Friday, March 26, 2010 

Reporting according to your own biases.

Considering that this blog often focuses on general tabloid mendacity, it's worth taking a look at the reporting of the broadsheets on exactly the same release from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which features a graph on how the personal tax and benefit changes since 1997 have affected different incomes groups (PDF).

According to the Guardian, this shows that Labour's strategy has closed the income gap. The Indie says that "Labour 'has cost the rich £25,000 every year'", the FT went with "Rich hit hard by 13 years of Labour budgets", while the Telegraph decided upon "10m families have lost out in Labour's tax changes", with a subtitle claiming that "Ten million middle-income households have lost out because of Gordon Brown’s repeated tax rises, a study has indicated."

Admittedly, part of the reason for why the papers are likely to have gone with such different interpretations of the same material is that while a briefing accompanied the release of the report, the report itself doesn't directly explain the graphs in any great detail, although it does point out that it doesn't show how household incomes have changed over the same time period. This is the crucial part, and only the Independent gives (unless the FT goes into more detail in its actual report rather than just the cut-off us plebs are allowed to view without paying) the extra detail concerning these changes which provide the context in which to understand the IFS report:

However, taking into account all changes in income since 1997 – including growth in salaries, bonuses, rents and investment incomes – the UK is still a very unequal society, despite the Treasury's efforts, the IFS points out. Income inequality has risen in each of the past three years and is now at its highest level since at least 1961, according to the IFS.

Sevillista in the comments on Left Foot Forward furthers this:

It is being misleadingly reported.

What it is saying that the bottom 60% are paying less tax then they would have done if 1996-97 tax structures and rates were left in place, the upper middle are paying slightly more and the very top are paying significantly more.

What it is not saying is the rich are worse of – they are far better-off and have gained far more than everyone else (inequality measured by Gini has slightly worsened, post-tax incomes
of the top 1% have raced away).

Shoddy reporting. Labour in taxing rich more than Tories chose to do shock, but unable to stop inequality increasing

Newspapers in reporting the news according to their own political bias isn't perhaps the most shocking revelation, but that even the supposed serious press fails, with the exception of the Indie, to put it into actual context should be a concern to those who imagine they're being treated with anything approaching respect.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, August 06, 2008 

The "smoking gun" Iraqi memo and Con Coughlin.

Continuing with the theme of hackery, although on a scale far, far removed from that involving Peaches Geldof, comes the allegations from Ron Suskind in his latest book that the White House ordered the CIA in the middle of 2003 to forge a letter from Iraq's former intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush, which was subsequently used as the smoking gun to prove links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. The letter claimed that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September the 11th attackers, had trained in Baghdad at the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal's camp, and that the Iraqi regime was deeply involved in the 9/11 plot.

The letter was the crudest of forgeries and has subsequently been exposed as such. It is however the first time that allegations have been made that the forging of the letter was authorised at the very highest levels of both the US government and the CIA itself. Suskind minces no words and suggests that is impeachment material. All sides, it must be said, have denied it, and there are reasons to believe, as suggested in the Salon review of Suskind's book, that this might be one of those stories that seem too good to be true because they are, more of which in the conclusion.

The same must be said for those who believed the provenance of the letter, especially considering which journalist was responsible for its publishing. Rather than going to an American source with the letter, perhaps considering the fallout that was yet to come over the leaking of dubious intelligence to Judith Miller of the New York Times and others, the memo was given to a British journalist, the Telegraph's Con Coughlin.

It's by no means the first time that Con Coughlin has been linked either with the security services or with putting into circulation dubious material which subsequently turned out to be fabricated or inaccurate. Back in 1995 Coughlin claimed that the son of the Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi was involved in an attempted international currency fraud. Served with a libel writ, the Telegraph was forced to admit that its source for the story was none other than MI6, with the paper first being informed of the story during a lunch with the then Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind. Coughlin was briefed further by another MI6 officer on two occasions before the story was subsequently published.

