Thursday, November 13, 2014 

The downfall.

Ah, Mazher Mahmood.  Time was all we had to identify him were a couple of grainy photos filched from an Albanian newspaper website, obtained by them from who knows where and which also soon disappeared down the memory hole thanks to "Maz's" ever busy legal beavers.  It took a long damn time, but the collapse of the Tulisa Constovalos drug trial finally prompted a media organisation to challenge Mahmood's claims his life would be put in danger should his true countenance be widely publicised.  The last time Maz tried and failed to prevent the media publishing his fizzog, winning a temporary injunction against among others, this blog, only the Graun went ahead and did so anyway.

Panorama and John Sweeney are thankfully more indefatigable beasts.  Twice Mahmood's lawyers forced the BBC to postpone the broadcast, first with the renewed claim he couldn't possibly be unmasked lest those he exposed come after him, always a risible argument considering his victims know his face all too well, and then after that failed with a challenge over the evidence involving John Bryan's procuring, or rather non-procurement of prostitutes.  With this last desperate attempt rejected, BBC1 was at last able to show the documentary last night.

And while for those of us who've followed Mahmood's activities down the years there was little we didn't already know included, the exception being the claims of Mahmood's links to corrupt Met officers, you can more than understand why he and News UK tried everything to stop it from airing.  Apart from identifying Mahmood, his methods were laid bare, vignettes taken from the secret recordings made by his team which he and the News of the World never wanted you to see.  John Alford declaring himself teetotal, with Mahmood then urging him to drink anyway, page 3 model Emma Morgan given cocaine by the person she was then entrapped into "buying" it from to supply to Mahmood, Constovalos made to believe she was being considered for a role in a Hollywood film alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as she was the obvious choice to play a "bad girl"; whoever the source was for the material, and the guess would have to be it came from within News UK, it showed Mahmood in just about the worst possible light.

As contemptible as Mahmood is, this was never about just him.  Mahmood could only work as he did for so long with the support of first the News of the Screws, and then following its sad demise, the Sun on Sunday.  It should be stressed that on occasion, Mahmood's entrapment tactics produced important, genuinely in the public interest stories, such as the corruption he uncovered involving the Pakistani cricket team.  Those kind of targets didn't satisfy either him or his editors though, nor one could say did they NotW readers.  No, instead they had to stitch up foolish but otherwise decent people somewhat in the public eye, such as Emma Morgan, Johnnie Walker or the Earl of Hardwicke.  At his very worst, he and his team concocted entire fictional plots, whether it be the one to kidnap Victoria Beckham, with the trial of those accused collapsing when it become public Mahmood had paid the man who "informed" him of the nefarious deal, or the "red mercury" plot, with those entrapped thankfully found not guilty.

Yet despite these failures, both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service continued to work with him, going ahead with cases such as the one involving Constolvalos when it was an obvious example of entrapment.  They carried on doing so even after the Screws was put out of its misery, and as we now know, 3 further cases have been dropped as Mahmood was to be the key witness.  It's possible other previous cases could now be the subject of appeal, especially if Mahmood is charged with perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice over the collapse of the Constolvalos trial as many expect.

Indeed, as Roy Greenslade writes, this level of protection seems to be continuing, as the attorney general asked the BBC not to screen the docu.  Presumably on the basis it could make it more difficult for Mahmood to get a fair trial should he be charged, the real objection is more likely "Maz" and his editors still have friends in high places.  Why else would News UK still be providing Mahmood with their largesse for vexatious litigation when he is supposedly on suspension, unless they still have a glimmer of hope that he could still return?

Regardless of that wishful thinking, Mahmood is finished.  The real motivation behind his attempts to stop Panorama was not over his safety, but his ability to carry on as before.  His methods detailed, his visage shown, few will now make the mistake of being drawn in by the image and boasts of a serial offender.  And with him, hopefully, also ends another disgraceful period in British journalism.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014 

Boy, 4, has the mark of Murdoch.

The parents of a boy, 4, were horrified when a "mark of Rupert Murdoch" appeared on his forehead.

Tracy Gardner and Nobby Torchwood spotted the dollar symbol as they got their son, Keith, out of bed one morning.

The sinister sign of the evil one is proving a devil to explain.  The imprint has baffled his parents, teachers and even the family's GP, all of whom are apparently as thick as pig shit.  Or we might be making this background detail up.

Shocked Tracy, born yesterday, of Salem, West Norwood Cassette Library, said: “It’s a nightmare. Some people have said it’s the symbol of Mammon — the sign of the worship of money above everything else — which has been very upsetting.

“Just looking at it made me shake thinking the soul of that terrible man had visited my boy.  Something or someone had made the sign on him but we just can't explain how, as neither Nobby or I have the power of independent thought, believing instead everything we see on Channel 5.”

Wondering if it might be a skin infection or rash, they took Keith to their GP, Dr. Nick Riveria.

"He too was baffled.  He recommended we take him for an MRI scan, privately, as the NHS is very pushed at the moment.  We didn't however have the £5,000 to spare."

Worried Tracy put a picture of Keith on Facebook, where it soon received 5 likes, and attracted a comment from among others, Tom Watson MP.  "Clearly this boy has been touched by a presence not unlike the one that made me start believing the claims of ludicrous Tory MPs of the 1980s.  We need a public inquiry into this right now."

Other MPs have also since raised their concerns, as parliament is in recess and they have to keep tweeting in order to give the impression they're doing something.  "What possible justification can there be for calling the Sun a newspaper," Abraham Shelley didn't ask, "when it publishes trash not even the cheaper knock-offs of Take a Break would touch with a ten foot pole?  That's the real issue, especially when the parents of the boy obviously sold the story and don't care about their or his privacy in the first place."


Our story is totally justified on two grounds.  First, it's the silly season, and the rest of the press are filling their pages with similar guff.  It's not as though there's civil war in Libya, massacre after massacre in Gaza or conflict in Ukraine we could be reporting on.  That costs money.

Second, every time there's OUTRAGE about something we just get more attention, clicks and subscribers.  Last time we checked Mail Online has 190m unique visitors a month, despite Twitter and the chattering classes hating the paper with a passion.  You're feeding us, you gullible, keyboard slamming morons.

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Monday, July 21, 2014 

Complicit in the lies of a serial offender.

Regular readers will know it takes a lot to stagger me.  Cynicism comes easily, because it is so easy.  Think the worst, and then you won't be let down come the inevitable.  There are no heroes only humans, and we are flawed flesh and bone, all with our own prejudices, failings and traits.

Sometimes though you still can't help but be blown away by just how unbelievably stupid supposedly intelligent people are.  In fact, in this instance stupid doesn't cover it.  The only word that even comes close to accurately describing the Crown Prosecution Service's original decision to prosecute Tulisa Contostavlos is fuckwitted.  A lawyer earning no doubt good money looked at the "investigation" carried out by this blog's favourite journalist, hopefully soon to be ex-journalist Mazher Mahmood, and felt, yeah, this isn't the most obvious example I've ever seen of entrapment, and told the CPS there was a realistic chance of conviction.  The CPS then reviewed his decision, and went along with it.  Then the judge, despite the defence making what has to be one of the most compelling applications for the case to be thrown out on the grounds Mahmood is a lying sack of shit, allowed it to proceed.

