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The anti-Leveson backlash begins!

March 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Lord Justice LevesonWell, it was only a matter of time.

The tedious, long-running, press-bashing, minor-celeb tufty hunt that is the Leveson Inquiry has finally wrought a backlash.

And leading the charge are the lefty-libertarians at spiked, which has launched The Counter-Leveson Inquiry.

In his article announcing the launch, spiked editor (and Telegraph blogger) Brendan O’Neill notes that ones re-opening the inquiry on Monday, Lord Leveson mention he found ‘publicly expressed concerns’ about the inquiry ‘troubling’.

O’Neill comments:

The most remarkable thing about Leveson’s admission to feeling troubled by public criticisms is that, sadly, there has been very little public criticism of his showtrial of the tabloids. You could count on one hand, or at a stretch two hands, the number of journalists and politicians who have dared to question the right of one judge to marshal celebrities and coppers to the cause of redefining the ethics of the press.

Quite so. There has been the usual drooling over the attacks on the Murdoch tabloids by the more totalitarian-inclined of our “liberal” lickspittle media – The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC etc – but the rest of the mainstream media has generally cowered in the corner, with only the Mail‘s Paul Dacre putting up any semblance of a fight in what is really a kangaroo court.

And it is a kangaroo court. Witnesses line up and grab their allotted 15 minutes of fame – or, the case of faded celebrities and failed politicians, to grab another 15 minutes of celebrity – making whatever allegations fits their agenda of vengeance, outrage, paranoia and shamelessness. There is no forensic cross-examination of these allegations such as would occur in a court of law, either criminal, where the criteria is beyond reasonable count, or civil, where the criteria is the balance of probabilities.

Instead, they are met with gentle questions eliciting their feelings, impressions and thoughts more appropriate for a student counselling session than a formal, quasi-judicial inquiry. For many of the witnesses, this is true nirvana: not only do have a spotlight of a softer, more flattering hue cast upon them, they get a free ego-massage thrown in too.

One troubling aspect of the Levenson inquiry that O’Neill doesn’t comment on in his article – strangely, since it’s one of his hobby-horses – is that by almost solely attacking the tabloids, this is really just another extended prole-bash. The tabloids cater for a sizeable readership who loves celeb gossip; some of the tabs catered to this demand by nefarious means, by illicit phone-hacking or paying cops for tip-offs of celeb shenanigans etc. Of that there’s no doubt.

But hang on: during the Leveson recess, we had the unedifying sight of the usual suspects – the aforementioned Guardian, Independent, BBC etc – drooling over “hacked” documents “proving” that the right-wing US Heartland Institute, which takes a robust anti-man-made global warming line, along with many other activities, was plotting to use the untold millions it gets from Big Oil to foil pro-climate changee scientists by “dissuading teachers from teaching science”.

The fact the central “strategy” document was a crudely cobbled-together fake and that the genuine documents – which were blandly routine meeting reports that hardly showed Heartland wallowing around in Big Oil bucks like Scrooge McDuck – had been obtained by fraud by pro-climate change activist, Peter Gleick, who has since confessed to the phishing, though not to the faking.

That they had tacitly supported and thereby endorsed illegal activities because it suited their news agenda in this instance did not seem to faze then usual suspects. Indeed, the Guardian even ran an extraordinary piece by The Ethics of Climate Change author James Garvey in which he said:

Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland’s money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he’s undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

So: the ends justifies the means, eh? But only if it’s the Guardian’s ends, it would seem. It certainly doesn’t apply to those filthy red-tops’ ends. Some may call that moral relativism. I call it rank hypocrisy.

But don’t expect such high-minded shenanigans to get even a mention at Leveson. It’s the tabloids which are in the firing line, and while it’s them, the usual suspects will happily cheer the inquiry on.

But O’Neill is surely right to note that whether they are active cheerleaders or cowering curs, mainstream journalists are oblivious to the bonfire which is being built under their feet:

It is alarming that, in a country where the poet John Milton demanded freedom of the press more than 350 years ago, and where many other writers and activists subsequently fought tooth-and-catapult to expel state forces from the worlds of writing and publishing, so many should now acquiesce to an inquiry which gives a judge and his chums the power to tell the media what its morals should be.

O’Neill ends his call to arms with another fiery quote from Milton which I urge you to check out for yourself. Because whatever you might think of their views on other topics (which I myself have a love/hate relationship with), on this issue, the spiked gang is definitely on the side of the angels.