Despite in this instance Coughlin's links with the security establishment coming back to haunt him, neither did it seemingly alter his friendly relations with them nor their apparent diligence in supplying him with little more in some circumstances than open propaganda. As well as being handed the forged smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaida, he also happened to come across the fabled source for the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to use them. To call it a fantastical tale would not put be putting it too histrionically: Coughlin talks of a DHL flight targeted before he landed in Baghdad by "Saddam's Fedayeen (a Wikipedia article worth treating with the utmost scepticism due to the almost complete lack of sourcing)", that almost mythical organisation supposed to fight to the death for Saddam that didn't put up much of a fight during the invasion, let alone in the months following the fall of the Ba'ath party. The Iraqi colonel claims that weapons of mass destruction were distributed to the army prior to the invasion, but were never used because the army itself didn't put up a fight. It's strange that 5 years on none of these batches of WMD have ever been discovered, despite their apparent diffusion around the country.

Since then, Coughlin's sources have been no less convinced that we're all doomed. Back in November of 2006 Coughlin claimed that Iran is training the next generation of al-Qaida leaders, despite the organisation's view that Iran's brand of fundamentalist Shia Islam is heretical. Allegations have been made that Iran has been supplying help to the Taliban, despite previously helping with its overthrow, but even in the wildest dreams of conspiracy theorists and neo-conservative whack-jobs no one seriously believes that Iran would ever help al-Qaida, let alone train its next leaders. The nearest that anyone can really get to claiming links between Iran and al-Qaida is that some of its members are either hiding there or that its fighters have been using the country as a transit point.

In January of last year Coughlin was back with another exclusive, claiming that North Korea was helping Iran get ready to conduct its own nuclear test, after NK's own pitiful attempt had gone off "successfully" the previous October. This one was not quite as fantastical or laughable as the one linking Iran and al-Qaida, but was still murky in the extreme. The NIE intelligence assessment the following November concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear programme 4 years previously. That said, we should be cautious: the Israeli attack on the supposed Syrian nuclear processing plant came after evidence that it was modelled on the North Korean plant, and there are allegations along with that of heavy North Korean involvement in the operating and building of the plant, if it indeed, it must also be said, it was a nuclear site at all.

The latest revelations that Coughlin's 2003 report may well have originated from the very highest levels of US government only increases the level of scepticism with which any of his articles should be treated. At times journalists have to rely on security service figures to break stories which would otherwise never set the light of day, but as David Leigh wrote in an article from 2000, the very least that they should do if this unavoidable is be honest about the origins of such reports. It's one thing to get into bed temporarily with the intelligence community, it's quite another to act for years as their voice in the press, as Coughlin certainly appears to have done, spreading the most warped and questionable of their propaganda. As the Guardian reported in 2002 after the Telegraph admitted to the role of MI6 in their story on Ghaddafi, Coughlin was likely to recover from the indignity due to his good contacts within MI6. That certainly seems to have been exactly the case. Most humourously though, this was how Coughlin opened his commentary on the 2003 Iraqi memo:

For anyone attempting to find evidence to justify the war in Iraq, the discovery of a document that directly links Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks, with the Baghdad training camp of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, appears almost too good to be true.

As Coughlin must have certainly knew it was. Just how too good to be true has been left to Ron Suskind to expose.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Saturday, February 23, 2008 

Say no to 24 hour thinking!

24-hour drinking fuels rise in crime, sighs the Telegraph. Nowhere in the article is the obvious pointed out: that because the change in the law has meant that the pubs/clubs now don't chuck out all at the same time, i.e. 11pm or 2am, it means that the police have been much better able to deal with offences that would have previously overwhelmed them.

As an actual police officer wrote on the Mailwatch blog:

The licensing act (24 hour) has also helped a great deal. Instead of kicking-out time for everywhere at 11pm, we’ve got slow dispersement into the night, so the police haven’t got a great mass of people all at once. Crime has ’shot up’ after the licensing Act because we CAN detect, arrest and deal with more people, rather than be swamped and therefore unable to arrest/detect any crime at all! This ‘crime-spike’ was intended by the Home Office and the police as a result of the above reason, but you won’t read that in the Daily Mail!

Nor in the Telegraph.

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Friday, April 06, 2007 

Happy Easter, war is starting.

It's a well-known fact that no one takes much notice of newspapers on bank holidays. News itself tends to be in short supply, and as we all know, no news is a perfect opportunity to make it up. "Good" Friday has turned out to be no exception.

