Thursday, April 26, 2007

Oh, do some research, for god's sake...

Another one from Associated's "Oh My God Lock Your Doors We're All Going To Die Horribly" desk, the same people who brought you the gun that can't kill you.

“It looks like a harmless teenage prank – training shoes dangling from telephone wires in a quiet suburban street” intoned the Mail on Sunday on 21 April. “But for residents in this affluent neighbourhood it is a sign of something far more sinister. It tells them violent gangs are operating in their midst. Police say the symbol has started springing up across the country as a warning sign from gangs to rivals to keep off their ‘patch’.”

Obstinately, the police weren’t saying it to the Mail on Sunday, however. The only evidence the paper seemed to have amassed that the discarded footwear had any sinister overtones came from “A local youth in Kensal Rise, who called himself Gaz and claimed to be a member of a street gang,” and the vendor of a £400,000 house in the area, who claimed “We asked about the trainers and people said it was an American thing and to do with drugs.”

Police in America, however, have been more forthcoming. “That’s not true”, a public information office for Fresno Police and representative of California’s Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium told his local paper just last week. “I've checked around, and I’ve been assured that's not the case.” The paper’s conclusion? Exactly the same as the dozens of other US media outlets who have investigated the phenomenon since it was first comprehensively debunked in 1996: “This appears to be a solidly entrenched urban myth.”

Daily Mail "damages your health"

from the new Eye

“DIETS DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH” shrieked the front page of the Daily Mail on 10 April, over the alarming news that “the world’s largest study of weight loss has shown that diets do not work for the vast majority of slimmers and may even put lives at risk.”

Where better for this news to be revealed than in the paper that has serialised Jo Wood’s organic diet (January 2007), The GI Bikini Diet (April 2006), Audrey Eyton’s F2 Diet (January 2006), The Chopstick Diet (November 2005), the Curves Diet (January 2004), the Bikini Blitz Diet (June 2003) the Mind over Matter Diet (January 2003) and the Little Black Dress Diet (December 2002)?

Well, this could be fun

The nice computer just offered me the chance to display ads on my blog, which could throw up some fairly amusing results. So I said yes.

Then it got all stern and told me I'm not allowed to encourage you to click on the ads to earn me money.

So I'd better not.

I'm still allowed to say this though.


Links are on the right.

How many more (times can we get away with writing this stuff?)

Some stuff, however, did make it in to the paper...



“Why was he free to kill?”
“Did campus gunman’s obsession with student spark massacre?”
“Did confusion and delay in raising the alarm cost lives as the timetable of horror unfolded?”
“How many more?”
– headlines in Daily Mail

“Yesterday morning, there were just a few shooters at the range set in the forests north of Blacksburg, but the empty cartridges littering the ground suggested this was a popular place. Did Cho Seung-Hui bring his weapons here to practise shooting and reloading – something at which he was obviously proficient? One can only speculate.”
- Andrew Buncombe, Independent
“The last mass shooting that was in any way comparable, at Columbine High School… It said something about American society - about the frustrations of suburban life, about the pressures to conform, about time, family life and the ruthless competition to ‘succeed’. It may be premature to conclude that any similar pressures lay behind yesterday's killing spree.”
- Leader, Independent
“None of that, of course, provides a motive for the shootings which appear to be entirely random.”
- Andrew Gumbel concludes 800 words of speculation as to the killer’s motives, Independent

“Further video footage emerges of Virginia killer talking about his imminent death.
- See the video
- 'You decided to spill my blood'
- Fears led college to commit gunman
- Blog: Should the video be shown?”
- front page of Guardian website

“The release of the photographs and footage, broadcast ceaselessly throughout yesterday and published in newspapers across the globe, was the perfect seal on his plan. But it must have been desperately wounding to those who lost loved ones in the carnage and mayhem that Cho inflicted. Police said they deeply regretted that the images were aired, and fellow students reacted with anger that he should be given precisely the platform of publicity that his crazed mind sought.”
- the Daily Mail, in a piece adjacent to six large pictures from the footage in question

“Grazia Insider: Virginia Tech students talk about the shooting massacre, plus get tickets for the Grazia/Armani makeover workshops”
- email newsletter from Grazia magazine

“I can't have been the only writer dismayed to learn that Cho Seung-Hui, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre, was a literature student.” – Blake Morrison, Guardian

“It was easy to overlook amid the Baghdad bombs and the Virginia shootings, but something else died this week. That something was New Labour. David Miliband’s decision not to run for the Labour leadership has finally pulled the plug on the machine Tony Blair and Pete Mandelson created in 1994.” – Martin Kettle, Guardian

“Comedy in a moment on BBC Three, but first a news minute about the worst campus massacre in US history.” – BBC announcer

Three weeks too late - a web exclusive

In the editorial meeting last Wednesday (18th April), my editor Ian Hislop asked me to write a piece for the Eye on the furore over the Iran navy hostages selling their stories the previous week.

"He's never going to use that," I said to a colleague. "By the time the mag comes out the whole thing will feel like ancient history.

On Monday we went to press. "Sorry," said Ian, handing me back the best part of a day's work. "I think we're just too late with this one."

So here, three weeks late, are my thoughts on that stuff you vaguely remember people getting very het up about back at the beginning of the month...

As the chequebooks of the Sun and Mirror snapped firmly shut on navy hostages Faye Turney and Arthur Batchelor, their rivals were reduced to snapping up anyone else with anything to say on the matter.