Only for Alistair McCreath to days later discharge the jury and find Contostavlos and her friend, Michael Coombs, who had already admitted supplying the cocaine after Mahmood asked Contostavlos to get some for him, not guilty.  Why?  Because Mahmood it seems put pressure on his driver, Alan Smith, to change his statement, having first told the police Contostavlos had spoken of her opposition to drugs as a family member was an addict as the pair talked in his car.  At the legal arguments pre-trial Mahmood denied he spoke to the Smith at all, only for Contostavlos's QC, Jeremy Dein, to winkle the truth out of Mahmood under cross-examination last week.  He had indeed discussed the statement with Smith, he just didn't have anything to do with him altering it.

Even now I can't begin to get my head round how Mahmood's latest and clearly for him most disastrous entrapping of a celebrity got to the point of being put before a jury.  Back in June last year the People, whether through speaking to Contostavlos and/or her management or a disgruntled source at the Sun wrote up an almost completely accurate blow-by-blow account of how the former X-Factor judge was enticed by Mahmood, although it didn't explicitly state her arrest and the "hoax" were connected.  They flew her to Las Vegas (either in first class or by private jet, according to whether you believe Mahmood or the People), telling her she was going to star in a Slumdog Millionaire-type film as a "bad girl" making the journey from London to India, possibly alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.  As in previous stings, Contostavlos was plied with alcohol, her defence going so far as to say her drink was spiked on one occasion, before Mahmood then sprang the trap.  Desperate to get the part, having been told Keira Knightley was also being considered for the role, she arranged for Coombs to supply Mahmood with his requested "white sweets".

Regardless of what you think about subterfuge by journalists, and the PCC code makes clear it can only be justified in the public interest, the person in this instance commissioning a crime is the hack, not the celebrity.  Not only that, unlike in other instances where those involved step back at the last minute, the evidence their target is willing to go along with their request acquired, Mahmood's drug stings have nearly always involved the actual supply of the banned substance.  By accepting such a level of skulduggery was permissible, despite the relatively slight nature of the offences committed, both the police and the CPS became complicit in Mahmood's abuse of power, not to forget lies.  Nor is this anything like the first time they've been embarrassed by Mahmood's mendacity and the Murdoch tabloid stable's hyperbolics: the Victoria Beckham "kidnap plot" trial collapsed after it emerged the key witness had been paid, while the "red mercury" case ended with all the defendants acquitted.

Indeed, yet again the court system gave in to Mahmood's bullshit, the myth of the man as tabloid investigator extraordinaire.  He gave his evidence from behind a screen, to both protect him from enemies and so as not to give away his identity to those he might yet seek to stitch up.  No matter that his visage has been available online for years now, or that, err, his victims know all too well what he looks like.  Also irrelevant is just how petty and cliche the drug dealer expose is; it's one thing to try and show corruption in sport, although Mahmood failed to do even that with John Higgins, it's another to get a pop star to show they know someone who can get drugs.  I mean, who knew they got up to such things?  It's not as though most of us have acquaintances whom dabble in illicit substances, and if tempted in the same way as Contostavlos was could just as easily find ourselves helping out a new VIP friend, clearly we're meant to regard this as a terrible indictment of the morals of our heroes.  What will the kids who look up to her think?  Nor do certain sections of the media encourage ambition and aspiration whatever the cost, oh no.

As well as being suspended by the Sun, Mahmood now faces the possibility of a perjury charge, another former News of the Screws hack accused of lying under oath.  This entire affair also gives the lie to the idea Leveson changed anything: still a Murdoch paper was prepared to do whatever it took just to catch out a jumped-up celeb.  How delicious then that someone like Tulisa (and admittedly her legal team) should be the one to finally pin the fake sheikh down.  This time, surely, there can be no way back for Mazher Mahmood.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014 

It gets better, despite the scaremongering.

The case of Hannah Smith is as desperately tragic as they come. The 14-year-old killed herself in August last year, writing a note found by her father asking whether her life was ever going to get any better. Her family say she had been bullied for up to three years, her personality changing markedly after going to a party where she was assaulted, her head twice hit against a wall. She became more insular and introverted, and as the inquest into her death heard, told friends on Facebook she was thinking of ending her life.

As terrible as every teenage suicide is, with the taboos around depression and mental illness still making it an exceptionally difficult topic to broach, in spite of the increased recognition of how many young people do struggle during what is already a difficult period of their lives, Smith's death wouldn't have become national news had it not been blamed in part on cyber-bullying. Coming just after the storm of media interest in the abuse meted out on Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez and others involved in the Jane Austen banknote campaign, it looked another example of the dark side of the internet and the misuse of online anonymity by those without a care for others and no sense of responsibility.

Only as has now been confirmed at the inquest and was claimed by's owners within days of the story becoming front page news, the messages left on her page were not from bullies, but written by Hannah herself.  Giving evidence, investigating officer Wayne Simmons said the messages had originated from the same IP address as Hannah's, and also ruled out that the could have been spoofed.  On the balance of probabilities, she had resorted to a relatively new form of self-harm - attacking herself via different accounts, whether in an attempt to garner sympathy from friends and get them to defend her, or as just another representation of the self-loathing she felt.

The tabloids, and indeed, the prime minister, were not to know this had been the case.  Nonetheless, putting all of the blame onto and by turn social networking as they did, with calls for the site to be shut down and David Cameron supporting a boycott, was precisely the kind of response that hinders rather than helps with understanding how the way teenagers live has changed so radically in a little over a decade.  Cyber-bullying is certainly a problem - I for one am beyond thankful I left school behind just before the inexorable rise of social media, when the main hangout was MSN Messenger rather than sites like Ask.  Anonymous trolling or bullying by those not personally known to the victim is however very much a rarity, compared to the online continuation of torment by schoolmates, something that can make it seem as though there is absolutely no escape from your own personal hell.

This emphasis on the medium rather than message and on one specific factor as the overriding cause is to ignore most of what we know about depression and mental illness.  At times there can be one underlying reason - be it bullying, general unhappiness with life, the end of a relationship, the death of a relative or friend, but often it's a culmination of a number of things.  There are also usually warning signs, in Hannah's case both physical and mental self-harm, as well as talking about suicide.  Even if it were possible, shutting down somewhere like Ask would only result in another such site popping up in its place.  Understandable as it is to want to try and control these new apparent threats, it's just as undesirable and overbearing as doing the equivalent of wrapping children in cotton wool.

