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.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 3.

We know now then that contrary to earlier claims by the Daily Mirror, Venables has most likely been returned to prison after allegations were made that he has committed some sort of sexual offence. It doesn't yet seem that he has been charged with any offence, although the Sun suggests that he shortly will be.

This changes absolutely nothing, and in fact if anything further undermines the calls from various newspapers, individuals and politicians for them to be told what Venables has done to be recalled on licence. In no other circumstances are those that have only been alleged to have committed an offence named; only after they have been charged are the details made public. Even then the reasons for why Venables wouldn't necessarily be named are obvious: the fact that his past notoriety might influence a jury and make any trial potentially unfair would be uppermost in the minds of the Crown Prosecution Service. While the past record of the offender can now be cited in certain cases on the judge's approval, it would be certainly doubtful whether this would happen in the eventuality of Venables going before a jury on any charge. It appears that many seem to have decided that when it comes to notorious past offenders, guilt is presumed rather than innocence, regardless of how far away any actual charges are.

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Friday, March 05, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 2.

This blog doesn't often focus on the journalistic deficiencies of the Daily Mirror, which is somewhat unfair on the other tabloid purveyors of much the same material, especially considering the way in which the paper often reports on David Cameron with just as much subtlety and fair play as the Sun does on Gordon Brown. Its latest report on the alleged activities of Jon Venables is though, as the Heresiarch points out, just as bad as the very worst Sun equivalent:

Skulking into Liverpool under his new identity, James Bulgers killer Jon Venables cynically flouted his strict parole rules to go on wild benders with mates.

In a cruel snub to the memory of the innocent toddler he and Robert Thompson battered to death, the 27-year-old hit the nightclubs to get smashed on cider and cocktails while snorting cocaine and popping ecstasy pills.

Sources revealed Venables has also slipped into Goodison Park to watch Everton play football in the nine years since he was freed from jail, despite being banned from Merseyside.

The barbaric thug even clumsily chatted up women in clubs not too far away from where he and Thompson killed two-year-old James in 1993. During his sessions he would down Cheeky Vimtos, a lethal cocktail made up of two shots of port and a bottle of blue WKD.

Yes, how dare Venables act in the same way as the vast majority of his peers do? Clearly this sets him out as fundamentally unreformed, causing only further anguish and heartache to the relatives of the boy he killed. It doesn't matter that going by their description of his apparent brazenness that he didn't "skulk" anywhere, nor that the paper has provided no evidence whatsoever that any of this actually happened, apart from the word of their "well-placed sources", being conveniently prevented from doing so by the injunction that also blocks the revealing of his new identity. It is though instructive that the passing of 17 years hasn't diminished even slightly the casual demonisation of someone who committed a crime, albeit a truly terrible one, as a child, and one which he will be paying for the rest of his life as this latest episode more than illustrates.

It was always going to be next to impossible for Venables' new identity to stay hidden once he'd been recalled to prison, and the Sun reports that it has been compromised, while the Mail adds that officials are already resigned to having to give him a new one. How long it will be before the former identity begins to circle on the net, as it almost certainly will, is anyone's guess.

The Sun, like the Mirror, is making the most of his recall. According to them, he's been "gorging [on] burgers and chips in his cell", as only the truly evil and most loathed individuals in the prison estate do. To add to it, it provides the fantastically enlightened views of Anthony Daniels, a former prison doctor, who at least has some credentials with which to comment, and Tom Crone, the Sun and News of the World's execrable chief lawyer, who has absolutely none. According to Daniels a Martian might imagine that we reward a child for killing a toddler, and that "he lived a life of luxury". Venables may well have had it easier than someone put in a young offenders' institution, but I'm not exactly sure that you can call 8 years of imprisonment, regardless of where it was and under what conditions, as a life of luxury or as anything even approaching a normal upbringing.

It's Crone however who really extracts the Michael. Crone you might remember was one of the News International higher-ups who appeared before the culture, media and sport committee's investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, where like his colleagues, he failed to recall absolutely anything about absolutely anyone. He had never heard of Glenn Mulcaire, never heard of phones being hacked, and had never heard of payments for illegal activity. It's difficult not to imagine that the committee was referring to some of his deeply unconvincing evidence when they concluded that the NotW was suffering from "collective amnesia" and that they had indulged in "deliberate obfuscation". For this same man to then declare that "Jon Venables owes us big time" and that his "crime redefined the extremes of evil" is the utter height of cant. He claims that Venables has "breached the bond of trust" by not living a crime-free life, even when it seems that Venables has not been charged with any crime, and that all the allegations made about his life are just that, allegations. He concludes by claiming that he's "forfeited any right to protection". Crone felt the same way about Max Mosley when he endorsed the publication of the NotW report which led to his action on privacy, just as he endorsed the NotW going to trial rather than settling, which led to the paper's utter humiliation. Mosley was described by the NotW as a "vain deviant with no sense of truth or honour." As someone else recently said in response to a hypocrite, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

As for the Sun's editorial, it seems to deliberately misunderstand the nature of what a life sentence entails, with the life licence which hangs over someone after they've been given parole:

And we cannot secretly throw people in prison as if we were some medieval tyranny. If someone is jailed, there must be transparency.

Well, err, yes we can, and since when has that bothered the Sun in the past? As the ministers have pointed out, there will be transparency once the proceedings have reached a conclusion and when Venables' identity is presumably no longer in jeopardy. The tabloid media almost as a whole are pretending that the former doesn't matter when it involves someone as notorious as Venables and only regarding the fact that he has anonymity as a historical outrage, hence why they're pretending that it has nothing to do with why the information hasn't already been given. Venables might well be all the things that the tabloids are alleging and more besides, but to pretend that this to do with transparency in the criminal justice system, let alone to do with Labour's record on law and order is absurd. The Sun will undoubtedly use it to give Labour an extra kicking, but this remains all about a press that hasn't forgiven the government for not allowing it to hound the two young men from the moment they were released.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution.

There's a glaringly obvious reason why that as yet no further details have been released concerning the recall of Jon Venables to prison. Given life-long anonymity and a new identity, both to ensure his safety from potential vigilantes and to also give him the opportunity to try to start afresh, something which admittedly James Bulger never received, this puts all of that into absolute jeopardy. Venables has probably only entrusted those very closest to him with the details of the crime he committed, something which would exclude most work-mates and even friends. They will however either know that someone in their acquaintance with a different name has been arrested, or has suddenly disappeared, put two and two together and in most cases make five, but also might equally discover the truth. There's also, as ministers have been more quick to point out, the potential for prejudicing any future criminal proceedings involving his recall, but which is also something of a cop-out, considering how others accused of crimes have no similar protection.

