Sunday 28 February 2010

More claims of plagiarism against the Mail

The constant media hounding of Jonathan Ross eventually led to him quitting the BBC. Having claimed his scalp, they're now going after his wife for her involvement in the upcoming action film Kick-Ass.

The Sunday Times began this piffle with Jon Ungoed-Thomas' ill-informed article Jonathan Ross's wife Jane Goldman spawns girl assassin, 11. Unsurprisingly, the Mail were quick to join in the attack, with the suspiciously similar Jonathan Ross's wife Jane Goldman causes outrage with film featuring a foul-mouthed 11-year-old assassin, which they placed very prominently on their website.

Two things need to be pointed out immediately.

One: Goldman is only a co-writer of the screenplay. The other co-writer, Matthew Vaughn, is also the film's director - yet he is hardly mentioned in either story.

Two: the film is based on a comic book by Mark Millar. He invented the character of Hit-Girl, the foul-mouthed, eleven-year-old assassin, but the Mail doesn't even bother to mention him.

So references to 'Goldman's film' and her 'spawning' the character aren't exactly accurate.

As for the so-called 'outrage', it's as mythical as you might expect. The New York Times published an article about the film's red band trailers (ones that have swearing and violence in), based on the concerns of one person, who writes her reviews under the title Movie Mom.

Both articles quote Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at Kent University, but he seems to be making a generic point about about movie violence and doesn't mention Goldman at all.

So a bit of manufactured outrage used to attack another member of the Ross family. What a surprise.

But on reading the Mail's version, the resemblance to the Sunday Times' article is too strong to be coincidental. As the Mail article says Furedi 'told the Sunday Times' his view, it's reasonable to assume the broadsheet article must have existed first.

Sunday Times:


Sunday Times:

Sunday Times:

Mail (with spelling mistake):

Sunday Times:

Sunday Times:

Sunday Times:

It doesn't look good, does it?

And this isn't the first time a Mail article has looked suspiciously similar to another story from another paper.

On an earlier post about yet another claim of plagiarism against the Mail, an anonymous comment pointed out these two articles:

Exhibit A - AC Transit bus brawler has video past by Angela Woodall in The Oakland Tribune.

Exhibit B - Bus assault pensioner, 67, starred in second YouTube altercation last August... when he was Tasered by police published on MailOnline.

I emailed Woodall about the claim. She said they had used her work without attribution and confirmed that she had written an email to the Mail about their 'strikingly similar' story, but which they had ignored. She also sent me a copy of her email to them.

Here's a section from Woodall's article:

And from the Mail's version:

And with these articles following on from the claims made against the Mail's Chris Johnson for plagiarism, is anyone going to call the Mail and its editor, to account?

Telling half the story on the proposed mosque near Sandhurst

On Sunday 21 February, both the News of the World and the Mail reported on Ministry of Defence 'concern' over plans to build a mosque with two minarets near Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.

Although that concern about any tall structures overlooking the training academy was genuine - a copy of an MOD letter to the Council is shown in this BBC film - the tone of the newspaper coverage was that them Muslims were going to be atop the minarets and up to no good.

Yet at the end of the News of the World story, there was this quote:

A Surrey Heath Council spokesman said: 'The submitted plans state that there will be no access to the minarets above the roof level of the building.'

So, no problem then?

The next day, the Express and Telegraph also covered the MOD 'concern'. They included the 'no access to the minarets above the roof level' quote that the Mail conveniently left out.

Yet the very same day, local journalist Mike Wright reported that:

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it has no serious reservations about plans to build a traditional mosque in Camberley, close to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Following previous security concerns relating to the two 100ft minarets proposed for the building, the MoD said in a statement on Monday that the issue had now been addressed.

'Addressed' in the way the Surrey Council spokesman explained on Sunday: there will not be access to the top of the minarets.

Or, as one of the men behind the plans for the mosque said:

If you are Spiderman, you can go up. Otherwise you can't.

So there it is: MOD concerns about the minarets had been resolved.

Surely the News of the World, Mail, Express and Telegraph would tell all their readers about that new development so they're not left with the wrong impression, wouldn't they?

Er, no.

They've not said another word about it.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Breaking news...

A few days ago, Sky News was declared News Channel of the Year by the Royal Television Society.

It was badly timed, given Sky's disgraceful attempt to shut down debate on the 'Press standards, privacy and libel' report.

And now: breaking news from Sky. This is, according to them, the second most important story in the world at the moment.

What is it?

Err, two men don't shake hands:

Dacre says Mail doesn't do churnalism. Oh really?

When Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail, gave evidence at the 'Press standards, privacy and libel' hearings, he was asked about 'churnalism' - journalism which is simply reheated press releases and wire copy, churned out with little/no journalistic talent.