The danger is in overreaction, curtailing something that has given traditional outsiders or those being bullied precisely because they are "different" a refuge, a place where they can be reassured their interests or sexuality are not weird or character flaws.  For every teenager whose death has been blamed in some way on the internet, whether rightly or wrongly, there are hundreds of thousands, almost certainly millions whose lives have been transformed or made worth continuing with thanks to making new friends through social media or otherwise.  Without wanting to turn this into old versus new media, that's something the newspapers, always searching for the next passing frenzy, have to be forced if necessary to recognise.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014 

No sympathy for the devil.

There's only one question editors should ask themselves when offered photographs of a famous figure who has just been told the most shattering news: how would I like to be splashed across the next morning's papers, grief etched across my face, in what ought to be regardless of it happening in a public place, an intensely private moment?

If they would truly answer that reporting the level of grief outweighs the considerations of not intruding into it, something that the PCC code makes clear should always be approached sensitively, then they should make that case themselves. More likely is as is so often the case, should any paper even dream of reporting on the private life of a fellow editor, there would soon be phone calls a plenty and threats flying, with both sides usually backing down. Hence why the tabloids didn't report on Rebekah Wade (as was) splitting up with Ross Kemp, let alone the employment tribunal finding that Andy Coulson bullied and unfairly dismissed Matt Driscoll from the News of the World.

However Paul Dacre and the editors at the Mirror and Star defended it to themselves, they must have seen just how distasteful it was to fill all but their entire front pages with the image of Mick Jagger in such obvious distress. The Sun, perhaps stung by the criticism it received following the death of Reeva Steenkamp, having decided an image of the model appearing to undo her bikini top was the best way to illustrate the news, opted for a far smaller inset of the image used by the others, still obviously objectionable but not on the same scale as using it to fill the page.

It does of course raises questions about what now is beyond the pale. The extremely long lens shots of the People's Kate sunbathing topless were, but the Sun decided Harry buck-ass naked in a hotel wasn't.  The tabloids had an attack of the vapours when an Italian documentary used the images of Princess Diana lying mortally injured in the back of the Mercedes, despite having arguably contributed to the crash, yet don't think an ashed faced rock star learning of a personal tragedy deserves the same protection. This isn't about Leveson, as you shouldn't need a judge to tell you to feel the most basic compassion and human empathy. It's about a tabloid press that has never set itself a boundary it hasn't subsequently broken.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014 

Collymore and Ulrika.

I think I've made my views on trolling and Twitter pretty much clear, and don't really feel the need to repeat them again now in light of Stan Collymore's complaints about the abuse he's received for a while and which ratcheted up again at the weekend.  It should surely be noted though that unlike Caroline Criado-Perez, Collymore is in the business of making controversial comment on football and is no doubt well remunerated for doing so.  He's also pretty good at it, being the best thing on Talksport by a very long way.

Credit must nonetheless be given to both the Sun and Ulrika Jonsson for deciding this would be the perfect moment to bring up how back in 1998 Collymore attacked her and according, to Jonsson, said he "would fucking kill her".  No doubt he did.  One is also reminded however of how Jonsson's chosen way of promoting her autobiography was to focus on the allegation she made in it that she had been sexually assaulted earlier in her career, without naming the person responsible.  This, inevitably, led to speculation as to who it was, with Matthew Wright inadvertently naming John Leslie.  Jonsson chose not to cooperate with the subsequent police investigation into Leslie, with the CPS later dropping a prosecution against him at the last minute.

If we're going to bring hypocrisy into it, perhaps we should also consider the consequences of being deliberately vague and then not being prepared to pursue a case once the name of the person has become public.  As Ian Hislop said at the time, his general understanding was that you made complaints about sexual assault to the police, not the media (obviously, if the police ignore or don't act on complaints, then it certainly is legitimate to go to the media, although whether our press will treat ordinary members of the public's complaints with the same level of concern as they did someone like Jonsson, unless the individual being accused is also a celebrity, remains to be seen).  11 years on from that, and Jonsson is complaining about another incident that also resulted in no charges being brought, which Collymore apologised profusely for at the time.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013 

Save us from the trolls Dave!

There is growing pressure on social networking sites to do something about something tonight, as politicians and newspapers alike blame them for every single problem in the world today.

The prime minister David Cameron led the way, urging everyone to boycott until it stopped working as any sort of service.  Speaking to Sky News, Cameron said: "These people have got to step up to the chicken basket and show some responsibility.  Simply allowing users of the site to block anonymous messages isn't good enough.  If someone makes nuisance phone calls, we obviously don't hold the caller responsible; we blame BT for allowing the call through in the first place, even if they have so-called call blocking available.  The same goes for the postal service.  If a mail bomb slips through the net and it kills someone, then obviously the postman who delivered it should be held accountable.  It's just common sense."

Expanding on his theme, Cameron continued: "Now while it's true that I hadn't heard of this website until yesterday, that shouldn't stop me from talking about something I know absolutely nothing about.  I really do encourage a boycott, as I've also been told that the one organised by the delightful Caitlin Moran on Twitter was such a huge success last Sunday, at least until the new Doctor Who was announced.  If we stop using these sites, there's absolutely no chance whatsoever that people will simply move elsewhere, or that bullies will strike offline rather than online.  We must drain this eco-system of hate."

The tabloids meanwhile have called for more meaningful action.  Both the Sun and Daily Mail have demanded that be banned, once again demonstrating their profound understanding of how the internet works.  Neither paper has any truck with bullies, as the comments section on the Mail website regularly demonstrates, regarded universally as a haven of informed, reasonable debate.  Likewise, columnists Richard Littlejohn and Jan Moir would never dream of writing about minorities in a prejudiced or inflammatory style.  As for the Sun, only those with extremely long memories can recall that during its campaign for Baby Peter the social workers involved with his case were urged to kill themselves by those commenting online, something that might cause a few regrets considering that two of the paper's journalists charged in connection with Operation Elveden have since had their own mental health problems.

We asked a random nerd slamming away at a keyboard for his take on these events.  "It's all a bit knee jerk, isn't it?  For a start, we don't know exactly why these four young people took their own lives.  Were they just being bullied on, or were they being bullied offline as well?  Did they have other relationship problems, or had any relatives or friends recently been ill or died?  I've had depression myself, and I find it difficult to believe that it was just bullying online that led them to take such a drastic step.  It could have been the trigger, or the last straw certainly, but we can't just blame a website without knowing the full facts, and you would have thought anti-bullying and children's campaigners would know that."

"Besides, why is it that parental responsibility seems such a foreign concept when it comes to the internet?  Yes, it's difficult if you don't understand the technology and the slang, and when you can't have complete control due to almost every device now having net access, but clearly you have to talk with your kids about the sites they use and let them know they can always come to you if they don't feel safe.  It's no use blaming a service if you don't use the privacy settings it has available.  Those truly responsible here are the pathetic little shits who think it's hilarious to tell 14-year-old girls they're fat and ugly and should die. How about we go after the messengers rather than the message provider?"

