Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Public Interest

I still remember the moment I heard the news. Some stories do that to you. The second plane hitting the South Tower on 9/11. The death of Osama bin Laden. That time Gordon Brown said some woman was kind of a bit racist or something. These are stories that shape your understanding of the world, news events that you know instantly are going to change everything, define whole eras with their magnitude.

I felt this way the day I logged onto the internet and heard that David Beckham might have had sex with someone who wasn't his wife. The day started like any other; coffee, eye-rubbing, the mysterious emergence of an unprompted but not unpleasant morning erection. But once I went online, BAM! It was everywhere; the crushing, almost incomprehensible news of Beckham's allegedly misdirected penis.

At first I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't. David Beckham was a footballer, not for nothing known as the world's noblest profession. Killers, sex offenders, violent thugs, racists, homophobes, all these people are lightly frowned upon in the footballing community (albeit allowed to continue playing if they're vaguely any good at kicking). For years, heck, for all my life that I can remember, I thought that being a footballer gave a man a certain sense of moral superiority. I simply couldn't conceive that a footballer, especially one with as cultured a right foot as David Beckham, would behave in the lascivious, lustful, caddish manner one associates more readily with politicians or tabloid journalists. "Say it ain't so!", I cried. My mind rejected the notion. I needed the tabloids to go on and on and forever fucking on about it, just so I could understand that it was real. That my hero had done this.

I mention this because the former News Of The World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck has been defending his pursuit of the David Beckham/Rebecca Loos story in 2004 at the Leveson inquiry as having been squarely in the public interest.

"We decided there was huge public interest in that matter because the Beckhams had been using their marriage in order to endorse products," he said.
They were making "millions of pounds on the back of that image. It was a wholesome image that the family cultivated and the public bought into on a massive scale and we exposed that to be a sham," Thurlbeck told the inquiry.
A sham, exposed. This is what journalists are for. Journalists are often maligned, frequently by me, but when Thurlbeck said that, I realised he wasn't an unprincipled, devious shitbag desperately scrabbling around for unconvincing mealy-mouthed justifications for the most voyeuristic kind of grubby tabloid 'reporting', like I had previously assumed. No, Thurlbeck is a hero. He's a hero of the kind David Beckham once was, before his capricious wang prompted his philandering fall from grace.

You see, some people will claim that David Beckham became famous, at least partly, for his footballing talent. They'll talk about his goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon or That Goal Against Greece, his dazzling free-kicks or his array of trophies. Others will claim that Beckham's fame is also in part due to his dashing good looks, which saw him famously modelling the underpants which coquettishly housed the genitalia that would one day betray a nation. Poppycock, I say! For me, and millions like me, Beckham was meant to be a monogamist first, a footballer a distant second. I prized his marital fidelity above all else. Beckham had always, repeatedly, constantly told us that he would never, ever, ever shag anyone who wasn't his wife, scout's honour. Not in words, exactly. It was sort of just kind of implied. Yet it defined him. His faithfulness was pivotal to his fame, it was his very essence. As Sinatra was defined by his voice, as Hendrix was synonymous with his guitar, as Cat Bin Lady was forever entwined in the public consciousness with the image of that cat and that bin, so was Beckham's spirit manifested in his sexual purity, forever the unspoiled poster child for not shagging around.

Sometimes you'll hear idiots saying things like "But Beckham was just really a good footballer who married someone famous and who people liked to look at! He no more claimed to be pure of virtue than you or I, Mr Thurlbeck!". Other morons might say things like "Call me a flipping cynic, but I suspect the News Of The World was driven primarily by a profit-hungry desire to sell papers off the back of one of Britain's most famous celebrities, rather than motivated by a lionhearted determination to expose the corrupt lie at the heart of the Beckhams' marriage!". Others might point out that the Beckhams remain married 7 years on, and have had two subsequent children, and that this might suggest that their claim to have been married to each other (which is really all they ever promised) remains fundamentally true. Still others will say to Thurlbeck, "Hey, man, if you're so comfortable up there on your moral pedestal, how come your paper paid Rebecca Loos over £100,000 for her shabby kiss-and-tell story? Does this not suggest that you're actually just opportunistic gossip-mongers selling the worst kind of gratuitous tat to satisfy your readers' baser appetites?".

All those people miss the point. The fundamental, undeniable point remains that David Beckham only ever sold himself or ever made any money on the explicitly-stated promise never to fuck his PA.

