they chose to specifically targets Jews, when being Jewish and supporting Israel does not always go hand in hand, as well as some of the more "colourful" language used by some of the posters in the thread, but there was still no story here, even when "abuislam", now exposed as Glen Jenvey, suggested doorstep protests, which while unpleasant, are not illegal and which was not going to mean "terrorists" or "Islamic extremists" descending on the doorstep of Alan Sugar, David Miliband or Mark Ronson.

This story is an example of the Sun's fundamental contempt for the very standards of journalism. Any reputable news organisation which still somehow imagined that there was a story here would have checked, checked and then checked the "facts" again. They would have made certain that abuislam was not one and the same as the person providing them with the story, especially considering the way that abuislam was quite clearly acting as an agent provocateur in the thread, "bumping" it repeatedly, and resurrecting it finally three days after the last post. They would have checked whether there was any realistic prospect of one person's suggestion on a forum being put into action, and contacted those named and both alerted them and asked whether they had been sent either letters or had protesters outside their houses. They would have further checked Glen Jenvey's credentials, not just relying on the word of a Conservative MP. Then, and only then, would they perhaps have published the story, and even then it was hardly deserving of front page status, or the ludicrous claim that Alan Sugar was to be a "TERROR TARGET".

The real story here though is that Jenvey, after his association/collaboration with other amateur 'terror experts' such as Dominic Wightman (aka Whiteman) had been supplying the tabloids with either false or hugely exaggerated stories of terrorist threats, with the help of the Tory MP Patrick Mercer. The Sun had worked with Jenvey before, and not caring whether his claims were accurate or not, had no reason or inclination to doubt him this time round. It just so happens that Jenvey had become lazy and left this time a trail which Tim Ireland picked up (and, I must add, which I myself started off on), and who has only been grudgingly credited by the BBC.

Even then the paper could have quickly accepted that its story was ridiculously sensationalist and that this time round they had been had. Instead, the Sun's managing editor Graham Dudman sent a letter to the Press Complaints Commission on the 27th of January which defended every aspect of the story. Tim Ireland will hopefully be revealing the text of the letter in full later in the week, but having seen a copy, I can whet appetites by saying that some of his arguments are truly jaw-dropping.

It's still not clear what action, if indeed any the PCC is going to take against the paper over the story. Indeed, it might well agree with the paper that Jenvey was fully responsible, going by its past record, and that today's non-apology is sufficient. It's also unclear just what Alan Sugar's lawyers will make of Jenvey's confession, considering his decision to sue the paper over the story. What clearly should happen however is that for a front page story of such prominence, which was so categorically wrong in almost every aspect, and may well have scared some prominent Jews, as well as smearing the Ummah.com forum, there should be at the very least a front page apology. It has to remembered this story came at a time of high tension surrounding the Israeli attack on Gaza, with angry well-attended demonstrations taking place almost every weekend during the conflict, with more than potential to substantially harm community relations further. It was also yet again a Sun story on Muslims which portrayed them in at best a very bad light, straight out of the school which led to the £30,000 payment to the bus driver Arunas Raulynaitis for claiming he ordered passengers off so he could pray, and of the non-existent "Windsor Muslim yobs" who had supposedly attacked a house which soldiers had looked at with a view to moving in. I don't think I can really add to what I wrote at the time of the former:

It goes without saying that such unsubstantiated journalism threatens community relations and is often used by extremists, even after such reports have been proved false, to stir up hate. Reporting such topics requires great care, care which the Sun has neither the time nor the inclination to use.

Nor has it the courage, the honesty or the humility to admit when it gets a story so drastically wrong.

[UPDATE 16 Feb: Hi folks. Tim here. I have changed a paragraph at the request demand of Dominic Wightman, who gets most upset if he feels anything arguably inaccurate is published about him (but seems not to mind publishing wholly/deliberately false accounts himself). The relevant paragraph has been edited to better reflect the fact that Wightman and Jenvey had parted ways before the latter party specifically peddled false stories to tabloids. The false stories originating from Wightman's email/web accounts have never made it as far as a tabloid newspaper (that I'm aware of), and I am happy to make that clear.]

Gordon [insert joke here] Smart

Well, who would've guessed?

Gordon Smart has got himself a joke writer. I should've been obvious really, because it is actually quite a funny joke. Although he had to make it his own by including an unnecessary reference to the targets' sexuality, as usual.

Who's coming up with the jokes for him? Popbitch.