"As for the tabloids, could you possibly tell it's the silly season? Any passing frenzy will do, even if it's likely that the internet as a whole helps those who feel excluded in real life far more than it harms those already vulnerable (just look at the It Gets Better campaign). They're also looking for anything to distract from their own far from honourable record when it comes to treating those who come to their attention with respect, especially as argument continues over the royal charter to establish the new press regulator."

A reward (a wine gum and a can of cream soda) is being offered for any information that leads to the tracking down of a Labour shadow minister.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 

This is our last gasp.

There's been a lot of snarky comment on the Sun's deeply odd wrap-around front page, and for good reason: it makes those splashes the Independent used to run look subtle.  THIS IS OUR BRITAIN it screams, and it might mean something if it wasn't just a promotional exercise to inform the paper's readers that, err, they're now going to be charged to access the paper's website and apps.  To be fair, as a commenter points out over at the New Statesman, it's difficult to draw pictures of non-material things, so what we get instead is an amalgamation of the centrepiece of Danny Boyle's (deeply overrated) Olympic opening ceremony and a lot of err, stuff pasted on the top of it.  There's the Shard, that famously British eyesore, a Routemaster, naturally, a power station, Mr Bean, the Queen's head peaking over an S, and well, every other cliche and landmark you can think of.

Taken altogether, it comes across as being spectacularly insincere. Is this an idealised Britain, or is it the Sun's Britain? It is of course lovely to think of a field that is forever England, or Britain, but when the vast majority of us live in urban areas rather than out in that green and pleasant land, planking everything down in something resembling Elysium is just a trifle odd. The Sun is nothing if not an embodiment of national stereotypes, despite having been born in the 60s, but even if this it's meant to say we might be changing but our values aren't, it just seems lazy and hackneyed. Obviously that's never bothered the paper in the past, yet you might have thought that under a new editor and to encourage readers to pay extra for what they used to get for free they would have gone that extra mile.

More pertinently, the Scottish edition, while keeping much of the editorial, goes for a cleaner and sharper look. The less said about A NEW DAWN the better, but it doesn't make your brain hurt from just looking at it. As Stuart Campbell also notes, the Scottish edition drops some of the harsher language from the statements on politics, in particular on welfare. The paper's stance on benefits and immigration can be summed up in that they're in favour of both for those they deem deserving and are against for everyone else.  Labour also gets it in the neck repeatedly despite the paper saying they're not slavish supporters of any party: who knew that a "culture of entitlement exploded" under the last government which destroyed entire communities, or that they papered over the cracks in education while standards fell measured against the rest of the world.

The problem the Sun faces is that it simply isn't as influential as it once was.  Whether down to the defenestration of Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of what was News International and the whole phone hacking scandal, or changes in the way politicians now attempt to engage the public, the Sun almost certainly comes behind the Mail as the first port of call for the Tory side of the coalition.  Rather than attempt to fight back, the paper has instead gone down the paywall route.  Paywalls can be viable if you provide content that isn't available anywhere else, as the FT has demonstrated; even with the new "not quite Sky Sports" programming promised for subscribers, it's difficult to see exactly what the Sun will have that other free sites won't.

One positive is that regardless of its execution, it's at least a change to see the Sun provide a picture of the country that has some sort of relationship with reality.  A bit of a difference with the paper under the aforementioned Brooks:

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Thursday, July 04, 2013 

The Murdoch tape: weak, weak, weak.

It remains surprising just how often stories that first appeared in Private Eye aren't followed up until rival organisations then suddenly decide to claim them as their own.  A case in point is the Murdoch tape: Private Eye published extracts from it 2 issues ago.  3 weeks later and Exaro News along with Channel 4 claim the tape as their own scoop.  True, they've made available the full tape, apparently recorded by embittered Sun journalists who didn't trust Keith meant what he said at their meeting, but without giving the Eye any credit for having obtained it first.

What's more, for the most part both Keith and the Sun's hacks have good reason to be embittered.  Murdoch's comment that "news tips from cops" in exchange for money have been going for over 100 years is right, nor is it just the Sun or the late Screws guilty of such payments.  That only the Sun has been turned over by the Met does give more than a hint of how this is in some way vengeance for how the Met were themselves caught in the phone hacking fallout.  The handing over of the archive by News Corporation's Management and Standards Committee helped immensely, but don't underestimate the desire of the police to get even, for which see the continuing revelations about how they attempted to smear the family of Stephen Lawrence.

Nor should anyone underestimate the desire of Murdoch to strike back.  That he promises they will "hit back" when they can is a wonderful insight into how his papers have always worked.  They might not wreak revenge immediately, but they will.  Just look at how the Sun last week almost unbelievably highlighted how the police smeared Liverpool fans after Hillsborough without mentioning its own abhorrent role.  The message was clear: the police, who used to be able to rely on the Sun to back them come what may, have at least temporarily lost one of their closest media allies.

The other insight provided is just how loyal Keith remains to Rebekah Brooks, which understandably continues to anger the rest of the staff on his papers.  He whinges not just about how the police came into her office, despite being told they wouldn't find anything, but also about how she was arrested on a Monday morning by about "15 or 16 officers", which is "ridiculous, quite openly".  Considering the number of times Sun hacks have been in tow when the police have raided celebrity targets, or how the Scum recently entrapped Tulisa Contostavlos and then rejoiced when she was picked up, excuse me if I don't empathise with Brooks' sad predicament.

The point is, neither do the hacks.  They don't believe Keith when he says that even if they're found guilty and imprisoned that News Corp will look after them, as he did Brooks when she walked away with an astonishing £10.8m in compensation for in effect screwing over his company.  If they did commit misconduct in public office, then surely so did their editors and those who signed off the payments.  Never before has Murdoch been anything other than trusted, and never before has he been so weak while still trying to give an image of strength.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013 

The more things change.

Look who's back.

It's fair to say that I am not predisposed to like Tulisa Contostavlos.  If you want a handy summation of the musical apocalypse of the past decade, then listening to N-Dubz, Contostavlos's former group, will soon bring you up to speed. Naturally, once N-Dubz split up, Simon Cowell decided that Tulisa would the perfect addition to the X Factor judging panel, having previously given such duties to those other fountains of perpetual talent, Dannii Minogue and Sharon Osbourne.  Getting critiqued by Gary Barlow is one thing; being told that you need a bucket to carry a tune by Cowell and the others has always struck me as just a trifle rich.

Seeing as the X Factor has always been equal parts humiliating the gullible and hyperbolically praising fairly good karaoke singers only for them to be dropped from Cowell's record label a year later, some will have doubtless come to the conclusion that the entrapment of Contostavlos by the News of the World's, sorry, the Sun on Sunday's (®Roy Greenslade) Mazher Mahmood is something of a comeuppance.  This though would be the conclusion of a pretty heartless bastard, especially as it seems we now have something of an insight into just how far the Sun and Mahmood went to gain Contostavlos's trust before then performing the classic sting of asking if she could get some drugs for her new best friends.