“This episode has brought disgrace on the British armed forces and it comes from complete ineptitude at the top,” Colonel Tim Collins told the Sunday Times on 8 April, reminding readers of the silence other high-profile military figures. “There was not so much as a peep out of any of them afterwards, no talk and certainly no mention of money.” Colonel Collins book Rules of Engagement: A Life in Conflict (Hodder Headline, 2005) is still available from all good bookshops. He will deliver a “motivational speech” on “his time in the First Royal Irish regiment where he combated the loyalist murder gangs n East Tyrone and survived ambush in the deserts of Iraq” for a fee of between £4,000 - £7,000.

Having spent 600 words re-telling the Sun’s exclusive interview with Faye Turney on 9 April, the Daily Mail pointed out that “News that Mrs Turney alone is likely to make at least £100,000 was condemned by former Defence Ministers, ex-soldiers - and families who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.” “I am appalled the MoD is encouraging them to profit from a military disaster,” former British UN commander in Bosnia Colonel Bob Stewart tells the paper. “Some of them are acting like reality TV stars.” Colonel Stewart’s book Broken Lives: A Personal View of the Bosnian Conflict (published by Harper Collins in 1994, a year before he left the army) is now sadly out of print, but fear not, his services are advertised by the Norman Phillips agency as “a frequent commentator on TV and radio” who “speaks to differing audiences on subjects such as crisis management… peace-keeping, the military and politics.” The paper also roped in Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, author of In The Eye of the Storm: Commanding the Desert Rats in the Gulf War (Hodder, 1996), and one of the London Speaker Bureau’s “most in demand” stars, who is happy to tell them that “I think the sailors and Marines will regret it and realise it was not such a good idea to cash in. I hope they give all the money to charity.”

Over on Sky News, Turney’s fellow hostage Lieutenant Felix Carman informed the world that he is happy to “do media interviews for nothing.” “I think that myself and others find the whole money issue unsavoury, to be honest,” he declared – a statement only slightly spoiled by his first words after the camera stopped rolling: “who should I approach about auditioning as a weather presenter?”

The Daily Telegraph meanwhile noted on 10 April that “a tide of condemnation engulfed the Government last night after it allowed the 15 hostages released by Iran to sell their stories… ‘Shameful’ was the verdict of some bereaved families while the Conservatives warned that the Government had set a terrible precedent,” but failed to note that it had itself set rather a precedent when last October it serialized Barefoot Soldier, the £1million autobiography of Johnson Beharry, Victoria Cross recipient and serving Private in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

Last word must go to the Guardian, which declared in a high-minded editorial on 10 April that “nobody comes well out of the decision to permit Britain's released Iran hostages to sell their stories... The command structure of the armed forces collapsed on first contact with the Fleet Street chequebook. But nor should a free pass be given to the beasts of the media, so often happy to wave the flag and get behind our boys (and now our girl) but then, when it suits, to tempt them with gold… The challenge is to re-establish rules that work - and then to be prepared to enforce them. This means enforcing them not just on soldiers and sailors but on publishers and journalists.” The Guardian, of course, knows more about this than some, having been censured by the Press Complaints Commission in 2003 following a special investigation into their payment of a convicted criminal for his account of his time in prison alongside Jeffrey Archer – a judgement which the paper greeted by promptly threatening to walk out of the PCC.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Least relevant detail of the week...

... comes from man offended by "racist rant of Corrie's Les":

“The last thing I need is to go for a quiet drink with my wife and have to listen to a so-called star like him ranting on like that – who on earth does he think he is? We were sat next to a carer for a fellow with special needs. It’s a family pub. It just wasn’t nice at all.”

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bob Woolmer - remember him?

Here's a piece I wrote for the last Eye, which I then forgot about and shamelessly chortled at when I got back from holiday...



“Was cricket coach killed by a bookie?” – Evening Standard, 21 March
“Did match fixers want him dead?” – Daily Mail, 22 March
“‘Mafia executed cricket chief Bob’” – Mirror, 22 March
“Yardies fed Bob venom in his bath” – Daily Star, 23 March
“Woolmer strangled by a hitman” – Express, 23 March
“More than one killer was involved” – Times, 23 March
“Did a cricketer kill Woolmer?” – Sunday Express, 25 March
“Al-Qaeda link to Woolmer murder” – Sun, 29 March

“He had suffered a suspected heart attack. There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.” – Daily Mail, 19 March
“Did drink and drugs OD kill coach?” – Evening Standard, 19 March
“World Cup coach was strangled” – Daily Mail, 22 March
“Test ace Bob murdered with snake venom.” – Daily Star, 23 March
“Poisoned dish sent to room” – Sun, 23 March
“Was he REALLY strangled?” – Daily Mail, 31 March
“Cricket legend was killed by drug from ancient plant – cops believe it was sprinkled on his sleeping pills.” – Sunday Mirror, 1 April
“The Pakistan coach slipped in the shower after downing a bottle of whisky” – Express, 2 April
“Squashed carton of mango and carrot juice – did this contain poison?” – Sun, 3 April

Alright, alright, I've been on holiday...

A classic tabloid headline on page 23 of today's Mirror

Rail track death girl 'rape' hell

Perhaps it should be investigated, so that tommorrow we could have a

Rail track death girl 'rape' hell probe

And if something went wrong, the next day there could be a

Rail track death girl 'rape' hell probe shock

or even a

Rail track death girl 'rape' hell probe shock terror

(apologies to Michael Frayn...)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

They got goody bags!

I bet that was a fun conversation at customs.

"Did you pack your bag yourself, sir?"

"No, someone gave it to me."

"And who was that, sir?"

"President Ahmadinejad of Iran."

"If you'll just come this way, sir..."

13 days in Iranian custody, 13 months in Guantanamo...