The Sun's non-birthday and Graham Dudman's letter to the PCC.
Murdoch's pledge that it would always be a straightforward, honest newspaper, has naturally been carried down over the years from hack to hack, from editor to editor. During Rebekah Wade's reign, Graham Dudman, the paper's managing editor, did almost all the required television and radio interviews and appearances, as Wade herself was too shy and retiring, as well as liable also to put her foot in it. In the same way it seems, rather than the editor herself respond to such nuisances as a letter from the Press Complaints Commission investigating an article potentially in breach of its code, it fell instead to Dudman to do it. At long last, Tim over at Bloggerheads has posted the letter which Dudman sent to the PCC in response to their request for more information over the "TERROR TARGET SUGAR" Glen Jenvey report back in January. It makes for a highly revealing insight into how the tabloids regard both the PCC and those that complain to the organisation:
The complaint suggests that "the intent of the thread was to start a polite letter writing campaign to persuade the influential Jewish people that what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong". With respect, we do not agree that the intent of the thread was simply to start a "polite letter writing campaign". It is clear from even just a cursory review that the Website carries numerous extreme views and is widely used by Islamic extremists to discuss radical and/or extremist subjects. We have reviewed both the thread which prompted the article and other threads on the Website and we have no doubt that it was reasonable for The Sun to describe the Website as a "fanatics website". For example, the Website contains one message board entitled "Does anyone here recognise Israel's right to exist" which contains threads that include quotes such as "Muslims are a patient people. Jews are a greedy people. Who will win in the end?" (posted by 'AbuMusaab' at 7:56am on 4 January 2009); "you are a fool if you think that the Muslims will let you live in peace" (posted by 'SunniHammer' at 8:39am on 4 January 2009); and "you won't find any peace until all of you thieves were kicked out from the Palestine inshallah" (posted by 'Ammarcool' at 9:56am on 4 January 2009). These are just three examples.
In light of this, in our view, to regard Islamic extremists as being in the business of sending "polite letters" is naive and extreme. This is based on the expert opinion of Glen Jenvey, an expert in radical Islam. In any event, as a matter of common knowledge, we are unaware of a single incident of Islamic extremists writing polite letters. It is quite obviously a euphemism which almost does not require expert opinion to establish.
Rather then than even allow a modicum of respect for the complainer, Dudman sets out from the very beginning to smear Ummah.com, just indeed as Jenvey himself did. Just as you could cherry-pick from the MySun forums what could be regarded as "extreme" views, the Sun finds a few predictably hot-headed opinions, as was the mood back in January, and presents this as evidence that the site was and is an extremist hotbed. Such extremists couldn't possibly then conceive of such a polite and dignified way of expressing their opinion by sending "polite letters"; it simply has to be a euphemism. And what's more, our expert, Glen Jenvey, says so.
Dudman then goes on to contradict himself:
The matters raised in the article are plainly matters of public interest. Exposing, even at the earliest of stages, a proposed conspiracy to cause harm to prominent British Jews is a matter that The Sun is and should be free to report. It is not the case that public interest is and can only be served by reporting such matters to the police.Err, except the Sun is only claiming that a list was to be drawn up, or so Dudman claims. Even at earliest stages? This drawing up, as noted previously, was hardly moving fast and "Abuislam", aka Jenvey, had to keep bumping the thread to get any sort of story which he could sell on.
Central to the complaint is the suggestion that Glen Jenvey, the terrorism expert quoted by The Sun in the article is connected to (or in fact may possibly be) a freelance journalist called 'Richard Tims'. Additionally the complaint suggests that it was 'Richard Tims' who posted the thread on the Website using the avatar 'Abuislam' which is referred to in the article. We have spoken to Mr Jenvey regarding the complaint, particularly in relation to the allegation that he is in some way connected to 'Richard Tims'. Mr Jenvey has categorically denied that he is, or that he uses the name, 'Richard Tims' or, indeed, that he ever met anyone by that name. Mr Jenvey also denies that he ever posted any threads on the Website.
Well, to quote Mandy Rice-Davis, seeing as we're going back 40 years plus today, he would say that, wouldn't he? Since then Jenvey has of course admitted that he was Abuislam, and as a result the Sun, in its half-hearted apology, put all the blame on him. That this was a complete failure to abide by the most basic practices of journalism, that you check and check again, and that you don't rely on the word of just one person unless you absolutely have to is neither here nor there for this straightfoward, honest newspaper.
We should add that Mr Jenvey is an extremely well respected expert on terrorism who has contributed to various radio and television programmes in this country. In this respect, we make the following points:
Since the letter was written Jenvey has been completely discredited. It's true that Jenvey didn't just dupe the Sun, but also the likes of the BBC repeatedly, and that reflects badly on all involved. That doesn't however excuse the Sun from relying on others rather conducting its own investigation into Jenvey's credentials.