Last Sunday's People (yes, I know) carried a report claiming that as well as being caught out in the drug sting, Contostavlos had also been fooled into believing that she was to play the leading role in a Bollywood film charting the journey of a young woman from England to India.  The hoax was so sophisticated that it had gone on for months, involving Contostavlos being flown by private jet to America, where she also met some of her supposed co-stars.  While the People doesn't explicitly say that the hoax and the sting are connected, it most certainly would explain just why it was that Contostavlos came to be so trusting of those who were secretly filming her, and also why she was so inclined to boast about her contacts.  And if it isn't connected, then either the story's horrendously inaccurate, or someone's got hell of a lot of money to burn on trolling a celebrity.

It would also fit in precisely with Mahmood's recent modus operandi.  Before the News of the Screws was sadly sacrificed so that Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton could stay in their jobs for another couple of weeks, Mahmood and his team had carried out a similarly elaborate sting in an effort to prove the snooker player John Higgins was prepared to fix matches.  As revealed by the Sporting Intelligence website, the Screws set up a professional looking website designed to fool Higgins' manager Pat Mooney, who had already been plied with liberal amounts of alcohol, before flying both Higgins and Mooney to Ukraine, where they were swept through customs apparently thanks to the influence of their hosts.  The only problem was that Higgins felt something was wrong, imagining he could have got mixed up with the Russian mafia, and so despite the Screws' best efforts was non-committal to the proposed arrangement, as the independent tribunal later ruled.

Clearly, to fool Contostavlos required even greater extravagance and promises of riches.  Even then she didn't do what Mahmood obviously wanted her to, which was get the drugs and hand them over herself.  Instead she introduced the Sun to a friend who did the deal instead.  Naturally, for this truly heinous offence Contostavlos was promptly arrested by the Met's finest, who have always had a friendly relationship with the reporter who claims to have helped secure the convictions of hundreds of crims thanks to his good works.  If you're thinking there's a certainly irony to how the Sun predicted and then covered the arrest, both with front pages, while it devotes little in the way of space to the court appearances of its own reporters, then clearly you hate our great tradition of press freedom.

If anyone had been under the illusion that things would change after Leveson, then hopefully this will have fully shattered such notions. Subterfuge was only ever deemed permissible under the old PCC code if the material could not be obtained through other means, while fishing expeditions were expressly prohibited. There is no other way to describe Mahmood's methods than as entrapment.

And for what? To boost circulation ever so slightly? To put the jumped up Tulisa back in her place? To show that this "role model" is as hypocritical as all the rest? Pop star in knowing someone who deals drugs shock! It is truly pathetic gotcha journalism that interests the easily amused and bitter for a day, then it's gone. Contostavlos meanwhile is said to be devastated, as you might expect, and hasn't tweeted since the 31st of May. Last year she was praised for the way she responded to the release of a video which showed her performing a sex act on an ex-boyfriend. Despite it making clear that he has a grotty little nob, it was Contostavlos who was widely mocked, including by other celebrities. Last week the Sun headlined a follow-up piece "TULISA BLOWS IT AGAIN". It won't be much of a comfort to her, but it's undoubtedly the case that Mahmood too will mess up again, and hopefully this time he won't be able to carry on just as before.

(The Sun incidentally has denied most of the People's story and said it was false to say it "had spent as much as £100,000" on the investigation. £99,000 then, probably.)

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Thursday, May 02, 2013 

The Sun ain't gonna shine (anymore).

If you're ever in need of a good laugh, and happen to share my often bizarre sense of humour, you can't really go wrong with recalling the very first editorial published in the Sun following Murdoch's takeover. We will be politically independent it said, amongst other highly amusing statements of how it meant to go on ("the new Sun will be the paper that CARES ... about truth, beauty and justice", went the leader the Saturday before the new paper emerged).

To be fair, for the first few years of its existence and while Keith was still finding his feet as a proprietor in the UK, it was pretty much independent or at the least, undecided. 10 years on though, and the paper's shift was complete. It still didn't pledge allegiance to either Labour or the Tories; rather it supported whoever Murdoch decided was both likely to win and wouldn't threaten his business interests. This has been the case ever since, only with politicians ever more willing to do obeisance before him.

Well, at least it was up until the Graun uncovered a little local difficulty at the News of the Screws. Since then only Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond have impressed the Dirty Digger, both being willing to ignore things like mass law breaking while Murdoch temporarily smiles on them.

It's hardly surprising then that the Sun hasn't endorsed anyone for today's local elections. David Cameron might have been "our only hope" 3 years ago, but he's close to being a no hoper now, such has been Murdoch's ire at the prime minister's support for the agreement between the parties on the press charter. Ed Miliband burned his bridges at the outset of the phone hacking scandal, and as for the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg, well. It does however signify that we may well have reached the point when Keith's power or rather assumed power has finally begun to dim. And if that isn't something worth celebrating, there isn't a whole lot that is.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013 

Every day is like Sunday. (Or, how tabloid journalism continues to work.)

Friday 8th March:
Former prison officer Richard Trunkfield pleads guilty to misconduct in public office, admitting that he sold information on a "high-profile" inmate to the Sun for £3,350.

Wednesday 13th March:
The Sun publishes front page article claiming a prison officer announced over the tannoy that the "right honourable member for Wandsworth North" was to come and get his breakfast.  It also claims that Chris Huhne asked to be moved to the vulnerable prisoners wing after he was "badgered by cons for cash".  The paper's sources for both claims are "prison visitors".

Addendum: Carina Trimingham denies Huhne was either ridiculed on his first day in Wandsworth or that he has asked to be moved to the isolation wing.

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Friday, February 15, 2013 

The tabloids: publishing death porn since the advent of the printing press.

Much comment, understandably, on the Sun's decision to run a front page splash (and in this instance it really does seem the right word) on the death of Reeva Steenkamp, illustrated with a full page photo of the model and presenter appearing to undo her bikini top.  It's certainly tasteless, and as Marina Hyde notes, just happens to come the day after the One Billion Rising protests, the campaign intended to bring more attention to violence against women.

It's hardly the most egregious recent case of tabloid death porn though, and one which at the time barely caused a ripple of complaint as far as I can remember.  Back in 2008, the Daily Star splashed on the latest evidence heard at the trial of Mark Dixie, who was subsequently found guilty of the murder of Sally Anne Bowman.  "MY SEX WITH SALLY ANNE'S DEAD BODY", the front page screamed, alongside the ubiquitous shot of Bowman from her modelling catalogue, hands in the top of her jeans.

As for the motivation behind using such photographs to illustrate crime cases, Dixie's trial more than provided a clue.  Found on Dixie's digital camera was a video of a man masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail, the front page of which featured a photograph of Bowman.  The police also found said copy of the Mail in Dixie's possesion, and noted the cover was dashed with a "sticky substance".  The Mail, all but needless to say, merely reported that the police had found a video of Dixie "performing a lewd sex act on the six-month anniversary of the model's death".  Not, you understand, which publication and what material had further energised his "lewd sex act".

