Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Nothing suspicious there

According to the Times,
The parents of Madeleine McCann have denied that they held a secret meeting with the seven friends who dined with them on the night of their daughter’s disappearance to “get their stories straight”.

Egypt "fabricated terror group"

According to the BBC, the Egyptian government has been accused of inventing a terror group to justify its renewal of emergency terror laws.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Winning the (propaganda) war on terror

The BBC reports that 62% of people believe that Britain is under greater threat of violent attack thatn at any time since the second world war. So someone must be doing something right.

But you can't find this story from the Independent on the Beeb. It's about a former British resident being tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Davies on flat earth journalism

Media Workers against the War have also now posted Nick Davies' excellent talk at their conference, where he identified the descent into "churnalism".

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Wilby and the war

Media Workers Against the War have posted Peter Wilby's plenary speech from their conference last month. It's worth a read.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Blair's schadenfreude

Blairite without a cause Andrew Rawnsley says that Blair and friends are enjoying seeing Brown in the mire over secret donations, especially after Brown allegedly threatened Blair over cash for honours.

Of course none of this - dating back 4 years - has anything to do with Blair.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

When did we know?

The BBC is excelling in sitting on the fence in the latest Labour funding scandal:
Property developer David Abrahams gave £657,000 under other people's names - which is now known to be unlawful.
General Secretary Peter Watt claimed not to know this was unlawful, even though it was his job, and Mr Abrahams has claimed he didn't know. So, even though it couldn't be clearer that it is a breach of the Political Parties and Referendums Act 2000, the BBC has to imply that there was a time when this wasn't "known".

Thanks for muddying the waters on that one.

Monday, 26 November 2007

NatWest 3 guily after all?

The Guardian is reporting that the Natwest Three are on the brink of a plea agreement which could involve an admission of wrongdoing in return for a lighter charges from the US government.

As the Guardian reminds us:

In the run-up to their extradition in July last year, the trio orchestrated a high-profile political campaign alleging that they were the innocent victims of an unjust treaty which allowed America to seize British citizens on the basis of scant evidence.

Among their supporters were senior Conservative politicians and business figures such as British Airways' chairman Martin Broughton, the retail tycoon Philip Green, Glaxo SmithKline's chairman Sir Christopher Gent and the London Stock Exchange chairman, Chris Gibson-Smith.

The trio staunchly maintained that they had done nothing wrong. Critics, however, pointed to correspondence seized by prosecutors in which the bankers discussed keeping their controversial dealings with Enron under wraps and, at one point, referred to their actions as "robbery" of an Enron off-balance sheet venture. Enron's disgraced former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, was scheduled to be the prosecution's star witness against them.

Perhaps there was some evidence after all.

Wintour spins for Brown

Patrick Wintour doesn't really care who he spins for, as long as they feed him stories. In the Guardian today he reports that:
Gordon Brown will call for an acceleration of nuclear power today in a speech to business leaders designed to show he is focused on the long term and will not buckle in the face of negative headlines.
Except that:
He was forced by the courts to hold a second, as yet incomplete, consultation on building nuclear stations so he will not make an announcement today in case he is accused again of pre-empting the outcome. But it is clear that he sees a new generation of stations as vital to Britain's energy security and emission targets.
So Brown won't actually call for an acceleration in nuclear power. But with Wintour to spin for him, he doesn't need to.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Inside Story

The Observer is reporting that:
A chastened Gordon Brown has told key allies that he going to 'radically alter' the composition of his inner circle which has been criticised for being too small and excluding senior members of the Cabinet from major decision-making.
So behind the scenes someone is briefed that things are going to change behind the scenes. How's that for transparent politics?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Denmark in non-story shock

Today's piece in the Times is pretty desperate. Apparently:
Britain faced further isolation within the European Union yesterday after Denmark announced that it was giving its citizens the chance to vote in a referendum on its relationship with Europe.
But the second paragraph, which at first appears merely to repeate the first, reveals that there isn't really a story at all.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the country’s recently re-elected Prime Minister, announced plans to give Danes a say in joining the euro and ending Denmark’s opt-outs from Brussels.
So Denmark might opt in to the Euro after all and, like Britain, would hold a referendum before doing so.

The hacks were so desperate to make a story that they painted a lack of interest from the government and the tories as showing that the Danish move caused them difficulties:
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would say only that it was “a matter for the Danes” while the Tories gave a notably defensive response.
Mark Francois, the shadow Europe minister, said: “We believe in a flexible Europe where each country can find the level of integration with which it feels comfortable. If the Danish Government wish to discard some of their opt-outs that is a matter for Danish people and Parliament to decide.”
Quite a sensible and sophisticated response but insufficiently knee-jerk, so the hack scraped the bottom of the barrel.
It was left to Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers to draw the comparison between the Danish leader’s decision and that of Gordon Brown. Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: “It’s good to see that at least one incoming leader has the courage to put his country’s relation with the EU to the people. It’s a shame our own Prime Minister is refusing to honour the promise he made to do the same.”

Sunday, 18 November 2007

War was always the plan

Yesterday, it was revealed that Tony Blair wanted the Iraq war all along. He claimed, as he has claimed before, that he wishes he had just published the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments on Iraq. This is one of Blair's great con tricks. He has conned a lot of people into believing that the intelligence was as certain as he said it was.

Today, Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell admitted that it was about regime change all along.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Dossier film now online

My Film, "Who wrote the Iraq Dossier?", is now viewable online. It includes a cracking interview with Andrew Gilligan who has a piece in the Press Gazette today arguing that journalists are still getting the story wrong on Iraq.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Knives out for Malloch-Brown

The Sunday Times is reporting that Foreign Office officials have turned on Lord Malloch-Brown, their minister, describing him as a “liability” for the government. Malloch-Brown upset people when he said that Britain and the US should no longer be "joined at the hip". It's hard to find many people, apart from Blair, who think we should be.

Aparently, Malloch-Brown has also upset Labour friends of Israel.

This pretty well sums up the received wisdom around UK foreign policy that whatever you do, you mustn't upset the US or Israel.

But why are Foreign Office officials, with the apparent connivance of David Miliband and the help of the Sunday Times, engaging in a whispering campagn against a minister?

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Why worry?

The BBC reports that
The drinks industry has launched an attack on new campaign group, the Alcohol Health Alliance, even before it has been fully established.
It reminds me of the tobacco industry's campaign against a ban on advertising their product. If it isn't going to reduce consumption, why is the industry worried?

Are they trying to be helpful?

It's really not clear whether the unnamed police sources who "back" Sir Ian Blair in this Guardian article are trying to help him or stab him in the back.
While those who talked to the Guardian support Sir Ian, they fear his departure may be the only way for the force to get back on track. "All the really important things begin to look in jeopardy because the future is so uncertain," said the senior source. "I do question if the authority of his office has been irrevocably damaged."

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Cash for Blair

The Guardian Reports that:
Tony Blair has been panned by the Chinese media after he was allegedly paid $500,000 (£237,000) for a speech that revealed "nothing new".

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

McCanns and Mitchell manipulate

As the Telegraph relays claims in the Spanish press that two of the Mcanns' friends want to change their stories, their spin doctor is straight in with the denials.
Clarence Mitchell, the McCanns' spokesman, denied that any of the friends had officially approached the Portuguese police through their lawyers but said that they were happy to be reinterviewed by police if it resolved any apparent inconsistencies and hastened the McCanns being cleared.

"Contrary to a report in the Spanish press, and after consultation amongst Gerry and Kate McCann's friends, I can deny that any approach has been made by their lawyers asking to amend or change the witness statement of any of them," he said.

"Kate and Gerry's friends, who were with them on May 3, have consistently told the truth and remain happy, indeed they are keen, to be reinterviewed by the police if necessary to clarify any inconsistencies in the statements that the police may think they have identified.

"The friends believe that if such interviews or reinterviews take place it can only lead to Gerry and Kate being eliminated from the inquiry swiftly."