I understand this. I understand this because I, too, once worshipped David Beckham. I bought everything he endorsed. And the day I found out he'd erroneously put his penis in a woman other than that Spice Girl, my world came crashing down. Overnight, all those products I'd bought became tainted with betrayal. No longer did I feel I could recline seductively in my tight white Armani briefs. Every word I'd ever written with a Beckham-endorsed Sharpie felt like lies, horrible lies. Whenever I see that goal he scored from the halfway line now, a little bit more of my soul dies. It was once a great goal. Now it is the goal of a philanderer. I hate it. It makes me sick to my gut. I've tried to put on my expensive Police brand sunglasses, but I can't see anything through them now. All I can see now is Beckham's wayward, sinful penis, sliding grotesquely into the various orifices of that...that iniquitous harlot. But with each one of these tragic moments I become a little more grateful to the dogged truth-warriors of the News Of The World, for exposing Beckham's disgusting LIES before I fell any deeper into his indecent web. Thank you, a million times thank you, Rupert Murdoch.

A thought occurs...did they ever decide on a permanent statue for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square? Because it might be time your brave, brave decision to pursue a story that would obviously sell a metric fuckload of papers was recognised, Neville Thurlbeck. We love you. And we always will. Unless you cheat on your wife.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Daily Mail vs The Gays...vs Cancer

I suppose in some ways I need to thank the Daily Mail. Occasionally, living in my cosy liberal bubble surrounded by people who aren't constantly-seething, hate-filled, evil morons, I sometimes think we've progressed much further than we have in reality. So it's important that occasionally I'm reminded that we still have a long way to go.

In Outrage as Tesco backs gay festival... but drops support for cancer charity event, the Mail gives us a curious glimpse into the conservative mindset. Here's the gist of the story;

Tesco has triggered outrage by ending its support for the Cancer Research ‘Race for Life’ while deciding to sponsor Britain’s largest gay festival.
Some religious commentators and groups have condemned the decision and are calling for a boycott of the supermarket chain.

Suddenly, it's time to pick a side. Which side are you on, cancer or gays? NO, YOU CAN'T CHOOSE BOTH. Tesco has made two seemingly unrelated decisions here, but the Mail is convinced that Tesco have really decided they love gays more than they want to fight cancer. Maybe that's true, maybe the gay demographic spends more than the stricken-with-cancer demographic, I don't know, I'm not in marketing.

But what is the Mail really angry about here? They're not actually angry about Tesco dropping support for Race For Life, because that happened in September, and nobody, least of all the Mail (as far as I can tell), gave a shit. Y'know, because it was just another big company making another marketing decision based on its usual set of flipcharts and whatnot. Race For Life will continue, they're looking for other sponsors, it's probably all going to be fine. You can stand down.

What the Mail are actually angry about is the gays. Mail readers don't spend their hard-earned law-abiding taxpayer two-parent family money on Tesco's Finest Yorkshire Pudding ready meals, for that money to go towards helping The Gays have a street party! The Mail helpfully illustrates how outrageous this is with an entirely representative picture of five buff dudes in sparkly red underpants.

Let's get one thing clear here; the amount of money Tesco is spending on sponsoring Pride is tiny. Toward the end of the the article, we find out that it's a mere £30k, which for a company of Tesco's size is the equivalent of listlessly tossing a White Company button at a toll both like it ain't no thang. It's a mere fraction of the £800k Pride costs to run. This would suggest that this decision is a small-scale one unrelated to the dropping of Race For Life, except in the fevered imaginations of Mail hacks. So what is the actual problem here?

Well, I don't know about you, but when I want a balanced, reasoned reflection on corporate sponsorship choices and homosexuality, I head straight for the Catholic blogosphere!

Francis Phillips, a commentator at The Catholic Herald, condemned the shift, saying: ‘Tesco is a supermarket. 
The kind of searing insight only a life dedicated to solemn religious study can bring, there. But wait! It continues!

Its remit has been to sell good-quality food and other items at very reasonable prices, and in this it has been hugely successful. 
Why has it now aligned itself with an aggressive political organisation such as Pride London?
‘Why has it given up its sponsorship of Cancer Research? Or at least…why hasn’t it taken up with another mainstream charity such as the British Legion or Age UK? 
The next person it quotes is from 'Anglican Mainstream'. Why, it's almost as if this story has been lifted wholesale from Phillips' blog! It turns out the Anglican Mainstream may not be as cuddly and mainstream as they sound;

He wrote: ‘For Tesco to sponsor a tiny homosexual minority – according to the Office for National Statistics, that amounts to little more than 1 per cent of the population – will be showing the utmost contempt for a large proportion of British society that still adheres, more or less, to the morality and values of the Ten Commandments.’ 
Seems a rather baffling stance to me. I'm not gay, but I'm really quite fine with this. Were people who didn't have cancer being discriminated against when Tesco was sponsoring cancer research? I didn't realise I was supposed to be upset when people who aren't me are acknowledged in some small way. Still, cute of this guy to imagine that British society still adheres to the Ten Commandments. I would love to see him go out on the streets of a major city of a Friday night and ask people what the Ten Commandments are, in full. I guarantee that most of them would do better listing football teams' starting line-ups. "Something about an ass? Covering an ass? Don't do that?".

