Wednesday, January 03, 2007 

Scum and Scumday Times-watch: Invasions, thugs, and outting bloggers.

Some days, looking at the Sun's news page, it's difficult to even know where to begin, which contemptible stories to ignore and which ones to focus on. Today is one of those days.

Let's start then with this calm and measured article:

BRITAIN is bracing itself for an invasion.

Aliens? Locusts? Killer Bees? Vikings? Neo-Conservatives? Fox News hosts? Rupert Murdoch devotees?

Up to 15,000 Bulgarians will come to live here this year after the former Soviet state joined the European Union on Monday.

15,000? Christ, get the minutemen to the borders now! There also appears to have been a sub-editing failure, as while Bulgaria was a member of the Warsaw pact, it was a never a Soviet satellite.

Then there's yet another scare story about how we are shortly going to be swamped by the hordes from Bulgaria:

BULGARIANS jubilant at their country joining the EU headed straight for Britain yesterday — by crowding on to the first bus out.

As a packed coach set off for London, jobless Nikolai Miglevski, 45, declared: “Now I’m free.”

He slammed job curbs imposed as Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on New Year’s Day — and said the threat of £1,000 fines would not deter his countrymen from finding work here.

Nikolai said: “I’m travelling on a tourist visa, of course. But I don’t know how long I’ll stay in the UK.

“I have many Bulgarian friends working in London. The Bulgarians already there will help the new ones. I like what I hear about London.”

Yes, after stories that only 3 dastardly Romanians had dared showed their faces after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, the Sun has taken itself to Sofia. It's managed to find the first bus apparently on its way to London, and describes it as packed - even though the accompanying photograph is taken at an angle which only shows half of the front of the coach, with just 7 people clustered near it. The Sun hack only speaks to 3 as well, and also didn't bother counting how many were actually on the bus, or getting a shot of it driving off in panorama for the true scale of those aboard. Still, I'm sure his dispatch was entirely accurate.

Elsewhere, the Scum is still defending the execution of Saddam Hussein, this time by turning on John Prescott for his daring to suggest that the abuse Saddam was subjected to just before he dropped from the scaffold was "deplorable":

SADDAM Hussein was a monster who tortured and murdered for pleasure.

By contrast, his own death was mercifully swift.

The jeering that accompanied it, from those he tormented most, was understandable though unseemly.

Understandable yet unseemly. That's all the condemnation that the Sun can find for the circus which surrounded him as he was put to death. The last public execution in this country was in 1875, when we decided that those about to die at least deserved the respect of not being insulted, ridiculed and mocked as they were executed, whatever crime they had committed. Not Saussure has posted up the thoughts of Dickens on public executions; they are as relevant now as they were then. Orwell's essay on a hanging in Burma, mentioned in the Grauniad leader, is also worth reading.
The Sun doesn't even deem the potentially dire consequences that the sectarian element to the execution may have in the next few weeks on the already out of control violence in the country worthy of a mention. Even those hostages murdered by Zarqawi et al only heard the chants of "God is great" rather than insults meant to humiliate them as they were killed.

It might even have been appropriate for a British minister to say something sensible about it. That rules out John Prescott. On both counts.

Yet this spluttering oaf — a disgrace even to his meaningless office as Deputy PM — was set loose on the BBC to denounce the incident as “totally deplorable”.

This, remember, is the undignified twerp who humiliated his wife and himself by cavorting drunkenly with the hired help who pleasured him under his Whitehall desk.

This is the man who never misses a chance to sneer, jeer or raise two fingers at opponents — if he can’t actually punch them in the face.

Exactly the sort of unpleasant thug who would be first out of the traps to jeer and dance on the grave of a political enemy.

Yes, and this "undignified twerp" is currently running the country, or was, as Blair is still off sunning himself at a home of a Bee Gee in America. All these insults though are aimed at the fact that by the Sun's reckoning Prescott had overstepped himself by calling what happened "utterly deplorable". In fact, as the Guardian leader mentions, it seems that Prescott was more concerned that the additional footage, shot on a mobile phone, possibly by a senior member of the Iraqi government, had emerged at all, more than the fact that Saddam was not allowed to go to his death with dignity. Some will, and can reasonably argue that as he showed his enemies no respect he didn't deserve any - but this could still have been the perfect opportunity to put previous abuses of power in the past, for the new Iraqi government to draw a line under the everyday brutality in the country and to show that they were going to do things differently. Instead things could have not gone more badly or been more indefensible.

The real reason for this editorial is that the Sun, having been so far behind the Iraq war that it would have supported the toppling of Saddam even if WMD had never been mentioned, cannot simply let something which it has took such delight in be bashed in such a way. That it was Prescott that did so made it all the more easier to attack.