I wonder if they'll have anything I can use in the title?

Making it personal

Jon Gaunt featured in Matthew Norman's Diary yesterday.

Matthew started of his column taking about Liz Jones of the Daily Mail but soon gets to Gaunty...

Gaunty's grudge

Over at The Sun, another leading columnist has, for now at least, survived a change of editors. Jon Gaunt ploughs elegantly on in his Friday slot under new boss Dominic Mohan, and on current form, no wonder. In his own special way, Gaunty is barely less committed to sharing his life with readers than Liz, and while Friday's effort fell short of the memorable account of how he used to masturbate over the underwear of the stepmother known to his teenage self as "the slag", there was much else to delight. His update on a continuing struggle with the debt-collection department of David Lloyd Leisure was particularly enthralling. If there's one thing that marks the great columnist apart, it's the courage to use public space to execute private grudges. Well done, Gaunty.


Yes, well done indeed.

The problem with content like that is, should the Ed put it on the outside of the paywall to entice visitors to pay for more, or on the inside once NewsCorp have got the money? Tough decision.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

It's not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that , II

Back in April I had a go at the Sun's fear-mongering about the prospects of the England football team.

Wayne Rooney and his wife are due to have a child in October and so presumably Rooney would take off a few days paternity leave.

The Sun's article was pretty much saying that they should put the World Cup qualifying game on 10th October between Ukraine and England ahead of the health of Coleen and the baby.

As I said at the time, not only should the Sun be ashamed of this sort of article, but the way the fixtures lined up, England may not even need to play Rooney as there was a very good chance that they would have already qualified before it took place.

Last night's events, England thrashing Croatia 5-1 and Ukraine's 0-0 with Belarus draw, ensured that with two games to play England will finish top of their qualifying group and are now guaranteed a place at neat summer's World Cup in South Africa. Therefore, as far as England are concerned, the game against Ukraine is meaningless.

I'm hoping that the Sun will withdraw for its article as it was clearly inaccurate, which anyone with even a minimal amount of research would have realised.

UPDATE: I've added a comment on the Sun's post asking whether it will be withdrawn.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The "Terror Army" is coming!

Did you notice anything missing over the past few months?  That slight feeling of dread which you could constantly feel in the marrow of your bones?  That cloud of doom which had hung over the country ever since 7/7, being whipped up at least once a year by either further supposed disruptions of supposed plots or by newspapers demanding that we wrap ourselves in the flag in the face of such unmitigated horror as two idiots succeeding in only setting themselves on fire.

For a while this year, since the Manchester raids turned out to be the latest example of "security sources" briefing their poisonous hyperbole to an ever compliant media, we've actually had something approaching a thaw, helped along both by the actual reduction in the supposed threat level from severe to substantial, and also MI5's own acknowledgement that there are now less "active" plots than there were previously.  Considering the claims that there was up to 30 active plots and 2,000 individuals dedicated, presumably, to the militant variety of radical Islam, this was a sudden turn around and still remains so.  In line with this, we've had less blatant scaremongering, including from the worst offender, the Sun.  The recession and expenses scandal have of course helped also.

It was perhaps to be expected then that when the verdicts were finally returned in the retrial of the "liquid doom" plotters, with this time round the three ringleaders all being convicted of conspiracy to murder on airplanes that the headless chicken act would return once again.  Yesterday we warned to be alert that al-Qaida would try to bomb aircraft again, as clearly they don't learn from both their successes and mistakes, while today the Sun has attempted to do something approaching investigative journalism by discovering that, shock horror, those convicted of terrorism offences or offences related are being released from prison when they've served their sentences.

OK, perhaps that's a little unfair to the Sun, but not by much.  As per usual though, the story doesn't live up to its billing:

FORTY convicted Islamic terrorists are back on the streets after being released from jail, a Sun investigation has revealed.

"Islamic terrorists" as a description is being used rather loosely here.  Almost all the "big names", which is another loose description, have not been released yet, as we'll come to.  In fact, the biggest name that has already been released is Abu Bakr Mansha, a quite clearly deadly individual.  When arrested, Mansha had a blank firing pistol, which someone had been attempting to convert to fire live ammunition, a balaclava, a Sun newspaper article on a soldier who had won the military cross, and the soldier's former home address, as well as the expected radical material.  Mansha though also happens to have an IQ of 69, and allegedly gave the "intelligence" which led to the Forest Gate raid.   Truly someone to worry about.