Next, we are told that homosexuality is one of a number of unnamed "dubious fringe political movements". I guess we need to get rid of these dubious political movements and replace them with minority religions instead, huh? To get an idea of the extent of quite how fucked-up this article is, one quote is - and I'm not making this up - introduced thusly; "Catholic campaign website Protect the Pope said..."

Protect The Pope! Excuse me while I sick up my fucking soul for a second. So what do Tesco say?

Tesco said it was in talks with the charity to support its work in other ways and would encourage staff to continue taking part in the Race for Life.
A spokesman said the decision to drop its support ‘is not connected to our £30,000 sponsorship for Pride, which is one of hundreds of community and charitable events that we will be supporting next year’.

You...bastards. Of all the things Tesco has ever done, sponsoring this inclusive street party which aims to foster tolerance and understanding of homosexuality is easily...oh, wait, it doesn't even register, does it? As much as the Mail tries to feign mass outrage here, all it can provide is quotes from wacky Catholic bloggers. Of course, their myopic presentation of the story as TESCO WANTS GAY PEOPLE TO DANCE ON CANCER PATIENTS' GRAVES does manage to elicit some choice wingnuttery in the comments. At the time of writing, the top-rated comment is an unhinged screed about how gays should just bloody well keep quiet and act a bit more flipping STRAIGHT, from a person who calls themselves "
Free Britain from the unelected EU dictators in Brussels". This is your market, Daily Mail writers! I hope you're happy.

Ooh, just received an emailed addendum to The Gay Agenda. If anyone wants me, I'll be at Tesco's....

DISCLAIMER: This blog post was not sponsored by or endorsed by Tesco. But if anyone from their marketing department is reading, I am currently too skint to afford Modern Warfare 3...

Friday, 7 October 2011

An Englishman's home is his drug farm

This morning's Express front page returned to a familiar theme of British debate; the right of an upstanding Englishman to shoot the living shite out of anyone who tries to touch their stuff.

It's a time-honoured tale, rehashed in various configurations ever since the conviction of charming Middle England pin-up Tony Martin, for bravely shooting an unarmed 16-year-old intruder in the spine as he tried to run away all those years ago. Today's version concerns the tale of Malcolm White, a homeowner who, finding himself beset by intruders, took the ultimate action to protect his property, and by extension himself and his family, by allegedly shooting an alleged intruder. The Express, never big fans of moral ambiguity, or indeed facts, has picked a side pretty early on here, and I don't think it will be a terrible surprise which side. The story of the 'hero dad' firmly plants the Express in White's camp thusly;
Neighbours of Mr White, who is 60 and described as a pillar of the local community in Whitbourne, Herefordshire, were furious after discovering that he had been arrested.
Mr White is a retired clockmaker. Quaint, right? It's like Midsomer. We get to hear much about his good deeds over the course of the story. If this guy was auditioning for X-Factor, Coldplay's 'The Scientist' would be kicking in right about now over a montage, as we learn of White's recent ill health, and that he generously fixes the church clocks. He's 60, 'gentle-natured', and 'a very nice bloke'. He's just a guy in his £420,000 house trying to enjoy his life with his wife and his £50,000 car, and trying to make it as a pop star. Wait, not that last bit. But still, an all-round Good Egg, dragged into doing something desperate because of Broken Britain. But wait, what's this? If you go to the Express' site at the time of writing, the front page appears to have changed. Malcolm White's story is no longer front-page news. Wayne Rooney's dad remains a hot topic, but now the most pressing issue facing us is how the cuts to the bloated BBC that bloody well needed cutting down to size may lead to a few extra hours of sickening REPEATS which we all hate...


Now, I'm sure the BBC repeats issue is vexing to Express readers, being as they are the kind of people who can simultaneously want licence fee freezes AND dramatic improvements in quantities of original output. But it's a tad harsh on good old Malcolm White, no? I wonder if, perhaps, it could have anything at all to do with this extra little facet to the story, that emerged after the initial front page was released? Shock over drug farm after shooting.
Villagers have spoken of their shock after detectives investigating the shooting of a suspected burglar found a "well-organised and large-scale" cannabis farm during forensic searches. West Mercia Police said a 60-year-old man, named by neighbours as Malcolm White, was still being questioned on suspicion of attempted murder and of cultivating controlled drugs after the shooting incident late on Wednesday. Meanwhile, officers investigating the alleged break-in at White's home in Whitbourne, Herefordshire, have arrested a second man on suspicion of burglary.
I should make several things clear at this point. I do not know if Malcolm White is a drug farmer or drug dealer. I do not know if he was acting in reasonable self-defence when he seemingly shot his intruder. He may well be, and if he was I hope justice is done and no charges are brought against him. Those are things for courts, rather than jumped-up snarky media bloggers, to decide. But I would like to go on record as stating that, if Malcolm White does indeed turn out to be a massive weed dealer protecting his homegrown stash (as well as being a charming elderly clockmaker), I will laugh my fucking tits right off.