That's the short answer as to why ministers have been determined not to release why he's been recalled, that to do so at this precise moment would both ensure that his identity does become known to those people, and also make life extremely dangerous for him during what might well be a short stay in prison. The hope presumably is that the parole board will decide at the end of the month, as he doesn't actually seem to be facing criminal charges, that this was just a blip or that it's still safe for him to be released, both for himself and the wider public and that then the details of why can be made clear. This still may well reveal his identity, and he could have to be moved and given another one as a result, but going through this torturous and politically damaging process is in the best interests of Venables himself.

It certainly isn't however in the interests of the media, especially the tabloids, who are in one of their irregular tedious rages at not being allowed to know why he's been recalled at least for now. They know equally as well as everyone else that this is for the reasons as detailed above, if indeed they don't know anyway why he's been recalled, considering how some of them seem to know so much about Venables' life since he's been released. The Mirror, which apparently had the scoop before the Ministry of Justice released it to the PA, claims that he's a raging cokehead, for example, and that he's been recalled after what seems a relatively minor bust-up at work, but which a complaint was made about. The real reason for their fury though is apparent: the tabloids opposed at every turn the forced anonymity of both Venables and Robert Thompson, and this gives them the perfect opportunity both to rake over that and also to potentially, perhaps "accidentally", reveal the new identity of at least Venables. They also loathed how both were released "early", having had their minimum terms reduced by the Lord Chief Justice, not to mention how the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that they were denied a fair hearing during their trial. The whole way in which the boys were treated during their incarceration, not serving any of their time in actual young offenders' institutions, has also always rankled. That boys who were denounced and demonised as beyond redemption and evil had been treated with, well, kids' gloves, only heightened the outrage.

The Sun, as per usual, is the one making the most noise, already launching an e-petition demanding to know now why Venables has been recalled, under the headline "Justice for James", more than just an allusion to the repeated allegation that Venables and Thompson weren't dealt with harshly enough. The paper's leader column has also already made up its mind, saying that

WHATEVER Jon Venables did to be sent back to prison, it had to be bad.

before going on to link the incredibly tenuously connected issues of Peter Sutcliffe asking for his jail term to be set out, the privacy battles in the courts and how inquests can now be held in secret. It doesn't once set out, let alone admit that Venables' anonymity is the key issue.

Whether or not the initial decision by Justice Morland to allow the boys' identities to be known was correct, as usual the very reason why they had to be given anonymity to ensure their safety from potential vigilantes was helped along by the role of the tabloid media in whipping up even further hatred against them. Richard Littlejohn, typically, wrote:

"This is no time for calm. It is a time for rage, for blood-boiling anger, for furious venting of spleen."

It was completely forgotten that, despite the truly shocking aspects of their crime, this was a case of children killing a child. Indeed, if anything, the fact that they were children only added to the lurid coverage, and politicians, especially the then in opposition New Labour used it for their own ends. Since Bulger the debate on crime and punishment has not questioned whether prison works, as Michael Howard notoriously stated, but on how many additional places should be built

Which leads us to just why the tabloids are so cock-a-hoop at Venables' recall. It brings into doubt that their rehabilitation was so successful, although if the Mirror's report is right it doesn't involve anything nearly as serious as some had clearly hoped. That two boys who committed such a terrible crime at such a young age, who were dismissed in such brutal terms, seem to have been able to rebuild their lives, albeit with major help from the state, and apart from alleged minor drug offences not re-offended is to undermine everything which was originally written about them, and if there's one thing that the tabloids hate more than anything, it's to be contradicted and proved categorically wrong. The events of this week mean there has to be a reassessment of that presumption, and it's one which they'll take as much as they possibly can from. For all their calls for "Justice for James", it is and always will be about them.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010 

Swearing and the news.

Is it really a news story when a news reader quotes a swear word? More ridiculous still is that Jeremy Paxman, after quoting Rawnsley quoting Brown screaming "How could you fucking do this to me" at Bob Shrum, his speech-writer, was instructed by his editor to apologise, although he rather admirably did it in around as half-hearted a fashion as possible. Anyone watching Newsnight was already likely to have read the coverage, and if anyone watching television at 10:30 is genuinely offended by someone quoting someone else saying fuck, they ought to turn the fucking thing off. Far more offensive in any case last night was John Prescott's faux apoplexy at Andrew Rawnsley daring to publish a book.

Quoting a politician or hanger-on swearing is probably the only thing the BBC doesn't have an active policy on. I can remember during the Hutton inquiry the Today programme quoting the section from Alastair Campbell's diary where he had written that the latest "evidence" they had uncovered would "fuck Gilligan", without it being censored or without any apology later being issued. Likewise, James Naughtie quoted President Bush's recorded conversation with Tony Blair back at Margaret Beckett during the Israel-Lebanon war, which contained Bush's observation that "Syria has got to stop all this shit", again without condemnation or apology. While constant, unimaginative swearing can be immature and suggests a limited vocabulary, quoting others swearing so that the record isn't sullied is also surely part of a recognition that your audience isn't a bunch of 10-year-olds who giggle at naughty words. It's instructive then that the Telegraph doesn't allow swearing in any form in its pages, the stern edict of style editor Simon Heffer, while the Guardian is supposedly the most expletive-filled newspaper on the planet. The paper's style guide justification is difficult to argue with:

"We are more liberal than any other newspapers, using language that our competitors would not. But even some readers who agree with Lenny Bruce that 'take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say fuck the government' might feel that we sometimes use such words unnecessarily. "

The editor's guidelines are as follows:

"First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.

"Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.

"Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.

"Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a cop-out."

One suspects why the "story", if we must call it that, has been in the top ten stories of the day on the BBC's news site is that there's still a certain thrill in hearing certain people swear, especially those who we only usually see and hear under such formal constraints. It's a bit like a teacher swearing when you're a kid; likely you and your friends could have embarrassed sailors, such was your command of explicit language, yet there was still something forbidden and startling about an adult in such a position of power and who was meant to be whiter than white turning the air blue. Paxman though you expect isn't someone to whom swearing is foreign, while you get the feeling that some would pay to hear say, Fiona Bruce, swear. Not me though. Not at all.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009 

The sense of impending doom returns.