It 'applies to some newspapers' he said, pointing the finger at the local press and Richard Desmond. But he said:

'I refute that charge of the Daily Mail'.

And he went on to say the Mail and some of its 'worthy competitors' are 'not guilty' of the charge.

Got that? Good.

So let's look at Daily Mail Reporter's If you thought your name was bad, spare a thought for Barb Dwyer, Paige Turner, Stan Still and Terry Bull from 26 February 2010. It says:

Next time you introduce yourself or sign your name, spare a thought for Barb Dwyer and Paige Turner. They are among those honoured with having the most bizarre and embarrassing names in Britain, according to a survey. Researchers spent a month scouring the UK's online phone records to find those for whom meeting new people or showing their credit card in a shop is likely to be an ordeal.

It goes on to quote Stan Still, who says:

'My name has been a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life. When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout "Stan Still, get a move on!" and roll about laughing. It got hugely boring after a while.'

At which point, Mail anoraks might think they've heard that anecdote before. They'd be right.

Because one year and one day ago, in the Mail, Luke Salkeld's At least no one will forget you Justin Case: The most unfortunate names in Britain told the same story. Exactly the same story:

Perhaps their parents had a wicked sense of humour. But for the children saddled with a comical name, the joke can wear a little thin. Stan Still, 76, said his name 'has been a blooming millstone around my neck my entire life'...Mr Still, a former RAF man from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, said yesterday: 'When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, "Stan Still, get a move on" and roll about laughing. It got hugely boring after a while.'

Hugely boring indeed.

So have the hacks at the Mail been looking through old papers for noteworthy anniversaries and thought this story was good enough to use again?

Who knows. But what we do know is that these stories are definitely churnalism.

Both articles say these names have come from a study conducted by The Baby Website. Their press release 'Silly Names' was written in February 2009.

It begins:

Next time you sign your name spare a thought for Justin Case, Barb Dwyer and Anna Sasin. The incredibly unfortunate names emerged in our study of the most bizarre names in Britain today.

And the Mail's 2010 article begins:

Next time you introduce yourself or sign your name, spare a thought for Barb Dwyer and Paige Turner. They are among those honoured with having the most bizarre and embarrassing names in Britain, according to a survey.

Hmm. The press release:

When the parents of some of those people mentioned named their children, many probably didn’t even realise the implications at the time.

There must be tremendous embarrassment every time they have to introduce themselves to anyone, especially to a crowd. Even their teachers must have had to hold back their smiles sometimes.

On the positive side, anyone wanting to become well-known would have an added advantage… No-one would forget a name such as Justin Case, would they?

Parents really do need to think carefully though when choosing names for their children.

The Mail in 2009:

A spokesman for, which compiled the list, said: 'When the parents of some of those people mentioned named their children, many probably didn't even realise the implications at the time. 'There must be tremendous embarrassment every time they have to introduce themselves. Even their teachers must have had to hold back their smiles sometimes. 'On the positive side, anyone wanting to become well known would have an added advantage. No one would forget a name such as Justin Case, would they?'

The Mail in 2010:

A spokesman said: 'There must be tremendous embarrassment every time they have to introduce themselves to anyone, especially to a crowd. 'Even their teachers must have had to hold back their smiles sometimes. Parents really do need to think carefully when choosing names for their children.'

An anonymous spokesman who doesn't really exist, but is used to regurgitate whole chunks of a press release? Imagine that.

Although the press release doesn't include the Stan Still story, they borrowed (ahem) that from the BBC website.

So not only is this classic churnalism, but it's reheating a year-old press release that they actually covered a year ago and which has no 'new' info in at all.

What was that about 'refuting that charge' of churnalism again, Mr Dacre?

(Hat-tip Iain Stuart)


Following the release of Starsuckers, you might think that the media would be a little more careful about publishing unlikely gossip without doing some research or fact-checking.

But they're not. And so, thanks to Robert Popper, we have 'Tangerinegate'.

In the midst of the claims about Gordon Brown's temper, Popper phoned LBC claiming to have first hand evidence of the PM's anger.

While touring a factory where Popper claimed to work, Brown received a phone call which upset him. Soon after:

...he threw a tangerine which he had, and it hit a machine, the actual lamination machine, and the actual fruit got stuck in the machine and clogged the whole machine, the whole machine broke down because of the peel, and it was very embarrassing, we had to sort of stop the tour and he got even more angry and he called the person that gave him the tangerine a citric idiot and shouted.

'Citric idiot'? Did that, and the story as a whole, not ring any alarm bells?

But of course, the allegation - however unbelievable - was what sections of the press wanted to believe in the maelstrom of accusations about whether Brown was a bully.