Because if he does turn out to be less than whiter-than-white (if you'll excuse the pun), the Express have put themselves in an awkward position. And in withdrawing the front page as soon as it turned out he might not be the type of man they like, they would have shown themselves to be moralising cowards whose sympathy for human beings is threadbare and conditional. I love this story because, if all the elements I've presented here turn out to be true, it shows that we're not simply a world of Good Guys and Bad Guys, nasty burglars and gentlemanly 'pillar(s) of the community', as White was described in the Express' story. We're human beings with shades of grey, capable of heroism and evil and good old-fashioned moral ambiguity. As I've said, I don't know. But if Malcolm White acted in self-defence then he has my sympathy whatever he may or may not have been cultivating, and for whatever purpose. Does he still have the Express' sympathy?

(Hat-tips for this story to Richard Peppiat and Five Chinese Crackers)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Correctness gone mad!

One of the fun aspects of the Daily Mail is that relatively minor changes in administrative procedures can seem earth-shatteringly, pants-tighteningly important. Imagine, for a second, that changing the name of a particular field on a passport application form could herald the death of thousands of years of civilisation and tradition as we know it. If your beloved, time-worn traditions are so entirely flimsy that they can be under threat by a simple choice of words, then congratulations! You have found your newspaper.

Today's Mail, then, is upset. Very upset. See, the liberals are at it again, and this time, they're coming for your mum and dad. And all because of the gays. Those meddling gays. In Goodbye, mother and father! Now Parent 1 and Parent 2 appear on PC passport form (direct link), we get a shocking insight into what the tree-hugging liberal do-gooders have gawn and done now:
For decades, passport applicants have been required to provide details of their mother and father.

But now, after pressure from the gay lobby, they will be given the option of naming ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’.
Oh my! That's disgus...oh, wait, it's fine, isn't it? It's really actually a pretty straightforward change which enables the Passport Office to get accurate data from everyone about people's legal, rather than biological, parents. Including, wait for it, those of us with a mum and dad. The Mail's story goes on to breathlessly blame all this horror on The Gay Lobby, only slightly undermining themselves with this bit:
Officials accepted that the move was made following lobbying from gay rights groups who claimed it was discriminatory.

But a spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service insisted it was necessary to incorporate same-sex parents on the form so that accurate information is collected.
Accurate information? What will these PC liberal Nazis want next? I bet they'll have to add extra lines for people who have three or more gay parents! That's what they're like, isn't it? Quick, get some rent-a-quote dickbag to denounce this travesty!
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘Fathers and mothers are not interchangeable but have quite distinct roles to play in the care and nurture of their children.

‘To speak of “parent 1” and “parent 2” denigrates the place of both fathers and mothers.

‘Much as the equality and diversity social engineers might wish it were otherwise, it still takes a father and a mother to produce a child.’
Norman Wells, there, a man who apparently takes his cues about what he should call his parents entirely from passport application forms. Inspiring. Wells then goes on to make a point which is as self-defeating as it is joylessly bigoted;
‘It is high time ministers started to represent the interests of the country as a whole and not capitulate to every demand made by a vocal and unrepresentative minority.’
Just process that for a second. 'The country as a whole'. That's quite an interesting insight into this mindset ,there. See, what this relatively minor change does is to indeed serve the country as a whole, including people who were raised by same-sex parents, without in any way excluding the majority of people who weren't. What Wells is asking for there is instead the exclusion of a minority, in the face of a simple solution, just because of his pearl-clutching devotion to How Things Have Always Been Done. At the end of the piece, The Mail goes on to, quite bizarrely, parrot statistics about how few gay people there are in the country. The underlying message of all this, of course, being; you're gay, you're a minority, you don't count. Why should we change anything to help you?

There's very much a sense that this whole article was tossed off in a rush. Wells is surprisingly the only self-publicising loudmouth the Mail could find to back up their hell-in-a-handcart narrative. The rest, including the headline, is left to shady, unaccountable 'critics';
It has led to claims the official travel document is being turned into a ‘PC passport’.
And, in a photo caption;

Capitulating: Critics say the official travel document is being turned into a 'PC passport'
At no point are the identities of these 'critics' revealed. Perhaps they are too afraid to speak up publicly, lest Stonewall send in their big gay militia. Perhaps the critics are simply too numerous to name. Perhaps the critics are little voices nagging, nagging, nagging in the author's head that never stop talking in the night and won't go away and OH GOD MAKE THE VOICES STOP. Who knows? All we can know for sure is this; The Critics do not take too kindly to being made to be politically correct. Or, as we might more accurately call it in this case, correct.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

On Charlie Wolf, the death penalty, and loss-leading bananas

I suppose the combination of the Daily Mail and a former TalkSPORT host who blazed a trail for Jon Gaunt to follow was never going to be quite perfectly tuned to my taste. Even so, I was taken aback to discover quite how often the "American broadcaster currently living in the UK" Charlie Wolf managed to make me splutter bewildered obscenities at my screen in his jaw-dropping piece on Troy Davis' execution last night by the state of Georgia (direct Mail link).