The others already released are in much the same category, and so dangerous that the Sun doesn't actually name them.  According to the paper, at least three of those convicted in connection with the 21/7 attacks have been released.  This would be surprising for the fact that as far as I'm aware, the shortest sentence passed was six years and nine months, which even with the deductions made for current overcrowding and for time spent on remand would seem to have been released early, although the sentences could have been reduced on appeal.  None of these individuals were charged with directly helping with the bombings; they provided sanctuary or helped after they had failed, while others were either relatives or wives that helped.  The vast majority of these are unlikely to be "fanatics" but helped out of friendship or even because they were under pressure to.  The organisers of the Danish embassy protests have also been released, unsurprisingly, given that however disgraceful the views expressed, there was no action behind the words, and considering that they seem to be from the usual suspects who are all mouth and no trousers.  Others include those involved on the periphery of the Birmingham beheading plot, on similar charges to the 21/7 accomplices of not disclosing what they knew even if they weren't involved, while one was convicted of having the "Encyclopaedia Jihad".  Two had helped the ringleader, who has not been released, with supplying equipment to fighters in Pakistan, but again that doesn't specifically involve any sort of violent threat in this country.  Those involved with an Islamic school in Sussex have also been released, such an important set of convictions that there seems to be very little on it anywhere.  That doesn't begin to add up to 40 but we'll let the Sun off.

How about those soon to be released then?  We'll, there's Sohail Qureshi, not to be confused with the Canadian "terror suspect".  Qureshi was arrested when attempting to travel to Pakistan, and had night vision equipment, medical supplies and £9,000 in cash in his bag.  Material was found where he talked of hopefully "kill[ing] many", and presumably hoped to join fighters in Afghanistan.  Sentenced to four and a half years, with time on remand and reductions, he's meant to be released next month, which will still mean he's served 3 years.  The judge said his offences were at the "lower end of the scale", and while undoubtedly he could be a threat, with careful supervision and the confiscation of his passport there doesn't seem to be any reason why he shouldn't be released.  Much the same is the case with the next person mentioned, "[H]ulking thug Andrew Rowe", who Peter Clarke, that former king of hyperbole as anti-terrorist chief at the Met, called a "global terrorist".  In reality the evidence against him amounted to the usual radical material, supposed code referring to attacks and a guide on how to fire mortars.  Oh, and don't forget the socks bearing traces of high explosive.  How dangerous he truly was or is is anyone's guess, as he was under careful police supervision prior to his conviction.

Next up is the other "shoe bomber", Saajid Badat, who had meant to carry out an attack on a plane at the same time as Richard Reid, but pulled out at the last minute, also cutting himself off from his handler in Pakistan.  Considering that he failed to go through with the attack and also seems to have been about to settle down when he was arrested, the threat he poses seems low to negligible.  Finally, we have Kazi Nurur Rahman, who had links to the fertiliser bomb plotters, and probably the most serious risk as a result.  He was however entrapped by the police and security services, and there was no evidence whatsoever that he actually had the money to buy the weapons beyond the 3 Uzis which he agreed to purchase.  Again though, there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to be handled by MAPPA.

There are other problems with the Sun's story beyond the actual facts.  Does anyone really believe that a "senior security source" genuinely told the Sun this?:

If this was the United States, a great many of these people coming out soon would have been sentenced to 99 years and locked away for the rest of their lives.

But in this country much weaker sentences have been handed down and a large percentage of them have received reductions from the Appeal Court.

As a result, we are faced with an extremely worrying situation. We have got to hope these people come out without violent extremist views. But the likelihood of that is slim.

This simply isn't true in any case: Jose Padilla for example, convicted of charges similar to some of those here, received 17 years and four months. The wife of one of the 21/7 bombers received 15 years just for the help she provided.

Then of course we have the views of the contacted politicians, including the egregious Chris Grayling:

IT'S time to get tough on the extremists.

Yawn.

It's time we stopped these people from operating in our society. Yet the preachers of hate continue to preach.

Who? Where, Chris? The idea that it's still preachers of hate behind most of the radicalisation is years out of date.

It's also time we outlawed radical groups who propagate extremist views and in doing so incite violence against innocent people.

So you're going to ban the BNP and other neo-Nazis are you Chris? Good luck!  As for the Sun's editorial, it calls those released and soon to be released a "Terror army".  I don't think they're going to be challenging any of the more famous fighting units any time soon.


