Friday, October 27, 2006

Oldies and goldies...

From the front page (which, wierdly, isn't at the front due to a very odd page plan) of the latest Private Eye, no. 1170:

“We have to change our approach and our attitude and our behaviour towards older people in order to reap the benefits of an older and more mature society,” announced Tory leader David Cameron. Attempts to “airbrush the elderly out of the picture” were, he declared, “a national tragedy.”
Those with still-functioning memories might recall that one of Cameron’s first acts when he became leader was to dispense with the services of sexagenarians Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Tim Yeo, Maurice Saatchi and Michael Ancram, leaving only one member of his shadow cabinet, 69-year-old Lords chief whip Lord Cope of Berkley, within striking distance of the legal retirement age.
Out of his 24 shadow cabinet colleagues, only six are over 50. And the majority of candidates on the A-list – chosen to “make the party more representative of modern Britain” – are in their 30s and 40s.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Oh yes they did...

I read the Guardian this morning. Someone has to.

In an edited extract from his Tate Britain Lecture, Armando Iannucci (my old boss, but that's another story) said that "Everyone has analysed the result of the Hutton inquiry. But no one has analysed all the evidence given during it. Because the result, not the evidence, was deemed to have been the story."

That made me a bit cross. Because actually, I did.

In Private Eye number 1190, published 1st October 2003, long before Lord H published his findings (with a little bit of help from the Sun) I wrote this:

As Lord Hutton starts wading through the 23 days worth of transcripts and 9,000 pieces of published evidence in order to write his report on the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, the Eye offers the good lord - and its readers - a handy bite-sized reminder of the biggest lies that have been exposed by the Inquiry over the last two months.

“The allegation that the 45 minute claim provoked disquiet among the intelligence community, which disagreed with its inclusion in the dossier … is also completely and totally untrue.” - Tony Blair, House of Commons, June 4
On September 19, 2002 (just one day before the finalisation of the dossier’s contents), the branch head of the Science and Technological Directorare at the Defence Intelligence Staff, wrote to the Deputy Chief Director detailing “reservations on several aspects of the dossier”, on the part of his colleagues including “a number of questions in our minds relating to the intelligence on the military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, particularly about the times mentioned and the failure to differentiate between the two types of weapons.” In another memo, the following day another member of the DIS advised "It is not clear what is meant by 'weapons are deployable within 45 minutes'. The judgment is too strong considering the intelligence on which it is based."

“There was no attempt, at any time, by any official, or Minister, or member of the No. 10 Downing Street Staff, to override the intelligence judgements of the Joint Intelligence Committee.” - Tony Blair, House of Commons, June 4
In an email dated September 19, 2002, after the deadline that had been given to JIC members to submit changes to the dossier, No. 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell sent the following email to John Scarlett: “I think the statement on page 19 that ‘Saddam is able to use chemical and biological weapons if he believes his regime is under threat’ is a bit of a problem. It backs up the… argument that there is no CBW threat and we will only create one if we attack him. I think you should redraft the para.” Although the sentence had already been passed by JIC members in three separate drafts with no objections, Scarlett told Hutton that as a result of Powell’s email he “looked at it again” and “we concluded that that was not right, the way this was phrased, and therefore we took that out.”

"Now, the allegation that has been made by the BBC's defence correspondent, is that the Prime Minister … put to the country and to Parliament a false basis for putting at risk the lives of British servicemen … Now that is why I take it so seriously… I simply say in relation to the BBC story: it is a lie, it was a lie, it is a lie that is continually repeated and until we get an apology for it I will keep making sure that Parliament, people like yourselves and the public know that it was a lie.” - Alastair Campbell, evidence to Foreign Affairs Committee, June 25.
This was actually the fourth different reason Campbell had given for attacking Gilligan’s story. On May 29 Downing Street wrote to the BBC “to register our concern at the failure of this morning’s Today programme to contact Downing Street for a response to Andrew Gilligan’s story.” On June 6 Campbell wrote personally to complain about Gilligan’s “extraordinary ignorance of intelligence issues” and the way he had described the Joint Intelligence committee. On June 12 he wrote again to complain that the use of a single source story broke the BBC’s producer guidelines. His appearance at the FAC nearly a month after the report was broadcast was in fact the first time he had “simply” complained about the veracity of the story.

“I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly. Emphatically not. That is completely untrue.” - Tony Blair, press conference, July 22 Questioned by Lord Hutton on August 28 about the decision to confirm David Kelly’s name to any journalists who guessed it, Blair admitted that “Responsibility is mine in the end. I take the decisions.” He also said that at the meetings where the decision was taken, “there was some surprise we expressed to each other … that it had not already leaked, and I think there was no doubt in anyone's mind that if on reinterview it was clear that he was in all probability the source then we were going to have to disclose that.”