Wolf begins by painting a surprisingly quaint picture of the scene of the execution which I won't quote in depth; peaceful, gentle, humane. Lovely in all aspects really, with only the minor niggle of a man being slowly killed by the state having to be glossed over. "Putting down the family dog would have been a lot worse", claims Wolf, before embarking on one of those sentences you have to read numerous times, from different angles, possibly getting a trained professional to confirm that you just saw it;
Far from an execution, this was more like state-ordered euthanasia.
So...an execution, then? I'm not sure how something can be 'far from' being the thing that it is, but then I guess that's why I don't get paid the big bucks to write for the Daily Mail. It takes a special breed of...well, something. I kind of wonder why he stopped at 'euthanasia' in his brazen attempt to cutesify the fact though. Why not call it 'judge-encouraged natural causes'? Or 'state-nudged endless sleepytime'? I worry that some of these writers lack ambition.

Wolf though, sensing his moment, is in the ascendancy at this point. Other writers might consider pacing out the crass statements at this point to conserve energy, but Wolf boldly goes for the jugular and piles stupid on top of stupid in a wobbling Jenga tower of madness;
The average person going into any Accident and Emergency department would have had a more painful experience than those put to death as doctors jab, prod and shock people in an effort to keep them alive.
The key distinction, fans of subtlety may note, between going into A&E and being executed is that one is trying to keep you alive, and the other is trying to kill you. Some people might consider this difference big enough to make void such a comparison, but perhaps I'm missing the bigger picture. This sets Wolf off on an entirely pointless riff about how totally not-painful lethal injection is compared to having your heart restarted after a major coronary or something, as if opponents of capital punishment are only bothered about the pain of the subject in the brief moments of the act itself. Baffling non-arguments come thick and fast here; Iran has more painful executions! The Chinese kill people who haven't even killed people! Something about Guy Fawkes!

Having seen the level on which Wolf's arguments operate thus far, it's frankly terrifying to see him begin his next bewitchingly cock-eyed point with the phrase 'In simplistic terms...', but he does. Oh God, he does. Explaining how having the death penalty proves that a society 'values the lives of its citizenry' (no, really), Wolf scrawls the following with his very bestest crayons;
In simplistic terms think of it like one of those self-service scales in Tesco.

If I push the illuminated button for 'bananas' and the little sticky tag comes out I expect it to fall in a certain price range.

Too much and I don't buy -- but also, if too little, just pennies, I am suspicious too. Why so cheap? What's wrong here?

They mustn't be that good if they are worth so little.
Not having the death penalty, yeah, is like selling surprisingly cheap bananas. Right? Why would anyone eat cheap bananas? It seems obvious now he's said it. But you would never have thought of this analogy, would you? That's the difference between normal, human folk like you, and The Professional Writer. They're missing a trick not paywalling this stuff.

After a brief detour to the glittering outskirts of reality, Wolf returns to the Tesco metaphor he's obviously so proud of;
Getting back to the Great Tesco Scales of life... If I was to put the lives of Officer McPhail, shot in cold blood; James Byrd, dragged to a grizzly death; or the Petit girls and their mom, raped and killed, what is the price that would come up? How much would their lives be worth?

In this country, how much is the life of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman from Soham worth?
Seemingly for Wolf, the answer is 'exactly the same amount as their killers'. Victim dies, the killer dies. Balance has been restored! It's so simple, it's almost childish! Yes...almost.

For me, the reality is that the loss of a loved one is so huge that it can't be balanced out by removing someone else from the face of the earth in retribution. For Wolf, the value of your life can plunge quickly to nothing if you commit a serious enough crime. I can understand 'an eye for an eye' in principle at least. I just can't help feeling it does little other than increase the total amount of suffering. Not just killers, but their families. And people who find the spectacle of executing citizens on ceremony a tad distasteful. Anyway,
What is the life of James Bulger worth (what little there was; he was tortured and murdered at the age of two)?
Well, it's worth the lives of two other children (Thompson and Venables), apparently. This is how Wolf's macabre scales work. It's basic science, stupid!

No Daily Mail article would be complete without a wild flail at The Left, and sure enough Wolf gets a picture of Bianca Jagger up on his dartboard and takes aim;
But I don't see any enlightenment --or indeed consistency-- on the left. The only consistency is the fact that the liberal intellectual elite is secularist, and puts no stock or sacredness in the value of life.