So The Sun wrote about it in the middle of a longer article covering many allegations about Brown's behaviour:

Unlike Martin Evans and the Telegraph, who gave it much greater prominence:

The FT also covered it, although their blogger Jim Pickard was sceptical from the start:

So yes, he thought the story was 'suspicious', but he still managed to write over 500 words about it.

It also got a passing mention on the BBC comedy show The Bubble.

How long will we have to wait for the corrections?

Friday 26 February 2010

Followed by the....what?

Yesterday, a homophobic comment on the Mail website, which crept through while moderation was switched off, somehow avoided being deleted.

But this comment was moderated and approved for publication:

Recommended reading

5CC's excellent Did the Government really secretly plot to change the face of Britain? is a thorough dissection of all the nonsense that has appeared in the tabloids repeatedly over the last few months on the non-existent Government immigration plot.

The latest example of that was Melanie Phillips in the Mail yesterday, which Anton commented on at Enemies of Reason.

Anton has also exposed the Express' ludicrous Now migrants get a 'VIP club' front page - another immigration scare, another load of rubbish.

Over at Angry Mob, Uponnothing has looked at the Mail's latest target: disabled car parking spaces. He's also given his take on the MPs report on the press, and done an entertaining Daily Mail Reporter-spoof attack on Paul Dacre.

Back to 5CC and he's examined why a recent grant to the Christian Police Association has attracted none of the tabloid coverage that the Black, Trans or Muslim Police Associations regularly endure.

On a lighter note, Chris Spann wonders why the Mail seems so obsessed by the fact that Victoria Beckham has bunions. They've mentioned them 18 times in the last three months.

Thursday 25 February 2010

'The straights'?

The Mail's article on a schoolgirl who died of a heroin overdose saw a spat break out in the comments between 'Cheeky' and 'Unbelievable'.

At first, comments were moderated, then they all disappeared, then returned unmoderated. Some of the insults that passed between these two have since been deleted, but this one hasn't:

Even if that has got through because the comments aren't being moderated, there's no excuse for it to still be there some eight hours later.

(Hat-tip Guy Kelly)

Proper investigative journalism

Further revelations from the Guardian today about the News of the World and their involvement with private investigators.

The admirable Nick Davies, who has been at the forefront of uncovering this story, reveals:

the newspaper employed a freelance private investigator even though he had been accused of corrupting police officers and had just been released from a seven-year prison sentence for blackmail.

The private eye was well known to the News of the World, having worked for the paper for several years before he was jailed, when Coulson was deputy editor. He was rehired when he was freed.

And, he adds, this means we now know of four 'private investigators' who worked for the News of the World who:

have since received or had criminal convictions. All four are known to have used illegal methods to gather information.

As for the News of the World's 'collective amnesia' - as it was described in the MPs' report yesterday - the Guardian has gone through Coulson's testimony to the Select Committee and found that he didn't know or couldn't remember much about anything.

'Nothing to do with me guv, I was only the Editor'.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Reactions to the 'Press standards, privacy and libel' report

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has published its long-awaited report on Press standards, privacy and libel today. (Full coverage at MediaGuardian)

It is an extremely wide-ranging report and has many very good recommendations for changing the Press Complaints Commission, including several that have been supported by this blog. (The attempt to ban newspapers from printing for a day for serious transgressions is a very poor recommendation, however).

On the issue of fines, the Committee recommends that:

in cases where a serious breach of the Code has occurred, the PCC should have the ability to impose a financial penalty.

On the placement of apologies:

Corrections and apologies should be printed on either an earlier, or the same, page as that first reference, although they need not be the same size.

That would mean front page apologies for front page stories which are wrong. This change should be implemented immediately because the 'due prominence' wording in the current Code of Practice clearly is not working.

On sacking Paul Dacre as Chair of the Code of Practice Committee:

We further recommend that there should be lay members on the Code Committee, and that one of those lay members should be Chairman of that Committee.

Absolutely. However, there is a shocking quote in the report from Dacre. He told the Committee:

"It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed."

Firstly: bollocks. Secondly: Dacre and the Mail have shame?

The MPs added that lay members should be a majority on the decision-making Commission, which should also include journalists, rather than just editors:

We recommend that the membership of the PCC should be rebalanced to give the lay members a two thirds majority, making it absolutely clear that the PCC is not overly influenced by the press.

This, the Committee says, would:

enhance the credibility of the PCC to the outside world.

Which is, of course, urgently needed. The MPs add:

However for confidence to be maintained, the industry regulator must actually effectively regulate, not just mediate. The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.