“The matter was handled in accordance with MoD procedures and had been overseen by those at the top of the MoD in view of the fact that it had been the lead Department." - briefing by Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman, July 22
Questioned by Hutton, Blair admitted that noone from the MoD was present at the meeting where the decision was made to confirm Dr Kelly’s name. He also confirmed that, as the MoD’s director of personnel had said on the first day of the inquiry, no relevant MoD procedures existed. The Prime Minister did however continue to maintain he had “played it by the book”.

“We made great efforts to ensure Dr Kelly’s anonymity.” - Geoff Hoon, BBC interview, July 19
Questioned by Hutton, the defence secretary admitted that on July 8, just two days after he had learned of Dr Kelly’s identity, he had officially approved the following course of action: “if a journalist approached the press office with the right name, then that name would be confirmed by press officers”. He also said that Sir Kevin Tebbit checked the plan with him twice during the following day, and he confirmed his approval.

“On the 25th September there were a small number of headlines about that; and afterwards virtually no reference to it.” - John Scarlett on media reaction to the 45 minute claim, Hutton Inquiry, September 23
The Sun, Britain’s biggest selling paper, ran the front-page headline “BRITS 45 MINUTES FROM DOOM”. The Star’s front page read “MAD SADDAM SET TO ATTACK: 45 MINUTES FROM A CHEMICAL WAR.” The Daily Express joined them in reporting as fact that chemical weapons could be used against troops based in Cyprus, while the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and Times all reported the 45-minute claim on their front pages with no qualification about it only applying to battlefield munitions.

“I do believe that anyone with an interest in good, decent journalism… should understand that when allegations are made, when lies are broadcast, when there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate the allegation they should apologise and then we can move on.” - Alastair Campbell, Channel 4 News, June 27
Asked why he did not complain about a front page story in the Sunday Times on June 1 which specifically accused him of making “our intelligence services become the puppets of a lying government”, Campbell replied “It happens to be untrue but there is not much I can do about that.” When Geoff Hoon was asked why his department had not corrected the many newspapers which had interpreted the “45-minute” claim in the dossier to refer to anything other than battlefield munitions, Geoff Hoon told the inquiry “I have spent many years trying to persuade newspapers and journalists to correct their stories. It is an extraordinarily time consuming and generally frustrating process.” The BBC’s lawyer then asked “Do you accept that on this topic at least you had an absolute duty to try to correct it?”, to which the Defence Secretary replied, “No, I do not.”

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Web Exclusives...

and - why not - a couple which didn't make the paper and would otherwise merely moulder on my machine...

“The astonishing waste of paper and money caused by the rising tide of junk mail has been revealed,” gasped the Daily Mail on 28 September. “British households receive a total of 3.4billion unsolicited items through the post every year, of which 750million go straight into the bin. Researchers found that 22 per cent of direct mail, much of it from banks and credit-card companies, is never opened. … Many Daily Mail readers have complained about the level of junk mail flooding on to doormats. They are also angry that they have been unable to get through to the helpline which is supposed to allow householders to block it.”
The paper did, however, neglect to mention one interesting finding contained in the survey by Nielsen Media Research – that in 2005 Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail (as well as those litterbug’s favourite freebies, Metro and London Lite), spent £791,000 cluttering up the nation’s doormats with junk mail subscription offers.

“The BBC has grown into a bloated bureaucracy with more than 25,000 employees – some of whom, as we discovered this week, have nothing better to do than debate whether or not Fiona Bruce should be allowed to wear a piece of jewellery in the shape of a cross when she presents the news,” grumbled Tom Utley in the Daily Mail last week. “Would they agonise as much about a Muslim presenter who chose to wear a headscarf? I rather doubt it.”
This is one of the few occasions when a columnist’s rhetorical question can be easily answered, given that the entire furore over Ms Bruce’s jewellery only arose from an article in the Guardian in which former BBC controller of editorial policy Stephen Whittle was given a series of hypothetical dilemmas to struggle with, including… whether a Muslim newsreader would be allowed to wear a hijab on screen or not. Whittle’s answer? “It is not something I would want to allow without it being properly discussed beforehand.”