They do not protect the lives of the unborn; euthanasia (and not just for the terminally ill) is toted as an ideal over palliative care; and in the case of heinous crimes they opt to protect the lives of the murderers over the victims.
Yes! You can cross that one off on your Tired Argument Bingo card and collect your prize; a gnawing sense of fruitless despair! What Wolf is arguing here is that the Left is mad for only giving a shit about the living, when foetuses should clearly be prioritised over those of us who are here (be it people convicted of a crime*, or women who don't want to have children). Wolf impressively manages to find time in that breathless run-through of a stock argument to cram in a hilarious bullshit strawman about how the Left approve of euthanasia for people who aren't terminally ill, and implies that they think it should be instead of palliative care instead of as a last-ditch alternative when palliative care isn't providing a tolerable quality of life. Quite a skill.

[*Let's not forget here that the reason this case has become so high-profile is because there's a widespread belief that Davis is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and may indeed be innocent. While I personally oppose capital punishment in all circumstances, his potential innocence is the reason this case is being discussed].
The abolition of a death penalty here is not the sign of some form of modern day enlightenment but in fact is just the opposite.

If anything it is a sign of moral weakness, of a society that is so afraid of its own barbarity that it cannot grasp the difference (or distinguish) between justice and revenge.
See? Liberals just don't get it! It's about justice! A word I've just appropriated and defined around my existing beliefs! Suck it! Stop being so morally weak and let the state have the ultimate power to kill people! What exactly is so unenlightened about leaving a man strapped to a gurney while he waits for lawyers to finish negotiating over whether he lives or dies?

Conveniently, the abolition of the death penalty in the UK was the fault of people Wolf already hates, which is a bonus. It was 'the intellectual liberal classes of Oxford and Cambridge in the sixties that hijacked the Left', in case you were wondering. Anyway, knowing the value of a strong finish, Wolf waits til a couple of paragraphs from the end before solving the tricky 'does the death penalty deter murder?' argument once and for all, with the razor-sharp clarity of a man who hasn't really thought about it for more than a single fucking second;
The deterrent effects of the death penalty in the United States are incontrovertible.

One only has to look at studies and statistics concerning murderers who have been let out to kill again to realise that the death penalty does work as a deterrent – if not for others, at least for the killer in question.

At this point I could go round digging for statistics about how many murders there are in the US, but I'd have more success walking out into the main road and trying to stop speeding lorries with my penis than I would trying to argue with this guy. It would probably be less painful, too. I'm not sure he even understands what the word 'deterrent' means. If he does, he's hiding it deep under layers of his own bluster here.

In conclusion, I could really have quoted more of this, to be honest. Part of me wonders why I bothered to share something this painfully boneheaded with you all. But then I thought, hey, an eye for an eye. If I have to suffer, I don't see why you lot shouldn't too. It's balance. Karma. And, er, something about banana prices.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Brendan O'Neill vs the tabloid-hatin’ Twitterers

In a strange way, it's almost reassuring that Brendan O'Neill has written a column deflecting blame for the News of the World scandal onto the liberal intelligentsia with their fancy lattes and their hemp shoes and their stupid moral compasses. Imagine if Brendan O'Neill wrote something a human being could agree with? I just wouldn't know what to believe any more.

For those of you unfamiliar with Brendan O'Neill; run! Your life is clearly going better than mine is, and ignorance is genuine bliss in this case. If you must know, though, he's a Telegraph journalist and the editor of Spiked Online, which is kind of like The Ironic Review (video), except it got bored of trying to just be contrarian and expectation-confounding, and just settled on trying to troll liberals. Richard Littlejohn with a more well-thumbed dictionary, in other words.

Much of what you need to know about the sort of person O'Neill is, he gifts us in the opening paragraph of today's piece, a frothing tour de force of misplaced outrage which might give Melanie Phillips cause to be concerned that there's a pretender to her throne:

“It is clearly people power that has forced this decision.” That was Ed Miliband’s impressively otherworldly take on the shutting down of the News of the World. It takes doublespeak to dizzy new heights to describe the closure of this popular Sunday paper as a victory for “people power”. On what kind of warped Orwellian planet can a crusade led by a few hundred Twitter activists and liberal journalists against a newspaper read by 7.5 million people be described as a democratic moment? It is the polar opposite of “people power” – it is chattering-class intolerance of mass tastes, resulting in the extinction of a tabloid which the cliquish great and good considered vulgar and offensive.

Let's get this out of the way right at the start; regular people didn't close down the News Of The World. The owners of the News Of The World made that decision. Few even among the Twittersphere demanded its closure, fewer still actually expected it. There was a groundswell of outrage at the paper's conduct which led to a campaign for advertisers to boycott, but the decision to not even attempt to ride out the storm and shut the paper down almost immediately the moment the story hit the front pages was not ours.

Now, a cynic might suggest that Rupert Murdoch sacrificed the NotW to rescue his bid for the vastly more profitable complete ownership of BSkyB. Other cynics have pounced on evidence that a 7-day edition of its sister paper The Sun was already planned, as somehow being proof that the NotW's closure would have happened anyway, and the outrage just sped up the process a little.