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Monday, February 11, 2013 

Page 3 and pornification.

It really doesn't take much these days to get a news story running. Rupert Murdoch responds positively to a tweet saying "page 3 is so last century", and almost instantly there's about half a dozen reports up on the Graun website debating exactly what it means.

If we really must go into this, first off, I'll believe the end of page 3 when I see it.  Second, it continues to amaze me why some are still so determined to see the end of a daily topless woman on the third page of a daily newspaper.  The main argument in my mind against it has always been that you're either a newspaper or you're not; however you dress it up (ho ho), putting a half-naked woman in your paper unconnected to any story makes your publication just ever so slightly sleazy, which is what the Sun since the Murdoch takeover has always been, and yet has managed to remain respectable.

Third, those against it really can't have it both ways.  Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, editor of the "Vagenda" blog, writes that her problem with page 3 is not the nudity but the commodification and objectification of the female body.  That's fine and is also my secondary objection, yet if the issue isn't the nudity then why are there not such long running campaigns against the Daily Mail's Femail pages, and the "sidebar of shame"?  Page 3 exists because of the cooperation of women, not all of whom are either brainless or in it purely for the money.  By comparison, the tabloids as a whole rely on the paparazzi effectively stalking celebrities and the almost famous to fill their pages where there is no such permission or exchange of money, except between the paper and the photo agency.  If anything these stories are often far more leery than page 3 now is, or indeed, if the celeb is not deemed to be looking their best, far more likely to have an effect on those who worry about their own body image.  True, page 3 is unique in that it has such a cachet in the public imagination, and can be used by giggling adolescents to particularly revolting effect, but let's not go into such ridiculous exaggeration as "lascivious drool", as though some men go into Pavlovian reveries at the mere sight of a printed boob, at least in public at any rate.

If anything, as Karen Mason's original tweet can also be read, page 3 is last century in that really the whole debate about objectification and the pornification of culture has moved on.  A few years back we were worrying about the rise of Nuts and Zoo, and the often disgustingly sexist content of lads' mags, whereas now even that seems old hat when "revenge porn" sites have entered the news.  Where once it was hip-hop videos that had an abundance of flesh on display, now the utterly mainstream likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj perform in costumes which can't really be described in any real sense as clothing.  At the same time, porn might be going through a transition period where it's unclear what its end business model will be, yet the material itself has never been so easily available, with all that entails, the possible effects unknown.

Cosslett is right in saying it's fundamentally "about a demeaning and disrespectful attitude to women", yet the fact is as, she admits, both "men and women ... cynically manipulate young women's bodies for commercial profit".  If page 3 were to disappear tomorrow then its effect would barely be measurable.  The problem modern feminism has to face is that it's women as much as men who are behind the shift in culture, and at the moment it doesn't have a proper answer as to what this means and how it can be fought against.

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Monday, October 29, 2012 

Sex quiz, hot shot!

There is without a shadow of a doubt an art to writing tabloid headlines.  They might make you groan, laugh or despair (hi), but you can't deny there's a certain talent to constructing a pithy, informative summation of a larger article in a highly limited space.

At times though this lack of room means they can get it terribly wrong.  The Sun was criticised a few years back for splashing on "BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP", both for the lack of understanding of mental health problems, but also because people rather like Frank Bruno.  The other problem is that despite the heyday of the tabloids being long gone, they insist on continuing to use archaic language which makes little sense when hardly any one uses it in everyday conversation.  

In tabloid parlance professors or scientists are boffins, women under 50 are girls, those sent to prison are caged, a child who commits any kind of offence, criminal or not, is a yob, and probably also evil, while a celebrity on a beach in a bikini photographed by a paparazzo is invariably showing off her curves or leaving little to the imagination.  Taste or respect also rarely enter into the equation: witness the Daily Star's front page treatment of a notorious murder case, the paper going with the legend "MY SEX WITH SALLY ANNE'S DEAD BODY", as though it was just another arrogant boast from a minor celebrity of their latest conquest.

Today's Sun front page then informs us of "GLITTER's 10-HOUR SEX QUIZ".  The paper presumably isn't implying that the police spent almost half a day asking him questions about sex in general and then awarding him points for the ones he got right, and yet that seems to be exactly what it's saying.  This isn't about taking things too literally, but that only a tabloid newspaper would ever describe a police interrogation as a "quiz", which rather underplays the seriousness of the arrest, just as only a tabloid or a satirist would use "grill" as a synonym for question, as the Sun does in the sub-heading underneath.  Most of the information required is in fact in the first heading: ex-pop star arrested.  Beyond that, all it needs to present is who and why as succinctly as possible, and arguably even the why isn't necessary when the story's been in the news for a day already.  Both the Mirror (Glitter: first of many) and the Star (Get dressed Glitter.. You're nicked!) managed it, in language easily understandable, even if the use of "nicked" by the Star comes across as more than a bit 70s.

This isn't to ignore the argument that this colourful language is all part of the charm and culture of a sub-set of the press, and that readers in general understand it perfectly well and even like it.  If though the BBC (or indeed ITN or Sky) were to suddenly decide to start asking their broadcast journalists to send in reports using similar terminology, the very same papers that abuse language in such a way would be the first to complain about dumbing down and the dreadful message being sent to our youngsters, not yet inculcated in how to like talk proper.  The point surely ought to be that it's perfectly possible to write with brevity and skill while not traducing a language which, fabulously flexible and constantly evolving as it is, can only be stretched so far before it breaks entirely.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012 

Britain broken no more.

Remember the good old days of a few years ago when the arrival of the latest crime statistics invariably led to both the Conservatives and the tabloids arguing that the end was nigh?  I do, mainly because I then went and looked at the actual figures. Even a quick browse showed that both were being either highly selective, relying on the police figures over the results of the British Crime Survey on violence against the person for example, or highlighting only one aspect of recorded crime, such as the use of a specific weapon when the numbers being attacked and killed were in fact in decline.

It's interesting to note then that the release of today's figures, showing that despite the recession crime continues to fall, with only theft from the person increasing, has been met with an almost universal shrug.  There's no report as yet on the Sun's website, while the Mail has been left with having to put a story alongside its article on a "teenage yob" being given just a final warning after beating a boy with his own crutches.  Unlike how the Conservatives couldn't wait to pile in on any sign that Labour was being "soft on crime", on occasion concocting figures to such an extent that they were warned by the UK Statistics Authority they were likely to "mislead the public", the opposition's response has been just as low key, focusing mainly on the drop in the numbers of police officers.