Did you notice anything missing over the past few months?  That slight feeling of dread which you could constantly feel in the marrow of your bones?  That cloud of doom which had hung over the country ever since 7/7, being whipped up at least once a year by either further supposed disruptions of supposed plots or by newspapers demanding that we wrap ourselves in the flag in the face of such unmitigated horror as two idiots succeeding in only setting themselves on fire.

For a while this year, since the Manchester raids turned out to be the latest example of "security sources" briefing their poisonous hyperbole to an ever compliant media, we've actually had something approaching a thaw, helped along both by the actual reduction in the supposed threat level from severe to substantial, and also MI5's own acknowledgement that there are now less "active" plots than there were previously.  Considering the claims that there was up to 30 active plots and 2,000 individuals dedicated, presumably, to the militant variety of radical Islam, this was a sudden turn around and still remains so.  In line with this, we've had less blatant scaremongering, including from the worst offender, the Sun.  The recession and expenses scandal have of course helped also.

It was perhaps to be expected then that when the verdicts were finally returned in the retrial of the "liquid doom" plotters, with this time round the three ringleaders all being convicted of conspiracy to murder on airplanes that the headless chicken act would return once again.  Yesterday we warned to be alert that al-Qaida would try to bomb aircraft again, as clearly they don't learn from both their successes and mistakes, while today the Sun has attempted to do something approaching investigative journalism by discovering that, shock horror, those convicted of terrorism offences or offences related are being released from prison when they've served their sentences.

OK, perhaps that's a little unfair to the Sun, but not by much.  As per usual though, the story doesn't live up to its billing:

FORTY convicted Islamic terrorists are back on the streets after being released from jail, a Sun investigation has revealed.

"Islamic terrorists" as a description is being used rather loosely here.  Almost all the "big names", which is another loose description, have not been released yet, as we'll come to.  In fact, the biggest name that has already been released is Abu Bakr Mansha, a quite clearly deadly individual.  When arrested, Mansha had a blank firing pistol, which someone had been attempting to convert to fire live ammunition, a balaclava, a Sun newspaper article on a soldier who had won the military cross, and the soldier's former home address, as well as the expected radical material.  Mansha though also happens to have an IQ of 69, and allegedly gave the "intelligence" which led to the Forest Gate raid.   Truly someone to worry about.

The others already released are in much the same category, and so dangerous that the Sun doesn't actually name them.  According to the paper, at least three of those convicted in connection with the 21/7 attacks have been released.  This would be surprising for the fact that as far as I'm aware, the shortest sentence passed was six years and nine months, which even with the deductions made for current overcrowding and for time spent on remand would seem to have been released early, although the sentences could have been reduced on appeal.  None of these individuals were charged with directly helping with the bombings; they provided sanctuary or helped after they had failed, while others were either relatives or wives that helped.  The vast majority of these are unlikely to be "fanatics" but helped out of friendship or even because they were under pressure to.  The organisers of the Danish embassy protests have also been released, unsurprisingly, given that however disgraceful the views expressed, there was no action behind the words, and considering that they seem to be from the usual suspects who are all mouth and no trousers.  Others include those involved on the periphery of the Birmingham beheading plot, on similar charges to the 21/7 accomplices of not disclosing what they knew even if they weren't involved, while one was convicted of having the "Encyclopaedia Jihad".  Two had helped the ringleader, who has not been released, with supplying equipment to fighters in Pakistan, but again that doesn't specifically involve any sort of violent threat in this country.  Those involved with an Islamic school in Sussex have also been released, such an important set of convictions that there seems to be very little on it anywhere.  That doesn't begin to add up to 40 but we'll let the Sun off.

How about those soon to be released then?  We'll, there's Sohail Qureshi, not to be confused with the Canadian "terror suspect".  Qureshi was arrested when attempting to travel to Pakistan, and had night vision equipment, medical supplies and £9,000 in cash in his bag.  Material was found where he talked of hopefully "kill[ing] many", and presumably hoped to join fighters in Afghanistan.  Sentenced to four and a half years, with time on remand and reductions, he's meant to be released next month, which will still mean he's served 3 years.  The judge said his offences were at the "lower end of the scale", and while undoubtedly he could be a threat, with careful supervision and the confiscation of his passport there doesn't seem to be any reason why he shouldn't be released.  Much the same is the case with the next person mentioned, "[H]ulking thug Andrew Rowe", who Peter Clarke, that former king of hyperbole as anti-terrorist chief at the Met, called a "global terrorist".  In reality the evidence against him amounted to the usual radical material, supposed code referring to attacks and a guide on how to fire mortars.  Oh, and don't forget the socks bearing traces of high explosive.  How dangerous he truly was or is is anyone's guess, as he was under careful police supervision prior to his conviction.

Next up is the other "shoe bomber", Saajid Badat, who had meant to carry out an attack on a plane at the same time as Richard Reid, but pulled out at the last minute, also cutting himself off from his handler in Pakistan.  Considering that he failed to go through with the attack and also seems to have been about to settle down when he was arrested, the threat he poses seems low to negligible.  Finally, we have Kazi Nurur Rahman, who had links to the fertiliser bomb plotters, and probably the most serious risk as a result.  He was however entrapped by the police and security services, and there was no evidence whatsoever that he actually had the money to buy the weapons beyond the 3 Uzis which he agreed to purchase.  Again though, there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to be handled by MAPPA.

There are other problems with the Sun's story beyond the actual facts.  Does anyone really believe that a "senior security source" genuinely told the Sun this?:

If this was the United States, a great many of these people coming out soon would have been sentenced to 99 years and locked away for the rest of their lives.

But in this country much weaker sentences have been handed down and a large percentage of them have received reductions from the Appeal Court.

As a result, we are faced with an extremely worrying situation. We have got to hope these people come out without violent extremist views. But the likelihood of that is slim.

This simply isn't true in any case: Jose Padilla for example, convicted of charges similar to some of those here, received 17 years and four months. The wife of one of the 21/7 bombers received 15 years just for the help she provided.

Then of course we have the views of the contacted politicians, including the egregious Chris Grayling:

IT'S time to get tough on the extremists.


