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...