There were two other more important terrorism stories yesterday which didn't make the Sun's front page.  There was, oh, err, a huge fucking bomb discovered on the Northern Ireland border, twice the size of the one which caused the largest single loss of life during the Troubles in Omagh in 1998.  The Real IRA just aren't as sexy or as terrifying as the "terror army" though.  Or there was Neil Lewington, given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum of 6 years for carrying what were glorified Molotov cocktails with him, supposedly on the cusp of a "terror campaign".  He though was white and a neo-Nazi, even though he was actually more prepared and ready to carry out attacks than the liquid bomb plotters were, who hadn't constructed any devices while some didn't even have passports.  Terror though no longer just corresponds to individual nutters and old, boring causes: it's planes exploding one after another however implausible and however well covered they are by the security services.  If we're left meant to be fearing those who were stupid enough to get caught once, then we really are scared of the wrong people.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tell me lies about Afghanistan.

Egregious bullshit, as could have been expected, from the Sun in lieu of the convictions yesterday of the "liquid doom" plotters.  From the editorial:

But a plan that ambitious wasn't dreamed up in a back room in East London. It came from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and ultimately from Osama Bin Laden.

Except that there is not a single scrap of evidence that links any one of the plotters to Afghanistan.  To Pakistan, certainly, where all three of those convicted had travelled on a number of occasionsTo potentially al-Qaida linked individuals in Pakistan, possibly.  But to al-Qaida in Afghanistan?  al-Qaida doesn't even exist in Afghanistan, at least not as an organisation.  It undoubtedly has some fighters in that country, but not anything even approaching a command structure.  And not a single person believes the Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan; and as for the idea that the liquid doom plot had any input from him whatsoever, well, next thing you'll believe is that we didn't in fact land on the moon and that pigs will eventually evolve wings.

When Gordon Brown stands before the nation, as he did last week, to justify the war there, this is what he is talking about.

Fighting to stop al-Qaeda operating in those lawless regions actively lessens the threat to Britain.
Err, except the argument is that through fighting in Afghanistan we're preventing having to fight them here.  The "liquid doom" plot shows this argument to be farcical, for the simple reason that the threat is not in that country, but in this one from British citizens, not the Taliban.  The diametric opposite is more plausible: that through this ludicrous war we are in fact increasing the threat by starting the radicalisation process through our bull in a china shop approach.  For a newspaper that claims to care about the forces that are out there fighting this increasingly lunatic war, it would do them a service to approach such matters with something bordering on honesty.

Friday, 4 September 2009

From Bulger to Edlington.

Probably one of the worst moments in this country's recent media history was the hysteria which followed the murder of James Bulger.  In one sense, it was to be completely expected: Bulger's death, at the hands of two 10-year-old boys, with the toddler snatched from his mother in a matter of minutes, was the most appalling, shocking and inexplicable of crimes.  It was also one of the rarest: although we have since gotten sadly used to slightly older teenage boys knifing and even shooting each other, not since Mary Bell had those so young committed a crime so grave.  It was one of those crimes which managed to affect the psyche of the nation, even if only temporarily: the Daily Star's headline the day after the identities of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were revealed still remains to this day one of the most disgusting and despicable, quite possibly of all time: "How do you feel now, you little bastards?"  It was, in fairness, shouted by someone in the public gallery, and probably reflected a mood which many felt, yet it also just highlighted that many had completely forgotten that those in the dock were children, regardless of whether or not they understood or could comprehend what they had done.

The effects of Bulger's murder are still with us today, with politicians reacting in much the same fashion as the media did.  Labour played off of it appallingly, much as the Tories do today with their "broken society" meme, but the real damage was inflicted by Michael Howard, who declared that "prison works", a position which has been only built upon by Labour.  For better or worse though, considering the major controversy over how their sentence was imposed and served, both Venables and Thompson came out of a system which so often fails those older, and genuinely were reformed.  If they were "evil" or "monsters" when they went in, there is nothing to suggest that they still were or still are now that they're living under their new identities.  Some will baulk, understandably, at how those who murdered got might what might well be described as preferential treatment because of the seriousness of their crime, yet surely the ends in this instance justified the means.