It's time we stopped these people from operating in our society. Yet the preachers of hate continue to preach.

Who? Where, Chris? The idea that it's still preachers of hate behind most of the radicalisation is years out of date.

It's also time we outlawed radical groups who propagate extremist views and in doing so incite violence against innocent people.

So you're going to ban the BNP and other neo-Nazis are you Chris? Good luck!  As for the Sun's editorial, it calls those released and soon to be released a "Terror army".  I don't think they're going to be challenging any of the more famous fighting units any time soon.

There were two other more important terrorism stories yesterday which didn't make the Sun's front page.  There was, oh, err, a huge fucking bomb discovered on the Northern Ireland border, twice the size of the one which caused the largest single loss of life during the Troubles in Omagh in 1998.  The Real IRA just aren't as sexy or as terrifying as the "terror army" though.  Or there was Neil Lewington, given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum of 6 years for carrying what were glorified Molotov cocktails with him, supposedly on the cusp of a "terror campaign".  He though was white and a neo-Nazi, even though he was actually more prepared and ready to carry out attacks than the liquid bomb plotters were, who hadn't constructed any devices while some didn't even have passports.  Terror though no longer just corresponds to individual nutters and old, boring causes: it's planes exploding one after another however implausible and however well covered they are by the security services.  If we're left meant to be fearing those who were stupid enough to get caught once, then we really are scared of the wrong people.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009 

Crying over spilt liquid part 94.

Congratulations are then in order to the Crown Prosecution Service for second time around managing to convince a jury that the three main ringleaders of the "liquid explosives plot" had indeed intended to target airplanes.  There was never much doubt that they had indeed been plotting an attack; the devil was in the detail of just what they were planning to target, and the case that it was to be transatlantic flights was flimsy at best, amounting it still seems to little more than the fact that when arrested Abdulla Ahmed Ali had a USB memory stick with flight times on it, as well as an e-mail, supposedly written in code to a handler in Pakistan where Ali made clear that all he had to do was "sort out opening timetable and bookings".

Not that you would have noticed from the celebrations from the authorities and also from the press that the "liquid doom" plot was indeed viable, but this second trial was also a miserable failure in as far as convincing a jury again that the underlings, including those who recorded "martyrdom videos" were guilty not only of conspiracy to murder on aircraft, but also conspiracy to murder persons unknown.  Only Umar Islam was convicted of the second charge, the jury hung on the first; the three others were cleared of the first charge while they were hung on the second, and lastly Donald Stewart-Whyte, who had only converted to Islam four months before his arrest, was cleared of any involvement in the plot.  This, it's worth remembering, is what the police are again calling "the strongest terrorism case ever presented to a court".  This strongest ever case has now been presented to a jury twice, and it's still only succeeded in convicting 3 individuals of conspiracy to murder on two separate charges, and one on a single charge.

Also interesting is that this time round everyone is openly accusing Rashid Rauf of being the plotters' main conduit to al-Qaida, which just shows how you can smear the dead, or rather, supposedly dead, of anything you like.  Suddenly Rauf is the new Khalid Sheikh Mohammed of international jihadist terrorism, not just helping the liquid plotters but also the 7/7 and 21/7 crews.  Rauf, of course, mysteriously disappeared from Pakistani custody while visiting a mosque, then equally mysteriously turned up, apparently dead, in a missile strike.  His family, quite reasonably considering that no body has been forthcoming, think that he's either still alive and his "death" is to cover up Pakistani embarrassment, or that Rauf has instead entered the American "black" system, or at least the parts which haven't been shut down, a view that I'm partial to, even if I dislike believing in a conspiracy theory.

It remains the fact that there was no need whatsoever to retry the main three convicted again today; the sentences that they would have received, which have been deferred and they will presumably now receive, likely to run concurrently with the sentences to be handed down for the new convictions, would have been substantial, likely to be in the 30 year range.  The real reason for doing so was two-fold: both to prove that there definitely had been a "liquid bomb" plot, regardless of whether or not it could actually have been carried out, and also to ensure that the government and security services were not embarrassed again for hyping up a plot out of all proportion, ala the ricin fiasco and the other plots which haven't even got past the arrest stage.  Hence tomorrow the Telegraph is running with the front page legend that up to 10,000 could have died, despite the fact that only four people have actually been convicted.  They keep claiming that up to 18 could have taken part in the attacks, but where are these supposed people and how can they even begin to suggest that was possible when they can't even convince a jury that those whom recorded videos were out to commit "mass-murder on an unimaginable" scale as John Reid so famously put it?

It would be even worse if the government were to use today's verdicts to rally support for the war in Afghanistan as Alan Johnson already seems to be doing.  The whole plot in fact illustrates the folly of what we are doing in that benighted country.  Not only does the exact foreign policy we continue to insist on enrage the likes of Abdulla Ahmed Ali and Assad Sarwar, if not radicalising them entirely then sowing the seeds which lead to them coming into contact with those of like minds who then poison them further, the policy is even further counter-productive because it's in the wrong country.  What's happening in Afghanistan is a civil war which we still seem to imagine is a global one; what's happening in Pakistan rather, is a civil war with global dimensions.  This isn't even to begin to suggest that what we're doing in Afghanistan we should start doing across the border, but it is about being honest both with ourselves and with them that the real problem is in the autonomous areas of the Pakistani state where they do still exist safe havens.  We need to help Pakistan without getting ourselves fully involved.  Tackling Salafist ideology involves not walking into exactly what it feeds upon: Western states acting like bulls in a china shop.  When we finally learn that we might not have to keep pretending that we're all doomed by 500ml bottles of soft drinks.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009 

Well, that went well...

You would be forgiven for thinking that the liquid doom trial accused just aren't meant to be found guilty of conspiring to murder by blowing apart airliners - just a day after their retrial began, the jury ends up being discharged for "legal reasons". We can only speculate as to why, as if it was only something affecting one juror they could possibly have been replaced, considering the very early stage the trial was at. As noted yesterday, the security services and government must really be hoping that it's third time lucky.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009 

It's deja vu all over again.

The retrial of the men accused of masterminding the liquid doom plot has duly commenced, not that you'd know it was a retrial because none of the news reports have deigned to mention that fact, which is curious in itself. Last time round the prosecution failed to convince the jury that the target for the bombings was to be transatlantic flights, to the disbelief of those who hadn't bothered to note that about the only evidence directly linking them to planes was the routes highlighted on a memory stick, along with diary notes written by one of the men which hinted at getting through security of some kind.