It's all pretty damning about the PCC, but things will only improve if these changes are implemented to give the regulator those much-needed teeth.

It was also highly critical of the Daily Express, which several years ago refused to pay its subscriptions to the self-regulatory system. The MPs called this action:


From Peter Hill and Richard Desmond, that shouldn't be surprising.

But the report was especially damning about the News of the World over their illegal phone-hacking activities. The report says these were not restricted to one 'rogue reporter':

Evidence we have seen makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking....[which] went to the heart of the British establishment, in which police, military royals and government ministers were hacked on a near industrial scale.

Moreover, the MPs are brutal in their judgements about the News of the World and News International employees who came before them:

Throughout our inquiry, too, we have been struck by the collective amnesia afflicting witnesses from the News of the World.


Throughout we have repeatedly encountered an unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation. We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.


For a clear example of this amnesia, look through the oral evidence and the exchanges between Philip Davies MP, current News of the World Editor Colin Myler and Tom Crone, the Legal Manager at News Group Newspapers (Q.1411-1418).

Davies was trying to find out who authorised the payments to Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, the bin-rummager who did the phone-hacking, which was paid after their release from prison. As if they was being paid to shut up, or something...

Q1416 Philip Davies: Just while we are on the theme, has any payment been subsequently made to Clive Goodman?

Mr Crone: I am certainly not aware of it.

Mr Myler: Again, likewise, I am not aware of any payment.

Q1417 Philip Davies: If a payment had been made, would you be aware of it?

Mr Crone: Not necessarily. Mr Kuttner would.

Q1418 Philip Davies: So this is a question for Mr Kuttner?

Mr Crone: I would say so.

And when Stuart Kuttner, the News of the World's Managing Editor, came before the Committee later that day:

Q1578 Philip Davies: We are obviously not going to make any further headway there. Have you made any payments to either Glenn Mulcaire or Clive Goodman since they were convicted of their offence?

Mr Kuttner: So far as I know agreements were made with them. I have no details at all of the substance of those agreements and so I cannot go beyond that.

Q1579 Philip Davies: Could you tell us who can because when I asked Mr Crone the same question he seemed to think that you were the person to ask.

Mr Kuttner: Well, in which case that is simply not so.

So Crone said Kuttner would know. Kuttner said he didn't know and he didn't know who would know.

Given that Kuttner has been Managing Editor of the News of the World for 22 years 'collective amnesia' seems a rather generous description.

Needless to say, News International were not happy with the report. They issued a ridiculous statement (pdf) which whined that the Committee had failed to act without:

bias or external influence.

This comes after Crone (Q.1329) had tried to get Labour MP Tom Watson kicked off the Committee (he was suing The Sun at the time - and won) and Kuttner wanted Davies removed from it too (Q.1572).

'External influence'

The statement went on to complain about the Committee's:




and said it had

repeatedly violated public trust.

For the publishers of the Sun and the News of the World to accuse others of those things is almost beyond parody.

The Sun's article on the 167-page report ran to just five paragraphs, which consisted of how the report had been 'hijacked' by Labour MPs. Had it really? Tom Watson said not:

570 clauses agreed unanimously, 4 were voted on, 3 of them opposed by a single MP.

That's some hijacking. As if to prove they had something to hide, the Sun were not taking any comments on this story on their website.

Their editorial was equally pathetic and designed to make petty political points, categorically failing to engage with the substance of the report:

Note 'unfounded claims' by the Guardian. Well, the Guardian's exposing of the News of the World's payment to Gordon Taylor wasn't unfounded. And if News International think it's all unfounded, why not sue?

Of course, the report did include many pages of insight and recommendations on privacy, libel and the McCann case.

But because the MPs dared take on the Sun's sister paper, its work was deemed 'worthless'. How grown up.

More astonishing was the reaction of Sky, which is in the same Murdoch stable as the News of the World, and which tried to pretend nothing had happened.

Here's the BBC's teletext news headlines this morning:

Second story. And on Sky Text it was here:

Oh rather, wasn't here. Still at least Sky News had it prominently on their website:

Oh no, it wasn't in their top 15 stories by early afternoon. Surely they wouldn't just bury it below some photo gallery of a pop star and a footballer:

Ah they would.

And even then it doesn't concentrate on the libel recommendations, or the reform of the PCC or the McCanns, that the Sun was complaining about. No, they've made it deliberately party political by referring to it in terms of 'Cam's man', as former editor Andy Coulson now works for David Cameron.

And on Tuesday night, during the Sky News press review, the News International line was already clear. They were faced with this:

What to do? Journalist Mark Seddon began to talk about the inquiry and the claims against the News of the World. Sat next to him was a journalist from the Times (also owned by News International), who butted in to say the phone-hacking had been looked at over and over and it's a non-story now.