How little we've, or rather the media have learned, is reflected in the coverage today of the case of the two brothers in Edlington who more by luck than apparent judgement failed to murder the two other little boys with whom they had been playing, in circumstances similar to that in which James Bulger was murdered.  The differences though are surely important: neither Venables or Thompson had anything close to the record that these two brothers apparently had, although there were some similarities, and also the key, most terrifying detail of the Bulger murder was that he was snatched from his mother by pure chance, something not the case here, and dragged along for hours, in front of numerous witnesses.  Nonetheless, much the same attitude pervades, as typified by the Sun's editorial.  These two brothers are, variously, "hell boys", "evil", "monsters", "dangerous predators" and guilty of "sickening bloodlust".  Not once are they actually described as what they are, despite everything they've done, which is children.  It reproduces a litany of those who failed, in various guises, as well as those who failed to protect the "innocent children" from these savages, but it doesn't even begin to suggest that maybe it was these two brothers who were failed more than anyone else.  That would take the blame away from them, or rather undermine the stated fact that they had "a measure of evil" beyond even the normal "feral" child.

You can of course argue endlessly over whether those who kill or attempt to kill are created by nature or by nuture.  A background similar to that which these two brothers had can be a signifier for such crimes, but equally it would be an insult to those who have struggled through such deprived backgrounds and came out of it without being damaged to suggest that explains it all.  Likewise, you can blame anything else you feel like: the Bulger murder led to attacks on both video games and "video nasties", even though there was no evidence whatsoever that either of the boys had actually watched "Child's Play 3" as the media came to claim he did.  The very mention of the "Chucky" films by a supposed "relative" makes me wonder about the veracity of her comments; it seems far too much of a coincidence that the exact same series of films featuring that same doll would be brought up again.  With that in mind, it is however interesting to note that the same source claims that the boys were dealt with harshly by their father, maybe far too harshly.  That rather undermines the Sun's refrain that "consistent discipline" is the only means by which to tame them, and even Iain Duncan Smith, a proponent of "tough love", made the point that the discipline they received may well have had the opposite effect.

The most distasteful part of the Sun's leader though is that "intimidation is long overdue", as the court in which the brothers plead guilty apparently "bent over backwards" to "show them kindness" by the judge and lawyers wearing suits rather than their usual garb.  This has far less to do with kindness and much more to do with ensuring that they understood properly what was going on, even during a relatively short session in which they plead guilty to lesser charges rather than the attempted murder which was initially proposed.  Intimidation would probably be the very last thing which they need, something already presumably provided by their father.  Then there's just the complete failure to perform a reality check, calling regimes in youth custody "disastrously lax".  These would be the same regimes which are currently using force more than they ever have, leaving little surprise when they fail just as much as prisons at preventing re-offending and reforming as well as punishing.

The hope has to be that same almost made up on the spur of the moment detention regime which Venables and Thompson went through, which involved not young offender's institutions but secure units, held separately, with both going through therapy as well as other programmes is also at the very least attempted in this case, although the sentence the two will receive is doubtful to be as harsh as that which Bulger's killers got, and how they will handle the fact that the two are brothers is also likely to be difficult.  It is though also worth reflecting, as the chief executive of Barnardo's Martin Narey did, on how close angels are to demons.  His suggestion, meant to stir debate,that Baby Peter may well have grown up had he survived to be a feral yob , the kind which are dismissed and demonised without a thought, inflammatory as it was, was the exact thing that the Sun did here.  If evil is inherent, then nothing can be done to prevent it or cure it; if it isn't, and naive liberals such as myself will protest profusely that there is no such thing, then it can be.  These two might not become "pillars of the community" as the Sun puts it, but to abandon hope in children and to demonise them in such a way is to abandon hope in humanity itself.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Mother Nature in Tears

Today's Sun has an article which claims that there is a "face" in a melting iceberg.

While a nice story, once again it is simply an example of pareidolia - seeing images in random patterns.

The article also has the unfortunate side-effect of implying that any science related to global warming/climate change - irrespective of the fact that is a well-established theory - is controlled by hippies:
"Every summer there is less ice. I was struck by this image of a face - a saddened, motherly face, crying about our inability to reduce global warming."
Sigh...

Street of Shame pt. 96.

This fortnight's Private Eye (1244) has a Hackwatch special, focusing on new editor Dominic Mohan's short-lived time as a columnist for the paper:


And I also couldn't resist this from the paper's later satire pages, a rather more succinct version of my earlier piece on the new editor:

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Social workers aren't evil after all? Who knew?

There's some sickeningly cynical back tracking in today's Sun leader:

SOCIAL workers must sometimes wonder why they bother getting out of bed some days... it sure ain't for the money.