The biggest quandary concerning the retrial was whether new evidence would be introduced against the men, and while we can't tell what else the prosecution might yet have in store, the opening statement by Peter Wright QC doesn't seem to suggest that there will be. Still the prosecution is using the claim that the attacks could have caused deaths on a "unprecedented scale", when they know full well that the men hadn't even came close to actually assembling a viable device. The closest they had reached was the bomb-maker, Sarwar, apparently boiling down the hydrogen peroxide to the required dilution, but there is still a long way from there to exploding it on an airplane and successfully destroying it and killing all on board. Possibly new is the claim that others involved were overheard discussing targeting different flights from different terminals, but if it was left out the first trial that would be a remarkable oversight, and if it wasn't, it still wasn't enough to convince the first jury to convict.

All of which raises the question of what happens if this trial also ends in the jury failing to be convinced that planes were the target. Only three of the men were previously convicted of conspiracy to murder, Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, while all the others had already pleaded guilty to plotting to cause a public nuisance. Will the state keep trying until it gets the result it wants, be satisfied with the doubtless lengthy sentences still to be handed down, or go with imposing control orders? All of these options have the pitfall of exposing the initial certainty of all involved that this was the terror plot to end all terror plots as fraudlent. Despite all the survelliance of the men, the following and the huge amount of evidence sifted through, is there really nothing that conclusively links them to blowing up airliners? If so, it will be just another case of hyperbole and exaggeration about "the threat" designed to cause even greater fear in the general public, with the ban on liquids on airliners, which has always been ridiculous, even more absurd. This jury may yet convict, and the security services and the government must be desperately hoping that they do.

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Monday, January 05, 2009 

Suicide by churnalism.

As Sim-O notes over on the Sun Lies, the Sun and 12 other newspapers/news sites have been found in breach of clause 5 of the Press Complaints Commission's code over articles reporting the suicide of a man who decapitated himself with a chainsaw, all of which were found to have reported the method used in excessive detail, something of increasing concern due to the apparent number of copycat attempts after similar articles have been published. While I'm hardly one of those people who thinks we shouldn't so much as mention suicide or ways to kill yourself for fear that those that would otherwise live long and happy lives will kill themselves on a whim, what also has been to be kept in mind when publishing such articles is the potential for further distress to those left behind, especially when splashed all over the national press for what is little more than titillation value, so-called public interest or not.

Again though, this is a prime example of churnalism in action. It seems that none of the newspapers had reporters at the actual inquest, which naturally heard forensic detail about how the man had set-up and activated the chainsaw in order to kill himself, but rather that all the information was provided by the Press Association. The PA itself quickly realised that the first report had gone too far in giving a blow by blow account of the exact facts of the case, and issued an edited follow-up. By then though the initial account had been put up across the web, and few seem to have replaced it with the updated version. As Nick Davies argued in Flat Earth News, PA and the other wires are often considered to be authoritative and therefore don't need to be double-checked, even though they themselves are under the same time constraints as their print counterparts are. Likewise, in this instance few of the newspapers bothered to edit the initial report, or even if they did didn't edit it enough to the PCC's liking, which seems to have investigated the reports without an actual complaint being made, presumably because of their own concern about them.

The PCC emphasised the importance of editing in its statement:

However, this was not a sufficient defence [the copy having came from the PA]. Indeed, this case demonstrated the importance of the editing process in removing excessive detail before publication – both online and offline.

Of the 14 articles that were investigated, only the Metro's print version and the one in the Guardian were ruled to have not breached the code. The Guardian's is worth quoting because it seems to sum everything up perfectly concisely, without dwelling on the story:

A man cut off his own head with a chainsaw because he was "irrationally opposed" to leaving his home, which was due to be demolished, an inquest heard yesterday. David Phyall, 50, rigged the machine up with a timer before swallowing painkillers at his housing association flat in Bishopstoke, Hampshire, on July 5, the hearing at Winchester was told. At the time of his death Phyall, who had suffered from mental illness, was the only person living in the 1960s block. Recording a verdict of suicide, coroner Simon Burge said Phyall was "irrationally opposed to moving".

The PCC's adjudication decided "in a difficult judgement call" that the newspaper had "stayed on just the right side of the line". In others, such as the Sun's print version and the Daily Star, it decided that the opposite was the case and that they had included just "slightly too much" detail. None though responded in the way which the Daily Mirror did, which claimed that the method of suicide was so "exceptional" that reporting it was in the "public interest". Perhaps not knowing which battles to fight and which to not, it went on to argue that it didn't believe that copycats were likely, and "also questioned whether the restriction on the right to report inquests in full was practicable for newspapers or consistent with the principle of open justice". The Mirror might have had a point if the PCC were objecting to the details of a murder being reported in such a way, or if it was genuinely restricting the right to report on inquests completely rather than just asking newspapers to show discretion over cases involving suicide or apparent suicide, which are rarely of such public interest that the full details need to be known for justice to be seen to have been done, but it wasn't. Interestingly, the Mirror's Scottish sister, the Daily Record, accepted in good grace that its report had breached the code, "apologised, and acted to make sure that the back bench and night desk were more familiar with the terms of the Code in this area", which seems like a model response.

You could understand the Mirror's response more if its own reporters and editors had been involved in the story other than rewriting or editing it slightly, but they weren't. Surely the fact that the copy had been provided by an outside source, even if one routinely used, meant that it should have come under more attention, especially on a subject where the code is more than clear. Perhaps the reaction was more to do with the fact that the Mirror, along with the Express group and the Independent are the papers which have the fewest resources to work with and so less time to spend on messing around with the wire copy, especially when it is seen as high quality. Indeed, the Express recently made more than half of its subeditors redundant, with the Star having already done similar. Accordingly, the Star was raked over the coals while the paper protested that its sister had edited the story down to just mentioning the chainsaw, as if that was a defence.

As the recession takes hold and advertisers further desert the print media, more job losses are inevitable. With them will come the further triumph of churnalism, and as newspapers continue to try to appeal across the board and do everything, even more mistakes and complaints with them will be made. The future is, as Peter Wilby argues, the niche - either highbrow or lowbrow, not trying to be both. You can imagine that the Mail and Sun will likely survive, as will probably the Torygraph, Times and Guardian in their current forms, at least for now - the others may well fall by the wayside or go online only, although I can't imagine many seeking out the Star, Express or Mirror websites when everything they do is done elsewhere and almost always better. Before that happens, things will probably deteriorate rapidly, and like with the other victims of the recession outside those being made unemployed at least so far, the papers and their owners will have few others to blame but themselves.

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Friday, December 19, 2008 

Still weird and still never wrong.

You won't be surprised to learn that despite the quite possibly unprecedented apology made to Colin Stagg by the Metropolitan police yesterday, not a single one of the newspapers which played just as significant a role in ensuring that he became a social pariah could find it within themselves to admit that they might have something to be sorry for also. After all, that sort of thing doesn't sell newspapers and it might make some of their readers question the integrity of both the journalists themselves and the paper they read as a whole. No, the story's moved on; now it's about the police incompetence, the paranoid schizophrenic with Asperger's syndrome who was able to kill again and the fact that he lives a so-called "cushy" existence in the highest security mental hospital in the country.

Stagg's tormentor in chief isn't quite finished with him yet though. The Daily Mail can't break out of a habit of a lifetime, so even as it grudgingly admits that he wasn't a killer, it just has to get in a few digs to the ribs:

£706,000, an apology from the Met and Colin Stagg is still bitter

Yes, how dare someone that's just "won the lottery" be "bitter"? After all, it was only 16 years of being suspected of one of the most notorious crimes in recent history despite being completely innocent; anyone else would be satisfied with their lot in life and glad that it wasn't longer.

He issued a statement of thanks for the ‘grovelling’ apology - and posed with a brand-new £27,000 Toyota Rav4 he bought himself as a ‘present’ with his compensation.

Ah yes, a 'present'. Only in the Daily Mail could something so innocuous be sneered at.

Inside were books on witchcraft, an altar and a black-painted wall decorated with chalk drawings of horned gods. Pictures from pornographic magazines adorned other walls. Books on the occult are still on the shelves, but a 50-inch plasma TV now dominates the living room and a new flameeffect fire adds a homely touch.

You really would think the Mail could lay off the snobbery for just one time, but no, apparently not.

Stockier now than when he was arrested, Stagg added: ‘I never want to talk about the case again as long as I live.’

He is not quite as media-shy as he claims, however. He wrote a book about his experiences, has given interviews for cash - and has just spent months with a BBC film crew. But his girlfriend - for whom he has bought a new patio, and lavished presents on her children - insisted to the Daily Mail yesterday: ‘Colin just wants to get on with his life like a normal Joe Public.’

What a hypocrite - how dare he make some more money when he's already won the lottery? He might not have kept his promise to stop talking to the media - but why shouldn't he when he's finally got what he wanted and when a high profile BBC documentary might also help put the record straight?

And still it goes on:

Miss Marchant confirmed that Stagg retained his interest in the occult, ‘but not in an evil way’ and said he was an extremely intelligent self-taught individual who ‘flies through the Times crossword’, but at heart is just ‘a normal regular guy’.

In other words, he's still weird, and we were completely justified in repeatedly suggesting he might just have been the sort of twisted psychopath that could carry out such a horrific crime. Oh, and he reads a rival newspaper.

The Mail's entire coverage is a catalogue of archetypal sensationalism, reflection completely absent from it, with the contempt for Stagg still apparent. The intro to this particular article is almost pornographic and wholly unnecessary, especially after Nickell's own family called for an end to the pain they suffer when the case is constantly recalled:

He probably watched her for a little while.

Almost certainly, he would have walked towards her at first, just to check her face. Maybe he even smiled.

This was the way Robert Napper stalked his prey before turning back to pounce on them from behind, usually with a knife at their throat.

Sometimes, in the dark, he would spy on them for hours in what they assumed was the privacy of their homes.

But here on Wimbledon Common, he selected his victim in the full glare of a summer day. Rachel Nickell was 23, blonde and beautiful, an ex-model and devoted young mother.

The whole cache of photographs of the young Napper the Mail has seems to have been handed to them by his father, whom the paper interviews. As a result, it's remarkably coy about his father's own apparent role in Napper's descent into mental illness, which the Guardian fills in:

During his first 10 years of life, he witnessed brutal violence meted out by his father, Brian, against his mother, Pauline. Such was the trauma suffered by Napper and his siblings that when the couple divorced, all four children were placed in foster care and underwent psychiatric treatment.

It seems Napper suffered more than his siblings, undergoing treatment for six years at the Maudsley hospital. As he reached puberty, he was psychologically damaged further when a family friend assaulted him on a camping holiday. He was 12 years old.

Another article summarising the police blunders opens thus:

The story of how one of Britain’s biggest murder inquiries descended into a disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations starts on Wimbledon Common shortly after 10.30am on July 15, 1992, when Rachel Nickell’s body was found by a passer-by.

The Mail of course had no role in this disgraceful shambles which wrecked reputations. They just published what the public wanted, or even when their writers were sympathetic towards Stagg, they still had to write about how unpleasant he was, John Junor going beyond mealy-mouthed in writing that:

it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was indeed innocent.

Even in the Mail's main article, despite all the evidence now showing how Stagg was almost certainly completely fitted-up by a desperate police force that was under pressure from the likes of the Mail, it still uses weasel words and quotation marks, all to suggest that perhaps it was justified after all, such as here:

Their misguided ‘obsession’ with Stagg was compounded by what one senior legal figure described yesterday as the ‘mesmerising’ influence of Paul Britton, the controversial forensic psychologist who compiled a profile of Rachel’s likely killer.

Yes, it was misguided, but it obviously wasn't an obsession. If it was, surely the Mail's coverage down the years was as well. Perhaps it's just covering itself. Perhaps the Mail's journalists are just heartless bastards. Who knows? Still, obviously Rachel's parents deserve the same treatment given to Stagg:

Senior officers were forced to make an unprecedented public apology to Stagg, currently enjoying a £706,000 compensation payout.

Astonishingly, there was no such apology to Rachel’s family - even though detectives were compelled to admit that had Napper been apprehended back in 1989, Rachel need not have died.

"Currently enjoying"; says it all, doesn't it? There was in fact such an apology to Rachel's family, delivered at the same time as John Yates said sorry to Stagg, and in any event, at least publicly neither Rachel's parents nor her partner appear to blame the police to any great extent, her father in his statement saying in effect that the benefit of hindsight was a wonderful thing. Likewise, there was no apology from them to Stagg over how down the years they had urged a change in the law so that he could be tried again, although they have undoubtedly suffered just as much at the hands of the media as he has.

The Sun, thankfully, is much fairer in its treatment of Stagg, its article on him without any of the sneering of the Mail's. It even nicely skewers Keith Pedder, who always believed in Stagg's guilt sudden Damascene conversion to his innocence, without an extra word:

“I do feel sorry for him. He has paid a terrible price for a man found not guilty of murder.”

It would be nice to imagine that Pedder is genuinely sorry for what he inflicted on Stagg, but the money made from his books, now if not already heading straight for the pulping plant, probably means that he's in a decent enough position to be able to now feel contrition.

The Sun can't of course keep such fairness going; it simply isn't in its nature. Instead then yet more photographs of Nickell's son Alex are published, whilst the chutzpah of the Sun's story is almost sick inducing:

Reclusive Andre, 46, moved with Alex to a remote Mediterranean town to rebuild their lives — keeping their past a secret from locals.

But obviously not from the hacks which have plagued them both ever since Nickell's murder.

For sheer tastelessness, the Sun's main article on Napper's crimes wins the award. Headlined:

Ripper loved to butcher blonde mothers in front of their children

It attempts and completely fails, except in the exploitative sense, to compare Napper's crimes to Jack the Ripper's. Never mind that Jack's victims were prostitutes and Napper's weren't, and that the only thing that really connects them was the ferocity and savageness of their attacks, it takes the analogy to breaking point and beyond.

The Sun's overriding concern though is attempting to create outrage over Napper's so called "cushy" existence in Broadmoor, underlined by how he's allowed to feed the chickens and rabbits within view of a long lens. That he is criminally insane and such a danger that he will spend the rest of his life in mental hospital is obviously not enough of a punishment for his horrific crimes; after all, Philip Davies MP and Shy Keenan say so.

And the Sun's leader, naturally:

And the question The Sun asks today is this: Can it be right that a man who has so savagely taken the lives of others is allowed to live such a cosy life himself?

The Sun of course doesn't know whether his life is cosy or not; it just knows that he's allowed outside to feed farmyard animals. It doesn't matter that as well as a place for those convicted of crimes, Broadmoor also holds those convicted of none, who through therapy might eventually be released; Broadmoor ought to be the equivalent of Alcatraz, purely because of the nature of the crimes that some of those held there have committed.

Common decency demands that the way our justice system treats him reflects his crimes.

Should we let someone come in and rape him every so often, then? What is to be gained from locking someone so obviously damaged by his upbringing up all day and all night until he finally expires? Should his mental health be allowed to deteriorate even further, making him even more dangerous, as such treatment will almost certainly result in? The Sun doesn't say. Our rights just aren't being served by him seeing the light of day at all.

The Sun knows best, just as the tabloid media as a whole did. It knew then that Stagg was guilty and it knows now that it was the police blunders that doomed Nickell. It can never be wrong; it can never admit that it was just as mistaken, just as complicit as they were. And they accuse others of being totalitarian.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008 

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum.

At long last, Colin Stagg has finally received what he always wanted: an apology from the Metropolitan police for their twisted and cowardly pursuit of him. Convinced that he was the killer of Rachel Nickell, mainly because he fitted the psychological profile drawn up by Paul Britton, they took advantage of a vulnerable, lonely sexually inadequate man and attempted, through what Mr Justice Ognall described as "positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind" to get him to incriminate himself. Despite their complete failure to get him to do that, with Stagg in actuality denying repeatedly that he had killed Nickell to "Lizzie James", the Met's undercover officer, he was still charged with murder and held on remand for 13 months.

This is not just a story about a miscarriage of justice, of police incompetence and arrogance, although that is there in abundance, it's also a damning indictment of the vast majority of the press in this country. Through open collusion in some cases with the police, they too decided that Colin Stagg was Rachel Nickell's killer, despite the complete lack of evidence. Instead they focused on the fact Stagg was "weird", that he had a couple of books on the occult, that one of his rooms was painted black, that he had "paper knives". They salivated at how he had been found guilty of indecent exposure, despite the fact it had happened at a known part of Wimbledon Common where nudists sunbathed as the result of a misunderstanding, meaning they had an excuse to call him a "pervert", that catch-all term which instantly damns anyone in the tabloid press to instant penury. Most of all, they believed the police themselves, so certain were they of Stagg's guilt, the back-scratching which at the time went on as one journalist freely admitted, resulting in the sort of witch-hunt more associated these days with when social services fail to save the life of a child.

Right up until Robert Napper was charged with Nickell's murder, with him today pleading guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, they hounded Stagg with a vehemence which ought to shock us, but which doesn't because we're so used to the denizens of the tabloid press demonising and smearing individuals even before they have been convicted of any crime. The Daily Mail was one of the biggest culprits, year after year featuring the familiar hatchet job articles about how Stagg had evaded justice through a technicality, on how he couldn't be tried again if new evidence emerged because of the double jeopardy rules, since changed by New Labour, featuring the demands of Nickell's grieving relatives, and then the serialisation of the open profiteering by Keith Pedder, the officer in charge of the original investigation, who wrote at least two books about how Stagg had got away with murder. The People republished the letters which Stagg exchanged with Lizzie James, sexually explicit as Stagg hoped to appeal to the officer who was the first to suggest pain and humiliation, upping the ante each time. As the BBC special Innocent: The Colin Stagg Story just made clear, James' claims got ever more ridiculous, including that she had been groomed by a Satanic-type group that eventually resulted in group sex and the sacrifice of a woman and child, but Stagg, desperate to lose his virginity, kept going along with it, a woman for the first time showing interest in him. That epitome of tabloid television, the Cook Report, was similarly determined that Stagg was guilty, ignoring a lie detector test that he took that showed he was telling the truth, instead demanding he take a "truth drug" as well. When he refused, it obviously proved that he was the murderer after all.

Let's not pretend though that Stagg was the only victim of the media frenzy which has continued to this day. What had started as the media helping to find the person responsible for a horrifically violent and shocking crime became instead a story that sells newspapers: the continuing tragedy of the beautiful murdered part-time model, further sentimentalised through the son that had clinged to her, even putting a piece of paper on her almost severed head, apparently as a makeshift plaster. Whereas in some cases the victim and the media join forces, in this instance it instead appears that the contact between Nickell's relatives and gutter press was always grudging. In a statement read to the court, Nickell's father Andrew gives some insight into what they went through:

The next loss is your anonymity. Your life is trampled on by the media. You are gawked at in supermarkets. You are avoided by so-called friends who think some bad luck will rub off on them.


You become ever more wary of strangers. You reveal nothing because they might be media or have contacts with the media. Copies of your phone bills are obtained and friends abroad ring up to try to discover where your grandson lives.


Every day Rachel's name is mentioned, her photograph published or her home videos shown, everything comes flooding back.

In a further statement outside the court, although also thanking the media for their continued interest, Andrew Nickell also requested that after today the media stop republishing her photograph or using the wearingly familiar home videos, one that seems unlikely to be granted.

As also alluded to in the court statement, Rachel's partner also became deeply disillusioned with the persistent media attention, taking their son and going to live in France partially as a result. Writing in 1996, he described the media in the following terms:

Callous, mercenary and unfeeling scum ... you've got people on your doorstep every day, people following you around in cars taking pictures of you, people peeping over fences and Rachel's face appearing in the paper every day with any tenuous link ... it's one of those stories that's become part of British culture."

Almost unbelievably, despite knowing full well that Andre Hanscombe left the country to try to get his son away from the consistent media attention, the Sun recently published a photograph of Alex obtained while he was walking his dog. His feelings and those of his relatives have always played second fiddle to the story itself, and the media's own profit from it.

How then has the media itself so far responded to today's events? Has it, like the Metropolitan police, got down on its knees and begged forgiveness from Colin Stagg for helping to ruin his life, making him unemployable, vilified, insulted, attacked, spat on? Of course not; doing that might hint towards their own fallibility, and besides, it might set a precedent. Only when ordered to by the courts or forced to by the Press Complaints Commission do the tabloids say they got it wrong. No, instead they've now got a new story: the Met's incompetence and their failure to catch Napper before he killed again. This is a story they've known about for years, and one which a truly investigative media might have pieced together themselves. Indeed, they almost did. The Daily Mail, chief amongst Stagg's tormentors, even splashed the day after Napper was convicted of the murders of Samantha Bissett and her daughter Jazmine with the headline "DID HE KILL RACHEL TOO?" Yes, as it turns out, but they instead turned their attention back to Stagg and their belief that he was the guilty party. It was left to Paul Foot in Private Eye, who always believed Stagg's innocence, to link more clearly Napper to Nickell. In fairness, both Pedder and Britton dismissed the similarities, Britton writing in his book "The Jigsaw Man" that it "was a completely different scenario", despite the extreme violence in each case and the child being present, even if Nickell's son was not killed as Bissett's daughter was. Britton, like the media, seems completely remorseless about how his profile destroyed Stagg and also resulted in the real killer escaping justice for almost two decades.

Amidst all the screams about the "SEVEN blunders that let Rachel Nickell madman kill and kill again", the real story here is of the media's abject failure both to hold the police to account themselves and also to investigate the other possibilities. By coincidence, two other miscarriages of justice were also resolved today. Suzanne Holdsworth, found guilty at her first trial of the murder of a two-year-old boy in her care, was cleared, partially as a result of an investigation by John Sweeney for Newsnight, the second miscarriage of justice he has been involved in resolving, while Barri White, convicted at his first trial of the murder of his girlfriend Rachel Manning, was also cleared of any involvement in her death. His case was featured on the BBC programme Rough Justice, as well as appearing in the back pages of Private Eye. In both of these cases it was the media so loathed by the gutter press that helped to prove their innocence. The really sad thing is that they might be the last of their kind: Rough Justice has been cancelled while Newsnight's resources are being continually slashed. The so-called popular media, the one which is supposed to give the people what they want, which in Paul Dacre's words will cease to exist if it cannot report on scandal, cannot or refuses to report on the real scandals. Wedded to churnalism and journalism which is cheap, fast and easy to produce, they claim to be the voice of the people while repeatedly failing them. If the tabloids and those who produce them have any conscience, they too tomorrow will apologise to Colin Stagg. Instead they'll already be on to the next nearest scapegoat.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008 

The most contempt for readers ever?

Pretty par for the course complaint about a celebrity magazine lying on its front cover, it's the response of the magazine and the editor which rises this above the usual standard of contemptible "journalistic practice":

Complainant Name:
Resolved - Elaine Benton v Look Magazine

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Look Magazine

Elaine Benton of Berkshire complained that the front cover of the magazine pictured Jennifer Aniston with the caption ‘I’m having a baby!’. However, the article itself made clear that Jennifer Aniston was only thinking about having a baby with her partner.

Straight forward then - magazine lies with a view to giving the impression to the layman that they have the exclusive scoop on a celeb pregnancy. You would expect the magazine and the editor to be grudging and admit that they're a bunch of cocks, generally, but no:


The magazine argued that single – as opposed to double – quotation marks would have distinguished the claim as a paraphrase rather than a direct quotation.

Ah you see, this isn't us lying in attempt to boost sales - it's the reader being too damn stupid to distinguish between a single quotation mark and double quotation marks! How could they be so foolish?! Never mind that there is no industry-wide usage of double quotation marks to make clear that it's a direct quote, and single quotes for paraphrases, it's not our fault, it's hers!

Wait though, it gets ever better:

However, the editor emphasised that the magazine valued its relationship with its readers and that it would never seek intentionally to mislead them.

Of course not: that's why they put a lie on the front page and then excused it to the PCC on the grounds that the reader was too stupid to realise it was a paraphrase due to the single quotation marks. You can understand that those working on such horrible magazines are big on self-loathing; they probably dreamed of being investigative reporters, and there they are, reduced to reporting on which celeb is fat/thin this week, when they're not producing sticker sets insulting disabled children and conniving to portray them as bad parents that is. You would have also thought though that actually projecting this loathing onto those who buy the magazine might not necessarily be good for business.

Still, at least Mrs Elaine Benton can be happy with her settlement from the magazine:

The editor was happy to write to the complainant to apologise and assure her that her comments and concerns had been taken on board for the future. The complainant accepted this, along with the reimbursement of the cover price, as a resolution to her complaint.

Spend that £1.40 wisely!

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