Welcome as this is when the British Crime Survey suggests the chance of being a victim of crime is its lowest since it began, it's also indicative of how the right-wing press tends to play dirtier with Labour governments than they do with the Tories.  The Sun for instance claimed that a mistake in recording GBH was an indication Labour had been cooking the figures altogether, something it had no evidence whatsoever to back-up.  Admittedly, some of this was Labour making a rod for their own back: the consistent tough talking from home secretary after home secretary led all but inexorably to the press shrieking when the next moral panic arrived.  Just though as we barely hear a peep from David Cameron about the broken society now he's in power, even as hundreds of thousands have to rely on food banks, so the paper that did the most to promote the notion has "moved on".  As for any even grudging recognition that crime fell massively while Labour was in power, even if the two things are not necessarily connected, we'll be waiting a long time.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012 

Bitter vindication.

The last time David Cameron stood up in parliament to issue an apology for a past wrong, he said that he was "deeply patriotic" and that he "never want[ed] to believe anything bad about our country". It was the only dissonant note in what was a well judged statement on the Saville report into Bloody Sunday, an insight into the attitude of some of those in power that unquestionably makes it easier for cover-ups to happen in the first place.

Today, making an equally decent statement on the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report (PDF), there was no such digression from Cameron. If the Saville inquiry was a repudiation of the whitewash of the Widgery report, then the work by HIP is the most savage indictment of the failure to achieve justice for the 96 Liverpool fans who died as a direct result of the incompetence of South Yorkshire Police imaginable. It doesn't just once and for all smash the myth created by SYP that the disaster was in some way the fault of Liverpool fans, drunk or otherwise, who forced their way into the ground, when it was in fact the direct decision of the officer in charge on the day, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, a man who hadn't worked at Hillsborough for 10 years and had only been put in charge 3 weeks prior to the match, to open Gate C, which caused the crush, as that would never have been enough. It also demolishes the inventions of the SYP and the local Tory MP that resulted in the Sun claiming "THE TRUTH" was "some fans" (PDF) had even gone so far as to urinate on the dead and dying as well as the police officers attempting to help.

The SYP are rightly though not the only organisation to be heavily criticised, although we'll return to them. There were major failings also by the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, whom along with the police failed to activate their major incident procedure protocol, resulting in delays, misunderstandings and officers not being deployed until it was too late (Chapter 4 of part 2 of the report). As also with the police, despite being situated close to the pens at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, those officers at the scene failed to realise what was going on. The failures of leadership and coordination were so serious that it wasn't until 45 minutes after the pens were opened that the situation was finally brought under proper control. Despite the quick deployment of ambulances to Hillsborough, all but three stayed outside the ground, along with the equipment that was so desperately needed to save lives. While the report doesn't specifically state that more lives could have been saved had the response been better, it does find there was the potential for there to have been.

Also accepting criticism today and apologising was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club itself. Rather than leading to significant changes to the Leppings Lane end to reduce the danger, the near disastrous crush that took place at the 1981 FA Cup semi-final in fact resulted in a breakdown of the relationship between the club and the police, with the former blaming the latter (Chapter 1 of part 2). With the SYP focusing on "crowd management" and SWFC concerned mainly with cost, the changes that did take place only made things worse: further lateral fences were built which created two central pens, making the movement which had saved fans in 1981 who had moved sideways along full length of the the terrace impossible. Despite the fact that the ground did not have an up to date safety certificate, the FA again started using Hillsborough for semi-finals in 1987, and continued to do so even though the kick off was delayed that year due to crowd congestion and there was another crush resulting in injuries the following year. The bottom terrace of Leppings Lane was a death trap.

Equally found wanting are the inquests (Chapters 8 to 10 of part 2). Rather than relying on Lord Justice Taylor's interim report into the disaster that had found the police's account of Liverpool fans' behaviour was inaccurate, to say the least, the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, allowed SYP to use the "generic hearing" that followed the "mini-inquests" into the death of each fan to dispute it. This turned the hearing into an adversarial rather than an inquisitorial one, to the extent that a judicial review at the High Court found that the inquests had been "unorthodox" and failed to comply with the coroner's rules, yet the High Court still decided these breaches hadn't resulted in "insufficiency of process". More distressing still is the new evidence the report has compiled that contradicts the then "incontrovertible" finding that all those who died on the day were beyond help by 3:15pm, the time that first of just three ambulances arrived on the pitch, leading the inquests to "severely limit examination of the rescue, evacuation and treatment of those who died". This will almost certainly result in the attorney general ordering the quashing of the inquests, and the setting up of a new one.

None of this however quite prepares you for the cynicism of the cover-up perpetuated by South Yorkshire Police almost as soon as the disaster had happened (Chapters 11 and 12 of part 2) . Over the last few years we've seen the Metropolitan police do its level best to spread similar myths about mistakes of their own making, whether through the smearing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Kamal family or the untruths told about the circumstances of the death of Ian Tomlinson, but they're clearly amateurs by comparison. From the original lie told by Duckenfield, who claimed the fans had broken into the stadium when he was the one who had ordered the gate be opened, to the conspiracy hatched over three days involving the Whites News Agency in Sheffield, the local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick and senior police officers to slander the fans, to the altering of 116 statements by police officers to remove criticism of the force, this was and remains an unprecendented attack on those the police were meant to have been protecting. It's a scandal that frankly makes phone hacking look meagre by comparison.

The police couldn't though have launched their cover-up without the help of the media, and in the tabloid press they had an ally eager to help. It's unfair to pick only on the Sun when both the Daily Express (PDF) and Daily Star splashed on the most lurid and ridiculous claims of the SYP, but it was the Sun edited by Kelvin MacKenzie that even before "THE TRUTH" was beginning to blame the fans, an editorial on the Tuesday after the disaster (ditto) claiming that it had happened "because thousands of fans, many without tickets, tried to get into the ground just before the kick-off - either by forcing their way in or by blackmailing the police into opening the gates." Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie in their history of the Sun relate what happened later that day when reporter Harry Arnold filed his report based around the Whites agency's story:

Seeking out MacKenzie, he confided his fears. 'We've got to be really careful with this stuff,' he said. 'These are only allegations that we're reporting, you know.

'Yeah, yeah,' MacKenzie assured him. 'I know that. It's all right, Harry. Don't worry. I'm going to put in "some fans".

MacKenzie then did an enormously uncharacteristic thing. He sat for fully half an hour thinking about the front-page layout. The story Arnold had written had been the automatic splash from the moment it came in. But, as he doodled with layouts, for once MacKenzie's flair for instant decision-making seemed to have deserted him. He was obviously torn as he weighed up two alternative headlines. The first was his most vicious slag-off phrase, 'YOU SCUM', bringing into play the vilest word in the Sun's vocabulary and putting all the Liverpool fans on the Scum of the Earth agenda. That was bad enough. But the second, and the one he finally sketched out on the layout pad with his fat green pen, was to prove even more calamitous.

As MacKenzie's layout was seen by more and more people a collective shudder ran through the office. There was an instant gut feeling that it was a terrible mistake. The trouble was that no one seemed able to do anything about it. By now MacKenzie's dominance was so total that there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch, who was not there. The whole subs desk and the backbench seemed paralysed, 'looking like rabbits in the headlights', as one hack described them, as they stared at the two huge words in front of them in horrified fascination. ... Nobody really had any comment on it -- they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it.