The Scum then takes the "revelation" that the 7/7 bombers had been on a "reconnaissance" mission, supposedly staking out targets, to mean that they were, err, going to "bomb the Queen". This doesn't make sense in the slightest - the whole point of suicide attacks is to cause as many casualties as possible, not something that's going to be achieved by a single bomber blowing himself up outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. A truck or car bomb would have been different, but they clearly hadn't planned or had the resources for such an attack, although a viable device was left in the car abandoned by the bombers in the Luton train station car park, presumably as a booby trap as the police don't believe another bombing was planned. The only point of an attack by a single bomber would be to show that nowhere would be safe, and while there is a seemingly endless supply of "martyrs" willing to kill themselves in Iraq, that is certainly not the case here. The article then goes on to say that the blasts were planned 7 months in advance, which somewhat seems to contradict the idea that they hadn't decided where to bomb only nine days before the actual attacks.

The Telegraph seems to have fallen for the exact same story, except they claim that the bombers changed their plans at "the last minute". One has to wonder if the men were going through the motions, examining the possibility of bombing such landmarks but deciding not to pursue it when attacking the public transport network would both be far easier, create more casualties and strike just as much fear into the public as symbolic attacks would.

The other question has to be why it's taken close to two years for the three men now alleged to have been involved with the plot to be charged. We're told that the footage of the men on their "reconnaissance" mission was discovered shortly after the attacks in the initial investigation. Even considering the supposed lack of help forthcoming from the community in Beeston, for it to take 21 months for the men to be either formally identified or sufficiently proved to be involved for the CPS to prosecute seems extraordinary. It has to be assumed that they were not deemed to be prepared to take part in suicide attacks themselves, because otherwise the public seems to have been left at considerable risk.

The other coincidence with the timing of the arrests and the charges is that of the end of the trial of those arrested under Operation Crevice; the jury still seems to be out, considering the charges against the men. We know that once the jury has a reached a verdict there are meant to be forthcoming revelations involving the 7/7 attacks, things which currently can't be reported due to subjudice. Rachel suggests that the charges won't affect these from coming out, but that words will have to be considered carefully. Again, this seems to blow any chance of an inquiry into the bombings even further into the long-grass.

Elsewhere, the right-wing press takes its cue from Blair to blame Iran for the deaths of the four soldiers killed by a roadside bomb, regardless of any evidence whatsoever to prove it.

The Scum takes it even further, directly blaming

But this smirking creep is no reality game show host. He is a murderous tyrant who tortures and kills his own people.

While he basked in a major public relations coup, terrorists acting with his blessing were blowing up four Brits in Basra — two of them women.

Seeing as it's not even certain who was responsible for the IED, the only evidence being circumstantial in that it took place in an area where the Mahdi army are well-supported, and as Juan Cole points out, Iran and the Mahdi army aren't the greatest of friends (the Badr brigades, the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are the ones directly supported by Iran), this is an allegation too far.

The Mail and the Express are instead insulted by the Iraqis who dared to visit the place where our heroes were blown up, smiling as they hold up the detritus left behind. Why aren't these people grateful? We've given them freedom down the barrel of a gun, bombed their country for 16 years, killed thousands of men and women, enforced sanctions responsible for the deaths of 500,000 children, and still they rejoice when the British die! It's almost as if they don't want us there.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, April 03, 2007 

The building of a moral panic.

Following on from coverage last month of the conviction of Tom Palmer for murder, today's Daily Mail appears to be attempting to raise the stakes in the growing hysteria about the ill-effects of "skunk" cannabis.

This latest case concerns 17-year-old Ezekiel Maxwell, a paranoid schizophrenic who stabbed grandmother Carmelita Tulloch 7 times in an unprovoked and motiveless attack. The Daily Mail claims that he had been smoking cannabis
and skunk since he was 14, as well as taking cocaine.

As is nearly always universal in these supposed cases however, the evidence is by no means clear cut. Maxwell himself claims that he started to hear voices after smoking the drug. It's quite possible that smoking skunk could have triggered or exacerbated his apparent descent into schizophrenia, but we have to take into consideration what else was happening in his life at the time, as well as whether the illness would have developed if he hadn't been smoking cannabis. The Daily Mail article provides few details about his family life, other than the fact that he was additionally "obsessed" with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. We also don't know just how "heavy" his use of skunk/cannabis was; a Torygraph report mentions that the psychiatric reports simply say that they believe his condition was exacerbated by heavy use of skunk.