Those are the sort of things a terrible, terrible cynic might suggest. O'Neill instead suggests that the decision was effectively made by "a few hundred Twitter activists and liberal journalists". Frankly, this is fucking brilliant news! Politicians have long sucked up to Rupert Murdoch in a desperate attempt to get into power, so it'll be a nice change now that they merely have to appease Josie Long, that dude who wrote Father Ted and a couple of earnest Guardian columnists. Keeps things fresh, I think.

O'Neill tosses his clusterbombs of scorn still further, taking out Mumsnet like this:
Justine Roberts of Mumsnet used the term “consumer power” to describe her galvanisation of Yummy Mummies against scummy tabloids.
BOOM! Take that, Mumsnet! How dare you use the term "consumer power" to arrogantly describe consumers using what power they have! You're nothing! Nobody! O'Neill seems to be having his cake and eating it here, simultaneously complaining about the disproportionate power of activists and yet sneering at the same activists for deludedly thinking they're "leading a modern-day peasants’ revolt against evil powerful men".
In truth it is nonsense on stilts, nonsense on a “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” level, to describe the movement against the News of the World as an expression of “people power”. It’s mad even to call it a “movement”. More accurately, it was a tiny cabal of liberal journalists and time-rich, tabloid-hatin’ Twitterers who spearheaded the campaign to get big corporations to withdraw their adverts from the News of the World and to bring this 168-year-old institution to its knees.
O'Neill dcesn't name any of these "liberal journalists", perhaps because he realises how ludicrous it would be when he named a bunch of people half his readers had never heard of. It is of course fair to say that this story started in the Guardian. What's unfair is to imply that no-one else outside of the Guardian and a small gang of actors and comedians on Twitter gave a shit. My parents, Daily Mail readers to the core, were outraged by this. It's been a hot topic of debate on my Salford construction site. Apparently even red-top reading, Page 3-enjoying manual labourers think that spying on the private voicemails of missing 13-year-olds and causing their families even more worry is a bit, well, not on. It's almost like they're people, huh?

The story didn't gain traction because they were hacking into the phones of some small-scale liberal icon like Charlie Brooker or David Mitchell. We had a liberal storm already about this, and the wider public didn't care because it was Sienna "Oh, THAT'S Sienna Miller!" Miller that was being intruded upon. This, this was different. It gained traction because they were targetting regular, non-celebrity people, outside of "the chattering classes". Not just normal people, but vulnerable people, people who'd done nothing except suffer personal tragedies. So people from all across the political spectrum were incensed that the family of Milly Dowler could have learned that her voicemail was hacked and messages deleted by unscrupulous private investigators, paid for by tabloid hacks in pursuit of a gossipy, voyeuristic story. It goes beyond what most people will tolerate, even people who read OK! magazine and love finding out what Kerry Katona's about to be sacked from or what Cheryl Cole has said to Ashley lately.

So when O'Neill suggests that:
For many of these so-called warriors against wickedness, the hacking scandal was a simply a very useful stick with which they could beat something they’ve always hated: tabloid press, tabloid values.
...perhaps he should look at himself and consider whether he's really as in touch with the ordinary people as he claims. No-one elected Brendan O'Neill either, and yet here he is, telling us what people who would never read his Telegraph blog in a million years think.

The most telling part in all this is that nowhere in his piece does O'Neill attempt even a single caveat apportioning any blame at all to Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson, Glenn Mulcaire, or any of the other figures involved in a widespread and systematic campaign of actual criminal activity. No, just like in his previous rant on the subject, his entire focus is aimed at the whistleblowers and campaigners, the "do-gooders" and snotty liberals, rather than those who did what you might call "the actual bad shit".

It's a straightforward abdication of responsibility. Just as the Mail's Melanie Phillips and Beth Hale are today saying "Yeah, but Steve Coogan was a drug-taking philanderer, so I think you'll find he's the real sick man in this so-called society", O'Neill is using the scandal as an excuse to bash the liberals that clearly annoy him. And yet he complains that his enemies are the ones using the scandal to further an agenda.

My favourite part, though, is that it isn't even a secret that many liberals enjoyed watching the News of the World implode. Coogan was quite open on his infamous Newsnight appearance about hating the News Of The World and what it stands for. Many of my cabal of liberal Twitterati were equally delighted. I was, and I'm such a liberal I used two Lee and Herring references in this piece! But while all sides in this debate have their own agendas and politics, the ultimate question is; was what the News Of The World (and other papers) did wrong, and do people have the right to criticise it? If the answer to that question is yes (and it obviously fucking is), then all O'Neill is doing here is flailing around trying to point the finger at anyone and everyone but the actual people responsible. As befits a man who deems "do-gooder" an insult.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Daily Mail: Putting the 'H' in 'Sit'

The current top story on the Mail website is about a shocking development, albeit one that happened six months ago. Someone alluded to a bad word on the radio. You probably remember where you were when you heard it. Britain hasn't been the same since. What's even worse though, even more shocking is that, as we find out from the Mail On Sunday today; BBC executives rule most offensive word in English language is 'a good joke' on the radio at 6.30pm.