They are vilified for horrific cases like Baby Peter - where criticism is justified. But for every case of child cruelty there are many more where timely intervention has brought hope without headlines.

Wait a minute, is the Sun actually being critical of itself for the first time ever? No, of course it isn't: even though it inadvertently admits that it vilified those involved in the Baby P case, its criticism was "justified".

It's worth recalling a letter sent by a blogger on the Community Care forum to the Sun, which outlined their more than legitimate concerns about the paper's coverage:

This pursuit was unnecessary - Ward will be investigated in the usual way - and it marred the whole profession. It alienated talented social workers nationwide. Since your campaign, evidence has already begun to emerge from our readers and elsewhere that some social workers have decided to stop practising and vacancy rates in London are approaching crisis levels. It is also likely to discourage bright students from entering the profession, undermining efforts to recruit much-needed social workers into children's services.

The Sun more than helped to create the current crisis, and in the bargain also nearly, although indirectly, caused both Maria Ward and Sharon Shoesmith to consider suicide. Now though the Sun is going to make everything right again:

The fact is there are too few trained social workers - many risking danger on doorsteps where even the police fear to tread.

So The Sun is backing movie and pop stars like Samantha Morton and Goldie in their campaign to recruit 5,000 new staff.

If we want to help vulnerable children, we need the right people to do the job.


Jolly good: now that movie and pop stars on the case the Sun has a cause it can get behind. If you want to help vulnerable children, you also might not want to vilify social workers as a whole as the paper did, and you also might not want bring the mob down on those who fail to save a child: some parents will always be determined to hurt or even kill those in their care, regardless of how closely monitored they are. You also might not want to splash them on the front page of your newspaper when you think they might have fathered a child, but perhaps we should let the Sun learn one thing at a time.

(P.S. Yesterday was Dominic Mohan's first "official" day as the paper's new editor. Is the above perhaps a dig at dear old Rebekah that she perhaps went too far in her helming of the Baby P campaign?)

Getting yourself a reputation.

Gordon 'Ironically Named' Smart...
MEGAN FOX has signed up to play Catwoman in the next Batman movie.

I presume it's by Gordon. There's no byline on the article, but it has all the hallmarks of one of his efforts...
  • Crap jokes - check

  • Letcherous, 'I'd give her one' type comments - check

  • Completely false story - check

I'll spare you any more quotes from him but on the 26th of September Megan had definitely signed up to be Catwoman.

But alas, Gordon in his handrubbing eagerness to show us a mocked up picture of Megan in rubber, well, something takes a rumour as truth...
"It's rumor. It's not true," a source at Warner Bros. told Access Hollywood. "There is no script. There is no project to be cast in."

Megan's 'people' deny it too.

I think Gordon might finally be making a name for himself over in America...
While a new “Batman” is inevitable, when the time comes to report something definite and real, chances are a column in the Sun already known for fabricating the fab won’t have the exclusive.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Repeated corrections.

The Sun, probably due to Dominic Mohan taking over as editor, seems to be going through one of its periodical fits of declaring that everything wrong with everything is either the fault of political correctness and/or health and safety. Hence today it's time to turn on those bastards in the public services that look after their own safety first rather than those they're called out to help. I can't comment on the first three examples the paper highlights in its editorial, but it really should have known better than to use the tragic death of Jordon Lyons as a stick to beat police community support officers with:

Two police support officers just stood watching as a 10-year-old boy drowned, claiming they didn't have the correct training.

The Sun had to correct their original report after Greater Manchester Police complained to the PCC:

Mr David Whatton, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, complained that the newspaper inaccurately suggested that Police Community Support Officers had stood by while Jordon Lyons drowned and did nothing to help.

Resolution:

The complaint was resolved when the newspaper published the following apology:
“Our reports on the inquest of Jordon Lyon who drowned trying to rescue his sister (September 2007) stated two Police Community Support Officers from Greater Manchester Police stood by and did nothing. We wish to clarify the two PCSOs arrived after Jordon disappeared under water and they summoned help and directed other emergency services to the scene. We apologise for any distress our report may have caused.”

Not only then had the boy likely already drowned when they had arrived, but they summoned further help, with the police themselves arriving within minutes of the support team arriving, far from "doing nothing" or "standing watching", as the Sun puts it today.

I'm sure the PCC will come down on the Sun like a ton of bricks for repeating something it's already had to correct, or err, it'll probably just do naff all as usual.