On then, to the Scumday Times. For those who thought the journalism on the once revered newspaper was far removed from the abyss of its sister tabloids, it's worth reading this email sent to the sex blogger Girl With A One Track Mind, via BlairWatch:

Aug 5, 2006 11:08 AM

Dear Miss [my name],

We intend to publish a prominent news story in this weekend's paper, revealing your identity as the author of the book, Girl With a One Track Mind.

We have matched up the dates of films you have worked on - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Batman Begins and Lara Croft Tomb Raider - and it is clear that they correlate to your blog. We have obtained your birth certificate, and details about where you went to school and college.

We propose to publish the fact that you are 33 and live in [my address] -London, and that your mother, [her name], is a [her address] -based [her profession]. The article includes extracts from your book and blog, relevant to your career in the film industry. We also have a picture of you, taken outside your flat.

Unfortunately, the picture is not particularly flattering and might undermine the image that has been built up around your persona as Abby Lee. I think it would be helpful to both sides if you agreed to a photo shoot today so that we can publish a more attractive image.

We are proposing to assign you our senior portrait photographer, Francesco Guidicini, and would arrange everything to your convenience, including a car to pick you up. We would expect you to provide your own clothes and make up. As the story will be on a colour page, we would prefer the outfit to be one of colourful eveningwear.

We did put this proposal to you yesterday, but heard nothing back. Clearly this is now a matter of urgency, and I would appreciate you contacting me as soon as possible. To avoid any doubt we will, of course, publish the story as it is if we do not hear from you.

Yours sincerely,
Nicholas Hellen

Acting News Editor

Remember, the privacy test is whether personal information published by a newspaper without permission is in the public interest. While it may be of interest to some people who the blogger actually is, it is certainly not the kind of information that is relevant to the running of the country, or even to the level of who a celebrity is having an affair with. If the Girl With A One Track Mind had entered into a relationship with a politician for instance, then maybe it could just about be argued that revealing who she is would be of great public interest. The reality is that she had simply just published a book based on her blog, which itself is based around her private sexual exploits.

Furthermore, the letter is clearly of a deeply threatening nature. It's the classic gutter journalism trap: we know who you are/what you've done, help us with the story and we'll make it all so much easier. Even this though is shot with malice and licks of sneering contempt, as they have a "less than flattering" shot of her, probably shot with a long-lens or covertly, meant to make both her readers and publishers wonder whether if she's some kind of a fantasist or fictionalising her accounts; clearly an unglamorous woman could never have such an eventful sex life. Then there's their suggestion for the clothes she should wear for the replacement photo shoot, which appears to translate to something tight, extravagant and possibly naughty; all the better for the old colonels and codgers to potentially get off on. The fact that the newspaper had obtained her birth certificate is also something that the information commissioner perhaps ought to investigate: private detective agencies like the one previously exposed by Richard Thomas may well have been involved. Not even the blogger's mother's privacy is safe: she's thrown in to embarrass the family as a whole, and make the deal even less likely to be rejected. That Girl With A One Track Mind refused to go along with Murdoch's minions blackmail was both brave and worth saluting. If this is the depths that the Sunday broadsheets are sinking to, then the tabloids themselves may not have finished scraping the barrel yet.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006 

Scum-watch: Saddammed.

The Sun is utterly ecstatic with the death of Saddam Hussein. Following on from celebrating the deaths of other mass murderers, such as Harold Shipman (SHIP SHIP HOORAY was the following day's front page headline) the Sun printed a "3 AM NEWS SPECIAL" which screams "SADDAM HANGED - Iraq butcher sent to hell". Previous editions had used puns based around "OGRE" having used up "SADDAMMED TO HELL" when he was first sentenced.

The website meanwhile advertises the "Amazing" first picture from his execution. It's not amazing - the image instead conveys the banal, less than extraordinary reality of a man about to have his life taken from him. If anything, the video of his final moments is remarkable for its similarity to the tapes released by Zarqawi et al - the denouement may not be as brutal, bloody, sadistic or shocking, Saddam may have been convicted by a court of law - yet the rough edges and the general lack of humanity are still evident in both.

As could also be expected, the Sun leader does its best to justify the execution:

NO ONE should lose any sleep over Saddam going to the gallows.

A few bleeding hearts have managed to protest at his sentence — but without much conviction.

As Prime Minister Tony Blair has pointed out, this country stands against capital punishment anywhere.

But WE haven’t been under the heel of a murderous dictator for nearly three decades.

WE don’t know what it’s like to see members of our families disappear in the night.

Or witness tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen put to death.

The fate of Saddam was sensibly left in the hands of the Iraqis.

It’s no surprise they decided to put a noose round his neck.

It would be worth pointing out that we also weren't subjected to sanctions for 13 years that resulted in the deaths of a possible 500,000 children, a statistic which former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright said was worth it. Our houses also haven't been under threat for 16 years from the skies, with us not knowing whether the night might result in our families being vapourised by good-faith US/UK bombers, who have always only wanted to remove the Butcher of Baghdad and help the Iraqi people. One death should never justify another. As Stalin pointed out, one death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.