(pages 339-340 of Stick it Up Your Punter!)

MacKenzie's supposed "profuse apologies" today, blaming the news agency and those who contributed to its report are worth about as much as his previous apologies which he was forced into making and then retracted. MacKenzie it should be remembered had like every other editor at the time either seen or sifted through the thousands of images taken on the day by sports photographers, some of which ought to have documented the supposed feral behaviour "some" Liverpool fans had taken part in, and which none had. Likewise, broadcast on the night of the disaster was a harrowing edition of Match of the Day which featured extensive footage of events as they unfolded, which again showed that apart from understandable anger at the initial reaction by the police, who treated the crush as crowd trouble rather than an medical emergency, there was no evidence whatsoever that fans had stolen from the dead or urinated on and beaten up officers as they tried to help. Rather than reassess the story the following day as the other papers did, MacKenzie's Sun ran a front page editorial headlined "The truth hurts", alongside a further story alleging a pub owner who helped the fans had been robbed at the same time. The paper's thought for the day was "Nothing but the truth".

If much of the blame then can be heaped purely on the shoulders of MacKenzie, it should also be kept in mind that it took the Sun until 2004 to put out an unreserved apology, and that was only after the paper had bought up the rights to Wayne Rooney's life story, to outrage in Liverpool. Today's further apology from Dominic Mohan, and tomorrow's splash "THE REAL TRUTH", might go some way to making amends, but clearly the paper is never going to be forgiven on Merseyside.

It of course should never have taken 23 years for a report such as this to be published. While the report found there was no wider government connivance in the cover-up, suspicions will remain that the South Yorkshire police's role during the miner's strike earlier in the decade contributed to the Thatcher administration's failure to intervene, especially when a briefing prepared for the prime minister noted that "defensive – and at times close to deceitful – behaviour by the senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar" (page 199). That doesn't however explain why it took until 2009 for a Labour government to order an inquiry, and while Andy Burnham deserves credit for starting the process, the families of the 96 were let down for far too long. It could have been any big club that went to Hillsborough in 89, with it only being coincidence the club that was involved in the Heysel disaster should suffer its own tragedy. That coincidence undoubtedly contributed to the attitude of some in the immediate aftermath and coloured the debate for years. Similarly, the tabloid invented reputation of Liverpool as a city had a similar effect. All the jibes aimed at the community in the city have now been exposed as what they always were: arrogant ignorance. Vindication though has surely never been as bitter.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012 

Stay classy, Matt Bendoris!

Call it fantasy, but my lack of recent posts on the standards of journalism at the Sun hasn't been down to not looking, rather that Dominic Mohan has turned out to be less sensationalist and overall far better editor than Rebekah Brooks ever was. Last week's antics over Prince Harry aside, that is, so let's not jinx it now.

We may well then have to rely on the Sun's Scottish edition to be reminded of the bad old days. Enter Matt Bendoris, chief feature writer, and his rather sad apparent medical condition, priapism. Unleashed upon "Scots violin queen" Nicola Bendetti, Bendoris turns on the charm:

STUNNING violinist Nicola Benedetti becomes as tightly strung as a Stradivarius when pop babe Rihanna’s name crops up.

I must have hit a bum note after asking why the sexy Scot doesn’t make more of her fabulous figure — when she suddenly flies off on one.

Ah yes, becoming tightly strung and flying off on one at the suggestion from a tabloid journalist that she sexs her act up a bit. Nothing in the slightest bit chauvinistic here, nope.

So I guess Nicola won’t be posing for the lads’ mags anytime soon. Pity, because she looks fit as a fiddle when we meet at Edinburgh’s plush Sheraton Hotel.

The classical musician is wearing skinny jeans which show off her long legs. She’s also busty with a washboard flat tummy, tottering around 5ft 10in in her Dune platform wedges.

Frankly, you get the feeling that Nicola Bendetti would have been better treated by one of the lads' mags. Sure, they would have leered at her, asked her to get her kit off and posed exactly the same questions, but for the most part they don't insult their interviewees:

But Nicola doesn’t always take the bonniest photo — she’s beaky in pics sometimes, which is weird because in the flesh she’s an absolute knock-out.

Class, pure class. One suspects that Matt didn't mention to Nicola at the time that he feared he had been sent to interrogate a pelican, so it's natural he let his relief out in the piece itself. And what relief!

Nicola says: “It’s eight years since I won Young Musician of the Year. In the next eight years I’d hope to be a better violinist and I’d like to have started a family. I’ll be in my early 30s so I would probably like a baby or two by then.”

Better get busy making sweet, sweet music, Leonard. Lucky boy...

With the cliche quotient duly filled, Matt no doubt made his excuses and left. Whether there was a mess to be cleared up once Matt had returned to base, perhaps the cleaners at the Scottish Sun's offices can be persuaded to get in touch.

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Monday, February 27, 2012 

The Sun may yet set.

On Saturday and Sunday, both the Guardian and Independent suggested that rather than it being an atypical moment of Murdochian chutzpah and genius, the bringing forward of the launch of the piss-poor Sun on Sunday (or The Sun Sunday as the paper's front page has it) was to ensure it hit the streets before the worst of the allegations against the paper had come to light.

And so it has proved. You can really take your pick as to which are the most damaging. Sue Akers's statement to the Leveson inquiry made clear that the arrests as the Sun are about a "culture of illegal payments to sources", mostly for tittle-tattle, as the Management and Standards Committee suggested they were, and not about lunches and small-scale tips as unnamed voices from the paper have claimed. Next was the release of an email written by Tom Crone to Andy Coulson from 2006 at the time of the arrests of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, which makes clear that the police had identified around 100 potential phone victims then, making it incredibly unlikely that Mulcaire was being used only by Goodman as everyone at the Screws and News International subsequently claimed. And lastly, there's the substantial settlement with Charlotte Church, with Church setting out how the News of the World had effectively blackmailed her mother into giving an interview on her depression and self-harm, insisting on taking photographs of her arms.

Whether any of this will affect next week's Sun on Sunday sales remains to be seen. The Sunday red-top market was the most gaping of open goals considering how terribly poor the opposition is (only the Sunday Mirror comes anywhere near to being worth 50p) so it's no surprise whatsoever that a Sunday edition of the best selling daily paper has done well. Had we known last week though that there was such apparent compelling evidence against the Sun, many more voices would have been risen against a replacement coming out while the "swamp" is yet to be drained. In that respect, it is still a typically Murdochian triumph. Whether it continues to be is something else entirely.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012 

All human life is there (or, no further comment necessary).

The paper features new columnists, including model Katie Price and chef Heston Blumenthal, Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, "fashion expert" Nancy Dell'Olio and political writer Toby Young.

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