So, farewell then, Johann Harvey…I mean HARI

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Johann Hari: The Non-Return

I guess I’m kinda sad that Johann “Harvey” Hari will not be returning to “The Independent” (dread term, as its former, most well-respected columnist Wallace Arnold would say). I was looking forward, perhaps over-gleefully, to seeing exactly what the Great Plagiarist would come up with that would in any way atone for his previous frauds to his loyal followers. Equally, I wanted to see how the Independent (“It once was. Are you still?”) would once again weasel its way around the fact they let him get away with these frauds for so long: indeed, would promote him way above his journalistic capability – which many seasoned journalists had called into question before the balloon finally went up – his intellectual honesty or  his educational ability (Tim Worstall was calling him out on his inept economic analysis long before his plagiarism came to light).

But, having returned from his New York journalism re-education camp…sorry, I mean retraining course…(hang on, he never had journalism training in the first place, so how does that work?) he has decided to cop out. Fleet Street Blues puts it kindly: “Fair play to him for falling on his sword…”  Well, far enough, except that it was a sword he fashioned himself from the ploughshare used by more honest, less ambitious and glory-seeking journalists than he.

Is there a lesson to be learnt from the Johann Hari affair? Yes, there is, and it is, in the portentous tones of Laurence Rees, it’s “A Warning From History”. The rise of Hari roughly coincides with that of Tony Blair and New Labour, and it’s difficult not to recall Peter Oborne’s verdict on the relationship between truth vs falsehood during that regime, in The Rise of Political Lying:

It is not unreasonable to speculate that the prime minister has a strong tendency to fall victim to a common conceptual muddle: the failure to understand the distinction between truth versus falsehood and truth versus error. Tony Blair, and many colleagues, consistently seem to feel that they are lucky enough to have been granted a privileged access to the moral truth. This state of grace produces two marvellous consequences. It means that whatever New Labour ministers say or write, however misleading or inaccurate, is in a larger sense true. Likewise whatever their opponents say or write, whether or not strictly speaking accurate, is in the most profound sense false.

Hari’s apologists (Polly Dutt-Pauker, Caitlin Moran etc) have all tended to forgive the Blessed Hari’s venial sins – misrepresentation, plagiarism, making up direct quotes – because he represented a Cardinal virtue: a “moral” truth, though not one supported by anything so mundane as facts, reality or common sense. It’s as though he and they have taken the example of Evelyn Waugh’s Shumble, Whelper, Pigge and Corker in Scoop and learnt exactly the wrong lesson. But then right-wing satire is always a bit too subtle for the lefties’ more clod-hopping tastes.

So Hari is off to write a book

on a subject I believe is important and requires urgent action. To be done properly it needs international travel and …in depth focus…”

Hmmm. “The Ethics of Journalism – An International Study”, perhaps? The Plagiarist’s Progress, perchance, following our hero from the City of Destruction (a rather ungenerous way to describe the Independent, but I wouldn’t know; I’ve never worked there), up Hill Lucre, to the House Beautiful and  down into the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation? A novel called…oooh, I don’t know, something along the lines of  “The Fabulist” perhaps, about a reporter on a respected national publication who throws it all away by making stuff up? Oh, that’s already been done (and had the Hollywood treatment, too).

Maybe it’s a biography of Polly Dutt-Pauker he’s thinking of doing. Now that would require in depth focus – and international travel, of course (and Tuscany is so beautiful this time of the year, too).

Good luck, Johann, whatever you do. Just stay away from journalism, all right?

And now you’re out of the way, you snivelling little creep, it’s time to go after bigger buggers. Time to turn up the screws on Simon Kelner. Stay tuned, fact fans.

Getting ready for the return of Hari

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Johann Hari: The Return

Well, 2012 is upon us for better or worse. Amidst the many pundit predictions of what will come upon us in this coming year, I noticed one curious omission: none dared foresee what should befall us with the imminent rearrival of Johann Hari in our midst.

After all, Independent editor Chris Blackhurst has publicly stated that Hari will make a return this year, after the secret “investigation’ by Andreas Whittam Smith (whom many serious commentators believe actually moonlights – with the aid of a silly beard , a joke-shop mitre and a crook he may well have nicked from a children’s nativity scene- as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly, the way Her Majesty can scarcely control her giggles whenever that bearded loon opens his mouth suggests she is in on the joke. I rest my case).

Might I humbly suggest that Hari be given a gentle reintroduction into the rough and tumble of Fleet Street, by perhaps being given a mentor, as advocated in the Confederation of Business Industry handbook of Following EU Directives/slavishdevotion/edict01235.87-98/englischepigs-humbling-of.

And might I even more humbly suggest – this being totally against the whole Fleet Street ethos for 200 years or so – that this mentor come from a newspaper other than The Independent? It’s just that, surely, on his first awkward steps on the rocky rehabilitation road since his re-education stint in the Guantanamo  of the liberal US media, Hari might welcome the guiding hand of a fellow spirit, one who supported him through his bad times, who felt his pain, albeit at a distance, and knows his tactics better than he does.

Here, in my one and only prediction for 2012, is how I reckon that tricky first Hari interview with a Celebrity Interviewee might go:

Polly: Well, I’m awfully glad to meet you, Mr Celebrity Interviewee. I am Polly Dutt-Pauker (for it is she). Here, let me give you one of my cards…

Celeb Interviewee: Well, thank you Miss Dutt-Pauker…

Polly: Mssss! Have one of my cards…

Celebrity Interviewee: Sorry, Ms Dutt-Pauker, but you see I have an important interview with a chap by the the name of Hari and I don’t have time…

Polly: (Gaily, in a politically-pointed way) Oh, hah-hah-hah. I see, in your mean-spirited conservative-voting fashion you do not quite understand my educative progressivism. Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Hari… (indicates space to her left)

Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) Well, I’d be very pleased to meet Mr Hari…

Polly: And you know he’s very pleased to meet you. And more than pleased that you meet him.

Celeb Interviewee: Well, if I could see him…

Polly: See him? Well, Mr Celebrity Interviewee, if you had availed yourself  of the very fine spectacles available from our famed National Health Service, whose hospital-contracted infection rate is second to none in the western world, you could quite clearly see that my good friend Hari is right here beside me.

Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) But I can’t see him…

Polly: Hah-hah-hah. You right-wing, proletariat-crushing bankers are such a tease. Of course you can’t see him, he’s a future we must all bring about, not matter the cost. I know: I mentor him on economics, as I do on so many others. I hope you are are broad-minded enough to recognise and accept that Hari is a Pooka.

Celeb Interviewee: A…Pooka?

Polly: Yes. That’s Pooka with a P, not an F. Say hello, Hari.

Celeb Interviewee: Well, I can’t hear him, either…

Polly: Have no fear! I assure you that not only is Hari a dear friend, but he knows everything you’re about to say, even before you say it! It’s amazing how he can divine your thoughts even before you’ve thought them. Well, goodbye – I must leave you in Hari’s capable hands! I’m off to Tuscany, where I hear the au pairs are blooming lovelier – and cheaper – this time of year! Did I give you one of my cards?

So happy together

Phone hacking: The Revolution devours its children

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment
David Leigh

David Leigh...into the Battle of Hackistan

Excellent comment from Fleet Street Blues about how David Leigh, investigations editor of The Guardian, is now in the frame for his self-admitted hacking into a phone. Oh, says the Guardian, between mouthfuls of humble pie, it wasn’t for “tittle-tattle”. It was for “investigating corruption and bribery”. Fair enough. Still illegal, though. Tittle-tattle, corruption- and bribery-busting, intellectual-profiles: if the means by which you gather these things are illegal, sorry, you’re nicked my beauty. What is it about the word “illegal” you up-yourself ponces do not understand?

As FSB said way back when this whole scandal first broke, journos have long used illegal, immoral and sometimes criminally dangerous ways to get stories. Yes…and? If they got away with it, well, they got a front page splash, maybe a promotion or a bonus and a round of drinks in the pub. If they got caught, they got hauled up before the beak fined or, rarely but occasionally, chucked in the nick, and when got out, a round of drinks in the pub.

Let’s not forget what has been behind the holier-than-thou stance of the Guardian and the BBC on this matter: the chance for a good round of Murdoch-whacking.

The Guardian has been caught out with its hypocritical knickers down with Leigh (I see Guido has another pop today), and I suspect there may be others to scurry blinkingly out into the limelight from Rusbridger Cathedral.

Then there is the BBC. Is it whiter than white? I suspect not, but I do not know. What I do suspect is that if someone manages to lift Auntie’s skirt, there will probably be an almighty stink, most probably from the direction of Panorama. I thought it odd of the Beeb to have Peston covering this whole affair. I mean, the Business Editor? Strange call: the US and EU economies are going to hell in a handcart, but never mind that, you haul in your Business Editor to cover a story about media phone hacking.

What’s that all about?

North Korea: where is everybody?

August 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The Independent has a remarkable slideshow of photos of North Korea by David McNeill here. They are definitely worth a look, and raise a few obvious questions and one, not so obvious, question:

Obvious: 1) Where is everybody? Many of these pictures were taken in Pyongyang, the capital, which has a population of 3.3 million. OK, it’s not London, but you’d expect a few more to be using the tube wouldn’t you? Or using the municipal swimming pool?

2) Picture 1: where is all the food?

There are some obvious points to be made here, almost all of which have been lost on the brain-dead trolls commenting on the Indy site: McNeill was working in a closed, ideological and totalitarian society; working within that society, and to be able to get his work out, required great ingenuity and artistic imagination to make his point; that he makes his point in images which are precise, technically brilliant (from the point of view of framing, composition, focus and that boring camera stuff).

And what is the not-so-obvious point about North Korea that McNeill so brilliantly captures in these images that he managed to get them past the all-censoring eyes of the Dear Leader’s flunkeys? Think of the famous Sherlock Homes story “Silver Blaze” – the one about the stolen race horse and the dog who didn’t bark in the night. Look at these photos and see the dog not barking. In other words, the things that are not there: not because they were airbrushed out or the Dear Leader didn’t want them depicted, but because they just weren’t there in the first place and never have been, nor are likely to be. They are likely to be the sort of things you take for granted to the extent that you don’t see them, even though they’re there before your eyes everyday.

Take that first photo: we’ve all seen fallow fields, but when was the last time when you ever passed a scene like that in the English countryside? Just one field among many that are producing something and the others…

I hope these wonderful photos are published in print with the space they deserve.

 

 

I see dead people…

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Cole in The Sixth Sense

Are you for real, David?

The quote is of course from the kid Cole in The Sixth Sense.

Don’t know why, but that film came to mind when I read this strange story about Johann Hari:

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2011/07/who-is-david-rose.html

“They only see what they want to see.”

That’s the other good line from The Sixth Sense.

No one died – apart from the NOTW

July 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been amazed by the response to the NOTW hacking scandal and the media’s reply to it.

Apparently there is nothing worse in this world than hacking into the mobile phone of a murdered schoolgirl. Well, maybe I’m not alone in thinking there could be worse things, such as those where people die not from madmen, but stupidity implemented by government and reinforced by an unthinking media, not just on people who live in faraway countries of which we know nothing. Nor the horrible means of death of young schoolgirls in counties which our own common sense (a sense not common, it seems, with our governing nor media classes) tells us is actually pretty uncommon.

But what I mean is the avoidable, commonplace and equally shocking deaths in places we know where our loved ones, our relatives, our neighbours are. And whose deaths are routinely ignored by a stupid, press-release government and a media whose ignorance borders on the mendacious.

Well, it’s time to be a bit callous here but it needs to be said: Milly Dowler was dead, and as much as you may complain about the NOTW’s actions thence, it didn’t make a lot of difference. She was still dead when the NOTW did what it did. And the police weren’t that much closer to finding her killer when the NOTW did what it did. The police hadn’t actually done a lot, though the NOTW had. Sherlock Holmes would understand, even if the editor of the Observer does not.

What I do think makes a lot of difference is the following story, covered by everyone. You may remember it. What I think is interesting is how quickly the usual suspect news outlets have dropped it. I’ve done a google to see where they might have followed it up:

The BBC. Nope.

The Guardian. Whaddyathink?

The Independent. Uh-uh.

Well, I guess in the wonderful Cameroonie world in which we now live, the hacking of a mobile phone of a tragic young murder victim is more important than the deaths of our grandmothers from lack of water – lack of water! – in our state-funded NHS hospitals. But of course you can’t fault our wonderful NHS.

Nor any drop to drink, indeed.

The fourth plinth: Surely the place for Rupert

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment
Rupert Murdoch

Still wrong-footing them, after all these years: Rupert Murdoch

For some years, I’ve argued that the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square should be occupied by a statue of a great man, Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian civil engineer who single-mindedly cleared central London of its slums, created the embankments and Battersea (and other) parks and rid London of the great pestilence of cholera forever. The capital still relies on his sewers today. And they still work.

But increasingly, I’ve come to the conclusion – a difficult one for a New Zealander – that the honoured place should go to an Australian: Rupert Murdoch. For he is the only one who has carried the robust free speech traditions of Cobbett, Horne Tooke, Hazlett, Paine, Johnson and Coleridge into the 21st-century – and willingly paid for it, often to his cost – when the panty-waisted likes of  Rusbridger (minor), Toynbee, Thompson, Hari, Snow, Kelner et al stood around saying “oooh, let’s play nice!”, so politically correct they shit where they stand lest they befoul minority toilet bowls.

Don’t get me wrong: Murdoch has his faults. He really needs to see “man made” global warming for the expensive, anti-scientific scam it is, for instance. But on many matters – many of them important, such as freedom of speech – he is on the side of angels.

Hari? Stick ‘im on the funnies page!