From Eye 1169

The original version of this one, which I prefer to the edit that appeared:

Several commentators noted the speed with which Nick Hornby rushed to condemn shadow chancellor George Osbourne for suggesting Gordon Brown suffered from autism, while ignoring the same charge when it was laid by his brother-in-law Robert Harris in the Sunday Times last month – but few of them noticed that neither man was the originator of the supposed insult.
He “was accused of mocking hundreds of thousands of people with learning difficulties” and “risked stigmatising the 535,000 people in Britain on the autistic spectrum,” frothed the Times, presumably forgetting that a mere month ago columnist Anatole Kaletsky referred to the chancellor’s “brooding, almost autistic personality” – and, indeed, that the only person actually to use the word during the fringe discussion which ignited the row was their very own Mary Anne Sieghart. “He should apologise to the thousands of people affected by autism for trying to turn their condition into a term of abuse,” a “source” told the Independent, whose Simon Carr noted in May that “Mr Brown answers questions in that autistic way he has”, and has yet to show any contrition. But who was the first man to publicly insult Brown thus? None other than ginger whinger Simon Heffer, who in his Telegraph column of 19 November 2005 indulged one of his own repetitive behaviour patterns in yet another piece about the importance of proper dress. “Gordon Brown of course refuses arrogantly and ignorantly even to put on a black tie when he goes to official dinners,” he fumed, “for reasons that I have never heard satisfactorily explained, but are, I presume, down to his almost autistic rudeness.”
Heffer, of course, has form on letting Tory front-benchers take the rap for his tasteless remarks – he was the author of the infamous 2004 Spectator editorial on Liverpool for which editor Boris Johnson was forced to make a personal journey of apology.

“OVER THE COUNTER KILLER” shrieked a headline in the News of the World on September 10, over the news that “terrorists hell-bent on mid-air murder can track EVERY aeroplane in the sky armed with a ‘virtual computer radar’ readily available on the internet.”
“Hooked up to a laptop or PC the British-made gadget replicates exactly what flight controllers see on their monitors. And chillingly, all the information is relayed LIVE,” the paper revealed. “It could have potentially horrendous implications. A News of the World reporter was able to easily buy the £499 scanner from a leading specialist shop. Staff did not inquire why we wanted it or what we intended to use it for.”
And what did the intrepid hacks do with this deadly piece of kit when they had finished with it? Flogged it off on eBay, of course. “press_snapper” put the gadget – “used for demonstration purposes (News of the World story) but like new” – up for sale on the auction site, where it fetched a handsome £440 (plus £5p&p) on 23 September. The new proud owner? One “warbird-nl”.

September 2006: John Prescott tells the Labour Party Conference that “The canals of Manchester and many cities were symbols of urban decline. When we came to office we changed the Treasury borrowing rules to allow publicly owned bodies like British Waterways to be more enterprising, using public private partnerships to unleash their full potential. They have become major engines of urban regeneration. As a result, we transformed derelict canals into flourishing urban centres: profitable assets instead of the decaying liabilities the Tories left behind.”
September 2006: British Waterways has its grant from government slashed for the third time this year, resulting in the scaling-back of future restoration projects and the abandonment of a number of canals.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The news, before it happens

"Shop Your Children, Says Reid", was freesheet thelondonpaper's front-page splash last Wednesday, over news that the home secretary had addressed a meeting in Leyton, east London.
"Reid faced fierce criticism from the audience on the government's actions in Iraq," revealed hack Eugene Henderson. "But he rejected suggestions that British foreign policy was to blame or the 7 July bombings."
Curiously, the paper made no mention of the event that led most of that evening's news bulletins and featured heavily in the following day's papers, the heckling and subsequent expulsion from the meeting of radical activist Abu Izadeen, who demanded of Mr Reid: "How dare you come to a Muslim area?"
Perhaps Henderson hadn't noticed - hardly surprising, since in order to meet his paper's deadline, he wrote his thorough piece covering the question and answer session long before the home secretary had even set off for Leyton. Just the sort of hard-hitting investigative work we can look forward to more of in the age of the freebie!

360-degree Cherie

From the current Eye, 1168:

"This year I have seen something in our conference coverage that was unique and exciting," gushed Guardian bigwig Emily Bell in her column on 23 September, enthusing over the experimental techniques of photographer Dan Chung, whose 360-degree panoramics of events in Brighton and Manchester are displayed on the paper's website.
"Dan is one of what I hope will be a growing number of journalists who will push the boundaries of what new technologies can add to journalism and storytelling."
Sadly, Chung is not quite so appreciative of his employer's efforts. Setting up his hi-tech camera to snap Cherie Blair in the round in Manchester on Sunday, he was asked by the prime minister's wie if he was getting paid extra for his efforts. "No," replied the disgruntled snapper. "We're all going on strike."
Indeed, Guardian staff are currently threatening industrial action over, among other things, the fact that staff working in new technologies get paid considerably less than their colleagues on the paper!