Media: October 2008 Archives

The man who wasn't there.

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invisibleman.jpgNicholas Christian has a classic media revenge story in today's Scotland on Sunday, in which someone at the Press Association has spilled the beans about a heavy-handed phone call from an SNP special adviser.

The original incident was the SNP-embarassing tale that Olympic champion Chris Hoy had come out against a separate Scottish Olympic team. Despite a recording substantiating it, Will McLeish apparently tried to spike the story as untrue, along with suggestions that Hoy and his interviewer were in cahoots.

You could work in Scottish politics a long time before you met the author of today's piece, Mr Christian, though. Despite Google listing 1,230 articles in his name, he doesn't exist. It's a fake byline, or a house byline as the euphemism goes.

Papers use house bylines for various purposes. The Daily Express use a certain Brendan Abbot to slag off the Daily Mail without comeback. The Daily Mail took on the posh but transparently fictional Imogen Faux, who started out as a feminist but ended up as a catch-all house byline. The Sun apparently even tried to poach one of these imaginary writers: the Star's hardworking but non-existent Emily Rose.

In the case of the Hoy story, the need for Mr Christian to get involved is obvious. Political journalists need the spin doctors, especially those with all the baubles of government, even though they sometimes resent their approach. Naming a SPAD, even in a relatively thin story like this, risks looking like an attempt to invoke Whelan's Law: "When the spin doctor becomes the story, it's time for the spin doctor to go." 

Take care, though, my journalistic friends. Most Scottish papers have at best two or three people covering politics, so a house byline doesn't draw much of a veil over your identity. What's more, the Alastair Campbell school of media management still permits revenge to be exacted on the whole paper, not that I think the SNP work that way, and the NUJ's Ethics Council may even try to out you if there's a complaint. Somehow I don't think there will be over this, though.

Compulsory reading.

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There are people who don't like Simon Jenkins, but I am not one of them. Even where I disagree with him, I always love his writing. 

Today's Guardian features a classic Jenkins rant about the miscellaneous silver linings to the financial crisis. Here are a couple of clips to seal the deal.

"Carbon-crazy plans for totemic City skyscrapers modelled on cheese-graters, testicles and mobile phones are being torn up."

"While it may be too early for a bull market in gaiety, we can surely start investing in sanity and pragmatism."

Now go read it, please.

The angry mob gathered.

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Patrick Harvie and I went to Jedburgh on Monday night, where Patrick spoke in the Scotsman/BBC debate on renewables, as covered by Jenny Haworth for the Scotsman. The debate, chaired by the authoritative and engaging Lesley Riddoch, will also be broadcast on the BBC tomorrow at 2pm. 

There were about 50 people there, which was a bit disappointing, and about two thirds of them were from the very anti-wind-farm brigade, who obviously saw this as a grand opportunity to stick one up the environmentalists. There was also a wee gang from the Borders Greens, too, but they were far more polite and less rowdy, unfortunately. 

The audience may have been predominantly anti-wind, but the platform was not. Patrick was joined by Duncan McLaren of Friends of the Earth Scotland, Dr Siân McGrath from Aquamarine Power (disclosure: I did some work for Aquamarine last year, so am biased in favour), and Martin Ford, the Aberdeenshire councillor who said no to Trump.

On the other side, the panel consisted of Professor Jane Bower, who has a science background as well as having worked in the oil industry, but who kept pretty quiet, and a certain Bob Graham. 

It's hard to know where to begin with Bob Graham. His past lives include the oil industry, the RAF, and being hauled over the coals for lying about renewables.

Incidentally, the main change I noticed since I last went to Jedburgh was the profusion of signs declaring Jedburgh to be "WiFi Free". Appalled, I thought the anti-turbine brigade had also taken against WiFi, which isn't entirely implausible. But no, it's just that they put the words in the wrong order, and I got good strong signal at the back of the hall.

This allowed me to fact-check Bob Graham as the event went on, which made it pretty clear why he's been in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority.

Every single claim about the ineffectiveness of wind power he made was unsubstantiated. False. Pure propaganda. Let's start.

"The Germans have about 23,000 wind turbines. They are currently building 26 coal-fired power stations and have just commissioned three gas-fired power stations. They have seen no reduction in their emissions."

The numbers of turbines and coal plant proposals seems right, fair enough, but no reduction? Actually, since 1990 they've seen a 20% reduction in their emissions. In the debate he made the same allegation against Denmark, which was also untrue - their equivalent number is 14%.

"Scotland requires at peak times six gigawatts of electricity. If you rely on renewables to generate all of that from wind, that would reduce global levels by 0.09 of 1 per cent."

Actually, global installed capacity is 4,300 gigawatts. Sure, Scotland's 6 gigawatts aren't a huge proportion of that, but if Scotland went entirely over to clean energy, it would be .14 of one percent, almost fifty percent more than Bob Graham would have us believe. 

This is a minor point, true, especially given the overwhelming wrongness of the idea that we should do nothing because we can't solve the problem all by ourselves. What if everyone took that approach?

"I don't happen to subscribe to climate change and a lot of sensible people don't."

Name one, Bob. You don't count. But at least you came out as an utter wingnut - the live audience may have lapped it up, but the Radio Scotland audience are less likely to do so.

"Renewables can't replace base load."

Actually, this is pure fallacy. There's plenty of renewable technologies that can replace baseload, including hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass. What's more, the more diverse renewable capacity you build, the less you need other kinds of baseload. 

More generally, I find this kind of attitude exceptionally frustrating. I believe in debate, of course. I don't mind people starting with the facts and recommending different courses of action, but I object when someone's case rests on a series of falsehoods. Communities who've found turbines going up in their area are often annoyed about it, although where people have a proper stake that tends not to be the case. 