June 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Scene: The Independent. Time: Deadline. Simon Kelner (for it is he) is on the phone to his night editor:  “Duffy, listen…Whaddya got for the front page…millions out for strike action? Thousands, then? Oh, hundreds?…no matter, what’s the pic?…how many in the pic?…Three!…Jeez, can’t we photoshop some of them, make ’em a crowd?…oh, dressed as polar bears and pandas, were they…well splash that and make it “Pandas, Polar Bears and Penguins strike against Pensions big freeze”…whaddyamean there’s no penguins….OK, forget the penguins…bring the penguins in on page three, get the environmental page guy to do something with a Greenpeace press release or something…where’s Sharapova?…page 7??!!…. no, bring her up to page 5…big pic…don’t care what’s written, a big pic on page 1 with a tease and huge on 5….’cos she serves up big grunts…and put her on 6 and 7 as well…what’s that?…Hari’s fessed up? Hari? Hari??!… Stick ‘im on the funnies page!”

Fans of a certain classic screwball comedy may know where I’m coming from with the above intellectual profile..

The Johann Hari way to photoshop an interview

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Johann Hari

Photoshopped quote king: Johann Hari (hairdo photoshopped from a previous photo)

Brian Whelan’s excellent expose of Johann Hari’s, shall we say, “creative” way with direct quotes and interviews – which itself follows another Hari expose here – is quite rightly receiving a lot of play on the mediablogs, such as FleetStreetBlues.

Most of the commentators have used the phrases “cut ‘n’ paste” and “mash-up” to describe what Hari has done, which is fine as far as it goes, but I think a more accurate analogy comes from the wonderful world of Photoshoppery.

Those of us who use the digital image editing program Photoshop for more than just the occasional colour correction or cut-out and drop shadow know there’s an incredibly handy tool called the Clone or commonly, because of its icon in the toolbar, the “Rubber Stamp”. This handy little gubbins lets you copy an area from one part of a picture and then “stamp” it on to another area. In the early incarnations of Photoshop, this was fairly crude – often the colour of the pixels in the copied area didn’t quite match those in the target area, so you had to massage them with, say, the smudge tool to make the transplant more seamless.

So far, so cut’n’paste. But over the years, this little tool has become increasingly sophisticated, to such an extent that Photoshop itself does the mixing, reading the pixels of the copy to those with the target and making whatever colour adjustments are necessary to either to make the transplant truly seamless, to the extent it would take a real expert to find where the join is. And it can do this with areas copied from another picture and stamped into another one, too: the adjustments are done automatically.

It would appear that Hari is more than just a bog standard cut’n’paste merchant. He is master of the photoshopped quotation, able to cut quotes from a variety of sources and paste them seamlessly into one coherent whole. The tenses match, the flow of the quotations remain unimpeded: they really do read like the direct reporting of what a person said at a single time and a single sitting at a single place. Except of course that it isn’t and they weren’t.

Astonishingly, Hari doesn’t seem to grasp what might be wrong with this in a report which purports to be the subject’s thoughts and behaviour at a single time and a single place:

My test for journalism is always – would the readers mind you did this, or prefer it? Would they rather I quoted an unclear sentence expressing a thought, or a clear sentence expressing the same thought by the same person very recently? Both give an accurate sense of what a person is like, but one makes their ideas as accessible as possible for the reader while also being an accurate portrait of the person.

Well, yes, Mr Hari, I guess most of us think there is nothing wrong with cleaning up the occasional grammatical lapse or deleting all the umms and errrs that occur in everyday extempore speech. Most British journalists would also have no qualms about reordering sentences within a direct quote to help make the sense flow, although our US counterparts tend to be more queasy about doing this.

But actually lifting quotes from a subject’s previous interviews, inserting them into other quotes and trying to pass it off all as what that subject said at a single interview is wrong. And it’s wrong for the same reason that photoshopped pictures purporting to show a single event in time and place are wrong.

An interview is after all a picture in words of a single event, if you like. It purports to be a faithful rendition of what was said and, in the case of the personalised “intellectual portraits” which Hari favours, what was done by the subject at a single point of time, just as a press photo should show what happened at a single point of time. To doctor either, either to make them more newsworthy or, in Hari’s disingenuous words, “make their ideas as accessible as possible” is nothing short of deceit.

Hari may well claim that none of his subjects have complained. Perhaps none of them noticed or, if they did, didn’t care. But then they’re not the ones who are really being deceived. It’s his readers to whom Hari owes an apology.

UPDATE: Nice to see the old Downfall Hitler meme is alive and well on YouTube and being put to good use.

UPDATE II: And of course The Daily Mash has got into the act.