Well, if the News International people would tell the truth for once, there wouldn't need to be constant enquiries into the sordid affair.

But at this point Anna Botting, the Sky News presenter, spoke over everyone to dismiss this whole story as a 'vendetta' from a 'left-leaning' newspaper which was aimed at Andy Coulson solely because he now works for the Tories. And she made clear that was the end of that discussion. It was dreadful.

And it clearly highlights the dangers of too much media being in the hands of too few people. The biggest selling daily newspaper and one of the two main TV news channels are all owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the News of the World.

And when not claiming some mythical political plot (the Chair of the Committee, incidentally, is a Conservative MP), they have decided the stick their fingers in the ears, shut their eyes and shout 'la la la', instead of telling their viewers about some important proposals to improve the press in this country.

The Guardian reports the Mail has done a short article, mostly avoiding the phone-hacking claims. The Telegraph has written more in general, but ignored the phone-hacking stuff. The Independent has given lots of coverage to News International's pathetic sound and fury.

So today we've seen parts of the media refusing to engage in a debate or admit to their own failings, while other parts try to intimidate and smear anyone who dares criticise.

How are things ever likely to change?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

The 'World's Greatest Newspaper' won't win a British Press Award again this year

The nominations for the British Press Awards have been announced.

Unsurprisingly, the Telegraph leads the field (with 19 nominations) after its coverage of MPs' expenses.

The Guardian (17 nominations), The Sunday Times (15), The Times (13), Daily Mail (12) and the Mail on Sunday (11) follow.

There's also a handful of nominations each for the Mirror, Independent, Sun and FT.

In fact, only two national daily newspapers failed to get a single nomination: the Daily Star and the Daily Express. Richard Desmond, who owns both, must be so proud.

The Sunday Express got one nod, for the story about Jacqui Smith putting her husband's porn film on her expenses. But that's as good as it gets.

Because the Express, Star and their Sunday versions didn't get a single nomination in 2009 either.

And it was the same story in 2008.

And, ahem, 2007.

So only one nomination for Richard Desmond's dreadful rags in four years.

And yet the Express continues to call itself the 'World's Greatest Newspaper' on its masthead every day. Its circulation is collapsing, it serves up a daily diet of hate and lies and the complete lack of any nominations in these awards means it becomes increasingly hard to understand how they are allowed to make this obviously bogus claim.

Elsewhere, it was pleasing to see the Express' Paul Thomas was left off the cartoon shortlist.

But best of all, the complete failure of any of the nasty columnists at the Mail to get a single mention. No Littlejohn. No Moir. No Platell. No Melanie Phillips. No Liz Jones. No Allison Pearson.


Not quite so wonderful is the somewhat surprising nomination for the Mail's 'Science' Editor Michael Hanlon in the 'Specialist journalist' category. This is the man who once wrote:

one soon forgets that zombies, so far, exist only in the imagination.

Does one?

Even worse is the inclusion of Kelvin MacKenzie on the Columnist shortlist. MacKenzie is so highly valued by the Sun - despite his lies about Hillsborough - that they don't put his columns on their website.

Here's a flavour of his work. On 11 February he wrote about the Muslim bus driver who had stopped his bus in order to pray. Last time the Sun wrote this story about a different driver it cost them £30,000. But to MacKenzie, the latest incident was evidence that them Muslims were taking over - solely because the driver had not been sacked. He wrote:

So why wasn't he fired on the spot? It seems there is one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.

And when he says 'them' we can safely assume he's not talking about bus drivers.

No, he's talking about Muslims who, he seems to be admitting, aren't really meant to be reading the Sun. They're not one of 'us'. Such language if often used by right-wing tabloids and serves only to divide people, to build barriers, to cause tension.

It's hugely depressing to see newspapers talk of 'them and us' in this way. And it's equally depressing that such talk gets rewarded with award nominations.

Mail: If frying a steak gives you cancer, use rhubarb and dynamite to cure it

A quick look at some of the sensationalised health stories that have popped up in the Mail recently.

Firstly, Pat Hagan's article How dynamite could help destroy prostate cancer, which sounds like rubbish before you even read any more. It begins:

A chemical once used as a deadly explosive could be a powerful new treatment for prostate cancer.

British scientists have discovered a skin patch containing minute doses of nitroglycerine appears to stop some tumours in their tracks.

Except, it doesn't. At the end of the story:

Cancer Research UK warned...there is still no proof that it actually affects the rate of tumour growth.


Could baked Yorkshire rhubarb help beat cancer? This one started life in the Telegraph and the question mark in the headline suggests no, of course it can't. The Daily Mail Reporter began:

Eating baked rhubarb could help fight cancer, research suggests.

