Tuesday 15 June 2010

The (grown up) family newspaper

Back in May, Apple wouldn't let The Sun appear on an iPhone app because it reckoned the paper's Page 3 was obscene.

The Sun responded by claiming, as it always does, that it is a family paper and page 3 is just fun. Which is a little odd as not many families I know enjoy ogling young ladies' breasts together.

But now, with the arrival of the Sun's iPad app, there has been some sort of a climb down.

The Sun is allowed on to Steve Jobs newest platform and get by his 'no porn' policy by having customers confirm they are 17 years of age or over.

(As an aside, I find Apple's choice of 17 as a restricted content age a little odd as the law for this kind of thing is 18 years.)

If The Sun is admitting that its paper is for adults, shouldn't it be moved up a shelf or two at the newsagents and if it's got content that itself is admitting is age restricted, it might be fun, but is it really for the family?

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Are there no depths to which these people will stoop?

Some stories just subliminally scream "bollocks" from the opening word. Today's Sun "exclusive", claiming that the Taliban have now sank to the depths of making "HIV bombs", by putting needles used for injecting heroin into their improvised explosive devices already seems unlikely. Then it reveals the source for this literal bombshell:

The tactic, used in the Afghan badlands of Helmand, was exposed by Tory MP and ex-Army officer Patrick Mercer.

Senior backbencher Mr Mercer said yesterday: "Are there no depths to which these people will stoop? This is the definition of a dirty war."

Speaking of stooping to depths, this would be the same Patrick Mercer that continued to work with the discredited Glen Jenvey for 2 months after he had sold the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" story to the paper, a report which he had entirely concocted himself after posting on the Ummah.com web forum. Mercer gave credibility to Jenvey's "investigations" by helping him make contact with various tabloid newspapers, many of which it should be doubted were anything approaching accurate. When Mercer has been involved in such dubious actions in the past, that on its own should put newspapers on alert as to how reliable such completely unverifiable claims are. That it also involves much the same tall tales that Jenvey pushed ought to be another red line, but after all, it is the Sun we're talking about here.

Regardless of its veracity, the story has now been churned all over the globe and is the paper's second most read page, a position usually held by either sport or something involving sex. Perhaps those paywalls aren't the best idea after all? Shame you have to print such fabulous nonsense to get any such attention.

Update: Those more diligent, less dismissive and with more time than myself looked rather further into this, including this parish's own Richard Bartholomew, Tabloid Watch, but most crucially Jeff Schogol, who asked Patrick Mercer, the ISAF in Afghanistan and the Joint IED Defeat Organization for more details.

As could have been expected, Mercer's words, however the Sun got hold of the story, had been rather sexed up. Talking to Stars and Stripes he said it wasn't even a weapon as such, with the needles and razor blades most likely put in position around "dummy" devices. This was naturally translated by Tom Newton Dunn into "if the bomb goes off, the needles become deadly flying shrapnel". Mercer learned about these "HIV bombs" from bomb disposal technicians training to go to Afghanistan, not from those actually in the field, and while he didn't ask whether the Taliban had actually used such devices, he "got the impression" they were.

Predictably, the ISAF themselves had heard absolutely nothing about any such bombs, not even the dummy devices Mercer had thought were being used. "No reports, no intel, nothing" is a fairly good summary. Likewise, the Joint IED Defeat Organisation had no confirmed reports, but said it wasn't unusual for the Taliban to use "anti-tamper" devices, which are most likely not even closely related to used hypodermic needles.

Worth noting is that the quote from Deborah Jack at the end of the Sun's piece, making clear that catching HIV from a disposed needle is about as likely as the Sun not embellishing a story, was added after I first made this post, presumably for the print edition and most likely by a sub-editor who felt it needed a little balance. As the Rumor Doctor has it, "more like an enemy propaganda campaign than a widespread new tactic", and if there's one thing the Sun has always been good at, it's running propaganda campaigns.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

The Sun Delusion

You may or may not be aware of the weekly science Podcast "The Pod Delusion". It's best thought of as a UK version of "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe", which I've previously mentioned.

Their latest episode (#36) includes a report by Marsh which is entitled "Football Crazy?".

It relates to an article in the Sun about a claim that men - playing to a stereotype - do think of football more than sex.

I don't want to give it away - other than saying that there's less than meets the eye to the Sun's claim - and so you just listen to it (starting at 28:25) as well as the rest of the podcast. I would also recommend subscribing to the cast as part of your regular listening.