5. To confirm, Mr Jenvey was not paid for his contribution to the article.
As Tim points out, this is a nifty piece of sleight of hand by Dudman. Jenvey almost certainly was paid by the Sun, but indirectly, through the South West News Service news agency which supplied the paper with the story to begin with.
The complainant would also be trying to discredit Mr Jenvey (and by implication the article published in The Sun on 7 January) without any foundation. In this respect, the complaint includes a link to a website (http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2009/01/glen_jenvey_has.asp) which contains a number of extremely serious allegations against Mr Jenvey. As well as the allegation that Mr Jenvey, 'Richard Tims' and 'Abuislam' are all one and the same, which I deal with above, the website also makes a number of personal attacks on Mr Jenvey. Those attacks include allegations, amongst many others, regarding Mr Jenvey's sexuality as well as claims that he is a paedophile (eg "or is it that he likes young muslin boys around?"). Mr Jenvey categorically denies that he is a paedophile. In this respect, we understand that Mr Jenvey has been in a stable relationship for the past 16 years. The website also contains a purported interview with an individual claiming to be Mr Jenvey's daughter. This interview is manifestly false. Mr Jenvey does not have a daughter.
It's best here to quote Tim again:
Unlike other 'leading' bloggers, I take responsibility for the comments that appear on my website, but it cannot be stressed enough that the 'daughter' content did not originate on my site, and was instead repeated under comments as part of a background information dump by a well-meaning comment contributor. It was irrelevant to the body of the post, and was publicly dismissed as irrelevant the time. In this letter, Dudman only makes passing mention of the body of the post (i.e. the part containing key evidence showing their expert to be a fraud) and instead focuses on the comments underneath, greatly misrepresenting their content and context in many ways, not the least of which being:
- The 'paedophile' text (as with the other text about Jenvey's daughter) was mirrored information from another website posted to my website as a comment, and allowed as background only. It did not originate from me, nor was it highlighted, encouraged or expanded upon in any way. The Sun imply otherwise. Further, the text The Sun claim was published by me 'to discredit Glen Jenvey' does not accuse Glen Jenvey of being a paedophile, as a wider quote from that passage reveals ("'is bin laden a gay? or is it that he just likes young muslin boys around? is jihad a form of child sex?"). The comment is about Osama Bin Laden, and was originally posted to ummah.com under the name 'saddam01', which according to Ummah.com is yet another alias of... Glen Jenvey! Yes, the 'paedophile' text wasn't *about* Glen Jenvey, and it was most likely written *by* Glen Jenvey!
(As many of you are aware, Glen Jenvey later went on to falsely accuse me of being a paedophile. Repeatedly. On hundreds of websites. What role this letter/accusation played in that decision and if Jenvey was confused enough to believe that I had done anything like that to him is unknown at this time.)
It has to be said that both myself and Tim deeply regret and apologise for linking to, providing space for and discussing the supposed interview with Jenvey's "daughter". In mitigation, as soon as we became aware that the "interview" was probably not genuine, we put up disclaimers, and when it became apparent that it was false, I removed the information completely from my post without any prompting. Are we perhaps ourselves then hypocrites for so quickly latching onto that information? More than possibly. Is it something we've learned from and will not be repeating? Most certainly. The same can hardly be said for the Sun on that score. At least though we didn't claim in correspondence to the press regulator that our source had been smeared as a paedophile by the complainant when the source himself then went on to, err, smear the person who exposed him as a fraud in exactly the same terms.
It is our view, from what I set out above, that the complainant has not been full and frank with the PCC, both as to the nature of the information discussed on the Website and the implication that Mr Jenvey was in some way responsible for posting one of the threads referred to in the article. This is a further matter which should be taken into consideration.
If it hadn't been for Jenvey finally admitting on the Donal MacIntyre show that he had been Abuislam and the entire report was a fabrication, then Dudman's attempts at smearing Ummah.com might well have succeeded. As we've seen over the last week, with the PCC "investigation" into the Guardian's allegations about phone hacking at the News of the World, the PCC is the kind of organisation that is only willing to take even the slightest action when it catches newspapers breaking the code the equivalent of red-handed. Even then the Sun only ran an apology on its 12th page, when the initial report had been a front page splash, and in effect took no responsibility, instead heaping it all on Jenvey's shoulders. Alan Rusbridger's resignation from the PCC's code committee, almost certainly a reaction to the whitewash it produced over the NotW phone hacking, where it effectively condemned the Guardian more than it did the NotW, might yet trigger some soul-searching at a regulator which has never been weaker than it is now. That is though just how those who fund it and sit on its boards like it; it will take a scandal even bigger than the Jenvey one or even the furore over Jan Moir's homophobia to persuade the industry that its regulator needs some teeth.