With this in mind, there are plenty of people who want to see wind power blocked, and they'll clutch at any straw going if someone suggests wind doesn't work. They'll believe the most extraordinary stuff - one audience member asked the panel why we send power through the grid to turn the turbines when there's no wind. Bob Graham didn't agree with that, or dispute it, but nonetheless he is trying to build ignorance and misunderstanding, all driven by a desire to see more nukes

As a footnote, Martin Ford is very impressive in person, even more than I expected. He's been appallingly treated for doing the right thing, and I hope John Swinney gives him what he wants above all else - a rejection of Trump's financially and environmentally unsustainable vanity project.

Political insult of the day.

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elk.jpgAndy Martin is a hard-right Fox News talking head and anti-semite being wheeled out to play join-the-dots with Obama's past, and whose blog advises McCain to "Go negative almost exclusively, and relentlessly". 

The Los Angeles Times reports on his past as follows:

When he ran for Illinois governor two years ago, Martin quoted a nearly 30-year-old Tribune editorial that called him "an absolutely brilliant campaigner" when he was running for a Senate seat. He didn't mention that the same editorial said he "has no more business in the U.S. Senate than an elk has in a phone booth."

This is not news.

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darlingcurry.jpgChannel 4 News is my favourite broadcast bulletin, and has been since the 1980s.

More4 News, however, is deeply shallow, and I've rarely managed to watch it all the way through.

This is a particularly absurd example. Man eats curry is not news. Curry eats man, now that would be news. 

A position of utter ignorance.

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markets.pngThe cliches and metaphors burgeon around us as the markets collapse, and hacks breathlessly trade roller-coasters for dominoes, or offer injections in the heart of the whirlwind. 

Much of this verbiage is produced because no-one really knows what is going to happen, but they certainly know it's dramatic.

For example, the Newsnight panel last night was 100% journalists and politicians, all without the faintest idea of what the bailout might deliver, let alone where the markets might take us next. Newsnight Scotland went one better, relying on vox pops before running a journalist-only panel (including Douglas Fraser's new incarnation as Economic Disaster Correspondent for the BBC). They didn't know how it would turn out either, it turns out.

No offence to either panel, but the producers might have been better off pulling in some serious economists, historians, and even economic historians. The comparisons might have been more rigorous, and the options set out more clearly. 

Economists are famous for their widely diverging opinions: this would be an asset. It would have been more enlightening to have had debate with a Friedmanite, a Keynesian, a Marxist, a Green, plus someone from the soggy New Labour/New Conservative managerial centre. Constructive disagreement would be better, given the gravity of the situation, than the usual synchronised hand-wringing. 

In these circumstances, with fear and uncertainty dominant, George Osborne has done the tactically correct thing - supporting the package in principle, but with some caveats. He has no idea whether it'll work, but opposing it now would expose him on the upside if the £500bn bailout does deliver for the markets and for Labour. If it doesn't work the Tories benefit anyway, politically, and the caveats will cover him. Nick Clegg did much the same, although he chose to support the proposals while comparing Brown to the captain of the Titanic.

Here's a counter-prediction. It won't work. None of the strands of the Brown/Darling bailout affect the core problems - those worthless debts and opaque derivatives, the housing bubbles here and abroad, and the wider systemic failures of regulation and oversight. Sure, they can cut interest rates and try to reflate the bubble, but wouldn't it be better to rebuild our economy on a somewhat more substantial basis, one that could be literally sustainable?

Perspective, people, please.

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Thumbnail image for blakewoad.jpgAnother extraordinary round of cybernat activity is drawn to my attention, this time on an article about Holocaust education. For some reason, there are people out there who believe that the Holocaust (6m+ dead, less than 60 years ago) is less relevant than Glencoe (78 dead, more than 300 years ago):

"The killing of million of Jews is abhorant and a dark shadow on modern history. However, the Clearances and the Glencoe massacre has more of an effect on our (Highlands, Islands and MacDonalds) pyschie than Aushwiz, if you see what I mean." - Dave from Barra

No, Dave, I don't. I don't believe you're speaking for the whole of the Highlands and Islands, either.

One Richardinho (rumoured to work at Holyrood, and certainly an SNP supporter) dismisses the death camps as "Polish history". 

"the 'most vital history lesson of all' for Scottish children would be to learn about Scottish history, not Polish history."

Others compare the Nazi exterminations to Culloden, a battle lost by an incompetent Jacobite leadership to the "Duck of Cumberland", a man so odious that one ex-pat in the thread refuses to eat Cumberland stew despite knowing there's no connection.

"It might be more appropriate to take Scottish school children on a tour of areas of concern to Scottish history including, for example, the battlefield of Culloden; there to be told of the butchery of the Duck of Cumberland. Visits to the likes of Auschwitz have no more relevance to Scottish school children than would an educational tour of the Siberian gulags where Stalin butchered millions of his own people; or to the killing fields of Cambodia or the sites of mass graves in the former Jugoslavia." - Guga II

Before the woad-covered backlash begins, yes, I am aware of the barbarism that followed Culloden. But no, I don't think there's much that can be generalised from the conflicts between the Jacobites and the Hanoverians, whereas Cambodia and the Balkans do illustrate the fact that genocide and ethnic cleansing are a continuing risk. 

Most disturbing of all, perhaps, is the comment near the end (yes, I read these things so you don't have to) about the picture associated with the article, which shows Auschwitz inmates looking insufficiently gaunt for one "Brage", the prime denier in this thread. He notes that:

"Incidentally, the photographs at the begining of the article does not indicate that the purported inmates were starving!"

Words fail me. I do hope we're not really condemned to repetition.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Media category from October 2008.

Media: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Media: November 2008 is the next archive.