Isn't their something a bit fishy about the McCanns and Mitchell monitoring the witnesses to make sure they stick to their original stories?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Kettle backs Blair

Martin Kettle is such a hopeless blairite that he can't help backing Sir Ian. Kettle is one of those people who almost always gets it wrong. He claims that

The conviction of the Met puts us all in greater danger

As one poster puts it:
Kettle seems to have become habituated to defending the indefensible.
Other posters just take his argument apart:
Kettle has here contributed one of the most poorly reasoned and ill-informed articles seen on CiF, and that is quite an achievement. To pick a few of the more egregious errors:

2. "The police genuinely thought De Menezes was a suicide bomber." No, they did not. They did not know who he was, or what he was doing. There was total confusion and incompetence, but they killed him anyway.
This should really be the last word on the subject.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Watchdog or lapdog?

I've got a piece in the New Statesman this week asking if the Information Commissioner is up to the job.

Strachan tells it straight

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan has hit out at the way the press misrepresent and manipulate the words of footballers and football managers.

"You people sometimes are like those serial killers you see in films who send out these horrible messages.

"The serial killer who cuts out the words 'I am going to get you' or 'your wife is next'. You are the very same."
Strachan was complaining about press stories that claimed he coveted David Weir, a player at another club.
"Last week I was told of the headline that I wished I had David Weir.

"No way at any time did I say that I wished I had David Weir.

"In the 20 minutes that I sat there I'm sure that 'David Weir' and 'wish' may have been said but at no time did it ever, ever come together."

Monday, 29 October 2007

Independent or what?

Stephen Glover in the Independent has another take on the departure of Observer editor Roger Alton and, perhaps more interestingly, criticism of the Indy itself for apparently reprinting a Foreign Office briefing note on Europe as a story.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Purnell caught out

The Sunday Telegraph seems to have Culture Secretary James Purnell bang to rights over the faked foto.

Straw the Madam

In the Observer, Henry Porter is sceptical about Brown's proposals to increase our rights and freedoms.
Putting Jack Straw in charge of the consultation process on a bill of rights is like turning over a campaign against prostitution to the head of an escort agency. Such a man can only see a bill of rights as political tool and a way of further entrenching the powers of government and the executive.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The opposite of journalism

It's interesting to see the way rival newspapers have covered Nick Davies' allegation that the Observer's former political editor Kamal Ahmed helped write the Februay 2003 (really) dodgy dossier. See the Standard website.

The Sunday Times includes the claim in a story by its arts editor, "War Stirs Left's backstabbers", while the Independent also tells the story as a feud between the pro-war Observer and the (slightly) anti-war Guardian.

I've known about these claims for a while and, while I don't really know if they are true, my experience of Ahmed is that he was one of the journalists most open to being fed a story during the Campbell era. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he returned the favour.

An unattributed denial

Patrick Wintour shows what great contacts he still has with former members of the old regime. Reporting John Yates' claims that No 10 failed to co-operate with his cash for honours enquiry, Wintour tells us:
A senior No 10 political official at the time rebutted Mr Yates' comments last night saying: "This claim is preposterous. Throughout Number 10 civil servants, special advisers and Labour party staff cooperated at every stage of this inquiry. There are no grounds for Yates to make this statement."
That clears that up then. Wintour offers us an anonymous denial with no proof.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Blair not dead yet

As the Mail serialises another book on Blair by Blairite sycophant Anthony Seldon, it seems Blairites haven't entirely gone away. Mail on Sunday political editor Simon Walters allows a Brownite a chance at an unattributed "free pop" that nevertheless seems to sum up where the Blairites are coming from:
"Mr Blair's people cannot accept that they have lost power," said one. "These stories are a crude attempt to settle scores with no regard to the effect it has on the Government."
The Telegraph latches on the story without bothering to credit the Mail. It has a non-story within the non-story:

[Seldon] says that Mr Brown may have been involved in ensuring that Jack Dromey, a senior trade unionist and treasurer of the Labour party, complained publicly about the cash-for-honours affair – which caused Mr Blair huge political damage.

Dr Seldon writes: “A story reached Blair a few days later of a plan to remove him from office by effectively bankrupting the party and encouraging donors to say they would only be prepared to give money to get it back into the black if Brown was leader.”

“Blair himself never accused Brown of complicity but did tell him how outrageous he thought the timing of Dromey’s comments was. 'Well nothing to with me,” was reportedly Brown’s reply. 'Then again,’ sighs one No 10 aide, 'it’s never anything to do with him, is it?”

Meanwhile undead Blairite John Rentoul gives us more unsubstantiated drivel:
Within minutes of Sir Menzies Campbell's resignation on Monday, the question had moved on to the choice of Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne as his replacement, and how either would affect the balance of advantage between Labour and the Conservatives. It was the wrong question. The significance of Sir Menzies's sudden departure is that it tells us this: David Cameron already has the edge.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Bending the truth

It was said in court today that the Met police manipulated the composite picture they used to show how similar Jean Charles de Menezes looked to the attempted July 21 suicide bomber Hussain Osman.

The Met's spin on the case has always been that it was a case of mistaken identity. The BBC continues to help them out with this:
Brazilian Mr de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head on a train at Stockwell Tube station on 22 July 2005, after being wrongly identified as Osman.
But the court has already heard that de Menezes was never identified as Osman:
"By comparing the photo of Jean Charles with a photo of Hussain Osman, you may understand why some of the officers at least thought Jean Charles might be Osman," said Ms Montgomery. "None of them said he was definitely Osman."

Friday, 12 October 2007

Pasquill and Straw in the dock

Foreign Office official Derek Pasquill was in court yesterday, charged with six alleged offences of embarrassing the government under the Official Secrets Act. Richard Norton-Taylor covers the story in the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Martin Bright has a real go at Jack Straw, over this and other issues.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Index on FOIA

Unfinished business, my article for Index on Censorship, about the dossier and the Freedom of Information Act, is now online.

Blowing the whistle

There has been limited press coverage over the decision to charge Derek Pasquill, said to be the source of various stories by Martin Bright, first in the Observer and then in the New Statesman, under the Official Secrets Act.

Interestingly, both the Times and the Guardian (online) reported it as a news story (today and yesterday respectively), although Pasquill was charged on 27 September and this was cited in an Observer piece on Sunday by Henry Porter.

The New Statesman's editor John Kampfner made a strong statement on the NS website, calling the episode "an abuse of state power".

Monday, 8 October 2007

Can I help you?

The BBC reports that:
Complaints about Labour's use of automated phone calls are being looked into by the information commissioner.

The method - dubbed "robocalling" in the US - greets people with a recorded message asking them to press a number to indicate their preferred party.

And that:

The Lib Dems say the calls are illegal and want the commissioner to be more "assertive" in investigating them.

Anyone who wants the commissioner to be more assertive about anything is going to be disappointed.

Out of a spin

As the inquest continues into the non-story that was the non-election, the Guardian's story from Patrick Wintour and others provides some fascinating insights into how people in the government would like to spin things.

For me, the most interesting bit of the story is that:
Some cabinet members privately regard Mr Brown's visit to Baghdad last week as a presentational disaster, which gave the impression the prime minister was playing politics with British troops.
I think it is quite legitimate to write about what ministers are saying "privately" if that is different from what the official line.

By contrast, it's not clear whose views are contained in this next bit,
Ed Balls, another member of the Brown inner circle, also shifted against a poll in the wake of evidence that the Tory promise to cut inheritance tax had, for the moment, made the Conservatives look like the party of aspiration and change.
Why is this qualified, "for the moment"? It does seem fairly clear that Labour wants to admit that the inheritance tax proposal went down well, believing that they can neutralise it, either by attacking its credibility or by doing something similar. But whose view is being set out here? It starts as an apparently factual statement that Balls changed his mind but then appears to mutate into something that sets out his spin on the short-term nature of the Tories' gains.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

It was the spin wot dunnit

Most people now agree that Gordon Brown's trip to Iraq and the (false) claim that a further 1000 troops are to come come backfired badly. Brown appears to be so used to rehashing the same announcement that he walked into this one. It was hysterically funny watching and listening to MoD minister Bob Ainsworth trying not to admit that some of the troops are already home.

In the Times , Camilla Cavendish (yes, I think she is a real person) puts a very Tory spin on Brown's speech but I think in some ways she's right. It's very cheap to say:
36 hours later almost every journalist I spoke to had privately come to see it as barren and dishonest.
But then she does make a good point that:
cramming the media together in these conference centres always ups the chances of similar headlines
I would suggest that the collective view of the press pack shouldn't really matter, but of course it does.

Monday, 1 October 2007

They don't get it

The BBC is still reporting that the police officers who shot Jean Charles de Menezes mistook him for a suicide bomber. In fact,
"By comparing the photo of Jean Charles with a photo of Hussain Osman, you may understand why some of the officers at least thought Jean Charles might be Osman," said Ms Montgomery. "None of them said he was definitely Osman."
The Guardian still doesn't get it:
An Old Bailey jury was told that the 27-year-old, who had been mistaken for a suicide bomber, was gunned down by two police officers in a "shocking and catastrophic error" that could have been avoided.

More contradictions on de Menezes

The Guardian is also getting confused about de Menezes. It says:
An Old Bailey jury was told how the 27-year-old, who had been mistaken for a suicide bomber, was gunned down by two police officers as a result of a "shocking and catastrophic error" that could have been avoided.
But in fact:
"Some of the officers watching him thought he might be a suspected suicide bomber who lived in the same block, others did not," said Ms Montgomery.
So "might be" is as close as anyone is said to have come to identifying de Menezes as a suspected suicide bomber (from the day before). Both the BBC and the Guardian are on very dodgy legal ground here.

shum mistake

The BBC continues to report that the police who shot Jean Charles de Menezes "mistook him for a suicide bomber". This highly ambiguous phrase repeatedly appears in media coverage of the case and is the likely reason why the police who shot de Menezes were not prosecuted for something more serious than breaching his health and safety.

The phrase carries the implication that the police thought at the time that de Menezes was about to carry out a suicide attack, in spite of the fact that he clearly wasn't and they clearly couldn't have done. It is unlikely that a jury would convict police who killed someone who was about to let off a bomb. It is more likely that a jury would convict police who killed someone who tried to let off a bomb yesterday but we will have to wait for the evidence in the trial to see whether the police make any kind of identification, mistaken or otherwise.

A tory story

In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Will Woodward show how to tell a Tory story from a Labour point of view. The headline is "Labour attacks Cameron on 'unaffordable' tax cuts", but most of the story is about the Tories and the possibility of an autumn election. Your have to read down to paragraph 14 (I think) to find anything to justify the headline and intro.

This Times cartoon sums up the phoney war over a possible autumn election.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Kate's Friends

The Telegraph "reports" that Kate McCann will risk jail to find Maddie - a story that is spin from beginning to end.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

No pressure

In the Telegraph there is a fascinating story, not so much about a possible love letter carried by French president Nicholas Sarkozy, but about the way his friend, the defence and publishing tycoon Arnaud Lagardère, can be relied on to drop embarrassing stories from his various publicatons.

Spinners and spooks

In the New Statesman, David Rose writes about the way that MI5 and MI6 plant stories with selected journalists. He makes some very good points, the main one being:
MI6, in other words, would maintain a priceless advantage, a quality regarded as essential in intelligence operations of many kinds - what spies call "plausible deniability". And if, heaven forfend, the service told me something that turned out to be mistaken, or even tried to plant sheer disinformation for who knows what purpose, there would be no comeback, no accountability. I could put up, or shut up.
This is, or course, the essence of any spin operation. As Rose points out, it was the same with the lobby briefing system and is the same today:
The lobby rules were a licence to manipulate coverage and a way of settling political scores, a game in which journalists and voters held few cards. "Lobbies of all kinds are a conspiracy against the customer, the reader," says Peter Preston, who as editor of the Guardian also campaigned for reform. "They enable the reporter to say, 'Look how clever I am. I've got this amazing source, but I'm not going to tell you who it is, so you're just going to have to trust me.' The trouble is, the in formation may well not be trustworthy at all - from either a prime ministerial spokesman or MI6."
As Andreas Whittam Smith, the Independent's editor when its campaign began, pointed out in an article he wrote looking back in 2002, the old lobby rules tended "to enforce a consensus". This suited everyone: while the PM's spokesman got his message out unmodified, "When a repor ter writes along the same lines as everybody else, he or she cannot be blamed if things turn out differently." Unfortunately, he noted, "Reporters as a group are often completely wrong." As spies can be . . .
This leads Rose into a mea culpa over Iraq:
To my everlasting regret, I strongly supported the Iraq in vasion, in person and in print. I had become a recipient of what we now know to have been sheer disinformation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his purported "links" with al-Qaeda
Rose points out that the system also allows journalists to make things up:
Over the years, I listened as the spook spokesmen expostulated about national reporters who used such tags and attached them to quotations and stories that, they insisted, were pure fiction, saying that their authors had never spoken to officers at all. Alas: unable to confirm anything on the record, the agencies could not issue denials, either.

Fake politicians

The Guardian has an entertaining take on the unfortunate cabinet minister James Purnell, apparently caught agreeing to have his image merged into a picture after turning up late for the original photocall. It probably does matter because:
In a speech to the Royal Television Society this month he said: "A politician talking to a journalist about trust is a bit like a City banker talking to a Premier League footballer about pay restraint. But, even if I'm in no position to teach broadcasters any lessons, the same thing applies to us both. In both politics and television, you devalue the only currency you have if you forfeit the trust of the public."
There is also a real life spin doctor being quoted on the record:
But Mr Purnell's special adviser, Lisa Tremble, said last night that the image had come about as the result of "a misunderstanding about what 'merge' meant".
And the story gets weirder:
Conservative HQ was claiming last night that the alteration had been made at the minister's request. But Ms Tremble said the Conservatives had fabricated an apparent admission from a spokesman for Mr Purnell "who simply doesn't exist".

Monday, 24 September 2007

Look out!

From the Guardian

Further Rock slide likely after rescue hopes fade

Just glad I'm not the one stuck up the mountain.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Usmanov allegations

Lots of blogs have stories about Craig Murray's allegations about Alisher Usmanov, mainly stating that Murray's blog and other blogs were taken down.

Indymedia have the original story.

Where was Bond?

I've been following the story, mainly in the Times, about the Israeli attack on what is said to be a Syrian nuclear facility. It has been claimed that Syria had obtained nuclear material from North Korea.

Today the Sunday Times takes the story a step further by reporting that Israeli commandos had snatched nuclear material from the facility. After tests showed that it was nuclear and was of North Korean origin, the US approved the Israeli air raid.

There is no evidence for any of this, just briefings from US/Israeli intelligence. It sounds a bit unlikely and dangerous to me - snatching nuclear material. In fact it sounds more like the opening of a James Bond film.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Cats and scapegoats

The Telegraph says that up to 25 BBC staff will be disciplined or sacked in the scandal of fake tv and fake phone-ins, which even included a competition to name the Blue Peter cat.

Some people are still calling for a criminal enquiry. Getting people to hand over their money under false pretences certainly looks like fraud to me. Meanwhile the broadcasting union BECTU says that staff are being scapegoated. I don't usually have a lot of sympathy for people who play the scapegoat card when they've done something wrong but BECTU may have a point that it's only the more junior staff who are in trouble.

How independent?

I usually quite like Andrew Grice in the Independent but his story in today's paper about the possibility of an autumn election has a bit of spin in it. Apparently:
Mr Brown told the Cabinet yesterday that he was confident of defeating the Conservatives. "We have shown we can run the country," he said. "Now our challenge next week is to demonstrate how we are changing the country."
Apart from the fact that Grice has no idea what Mr Brown told the Cabinet, it looks to me very much like a quote - a slogan even - manufactured for public consumption.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Sniffing out the spin

The McCann's have got quite a spin operation going. The Telegraph reports that:
Kate and Gerry McCann's legal team has contacted American lawyers over a case where key sniffer dog evidence was thrown out of court in the hope that it may help them fight any charges that they were involved in the killing of their daughter.
Another example of a paper allowing someone a free hit under the cloak of anonymity. This isn't a difficult one to work out:
A source close to the McCanns' solicitors said the smell on Mrs McCann could be explained by being in contact with corpses while working as a GP.
It's hard to see how this bit of spin deserves having the "source" protected. It's not even a new argument.

Guardian Manipulation

Here is one of those classic stories in the Guardian where the government is able to put across its argument under the cloak of anonymity. It's just spin.

Government ministers have given their backing to a renewed campaign by farmers and industry to introduce genetically modified crops to the UK, the Guardian has learned.

They believe the public will now accept that the technology is vital to the development of higher-yield and hardier food for the world's increasing population and will help produce crops that can be used as biofuels in the fight against climate change.

"GM will come back to the UK; the question is how it comes back, not whether it's coming back," said a senior government source.

One of the classic techniques in this type of spin is to dress up an argument as a "belief". Of course, no-one knows what anyone actually believes. It would be more accurate and truthful to say "they want you to hear the argument that..."

Sunday, 16 September 2007

The private sector rules

Daniel Hannan, blogging on the Telegraph site has a bit of a rant about Black Wednesday and people who supported UK entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism:
If these people had been employed as the forecasters in the private sector, they would be out of a job.
As Northern Rock, a former building society turned bank, goes belly up.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

How to fight rumours

Sick of fighting unsourced rumours, the McCanns are spending £80,000 to convince people that they should be looking for Madeleine.

John Reid RIP

In fact, John Reid is leaving politics to spend more time with Radovan Karadzic.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Spin, lies and statistics

A good piece from Philip Johnston in the Telegraph about government abuse of official statistics and how a new dawn of transparency might not be as shiny as it seems. Johnson argues that "ministers have already flunked their first big test of this supposed new era by refusing to relinquish their privileged and extravagantly premature access to the statistics."

I think he probably has Freedom of Information in mind when he says:
This is typical of this Government. It has a good idea, which is to make the release of official statistics subject to independent monitoring and parliamentary accountability. But once it has garnered the plaudits for having made the pledge, it then begins to fudge it.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

The McCanns, journalism, spin and politics

With the mainstream British media remaining generally sympathetic to the McCanns, it is fascinating to see links with the political world emerging

The Observer reports that the McCanns have been in touch with Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Now
they are hoping he might help head off any decision to lay charges against the McCanns on the basis of what one relative branded as 'repulsive' suggestions they were involved in their daughter's disappearance.
Meanwhile, the Portugese press have had a pop at ours. According to the Sunday Telegraph,

In the tabloid Correio da Manha, columnist Octavio Ribeiro takes aim at the British press pack to make a wider point about national characteristics. He says the media has been overly enthusiastic in believing the McCanns’ story from the beginning.

“The behaviour of the English press in the Maddy case is the symptom of a serious disease. The way that the mass of British papers ­ and not just the tabloids ­ militantly kept to a fixed idea of what had happened, goes against the principles of good journalism.

“I remember the hysteria about the ‘secret dossier’ that was the basis of the decision to invade Iraq. And Blair: safe, sound and popular too after it was revealed as a deception.

“The way that Maddie has until now been treated by the English press shows that any agile press spokesman has an easy job.”

I don't think I could have said it any better myself.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Sloppy journalists

The Press Gazette reports that Richard Sambrook, director of BBC news during the Gilligan/Kelly/Hutton row, has criticized former BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan for sloppy journalism. He also says that journalists can be arrogant, but shouldn't be.

I think Sambrook is right about this. I think Gilligan got a fantastic story out of Kelly but fell down because he couldn't back it up. But whether it would have made any difference to Hutton if he had Kelly on tape, who knows? Susan Watts of Newsnight had Kelly on tape saying more or less the same.

Brand McCann

I'm sure lots of people are finding it interesting how the media are reacting to the revalation that the McCanns have become suspects in the disappearance - for that is all we know for sure - of their daughter.

The Times has an interesting account of how some big hitting spin doctors have helped the McCann's promote the idea that Madeleine was kidnapped and that everyone on the planet should be looking for her. Personally, I'm suspicious of anyone who engages in that level of spin and the more spin comes out of the McCann camp claiming outrage at the idea that they should be suspects, the more suspicious I am.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Yentob and Noddy

The Guardian reports that Alan Yentob has been caught doing noddy shots for interviews where he wasn't actually present, another twist in the tale of fake t.v.

I've just recorded a t.v. interview for a film I've been making and manage to avoid the hackneyed noddy shots, although I confess that the shots of me asking the questions were recorded after I asked the actual questions, as there was only one camera.

The interesting thing about he Guardian story is the extent to which the BBC source is allowed to make an anonymous defence.
The source robustly defended the practice, insisting that Yentob was unable to attend every interview that appears on his show because of his workload.
It is quite possible that the source is Yentob himself, something the reader would be entitled to know, I suggest.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Not a defeat

Gordon Brown has said that the withdrawal of British troops from Basra to a base at the airport is not a defeat.
Maj Mike Shearer, British spokesman in Basra, said a bugler from Four Rifles led the advance at 0100 local time.
Obviously, if it's an advance rather than a retreat, it can't be a defeat.

Except that Charles Heyman, an expert on Britain's armed forces, said:
"You could dress that up with a bit of political rhetoric to suggest now is the time to hand over - but most of the people on the ground that I've spoken to and most of the reports that I get seem to suggest that the security situation in Basra is absolutely dire."

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Tittle tattle from the Indy

The Independent has one of those classic stories (about Steve Coogan's alleged woes in Hollywood) that pretends to be high-minded but is really just an excuse to reheat tabloid tittle-tattle.

Fitted up

The Observer reports that "the key piece of material evidence used by prosecutors to implicate Libya in the Lockerbie bombing has emerged as a probable fake."

A lot of people have suspected for a long time that the Libya was blamed for the 1987 bombing because of international politics rather than evidence. Now one of the defence witnesses, Swiss businessman Edwin Bollier, may have been vindicated.
Few people apart from conspiracy theorists and investigative journalists working on the case were prepared to believe Bollier...

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

No Bias at the Beeb

On Sunday, Iain Dale had a go at the BBC over the way it presented the Tories putative plans on red tape and business. He pointed out that one item had led with
Labour has condemned...
thereby presenting the story from Labour's point of view. In my experience this is a frequent habit of the Beeb but, unlike most of Dale's rightwing comment posters, I think that it shows deference to the party in power, rather than to Labour itself. When the Tories were in power, the Beeb was just as bad.

Now the Beeb has responded, denying bias but admitting that showing old footage of Tory John Redwood not knowing the words to the welsh national anthem was not on. Dale has claimed victory, in spite of the BBC saying that the item he picked out was not representative.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Spreading Fear

The don't panic line is not exciting enough for the Guardian, which is getting in a bit of a twist. Its headline

Kent farm isolated as foot and mouth fears spread

suggests that something is spreading, i.e. fears about the disease, while the intro has it that the fear is that the disease has spread.
Livestock at a farm in Kent were today tested for foot and mouth amid fears the disease had spread from an initial, apparently controlled outbreak in Surrey.

Don't Panic - official

The BBC reports another suspected foot and mouth case, this time in Kent, with a strong hint that nothing will come of it.

Minister for the South East Jonathan Shaw told BBC radio Kent:
"There is no need to panic at this stage."
He will let us know when the need to panic arises.

Wintour 4 Brown

The Guardian has an interesting story about Gordon Brown's spending promises since coming to the throne and the possible link with his increased popularity.

But this line, from Patrick Wintour, looks like it was written in Downing Street.
These spending levels do not imply that the Treasury is going to break the already announced commitment to increase public spending by only 1.9% a year through the three years of the spending review, but they do show the advantages of a coherent relationship between Treasury and No 10.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Campbell's back

Gerry Adams once reassured republicans that the IRA hadn't gone away. Neither has Alastair Campbell. The Times reports that rail operator First Group threatened to sue a watchdog for libel if it complained about its poor performance.
First Group, Britain’s biggest bus and train operator, has formed close links with senior Labour figures. It employs Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spokesman, to advise on “strategic communications” and has engaged David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, to chair a commission that is expected to give strong backing to the company’s yellow school buses. First Group has refused to say how much the two are paid.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Dull Brown

The Telegraph has a quite blatantly made-up story about how Gordon Brown has chosen some very dull pictures for No. 10. It's very easy - and right wing people love doing it - to assert someone's inferiority based on subjective judgements.

Unforturnately the article links to a pre-succession story about how the public were sceptical about "dull" Brown:
As the figures in the chart show, a mere 12 per cent find Mr Brown remotely engaging. More than five times that proportion, 66 per cent, reckon he is "dullsville".
"Dullsville" doesn't acually appear in the poll by the way. This is one of those interesting uses of quote marks that doesn't mean that a quotation is being used but the opposite, that no-one has actually said the word or phrase in question. You sometimes see it advertisements and promotional material, where it looks as if someone has said something good about the firm/product in question but it's actually made-up.

In the real world the Telegraph reports that dull Gordon's Labour party has a ten point lead over the Conservatives. You have to read quite a long way into the article to find out that the poll was actually done for the Sunday Times.

Spinning for the Pentagon

The Sunday Times leaves no doubt which side it is on in the propaganda war over the five people at Guantanamo Bay who are (were) British residents but not nationals.

Clive Stafford Smith, who represents the men, said: “This is a blatant attempt to smear my clients.”

Cooking up a dossier (in a positive sense)

The Observer's story today about poor hygiene in hospital kitchens shows us why we need a Freedom of Information Act.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Enough already

The BBC reports that a new tool can "fix" photos that have annoying stuff in the way, filling in what would be there with imagery culled from the net.

If you are going to do this, why bother taking pictures at all? Why go on holiday at all? Why not just stay home and source pictures of where you would have gone?

And don't we have enough ways of faking stuff already?

Blairism is a state of mind

Neal Lawson is getting excited on Comment is Free about the possibility of a seismic shift in British politics.

What is interesting for me is the way that he portrays Blairism as a mindset, and a very defeatist one at that.

Double plus ungood

The Times has two lots of negative spin on the Brown government's decision to request the return of the 5 people at Guantanamo Bay who are UK residents but not nationals.

In a news story, it claims that the men will pose a security headache in the UK and will be subject to surveillance.

Meanwhile Bronwen Maddox tells us that the government has actually lost a game of bluff.

Monday, 6 August 2007

De Klerk in the dock

The Guardian reports that former South African president FW De Klerk is finally being implicated in the death squads that his apartheid government ran even as it was talking peace.

De Klerk is upset that this doesn't fit with the myth he has created of himself as a great statesman:
The former president said the accusations were intended to strip him, and the 70% of whites who supported his reforms in a 1992 referendum, of an "honourable place at the table as co-creators of the new South Africa".

A role model

The model Jordan/Katie Price has been criticised for a blatant bit of product placement for baby milk, according to the Independent. OK magazine is also complicit.

It's sad to think that there are people who are shallow enough to be influenced by Jordan but there are lots of them: OK readers.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Mrs Goggins in a spin

The Telegraph reports that the Post Office has been caught bullying sub-postmasters into toeing the official line on closures with the threat of losing their compensation.

Alan Duncan for the Conservatives has decided that Gordon Brown is to blame and while it's tempting to look for another example of Brown spinning after all, I can't really agree with him.

Spinning for the police (2)

More Police spin in the Times today, which reports that:

Relations between the police and the independent watchdog set up to investigate them are at breaking point, senior sources have told The Times.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) faced a backlash after publishing its critical report into Scotland Yard’s handling of information about the shooting of an innocent man the day after the July 21 attempted bombings in London.
It's not entirely clear what the IPCC have done to deserve a backlash beyond publishing a report critical of Scotland Yard. But one Senior Office is allowed to allege, anonymously of course,

“There’s a real feeling that they were looking for a scapegoat."

Another free hit for the police, making your criticism off the record with no comeback.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

(half) The truth comes out

Yesterday the Guardian was spinning to the Defence of Andy Hayman, who apparently misled both the public and Met Commissioner Ian Blair over the identity of the man killed by police at Stockwell. Blair reminded us today that he had said before that if he had lied he wouldn't be fit to hold office, but he has full confidence in Hayman. Hmmm...

On the Iraq dossier, John Scarlett was the fall guy with the bungee rope. Scooter Libby did it even better. Hayman takes the fall and Blair gets away with it. Hayman gets away with it. Win - win.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The truth about fake TV

More4 News had an interesting short film tonight asking whether a lot of standard tricks in tv news reporting are actually lying. As someone who recently stood outside the High Court to make a film without having been in, it made me think.

But it's almost inevitable that the stuff people are owning up to isn't that bad.

Spinning for the police

The Guardian helps the police get their retaliation in first on the "Stockwell 2" inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

There has also been private criticism of the way the IPCC has conducted its first high-profile investigation since the watchdog body was reformed and made independent of the police.

"This was London in the grips of an attack, two weeks after another terrorist attack had killed 52 people," said one source. "Four men were on the run who could have attacked again, the events of the day were extremely fast moving. There is a sense that the IPCC, having failed to recommend any action against any of the officers involved in the shooting itself needed a scapegoat."

"Private criticism" is a favourite tool of the Guardian's political reporters. It means that someone can have a free hit at their opponent without comeback.

And the Guardian tells us:

in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, sources say there were unconfirmed rumours that the man who had been killed may not have been one of the four suicide bombers being hunted. Mr Hayman is criticised by the IPCC for not passing this on to Mr Blair at a briefing he had with him at 6pm that night.

However, senior sources question how he could have passed on the unsubstantiated rumours at that stage.

We'll have to wait and see whether "unconfirmed rumours" and "unsubstantiated rumours" are valid descriptions of the information that the police had at that point. In the first place, there was never a positive identification of De Menezes as one of the suspects so the starting point was that he "may not have been one of the four suicide bombers being hunted". But surely the police had solid ID evidence almost immediately.

Or perhaps the police were more incompetent than we thought. Perhaps with four men on the run who could have attacked again they failed to check that the one they thought they had accounted for was actually one of them.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Countless agenda

There are more agendas and more layers of spin than I can count in this Sunday Times story headlined Us fears that Brown wants Iraq pull-out.

Apart from the main theme, based on a US official's impression that Gordon Brown's chief foreign policy adviser was "doing the groundwork", there is further analysis around Brown's trip to the US.

We have already been told that the Bush administration dislikes Mark Malloch-Brown, the new Foreign Office minister and critic of the Iraq war. One former UN official accused him of turning a blind eye to corruption and mismanagement during his time there. UN insiders have accused the accuser of being a US government stooge.

Meanwhile "no walkabouts or matey photo-opportunities are expected when the president meets the new prime minister" we are told.
“President Bush and prime minister Brown don’t need a photo-opportunity of the two of them heading off into the sunset holding hands to prove that the US-UK relationship is as strong as ever,” a British official said.
Clearly Brown doesn't need a photo opportunity to make him look like Tony Blair.

All the old tricks

According to the BBC, opposition MPs have been complaining that the government sneaked a lot of embarrassing information out in written statements at the end of the parliamentary session.

Apparently Norman Lamb "had repeatedly asked for the Chequers guest list to be released only for it to be given to a Labour MP". Lamb said:
"The government introduced the Freedom of Information Act. It is remarkable to see how resistant it is to complying with it."

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Covered in glory on honours

The Times has the only new information on the cash for honours story. It claims that eight people who loaned Labour large amounts of money were initially put forward for peerages - to some extent reported before - and that a diary entry from one lender recorded an agreement to nominate him. Meanwhile, the Observer quite shamelessly gives the Blairites' side of the story.

The most interesting piece comes from Blairite apologist John Rentoul in the Independent. After a few digs at Blair's opponents, Rentoul concludes that Blair brought it on himself:
First he took secret loans to pay for his last hurrah on the hustings. Then he took the even more extraordinary risk of trying to nominate four of the lenders to the peerage while trying to keep their loans secret.
Is Rentoul repositioning himself?

Elsewhere, the Independent suggests that Blair may be about to put some or all of the donors forward for peerages in his resignation honours.

Is the less spin spin true?

An interesting comment from Martin Bright (my collaborator on Iraq dossier stories) in the New Statesman:
With briefings now at a minimum, political journalists have to spend their time speculating about what they genuinely don't know, rather than pretending to speculate about what they have already been told in advance.
Bright thinks this is a good thing and I agree. Are we any worse off for finding stuff out a bit later? Obviously the only things that journalists find out when they are fed stories are the things that the feeders want us to know, and on the feeders' own terms.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Some Justice

A young woman who killed another woman while texting at 65-70 mph has been jailed for four years the Telegraph reports. Initially she denied it but of course the police can check the phone records.

After the Cash for Honours cover up, it's tempting to say that if you do something bad and try to cover it up, the truth does sometimes catch up with you but four years (i.e two years) for killing someone (and then lying about it) is just a little bit soft as BRAKE have pointed out.

The Daily Mail also carries the story, including a quote from Brake. Just for once the driver is not the victim.

It goes pear shaped for Cameron

Andrew Grice in the Independent sums the Ealing Southall result in a sentence:
The Tories, having over-hyped expectations in Southall, began to lower them, and duly lost the battle for second place in both seats.
Iain Dale, who got very excited about the possibility of a Tory win at one point admits that the Tories failed to meet expectations, while accusing the Tory election manager of clutching at straws. At the time of writing, Dale has this ad on his blog. I'm guessing that Tony Lit won't be the Tory candidate at the general election.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Blind faith

The Times is desperate to reassure us that the collapse of Metronet does not undermine Public Private Partnerships. But reading through its leader, it's hard to see any argument beyond a few cliches asserting blind faith in the superiority of the private sector:
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the trials of Metronet indicate that the PPP way is fundamentally flawed. The merit of PPPs, notwithstanding the tongue-twisting name, revolves around the simple belief that the private sector is more capable of delivering public services than the State. All-important qualities of ingenuity and enterprise, it is assumed, thrive in the private sphere while they are too easily hobbled by unwieldy state-run institutions.
TfL has to demonstrate that it can find replacement contractors. It does not have much time to prove that it is equal to the task.
The bitter Metronet experience does not sound the death knell for PPPs. Instead it must be used to prove that the State can replace failing contractors in a timely, and relatively cost-effective, way.
The gist of the argument is that if the private sector isn't up to the job, it's the state's fault. Beyond satire.

Turning back time

Mark Seddon on Comment is Free has beaten me to this one. The BBC's little error with the Queen is nothing compared to its outrageous behaviour during the miners' strike (1984-5) when it reversed the sequence of its footage of the battle of Orgreave to suggest that the police charge was a response to a barrage from miners, rather than the cause of it.

Iraq war helped al-Qa'eda

The spin from the British government continues to be that the invasion of Iraq has not increased the likelihood of terrorist attack, in spite of a pre-war Joint Intelligence Committee assessment which predicted this and the obvious reality. Now the Telegraph reports that a declassified US intelligence assessment has said that
the Iraq war has helped al-Qa'eda "raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for homeland attacks".
The Tory government used to deny that there was any link between high unemployment and high crime rates. Tony Blair cleverly talked about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Perhaps now it's time to be tough on the causes of terrorism.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Speculation and Spin

I watched the Iraq Commission on Channel 4 last night. I'm not sure about the detail of their recommendations and less sure about the idea of getting a gaggle of the great and good to give us their, necessarily establishment, view of what to do.

But it did cause me to remember all the stories we've been fed in the press about plans to reduce UK troops in Iraq. If you looked closely at them they were mainly spin on top of speculation. I won't dig them all out here. Suffice to say that if they had all been true we would have several thousand Iraqi troops in the UK by now.

Monday, 9 July 2007

The pages of spin

I've nicked this headline, which is a Channel 4 news classic. It was probably the best bit about Gary Gibbon's jokey interview with Alastair Campbell. John Humphries wasn't much better on Today this morning.

I've added my bit in an "online exclusive" for the New Statesman.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Marr the true heir to Frost

I saw Andrew Marr interviewing Alastair Campbell this morning, to help promote Campbell's book. Marr was a true pro and the true heir to David Frost.

Anyone wanting a cosy, non-threatening interview will have no worries about going on Marr's show. They will get an easier time than on Richard and Judy without being quite so blatant.
Recess Monkey has a slightly bizarre story about a battle by MPs (or their henchtypes) over their Wikipedia entries. It is a bit sad to be devoting time to making sure that your profile is properly positive or that your potential opponent's is a bit negative. I like these bits of detective work but there are more important issues of who wrote what.

Campbell: the spin begins

Obviously Alastair Campbell is going to be all over the media in the next week with highly selective and self-serving extracts from his diaries. In the Observer, Ned Temko, who is never happier when being fed a story, tells us how the David Kelly affair was one of the low points of Campbell's life. The Sunday Times leads on a claim that Blair wanted to quit in 2002 but also lets us know how bad Campbell felt about Kelly.

Given that Campbell knew the government was in the wrong over the dossier all along, it isn't surprising that he felt a twinge of guilt. But what did he do? Went out and lied some more.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

How is Brown doing?

Most commentators seem to think Gordon Brown has made good start and done particularly well to look solid in the face of the recent terror attacks. On Sky on Sunday Shami Chakrabarti had a bit of a dig at Blair when commending Brown for a lack of lip trembling but rather surprisingly said we all like to have a "father figure" at such times. Interestingly, Matthew Parris in the Times is wondering outloud whether recent events qualify as terror attacks.

On the pure political front, Martin Bright suggested on the day of the handover that Brown was looking to do things the old fashioned way, announcing changes to policies and personnel formally, without resorting to leaks and spin. I'm not so sure. Andrew Grice in the Independent today covers some of the same ground, observing that:
The Cabinet is holding longer meetings; Mr Brown lets his ministers share the limelight and decisions are (mostly) being announced in Parliament rather than spun to the media as he tweaks Mr Blair's policies.
Interestingly, Grice's angle:
Brown's strategy is to expose Cameron's failings - without taking his gloves off
is very similar to what Martin Bright said.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Raised eyebrows in Washington

The Times has an astonishing story this morning, that some of Gordon Brown's appointments - of people critical of the war in Iraq - have caused concern in Washington. The idea that Brown needs the approval of the Bush administration for the make up of his own government is mind-blowing, but probably a hangover from the Blair era, where everything the government did had to have 100% approval of our closest ally.

On the other hand:
Figures close to the Bush Administration say that they have been encouraged by the general tenor of Mr Brown’s remarks towards the US and that they understand his need to “play the domestic political game” by demonstrating a degree of independence.
The pro-Washington spin from this Murdoch paper is unmistakable. It ends with the observation that for Brown to delay at all before becoming more fully engaged with the US:
carries the risk that Britain will lose influence to other European powers, such as France and Germany, who seem keen to heal their Iraq rift with the US.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

In good faith

The Telegraph reports that "Lord" Carlile, "who acts as a one-man watchdog reviewing anti-terrorist legislation", is calling for a wide-ranging review of the role of the intelligence services on the basis that:
The Iraq dossier left a legacy which we don't deserve. It was produced in good faith, but the fact that it happens to have been wrong has infected everything that is said about intelligence. It has created a trust gap.
It has become part of what you have to say these days, that the dossier was produced in good faith. The involvement of the government's spin doctors on the inside of the drafting process had nothing to do with it.

Nothing to do with Iraq

Hazel Blears was on Sky News this morning trotting out the old Blairite line that Al-qaeda was attacking as early as 1993. This spin forgets that it was the US, not the UK, that was the target back then. But then if you regard the two as being as inseparable as they were in the Blair years, maybe that's how you think.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

How many agendas?

Andrew Rawnsley's film The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair seems to have gone down well enough. I saw the second part last night and was disappointed to see one Blairite after another excusing Blair and having a kick at Brown. Peter Mandelson trotting out the old line that the the Ecclestone affair was just a presentational issue. David Blunkett suggesting that Blair only got things a little bit wrong, in an unforgiving environment. Very little serious dirt dished.

At least Lucy Mangan in the Guardian has seen through some of it.
With so many contributors' agendas to keep track of, it was hard to answer the question at the forefront of our minds: why is this particular bastard lying to me (or at least putting a seriously revisionist spin on things)?

Monday, 25 June 2007

Harman in a spin

It has taken less than 24 hours for Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman to retract her view that the government should apologise for the Iraq war. In the process, she has also trashed her view that the government should stop spinning.

Unfortunately for Harman, the BBC is comparing her denial that she called for an apology with what she actually said on the Newsnight "hustings". It's not rocket science and all media should do this more often. The Guardian recently did the same to England cricket captain Michael Vaughn.

Will Brown dare neuter freedom of information?

The Independent reports that the Constitutional Affairs has come out against "Lord" Charlie Falconer's plans to water down the Freedom of Information Act, supposedly to save a paltry £5.7m. The Committee concludes:
There is no objective evidence that any change is necessary. There is clear evidence that the proposed amendments could be open to manipulation and abuse.

Warming up that tongue

The Guardian's Patrick Wintour is clearly warming up to be the big cheerleader for Brown that he has been for Blair. Sometimes when journalists tell you what politicians sincerely "believe" they are just being naive. Here Wintour is just spining:

[Brown's] aides believe David Cameron's only selling point is the offer to the country of change from 10 years of Blairism, leading Mr Brown yesterday repeatedly to promise that when he takes over on Wednesday he "will lead and heed the call of change".
Meanwhile, the Times has the spin that Harriet Harman's victory is an empty one.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Another Blairite jumps

So "Lord" Goldsmith is the latest Blairite to state that he will leave the government with Blair, as if we didn't know that already. Goldsmith represents more than anyone the corruption of the Labour government. He could have stopped British involvement in Iraq by sticking to his guns and re-stating his view that its legality was questionable but he buckled under political pressure. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was at the heart of the decision to stop the BAE/Saudi corruption investigation.

Goldsmith is getting a pretty bad press, with the papers reminding everyone of his misdeeds. Some, including the Guardian and the Telegraph, carry Blair's response. Blair told Goldsmith that he had carried out his role
at all times with integrity and professionalism ... You have shown an unwavering commitment to the importance of the rule of law and human rights.
Of course, this means the opposite of what it says, as most of Blair's words do. What Blair means is, "when I asked you to compromise your integrity in the name of political expediency, war-mongering and corruption, you obliged and I couldn't have done it without you".

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Doing the dirty work

The BBC's story tonight Lib Dem anger over Brown 'tricks' is a quite outrageous example of journalists doing the dirty work of politicians who don't have the guts to say things on the record. We are told that:
Lib Dem sources said Mr Brown had used "underhand tactics" by going behind the back of leader Sir Menzies Campbell.
Why are the BBC allowing these "sources" a free pop at Brown, behind the cloak of anonymity? In whose interests is it that this accusation, essentially political comment, is anonymised? Was the source Campbell, who repeatedly to criticise Brown in an on the record interview?

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Not quite lying

Adam Boulton has had a bit of a go at "Lord" Charlie Falconer for saying in May that he had no plans to let prisoners out early to ease overcrowding, something he did yesterday. Falconer says he was not lying because he had no plans at the time, honest. He also said at the time it would be wrong to do it.

Boulton also throws in an example of when Alastair Campbell lied to him. Just the one time?

And the logic is?

Simon Heffer in the Telegraph has a typical Telegraph rant at the BBC, picking out a few instances in a report that reportedly (I haven't read it) clears the Beeb of systematic liberal bias.

Heffer angrily rejects these findings on the grounds that he has met many people who have worked at the Beeb and tell him that
a prevailing wind of Leftism blew strongly, and, if they wished to remain in productive work, they knew it was best to sail with it.
Of course Heffer comes across a wide cross-section of right-wingers. His answer, of course, is to privatise the BBC.

Not letting them off the hook

Bloggerheads has a very entertaining Goodbye Tony Blair video, and "pardons" for some old enemies to celebrate. I'm pleased to see that Jack Straw is not let off the hook and indeed, the "pardon" for Gordon Brown is conditional on Straw not being in his cabinet, which of course is going to happen. Bloggerheads' Tim Ireland cites Straw's denial of torture and denial of extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture). I'm more concerned with Straw's role in promoting the war in Iraq and the September 2002 dossier.

Someone else who is not getting a "pardon" is Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, Ireland is trailing a forthcoming Murdoch Watch site with the rationale that:
Nobody voted for Rupert bloody Murdoch, but that doesn't stop him from interfering with our lives on a daily basis
It's also worth mentioning Daily Mail Watch, which has to be done.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

An unbiased Observer?

The lead story in today's Observer is that:
Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.
It is based on an article by the paper's Blairite cheerleader Andrew Rawnsley, recounting interviews with people at the top of government for a tv programme. Interviewees included Sir David Manning, who was sent by Blair to Washington a year before the invasion. According to Manning:
Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam.
According to Rawnsley:
This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.
Rawnsley does little to explore the fact that Blair was lying through his teeth throughout 2002 but takes the Blairite line that Blair saw it coming and has limited responsibility to the extent that he failed to persuade the US to do something about it. Clearly, there was no question of not going along with a war that was both launched on a cooked-up pretext and (rightly) seen as potentially disastrous.

The Observer is in an unfortunate position here, having been one of those papers that fell for and regurgitated the government's spin on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. It is surely one of the key players that a forthcoming book by the Guardian's investigative reporter Nick Davies will "name and shame", according to Martin Bright.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Bright pops the question

Martin Bright has a very good piece in the New Statesman today, one of many in response to Blair's attempt to blame the media. On Tuesday, Bright asked Tony Blair about the missing draft of the Iraq dossier and used the government's cover-up on this issue to ask who is really at fault. He does blame the media for failing to challenge the government's propaganda in the run up to the Iraq war and mentions the author of this blog.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A fair hearing?

Tony Blair's attach on the media seems to be getting a mixed response, with Michael White of the Guardian largely agreeing and the Independent, specifically Simon Kelner, saying it's a badge of honour. Some bloggers think he has a point, too.

I can only state the obvious. Our media can be pretty biased, bullying and self-righteous but when you decide to start a war on a cooked-up pretext and manipulate the facts, the intelligence and the media to pull it off, you have no right to complain. Blair's complaint that everything has to be extreme and absolute for the media is probably accurate but didn't he tell us that intelligence had "established beyond doubt" that Iraq had wmd, when he was told no such thing?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Government supports police shock

I watched the BBC news last night where the lead story was the rejection by Liberty and the Liberal Democrats of police claims that there is no evidence of extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture) flights passing through Britain. Perhaps the BBC is discovering a bit of backbone.

This morning the BBC reports "Police supported over CIA inquiry". It would be something as a surprise if the government were ungrateful enough to reject the finding they wanted the police to come up with. Meanwhile, the BBC reports the Liberal Democrats as saying that the joint intelligence and security committee is better placed than the police to find out what is going on, on the basis that the spooks will have agreed it and will tell the committee. Seems a bit naive, but we'll see.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

To the government's defence

Is it not slightly suspcious that the BBC, which usually studiously ignores or plays down controversial stories like allegations or "extraordinary rendition" - otherwise known as kidnapping and torture - suddenly promotes a non-story to the top of its news agenda. The Beeb reports somewhat naively that:
An inquiry has found no evidence that British airports were used by the CIA flying terrorist suspects for torture in other countries.
doesn't look at if they tried very hard - or are they just saying they don't know what happened to people once they were out of the country. As Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti says:
When politicians spin it is disappointing. When police engage in the same activity, it is rather more dangerous.
When the BBC does it, no-one really notices. And why did the BBC repeatedly call the findings of a 19 month Council of Europe investigation "claims"? The Telegraph has no problem reporting that:
The CIA ran secret prisons in Poland and Romania to interrogate and even torture some detainees in its "war on terror" under a programme authorised by the countries' presidents, an official European inquiry concluded yesterday.
It seems that the BBC's criteria for deciding to promote a story or treat it with scepticism are largely a question of whether it is helpful or embarrassing to the government.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Spinning the retreat

Andrew Grice in the Independent reports that Blair is now planning a tactical retreat when he gets nothing of substance out of George Bush on global warming.

Mr Blair said he was seeking "a specific target for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions" but did not mention the figure. He would portray a G8 declaration in favour of substantial cuts as a huge step forward even though it would fall short of his original demands.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Spinning Gordon

A brilliant piece of analysis from Iain Dale, showing how Gordon Brown spun and bullied so that opposition comments were excluded from his story on getting tough on terrorism .

As Dale rightly observes, it only works if the hacks go along with it. The spinners rely on their competitive instincts suppressing their journalistic ethics, and of course their stupidity in not realising that they are all being given the same "exclusive".

Any change on climate change?

It is interesting to compare the different leads in the Guardian and the Independent, both looking forward to the G8 talks on global warming, less worryingly(?) known as climate change. The Guardian has an interview with the outgoing PM, rewarding the persistent sycophancy of Patrick Wintour. Blair resorts to his classic tactic of calling any position other than his "absurd". Most people think that Bush's big announcement last week was a meaningless ruse, so Blair says:
I think the announcement by President Bush last week was significant and important, and it is absurd to say otherwise, since it moved things on.
The Independent takes a view closer to my own, comparing what Blair has done for Bush (Iraq, Guantanamo, Rendition, Middle East...) with what Bush has given Blair in return (a medal).

Here's the spin:
As ministers stepped up the pressure on the US to move further on climate change, Downing Street officials admitted there were three sticking points with the US and conceded that Mr Blair may not secure victory on all of them. They insisted that he and Chancellor Merkel were right to "set the bar high" in advance of the meeting even if that led to them being "cruficied" for not achieving all their goals.
So the tactic is a kind of double bluff - to manage expectations by saying that you are going for a lot, admit that you might fail but ward off any criticism in advance. Meanwhile Grice, who should no better, falls for a politician telling him what he sincerely believes:
Mr Blair believes that Mr Bush made a landmark policy change last week when he committed himself to a long-term worldwide framework to tackle global warming for the first time.
As the Guardian piece shows, Blair is keen to present Bush's announcement as a significant change in position. Here he adopts the classic tactic of saying that he "believes" this and an experienced journalist reports as fact something that he has no objective knowledge of. When will they learn?

Monday, 4 June 2007

Spin and cover-up

I've not been blogging for over a week as I've been on holiday. I didn't want to advertise the fact in case the Foreign Office released the John Williams draft of the dossier in my absence. No danger of that. They have decided to spin the saga out further with a futile appeal to the Information Tribunal. Still, we know it's worth waiting for.

I noticed while I was away that Labour deputy leadership contender Harriet Harman has come out against the culture of spin, which is great. I got a campaign leaflet from Harman this morning. Unfortunately it was addressed to someone else with a name close to mine in the alphabet. They've got their address list misaligned, which is a bit embarrassing and presumably not the sort of mistake ex-postie Alan Johnson will be making.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Letters from London

To find out what is happening in the UK, why not read Larry Miller's latest Letter from London on CBS news? Miller reports that the memo in connection with which Leo O'Connor and David Keogh were jailed was

a memo of a White House meeting between President Bush and Prime Minster Tony Blair, during which Mr. Bush reportedly suggested that bombing the Arab TV station Al Jazeera might be a good way of controlling its coverage of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Miller also reports that the government has been told to release John Williams' first draft of the Iraq Dossier.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Not convinced, Gordon

On Comment is Free, Anne Perkins has a strong piece in which she says that MPs have brought derision on themselves by excluding themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. She hopes that Gordon Brown really means it when he talks about bringing openness and accountability to government, but has some well-deserved criticism for his campaign manager, Jack Straw.

Also on CiF, Frank Luntz argues that Brown should do a better job of getting across his claim to be moving away from spin.

Fisk fisks Blair

I'm a sucker for any linguistic analysis so Robert Fisk's Chomsky-style attack on Tony Blair's "lies and linguistic manipulations" is right up my street.

Fisk describes Blair's use of foregrounded elements - "something unusual, a phrase placed in such a way that it warned us of a lie to come."

Another clue is that his lips move.

Friday, 18 May 2007

The Beeb bites back

Having had a bit of a go at the BBC yesterday over its political cowardice, I've been a bit gobsmacked to see its coverage of the MPs' vote to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act.

The online coverage only gives a small hint of the way the TV and radio news has covered the story - a full-on attack. Of course, the BBC is in favour of freedom of information as a journalistic institution, less keen as on it as a public authority as Steven Sugar points out here.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

A new spin on things

I've got a new piece on Comment is Free this afternoon, partly about the dossier story and partly about this blog.

If anyone has come to this blog from the CiF piece, this post sets out what it is all about.

Intelligent spin

The Sun has the best headline on the Harry not going to Iraq story: For you Harry, the war is over. The Mail goes for the Target Harry angle, with General Sir Richard Dannatt saying that he has learnt of threats beyond those that have been made publicly. It's always useful to say you know something we don't, so that anyone criticising you doesn't have the full facts.

Quite ironic of course to use intelligence as an excuse not to send a soldier to Iraq. Could catch on.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Harry spins out of Iraq

Congratulations to Prince Harry for exercising the royal prerogative of having your cake and eating it. He doesn't have to go to Iraq but we're led to believe he really wanted to. Had the royals decided on this outcome a while ago, would they have done it any differently?

So I'm now paying Harry to do two non jobs. Is there not a welfare to work scheme we can put him on?

Personally, I'm pleased he's not going. Not that I am
concerned about him any more than anyone else who is in danger in Iraq. But if he was killed - or worse, kidnapped - we would never hear the last of it.

Bright's Blog goes cryptic

Martin Bright, who broke my story on the Iraq dossier, has started to blog more frequently and to good effect.

In one piece An outrageous judgement he fiercely criticises the ongoing reporting restrictions on the recent trial of two men over a leaked memo. He notes that

in a bizarre twist, the judge has stated that the contents of the leak -- which is thought to involve a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush -- can be reported as long as they are not linked to the case and appear on a separate page of the newspaper involved.
On a different post, on a separate page, A missile for Al-Jazeera he reports an issue that he does not link to the leaked memo story at all. Apparently George Bush had a plan to bomb the Arabic television station al-Jazeera. Bright links to Richard Norton-Taylor's Guardian piece on the missile for al-jazeera story.

Some straight talking

No spin or mincing of words in the Telegraph's lead story. US neo-con John Bolton says "We must attack Iran before it gets the bomb". Very scary.

Rather less straight talking from Tony Blair, who again failed to produce any basis for his September 2002 claim - in Parliament - that Iraq could get the bomb in "a year or two". It was made up.

Mention the war

Mark Steel has a typically entertaining piece in the Independent. Funnily enough, Don't mention the war isn't really about people not mentioning the war at all but about the absence of any debate in the Labour leadership elections.

The best bit is this, about "the supposedly spontaneous outpouring of love for Blair" from Labour members at his big retirement announcement in Sedgefield:
The only other people who failed to spot this was a contrived media event, involving a handful of selected vetted guests, appeared to be the media itself. I expected the commentators to shriek: "Oh, and there's a litter of grateful kittens who've come out to wave him goodbye with 'We love Tony' tattooed on their paws. Well he certainly has always been very popular among kittens."
Of course, the media attend so many contrived media events that they might never stop pointing out that they were contrived. Looking back at Gordon Brown's big announcement last week and his difficulties with a badly placed autocue (actually a badly placed camera operator), makes me wonder why television always colludes with politicians to keep autocues out of shot.