Somewhat buried in the Mail article is a fact that is probably far more of an explanation for the murder. Last June he had been referred by his GP to his local mental health team, who had prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. His case had been reviewed four times, and was due to be considered again the day after he stabbed Tulloch to death. Maxwell had not taken his medicine for two weeks. Countless previous cases of paranoid schizophrenics committing violent acts have documented the dangers of sudden stopping in the taking of medication, often being found to be the trigger or the explanation for changes in behaviour. It was only after handing himself in that he was definitively diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, something that had been missed in his previous sessions with the psychiatric team.

Also worthy of mention is his "addiction" to Grand Theft Auto. The Mail mentions that Carl Johnson, who you play as in GTA:SA carries a knife, which is true. You can also carry an AK-47, a chainsaw, a pool cue, a samurai sword, grenades and countless other guns as well. As the game progresses you can also pilot a US fighter jet and shoot down other planes on exercises, but that doesn't really enter into what Maxwell did quite as well. The prosecution also states that Maxwell had been playing the game almost exclusively in the months before the murder. This doesn't necessarily suggest that he was obsessed with it: GTA:SA is a lengthy, time-consuming game. It took me around a month to "complete" the in-game missions, and then afterwards you're given free-reign to roam a vast area modeled on Los Angeles in the early 90s, where much of the repeat playing fun comes from.

There's no denying that the GTA series of games are violent, but it's up to you how you play it: hacking down/shooting everyone on the streets not only draws the attention of the police, but also rival gangs. The character you play as only tends to kill in the game as revenge; it's not a bloodthirsty gore fest, however the media would like to paint it. The game also has an 18 certificate for a reason: Maxwell, being 17 at the time of the murder, shouldn't have been playing it.

The whole highlighting of GTA is reminiscent of how violent horror films were often blamed or linked to murders during the 80s and early 90s. The Sun in one case reported of how "mad Michael", the killer in the Halloween series of films had "talked" to a paranoid schizophrenic and told him to kill. That Michael Myers in the films is a mute escapee from a psychiatric ward didn't enter into it. How Maxwell's own lawyer described it is thus:

"The game allows the player to take on the role of a criminal in a big city. This persuaded him to stab someone. He was powerless to resist."

Just how much Maxwell was genuinely influenced by playing GTA is again unclear. The reports by his psychiatrists have not been properly presented in their write-ups by either the Mail or the Telegraph, so we have to rely on what was produced in court by both his own lawyers and the prosecution. The prosecution says that he believed he was Carl Johnson, and his own lawyer that he "powerless" to resist the voices in his head. One has to wonder whether if he'd been taking his medication these thoughts would have become so overwhelming and irresistible.

While the Telegraph focuses more on GTA, the Mail goes overboard with the references to skunk. It says this case highlights the dangers of skunk: it rather highlights the danger of smoking cannabis while not taking prescribed anti-psychotic medicines poses. You have to wonder whether the mental health charities commenting on the case are also doing more harm than good -- the more cannabis gets the blame the more "normally" developing mental illness gets swept under the carpet. Statistics may well be useless, but it ought to remembered that 1 in 4 will suffer from some form of mental ill-health during their lifetime. We also have to remember just how the Mail and others are building a wave of hysteria over cannabis when the evidence for the massively increased potency of cannabis is itself simply a myth, as the ever-excellent Ben Goldacre set out in a recent Bad Science column. It was also only a couple of weeks ago that the Lancet presented its own detailed investigation into the actual harm posed by various drugs: it unsurprisingly found that heroin and cocaine (especially crack) are by far the most dangerous, while ecstasy and cannabis were less relatively harmful than both alcohol and tobacco, findings which are examined here by Transform.

As with the Tom Palmer case, skunk may indeed have exacerbated Maxwell's descent into schizophrenia. This however shouldn't be used to build a wave of panic over brain-meltingly strong weed that's inflicting mental illness on our teenagers when there is absolutely no evidence to support such a thing. Instead, the apparent failings both in the treatment of Maxwell, and his own failure to take his prescribed medicine are buried while his quite possibly incidental "addictions" to both skunk and GTA are over-hyped. The threats from all drugs are relative: we only have to see town centres at the weekend, another favourite of the Daily Mail, to see that binge drinking is far more destructive than cannabis is. Instead, perspective is thrown out in the window in the rush to scare middle England into yet more worry about just what their children are doing.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates