Intermission

July 30, 2010

This has been the busiest week I can remember having for ages. Hence slow blogging. Which is a real shame, because there’s loads of half-formed posts I want to finish. I’m afraid I’m going to a wedding tomorrow, so there will be nothing on here til Sunday.

Have a good weekend and enjoy the cricket.


Five Star apology

July 28, 2010

You will have to excuse my light posting. As I mentioned last week, it’s a busy time. But I do want to follow up on my post about bad journalism. The Daily Star have had to apologise for their non-story about “GTA Rothbury”, which was a pack of made-up nonsense. I found this apology curtesy of Tabloid Watch. It’s absolutely brilliant. It feels like the humiliation of the school bully. Making me read it now makes me cackle with sadistic laughter. Especially this bit:

We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story.

There’s other good stuff as well. But this is gold. Sadly – and sorry to spoil everyone’s good mood – not checking stories is hardly the preserve of the Daily Star. It’s also become a worrying trend in political journalism, especially at the BBC.

Daniel Kawczynski MP, chairman of the all-party FPTP group, was interviewed on Today a few weeks ago. You can read his arguments for keeping FPTP here. John Humphrys, after asking whether the chair of the FPTP group was totally against electoral reform, spent most of the interview asking whether Mr Kawczynski would vote against a referendum bill put to Parliament. After briefly addressing how AV works, Humphrys concluded by asking whether Kawczynski thought David Cameron would campaign for or against AV. Rather than challenging Mr Kawcynski on the policy and debating the merits of AV versus FPTP, three out of Humphry’s five questions (by my reckoning) were not about the merits of AV versus FPTP, but about the politics of the policy. You had an odd situation where the politician wanted to talk politics and the journalist wanted to discuss behind the scenes bickering.

Even the BBC’s political editor seems to think he is above checking facts. He blogged a few months back on the coalition government possibly replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. After filing his copy, he was actually told the details on European Law rather than finding out himself with this wonderful reverse-ferret:

The issue of human rights and terror suspects is even more complex than I thought.

If Nick Robinson was writing for the Daily Star, he may well have said this:

I made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication

Or as the wonderful Flying Rodent wonderfully put it:

The BBC’s premier political correspondent Nick Robinson finally bothers his arse to find out what the Human Rights Act is and what it does… when somebody explains it to him.

All those boring “first-split-in-the-coalition” posts seem to not be factchecked either. This is one of the first of those stories, by Michael Crick:

I understand that the Liberal Democrats will have representation in every government department.

On the question of how ministers can be sacked, I am told they can only be dismissed by the leader of their own party. So Vince Cable, for example can’t be sacked by David Cameron, only by Nick Clegg.

We then had this, a few hours later:

Oh dear, my previous blog on the procedure for sacking ministers in the new two-party government has caused a spot of bother.

Indeed, if I was being mischievous I might claim it as the first small split in the new coalition.

My report that only the respective leaders could sack a minister from their own party (and Cameron couldn’t therefore sack Cable, for example) was based on a briefing this afternoon with two of Nick Clegg’s senior aides.

“That’s not true,” one of his spokeswomen has just rung to say.

“The ultimate responsibility for the hiring and firing of ministers, regardless of which party, lies with the Prime Minister.”

Oh, please. If I was being rude (which I suppose I am) I’d say this is a prime example of lazy, bad, fetid journalism. YOU DIDN’T CHECK THE STORY! Speaking to only one interested party at an unattributable briefing doesn’t count as doing research. Surely you’d check with the Cameroon’s before you filed such a story?

This is classic churnalism, as highlighted by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News. What’s the point of journalism if you can’t be bothered to check facts? Just lazily report bullshit and innuendo, and pretend you’re doing a job if you want to. But then, as in Animal Farm, the pigs shall look at the journalist and the blogger, and back again, and realise they’re both the same. When they shouldn’t be.


Fantastic Headlines, No 8

July 26, 2010

Thanks to my friend John Ritchie for posting this story on Facebook. I’d never have found this otherwise. From the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper you wouldn’t normally associate with OTT headlines. This one is a real gem though:

“Transvestite had sex with a dog at English heritage castle”

The tag line tells us that the, ahem, incident actually took place in the moat. Maybe that’s why Douglas Hogg claimed so much money to clean them out?

For those feeling uneasy about going round castles now have no fear, because:

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “This was a very rare incident”.

I should bloody well hope so.


How women will circumvent the veil ban

July 25, 2010

Paperback Rioter can exclusively reveal how Muslim women in France are going to get round the ban on the niqab:

The women’s groups I spoke to said it was an acceptable compromise, which cover their faces while also showing respect for “Western values”.

Critics of the niqab both in France and also in Britain are attacking the outfit.

Tory right-winger Philip Hollowhead MP thundered, “For women to wear this is intolerable. You can’t see their faces. For all we know they might be terrorists. It’s a great symbol of repression. We are a tolerant country, but if one of my constituents visited me with one of these outfits on, I would refuse to see them.”

Hollowhead has already tabled a Parliamentary motion to get the outfits banned in public spaces.

Watch this space to see how the French Parliament will react to this extraordinary development.


Lancashire cricketer sets record that will never be broken

July 24, 2010

It’s obviously all down to playing at Old Trafford for a couple of seasons.

He’s not a chucker, he’s a unique talent and deserves all the acclaim he’s getting. Which is bucketloads.


Blogging the Labour Leadership Contest, part 2 (the webchats)

July 24, 2010

By Hannah

Last week I looked at the leadership candidates’ performance at a live hustings.  Now I’m going to look at their wider agendas as reported through the media, and in particular the live webchats they gave at the Guardian’s website. 

Ed Balls was the first of the Labour Leadership candidates to face Guardian CIF commenters, on 15 June.  He was the third candidate, and the first non-Miliband, to receive the required 33 nominations and has been endorsed by Ken Livingston, but has, thus far, received the weakest support from the wider party, with supporting nominations from only 10 Constituency Labour Parties (CLP), and the union CWU.  He is perhaps the most aggressively partisan of the candidates, as well being heavily implicated in the factionalism that beset the party throughout its time in office. As I wrote last week, however, he comes across as very genial, in a way that belies his reputation. 

He answered a wide range of questions from Guardian commenters.  He made a few strong bids to the left, as you would expect, defending continued deficit spending and refuting the suggestion that public sector pensions are excessive compared to the private sector, describing it as a “complete fiction”. 

When asked to list Labour’s top five failings while in government, he gave immigration, Iraq (capitalizing on his not being in Parliament at the time of the invasion), tuition fees, the scrapping of the 10p tax rate and rates.  However, he made a couple of incursions into more traditionally conservative territory- defending the use of PFI to fund hospital and school rebuilds and arguing for a renegotiation of unlimited migration within the EU as outlined in this article. 

He tackled personal criticisms head on, answering the charge that he had been a member of the Conservative Association while at Oxford (he had, but only so he could see their speakers). Interestingly when asked whether the Conservatives would be comfortable with him as Labour Leader, he answered no, in spite of Tory pronouncements to the contrary, recounting that the then Labour Leadership had tried to pull the same trick in the Conservative leadership contests, with Ken Clarke and David Cameron, succeeding in the first instance.  A more natural politician might not have been so candid.  He also directly accused other candidates’ teams of hostile briefing but denied that he had been, in any way, involved in this tactic.

The next candidate to face questions was Ed Miliband on 16 June.  Ed Miliband is currently the second favourite after his brother David, but is fast gaining momentum and currently holds nominations from: 63 MPs, 6MEPs, including the leader of the Labour Group in the European Parliament, 106 CLPs, and 4 Trade Unions, including the large and influential GMB and Unison.  He has also won the backing of the affiliated Socialist Health Association and a number of Old Labour grandees, including Neil and Glenys Kinnock and the wife of the late John Smith.  He was responsible for writing the 2010 Labour Manifesto which took a more progressive tone than New Labour had previously, while in government, and, since putting himself forward as Leader, has continued to tack to the left, launching campaigns for a living wage, a shorter working week and, in the statement that won over the SHA, called for better Mental Health provision and a National Care Service.  I felt that his webchat was the most disappointing: focusing on the broad principles on which he was campaigning, without giving much in the way of detail.  He reiterated his emphasis on “values” and commitment to a living wage and a high wage commission, and defended Labour’s record while in office and his own achievements as Climate Change Secretary. 

There were a couple of interesting points though.  He came out against exclusive means-tested social security, in favour of votes at sixteen and, when asked for his position on Israel, said that the UK should be a “critical friend” of Israel, naming the Gaza blockade and the Flotilla attack as particular areas of concern.  In my view, it is problematic to have particular friendships with other countries, in particular in the context of complex international disputes, however, it is encouraging that Israel won’t be given a free ride by a Miliband leadership.

 Andy Burnham followed on the 17th.  He has positioned himself as the most consistently loyal to the governments in which he served throughout his time in office, distancing himself from the factions and personality disputes.  Seeking to position himself as the figurehead for Labour’s heartlands, Burnham has made much of his working class, non-Oxbridge background. Despite this, he only just managed to gather the required number of nominations in time, but has now received the support of 30 CLPs, 1 MEP and the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs. 

Firstly, what was good about his answers?  He supports the idea of a national care service, and gave a reasonable account of how it would be funded, suggesting a 10% estate tax capped at £50,000 per couple.  He also accepted that the Labour Government had made a mistake in allowing house prices to grow so high while failing to build more social housing, and reaffirmed workers’ “inalienable” right to take industrial action, proposing reform legislation to prevent industrial action being overruled by the courts over technicalities. 

On the other hand, he showed major weaknesses, the most glaring being his response to questions over the war in Iraq.  He stood by the decision to invade Iraq; recalling a meeting with an Iraqi Kurdish leader in the lead up to the war, who had supported the war, and suggested that to have not gone ahead with military action “would have resulted in a bloody civil war, with many more lives lost and possibly even further fragmentation of the middle east.”  All of which begs the question, what does he imagine is happening now?  All in all, he gave a reasonably impressive response to a wide range of questions, but lacks the political muscle, or inclination, to really renew the party and provide strong leadership.

 Finally, David Miliband gave his webchat, on the 21st June, but had to cut it short to see a government statement on the European Council.  He started off by, rather disingenuously, responding to a question on Iraq by stating that he would not have supported the invasion of Iraq, if he had known there were no WMD “not least because there would have been no UN resolutions.”  This highlights the extent to which he is implicated with New Labour’s foreign policy blunders, particularly after the recent revelations over British complicity with the torture of terrorist suspects.  On a more positive note, he backed “multilateral disarmament – down to zero,” although it’s unclear how this squares with the proposed trident replacement.  He also offered to pay for 1000 community organizers to be trained, using money from his campaign fund.  Overall he seemed most assured- if misguided- when covering foreign policy, his old stomping ground.  He is, of the candidates, the most bound up with the New Labour establishment, and was a key member of Tony Blair’s camp within the party.  He is currently the frontrunner, with 81 MP, 6 MEP, 126 CLP and 2 Trade Union nominations, and the bookie’s favourite.

Diane Abbott did not participate in a webchat.

 Overall, I think that Ed Balls gave the strongest responses and has had a good overall campaign.  Unfortunately, his unpopularity means that he is unlikely to win, and the popular press would, likely, make him unelectable, if he did become leader.  It is interesting how the support seemed to converge on the Milibands, as I’ve said before the most archetypical politicians, fairly early on.  Of the two I still prefer Ed, even though he gave the weakest webchat, he has had a strong campaign proposing some impressively radical policies.  Labour’s last manifesto, which was his baby, was well thought out, although, sadly, that couldn’t overcome the fact that prevailing attitude had turned against Labour. 

It’s still all to play for in the Labour Leadership contest, which doesn’t conclude until September. 

Anyone wanting to follow the progress of nominations can do so at Labour List.


Bad Journalism: it’s not just a game

July 23, 2010

In moments of existential crisis, I often wonder if there’s any point in constantly cataloging the excesses of our delectable tabloids. This blog seems to be doing rather a lot of it. Even the Fantastic Headlines series, which I initially started for a bit of fun, has started looking at the sinister spin behind ridiculous headlines. One of the voices  A voice in my head often keeps saying, “it’s the Mail/Sun/Express, what do you expect?” It just seems to be a way of getting my blood pressure to rise and a fast-track to a coronary.

But something can come along and remind you that this is a worthwhile thing to do. So thank you, The Daily Star. On Wednesday a story on its website that has since been taken down, but can be seen here, reported that:

FURY erupted last night over plans for a Raoul Moat book, movie and game…[sic] before the man he killed has even been laid to rest…

last night gaming websites showed the cover of Grand Theft Auto Rothbury.

The Daily Star also quoted the grandmother of Samantha Stoppart, Moat’s former girlfriend who he shot.

It is sick – it’s blood money. The game is beyond belief.

Indeed it is. It seems that there’s no evidence that this game is being made whatsoever. The only “proof” is the mocked-up cover, which is an obvious photoshop job.

Is it likely that some random guy from the internet got bored and shopped up a GTA Rothbury cover? Sure. But the “gaming websites” allegedly promoting the new game seem to be in remarkably short supply outside of the imagination of Daily Star writers.

The story has since been pulled, an apparent acknowledgment of the fact that some lies go too far even for a site as notoriously trashy as the Daily Star. But it doesn’t appear too anxious to give up on such a juicy story; the headline and the fake GTA Rothbury cover are still plastered on the Star’s main page, at the top of the “Most Popular” stories list.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the journalist responsible for the story has “rebutted” claims he made it up on his Facebook page. Remember that this man is paid to write for a living:

Baffled by the fury of adult gamers. These are grown (?!?) men who sit around all day playing computer games with one another who’ve today chosen to enter the real world just long enough to complain about my story slamming a Raoul Moat version of Grand Theft Auto! You would think I’d denied the Holocaust!!! Think I’ll challenge them to a virtual reality duel….stab….I win!!!

This man apparently thinks nothing of making up a story on completely spurious grounds, and then go to the still traumatised relatives of the victim for a quote. What a cloaca [warning: link contains rude words].

It’s worth repeating that: our newspapers are now making stuff up for no reason whatsoever, just to provoke reactions from people. And the proprieter of the Daily Star has now seemingly bought Channel Five.

It might take a while, but the more that people complain; the more that are aware of our sinister press; perhaps eventually things will change. It’s like water dripping on a stone; it’ll take time, but if we keep shouting and shout lout enough, they can’t get away with this for ever.


Funny Friday (2) “Down with this sort of thing!” (careful now)

July 23, 2010

If I’d thought about it, I would probably have started with this, seeing as I’ve put the picture from the scene on the front page of the blog. But better late than never, eh?

Before seeing all the episodes on 4OD earlier this year, I’d only watched the Father Ted Christmas special, with its wonderful Lingerie Section skit. I never found it laugh-out-loud funny, but I always seem to be giggling to myself because I’m weird of something I remember from Father Ted. “Down with this sort of thing!” is one of those bits.

It’s probably obvious why I’ve put the photo on the sidebar. After all, as lefties we often seem to end up spouting variations on the theme of “Down with this sort of thing!” As Jill Swinburne, the environmentalist in The Beiderbecke Affair, says when asked if her party is against police harrassment: “Oh, we’re against it. We’re against practically everything.” It sums up a certain strain of political, not just left-wing, thought.

It also makes a good point about the futility of protesting about books, plays and ‘this sort of thing’. Creating a huge clamour for a book/play/song to be banned just creates a lot of publicity that said book etc would not have got otherwise. Maybe if the protesters against Behzti in 2004 had watched Father Ted, we would have had no death threats, no writer forced to go into hiding, and the world would be a better place. Maybe.


Another possible Republican nominee for 2012

July 22, 2010

Following on from Danielle’s blog about Sarah Palin, it seems there’s another darling of the American right who wants to be President in 2012.

Bachmann, whose district is a sprawling stretch of farms and small cities, has used her theoretically modest political platform to catapult herself to the forefront of conservatism in America. She does not shy away from extreme opinions, lambasting President Barack Obama as a socialist threat to the American way of life. She is stridently anti-government, pro-business and socially conservative. She has even called for her fellow congressional politicians to be investigated to see if they are “pro-America” enough.

To many on the left of US politics, her outlandish statements seem a poor joke. She is regularly lampooned on liberal blogs in a similar manner to Palin, whose family life dominated the gossip magazines last week after the unexpected engagement of her daughter. But as Palin becomes more of a media force than a political one, Bachmann is rising to replace her. Her verve and anger have entranced a significant section of the population, one expected to vote in huge numbers in this November’s mid-term elections. “Bachmann is media-savvy, energising and charismatic, just like Palin. But unlike Palin, she is a seasoned politician. She is not a political lightweight; she is serious,” said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside.

I must confess I know little about Bachmann, but here are some of her more exotic observations. Amongst them:

“Back in the 1970s swine flu broke out then under Democrat President Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

Not much to add to that really, is there?


Fantastic Headlines, no 7

July 21, 2010

A theme emerging from this series is that there is often a great deal of difference between the headline and the actual story that follows. Obviously that’s mostly down to sensationalism. The newspaper gets across the propaganda point it wants to, and then covers itself (if it bothers to) by admitting that the story’s a bunch of crap in the 17th paragraph.

This is the rationale behind this breathtaking headline in – where else? – the Daily Express:

“EU’s plan to liquify corpses and pour them down the drain”

Because our great tabloid press loves nothing better than an EU scaremongering story. The story has now removed the story from its website, but you can see how it used to look here. As Tabloid Watch points out, the basis for this story was dead wrong (sorry).

Because when the Express said ‘EU’s plan’ what they actually meant was ‘Belgium’s Flemish Association of Undertakers’ plan’. It’s easy to confuse the two.

The EU Representative to the UK pointed out: “Whatever Belgian undertakers decide regarding funeral arrangements is a matter for the Belgian authorities. Just like it’s a matter for the UK authorities in this country. The EU has no competence in this matter and to suggest otherwise is wide of the mark.”

In conclusion: incorrect story, fantastic headline. And certainly worthy of number seven in our series.


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