Juan Cole and David Hirst, in his exemplary obituary of Saddam, have also pointed out examples of how we stood by and watched, only intervening when Saddam threatened "our" interests.

The Sun is right however in its main point that there should be no sleep lost for Saddam. I very much doubt there will be. I challenge anyone though not to admit to feeling at least uncomfortable watching the pictures of the man having the noose placed around his neck, even though we have been spared his dropping through the scaffold. Not to feel at least some pang of pity or another emotion is surely down either to comprehensive desensitisation or a general lack of humanity, whatever the person being executed is responsible for.

Elsewhere, the Sun yesterday continued its campaign of pointing out the foibles of "our Muslim community" which Osama Saeed excellently puts into context.

Happy new year!

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Friday, December 29, 2006 

Give him the respect he deserves?

I wonder who you think you are
You damn well think you're God or something
God give life, God taketh it away, not you
I think you are the Devil itself

Manic Street Preachers, Archives of Pain.

One of the finest and most controversial songs that Richey Edwards wrote for the Manic Street Preachers' Holy Bible album shortly before he disappeared, Archives of Pain, always comes into my thoughts when I consider the rights and wrongs of capital punishment. Although Edwards intended it as pro-capital punishment, whether those were his beliefs or not, the lyrics themselves are ambiguous enough for it to be taken either way, potentially an attack on those who believe in vengeance for its cleansing, wiping the slate clean nature, while also making a reasonably compelling case exactly for that. After all, wouldn't it have been so much easier for Myra Hindley and Ian Brady to have met their maker for their crimes instead of spending the next almost forty years in prison, respectively yearning to be released and to die? Does anyone truly pay full penance, let alone regret their crimes by spending decades in prison? At the same time, the belief that executing those who have killed somehow solves everything is both a false one, and one which potentially opens the state itself to accusations that it is no better than the murderer themselves.

I admit, despite all these conflicting arguments, to be an anti-capital punishment fundamentalist. It may be because I have never suffered any serious crime, or had one happen to my relatives that I see almost no merit in seeking physical revenge for any slight committed against me. Sure, I hold grudges. I enjoy schadenfreude as much as the next person. I would like nothing better than to see the likes of Fred Phelps, Richard Littlejohn or Mazher Mahmood for example, to get their deserved comeuppance for the hate, lies and fear they've expressed time and again. Yet for them to be killed or seriously injured, rather than just suffer mentally for a short while, or to see the other side of the story that they so ignore is something that I could never condone. I'd love to see Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden answer for their crimes and murderous preaching in a court of law. For them to be blown apart by a laser-guided missile would be poetic justice, but not the kind of justice I could agree with when they could have been captured instead.

So it is with Saddam Hussein. As rumours that his execution is due to take place within hours reach fever pitch, there's a feeling that everything would have been so much easier if the Iraqi people could have beaten him to death with their shoes just like they did his pictures and his statues when the resistance to the US/UK invasion collapsed. Instead, what we've been left with is a deeply flawed trial, which in the circumstances may well have been the best that could have expected, but has not helped Iraq either come together or entirely fall apart. The brutal fact is that life in Iraq now is so much less secure that the imminent demise of their former dictator is unlikely to affect anything at all in the long run; it will raise cheers in the Shia districts for sure, potentially further antagonise the remaining Ba'athists and remnants of the Sunni community which refuse to involve themselves in the governing of the country, but in the long run, nothing is going to be inexorably changed by his death.

Why then is his trip to the gallows so urgent, not counting the legal strictures that have been set down? Why could the other trials still going on or yet to be held not continue to take place? Saddam himself has showed little to no contrition; his apparent suggestion that he and only he should be held accountable for what happened in Dujali was the only thing that has come anywhere close to either an admittance of wrong-doing or an apology. As predicted, Saddam has also prepared the ground for his death to be seen as a martyrdom. Whether this will be accepted by those who opposed him while he was in power as a nationalist socialist is uncertain, but in years to come the nuances may yet fade and appeal to a youth growing up hating America and the West and looking to find someone as a potential hero who did die for the cause, bin Laden and his henchmen not being prepared to sacrifice themselves when they can send their followers instead.

It's not too late for the death sentence to be converted to life imprisonment. This would enable the other trials to finish, perhaps crouched in a more amenable way that adheres to international law, and for full justice for all those who died at the hands of his regime to be served. Who knows, perhaps a truly democratic and free Iraq, one not marred by sectarian bloodshed may yet one day emerge while he remains alive, the one thing that would show that his reign was an illegitimate and brutal aberration that will not be repeated, breaking the man himself. Idealistic and not crouched in realism this may be, but what's wrong with dreaming every once in a while?

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