But when the NHS investigated the claims, they found:

The published research did not investigate the effect of rhubarb extracts (or polyphenols) on cancer cells or human health in general. The study only looked at how the concentrations of these chemicals in rhubarb were affected by different cooking methods.


the study is limited by the fact that the researchers did not publish any statistical analysis of their results. This means it is not possible to say the differences they observed with different cooking times and methods did not arise by chance.


The 'cancer risk' of frying steak on a gas hob
. Yes, really. Add this one to the list. Jenny Hope's article says:

Frying meat on a gas hob may increase your risk of cancer, researchers claim.

They found fumes from steak pan-fried on a gas flame contained more cancer-causing particles than those from an electric hob.

Scientists believe hotter gas flames release more harmful chemicals from oil in the cooking process and warn that chefs may be particularly at risk.

'Hotter gas flames'? Does that even make sense? Surely it depends on the temperature rather than what's created the flame.

Back the NHS for another rebuttal:

Although The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail stated that the amounts of the chemicals produced during cooking were within safety limits, this fact was not adequately emphasised in their reports and their coverage tended to sensationalise the story.

This research looked at the chemical composition of cooking fumes. It did not look at the health consequences of exposure to the chemicals produced by cooking, as could be assumed from reading the media reports.


This study did not directly measure the health effects of cooking fumes, and overall it does not provide evidence that exposure to the fumes from cooking steak is bad for your health.

(Hat-tips to Uponnothing and Ben Goldacre)

Recommended read - Charlie Brooker

Charlie Brooker is always worth reading and listening to, but his Guardian column yesterday on the media's obsession with public apologies was particularly good.

He wrote:

...even if [John] Terry had been caught having sex with a Cabbage Patch Doll in the window of Hamleys, he'd still be a better role model than any tabloid newspaper.


Step out of line and the press will encircle and kick you. And kick you and kick you and kick you until you beg for forgiveness. At which point, if you're lucky, they'll chortle and sneer and move on. They must be frightfully proud.

Monday 22 February 2010

If the cap fits...

The Express' latest not-quite-true front page is this:

Who is this 'we'?

Among the very many offensive things the Express has ever written, suggesting 'we' all agree with them on immigration is right up there.

If, however, the 'we' is the Express, then maybe 'Labour' would have a point. If they'd said any such thing. But they haven't. Indeed, they specifically avoided saying it.

The paper illustrates the article with a picture of some women in niqabs because that's the impression the Express wants to give about immigration.

The story is back to the so-called immigration plot and the draft (and all this stuff was only in the draft) document that has resulted in so much coverage. None of this actually made it through to the final version.

As Anton has said in his post on this front page:

you could say it wasn't included because it's a big secret, and it was all a massive plot by Labour. Or you could say it wasn't included because it was rejected. Which one do you think the Mail and Express have gone for?

The Mail had already had this as the lead on its website for a long time on Monday. It also came under a misleading headline - which has already been changed once (Secret Labour plan to increase immigration said public's opposition was 'racist').

Back in the Express, Macer Hall - responsible for that euro nonsense two weeks ago - lays on the hyperbole:

Labour dismissed the British public’s widespread opposition to mass immigration as 'racism'...

But ministers were urged to ignore voters' 'racist' views...

But demonstrating thinly disguised contempt for much of the British public, the document said that this opposition was linked to racist attitudes.

So what did the draft document actually say? From the Mail:

'Recent research shows that anti-immigrant sentiment is closely correlated with racism rather than economic motives,' the authors wrote.

'Education and people's personal exposure to migrants make them less likely to be anti-migrant.

'The most negative attitudes are found among those who have relatively little direct contact with migrants, but see them as a threat.'

Which is not 'Labour' calling everyone a racist. It is the authors - possibly civil servants - quoting 'research' which suggests there is a link between anti-immigrant views and racism. But it does not say everyone who expresses a concern about immigration is a racist.

As the Express claims on the front page.

And look again at that last sentence:

'The most negative attitudes are found among those who have relatively little direct contact with migrants, but see them as a threat.'

Here's what Express Editor Peter Hill told a Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights in January 2007, when asked if he has personally met any asylum seekers:

'I have not. I have met representatives of the Romanian Government on a similar and associated topic but I have not met any asylum seekers - or I do not think so.'

Given the anti-immigration scaremongering the Express regularly pumps out, Hill's words would seem to prove the draft report was right on that point.

And you have to wonder how a life-long journalist in his early 60s (as he was then) had never met an asylum seeker in his life, and yet believes they deserve the coverage his paper gives them.

By a strange coincidence, Migrationwatch's Andrew Green once said there were no immigrants in the village where he lived, although unsurprisingly, coming from him, this wasn't quite accurate.

And if the Express wants to get outraged about drafts that weren't actually used, perhaps they could remind their readers about the 'Daily Fatwa' page that sister paper the Daily Star were planning to run a few years back.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Ban Twitter users from voting, says Mail columnist

Last week, Amanda Platell wrote about the non-existent Government immigration 'plot' in her Mail column. She said:

Thanks to newly revealed documents, we learn it was a deliberate act to make the country more multi-cultural (and thus more likely to vote Labour).

Platell complaining about immigrants coming here to affect the outcome of elections? Seems odd, given she's an immigrant from Australia who was an advisor to William Hague and worked to get the Conservatives elected in 2001.

But you don't really go to Platell for common sense or intellectual rigour.

And this week, she surpassed herself:

A survey purports to show that many more people would vote in a General Election if they could do so on Twitter. In a civilised democracy, the idiots who use Twitter should be banned from voting altogether.

Yes, because everyone knows that the mark of civilised democracies is that they arbitrarily ban thousands of people from voting for no reason whatsoever.

How much do the Mail fork out for such dim, juvenile observations?

Previously, she had dismissed Twitter as:

the domain of the inane, the insane and the desperate.

Platell - like all Mail columnists - has to be a professional hater. Everything's crap, everyone needs to be criticised, nothing is ever any good.

Particularly Twitter, because a) it's modern; and b) it was all nasty about Jan Moir boo hoo hoo.

Never mind that the Mail constantly uses Twitter for celebrity gossip and other stories.

Never mind that people such as Oscar-nominated Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci uses Twitter. Let's not celebrate his achievements. Let's call him an insane idiot who should be disenfranchised instead.

Still, good job the newspaper Platell writes her drivel for is above all this Twitter nonsense.

And to see exactly how much they hate it, go to their Twitter feed at @mailonline.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Stunning exclusive from the Mail

Here's a dismal attempt by the Mail to make a scare story out of two unrelated incidents, which at time of writing is the second story on their website:

Fay Schlesinger's pitiful article ends with the inevitable 'truth' quote:

Mrs Haque's 1999 T-reg Yaris was produced six years before the 2005 to 2010 models currently being recalled...

A Toyota spokesman confirmed that Mrs Haque's vehicle was not involved in the current recall.

He added: 'The accelerator mechanism on that vehicle is completely different.

'It is a cable rather than an electrical mechanism.'

And from the Toyota website:

Toyota models registered before 2005 are not affected.

So the Mail are reporting that a Toyota was involved in a car crash several years ago and a woman was badly hurt. This one could run and run...

[UPDATE: A comment from someone claiming to be the woman's husband has been left on the Mail article. It's been posted below by DBC and also points out the story is nonsense.]

Friday 19 February 2010

The Express: recycling its rubbish

Regular readers will know how the Express likes to repeat things - Diana, Madeleine McCann, weather, fury, chaos, now..., asylum seekers, Muslims, health scares, miracle cures and so on.

But Paul Thomas, their staggeringly inept cartoonist, has taken this recycling a little too far.

Here's his effort about Tiger Woods today:

Any resemblance to Woods, Cheryl Cole, microphones, press conferences or humour is entirely coincidental. And no, it's not clear why he puts vibrating lines around everyone.

But, as Fozzy on the Mailwatch Forum pointed out, wasn't this just a tad similar to his effort from 1 December 2009:

And the Express claim he's 'Political Cartoonist of the Year'...

(Big hat-tip to the good folk at the Mailwatch Forum for their great work. A daily destruction of Paul Thomas' work can be found there and is a must-read.)

Conveying a message

A man has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for the murder of his seven-week-old daughter.

Here's what the BBC thinks is the most important thing about the killer:

And here's what the Mail thinks is the most important thing about him:

Thursday 18 February 2010

Moir 'illogical' and 'distasteful' but not in breach of Code, rules PCC

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, the Press Complaints Commission have rejected complaints about Jan Moir's homophobic article about the death of Stephen Gately.

Some have seen a conspiracy in the fact that Mail Editor Paul Dacre chairs the Code of Practice Committee, while Mail on Sunday Editor Peter Wright sits on the decision-making Commission.

But there is no conspiracy: the PCC are always this useless and ineffectual.

Essentially, the PCC have said that to rule against Moir and the Mail would have meant they were acting against freedom of speech and:

This would be a slide towards censorship, which the Commission could not endorse.

This is a bit of a red herring. To censure a journalist for writing lies is not censorship. It's what effective regulation should do.

They also repeat that as this was a columnist's opinion piece, there is more leeway on what can be said. Indeed, it seems at times that the PCC believes a columnist can say just about anything and, as it is an opinion piece, it's beyond criticism.

That doesn't fully apply in this case. After all, one of Moir's main themes was that this death was not 'natural'. This is not about interpretation of facts. This is whether something is correct or it isn't. And when Moir wrote:

healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again

she was factually wrong. The PCC claim this:

could not be established as accurate or otherwise.

Yet the postmortem said it was natural and the Mail itself has published the results of the official investigation saying the death was from 'natural causes'.

So how can the PCC state this 'could not be established as accurate or otherwise'?

They go on to say:

It admittedly did not take into account the possibility of SADS or similar, but the Commission did not consider that it could be read to be an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact.

True, most people wouldn't rely on Moir's opinion for anything, least of all medical expertise. But this just looks like the PCC finding weasel-words to avoid upholding the complaint.

(See also the time they ruled that when Melanie Phillips said 'the fact is...' what followed shouldn't have been understood to be a fact, because the article was an opinion piece.)

So although the PCC say Moir's piece was:

a compendium of speculations

it did not violate Clause 1 of the Code which says:

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information


It's worth looking at some of the other issues raised by the PCC's lengthy adjudication.

Clause 5 of the Code covers intrusion into grief and says publication of articles should be 'handled sensitively'. Moir's vicious article was published the day before Gately's funeral. Her follow-up column apologised for this (and only for this):

I would like to say sorry if I have caused distress by the insensitive timing of the column, published so close to the funeral.

Yet the PCC chooses not to rule against Moir on this point, even though she admitted it was 'insensitive' and the Code says handling must be 'sensitive'. It is decisions such as that that make people scratch their heads about how the PCC works.

But, interestingly, the PCC do include some criticism, if rather veiled, of Paul Dacre:

The timing of the piece was questionable to say the least, and the Commission considered that the newspaper's editorial judgement in this regard could be subject to legitimate criticism.

Not that the PCC is going to rule against the Mail because of that, it's just going to point out criticism of them for the timing is 'legitimate'.

No wonder Editors do not want the PCC to change.

Paul Dacre is Chair of the Code of Practice Committee. His is the most complained about newspaper, he's responsible for the most complained about single article and has now been criticised for his 'editorial judgement'. And yet he is still considered suitable to make the rules that journalists have to abide by. That simply isn't acceptable.

In its defence, the Mail said:

The record number of complaints was an internet phenomenon 'whipped up in a few hours on the social networks of Facebook and Twitter' and had to be kept in perspective.

This from the paper that 'whipped up' the entire Sachsgate furore. And the difference is stark: at least in the Moir case, people could - and did - read the article. Only a few of the complainants about the Sachsgate broadcast actually heard the show.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

When discussing Clause 12, which covers discrimination, the PCC say:

The question of whether the article was homophobic or discriminatory to gay people in general did not fall under the remit of the Code.

This seems very surprising, and presumably applies to all articles, not just this one.

But this appears to be a problem not with the Code (the discrimination clause is actually very good) but the narrow interpretation of it by the PCC. Do they really think judging whether an article is homophobic is not within their remit?

They go on to say:

The columnist had not used pejorative synonyms for the word 'homosexual' at any point.

This clearly isn't good enough. Just because a newspaper or columnist doesn't use some crass slang insult doesn't mean it's not being homophobic or discriminatory. Adopting arguments such as this one make the PCC look as if they are doing everything possible to avoid ruling against the papers.

The PCC add:

it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article.

Really? So when she said Gately:

could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk

that was nothing to do with his sexuality? (She said a few days later he was 'talented'). And nor was:

the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle.

Nor this:

Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael. Of course, in many cases this may be true.

That was when she was talking about civil partnerships where she claimed Gately's death struck

another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

This followed on from her mention of the entirely unrelated case of Kevin McGee. The Mail in their defence said this was:

relevant comment

The PCC ruled the linking of these was:


They are right about that. But what really annoyed people was the suggestion that this said something about civil partnerships. She later denied this, but it was too late. And the PCC say her view on this, although 'illogical' was not inaccurate or misleading.

But in what way was she right in what she said about civil partnerships?

Moreover, she never said that the antics of Tiger Woods or John Terry (and she wrote about both) struck a blow for the myth of happy-ever-after heterosexual partnerships. Why not?

In sum, the PCC said it was 'uncomfortable' with Moir's 'distasteful' 'compendium of speculations', it was at times 'illogical' and the timing was 'questionable'.

Yet they say it was neither inaccurate (it was), intrusive into grief (it was) or discriminatory (it was).

And so, apart from that exceptionally mild criticism, they aren't going to do a thing about it.