It may surprise you to hear that's the case. But the Mail assures us that it is, it definitely is. The BBC has now decided you can say 'cunt' on the radio whenever you want, just as you could on a degenerate blog like this. Soon it'll be cunt this and cunt that, cunt the other. Wall-to-wall cunt. On Radio 4! What the cunting fuck happened to this country?
The BBC was at the centre of a new decency row last night after ruling that the most offensive word in English is acceptable for broadcast.

The Corporation decided that the word – most abhorrent to women – has lost much of its 'shock value' and is tolerable for radio and television.

An executive who cleared it for daytime transmission on flagship Radio 4 even said it would 'delight' many of its audience, who would 'love it’.
A row has broken out! A row about decency! You'll have heard all about this massive row by now. How could you not? It's all we're talking about round here. I mean, I didn't hear the show, because I wasn't listening to The News Quiz when it was broadcast. Or, indeed, ever. But it was all the fault of Sandi Toksvig. Danish-born Sandi Toksvig, no less. Coming over here...

Anyway, readers of a sensitive disposition may need to look away now, as the Mail reports the offensive joke uncensored:

The Mail on Sunday feels it is necessary to the reporting of the story to repeat the joke, and apologises in advance for any offence caused.

Miss Toksvig said: 'It's the Tories who have put the 'n' into cuts.'

Yeah, you see that? You see how the Mail can reproduce the joke without having to asterisk anything out like it usually does for its prudish-about-some-things demographic? Well, that's because, and there's no cleverer way to put this, it doesn't say 'cunts'. It implies the word 'cunts'. But it doesn't say it. Which is kind of a problem for this story about how the BBC has suddenly warmly embraced the word and intends to start tossing it unbidden into our homes and cars until we're so used to it we're naming our kids after it.

Of course, the problems with this story don't even stop there. You can add in these factors: 1) It's aimed at adults on Radio 4, not 'In The Night Garden'. 2) It's a joke. 3) There is no proper radio watershed anyway.

But, y'know, really, all those factors pale into insignificance next to the fact that she didn't actually say it. Not that you'd know that if you just glanced at the article. The revelation that the word was never actually uttered, like the headline and opening imply, doesn't come until paragraph 11.

This is the top story on the Mail's site now, and it's going to be their actual front page splash. Yes, readers, someone making, in a joke, a veiled reference to the word 'cunt', on a radio show, for adults, in October of 2010. Just think of all the children who would have raced upstairs after dinner that evening to listen to The News Quiz, without an adult to put the joke into context for them. Lord only knows where they'll be in 10 or 15 years' time. It's almost too terrifying to contemplate. I only hope they discover drugs, unprotected sex and knife crime first, rather than face a world of teenagers making faintly risque jokes that you've heard a dozen times before about politics. On Radio 4. Who could bear that?

I think the thing that annoys me most about this is that I don't believe for a second that the writers of this piece were actually offended by it. It's just cynical moralising and BBC-bashing for the sake of it. They know it's a complete non-story. Indeed, if they were actually worried about people being offended, they wouldn't be repeating the joke to a wider audience six months down the line. But ultimately they know that scandal sells papers, so if they can splash yet another massive BBC outrage on the front pages they might achieve that goal for another day.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Prison sentencing and the media

This morning, a story is circulating in the media which apparently once and for all proves that longer sentences cut crime, so we can all just stop thinking about it and start locking people up for as long as possible. Huzzah! It has appeared in the Star, the Express, the Guardian and the BBC, alongside pretty much every other news outlet.

The news is a huge boon to conservative thinkers who have long advocated tougher prison sentences, so it was no surprise to see the likes of unstoppable Tory gobshite Philip Davies MP crowing about it on Twitter:
We now know for sure that the longer people spend in prison the less likely they are to re-offend! Some of us have said this for years!

So, what do the findings say? Well, according to pretty much all papers, they say things like "The longer the prison sentence the less likely an offender is to commit a further crime, according to research" (the BBC). The Guardian, while saying much the same thing, helpfully links to a PDF of the figures so we can have a look for ourselves (as all online news outlets should do in 2011). Here we find, among other things, a couple of very important quotes that are missing from Davies' crowing, and most of the media reporting:
The findings are not conclusive on whether the deterrent effect of longer custodial sentences is effective at reducing re-offending
So yeah, the findings are not...wait, what? I thought Philip Davies MP said that now we know FOR SURE? How can this be?
Despite higher re-offending rates, offenders receiving sentences of less than 12 months do not have access to offender management programmes and are not subject to supervision by the Probation Service upon release. This latter factor is also likely to explain some of the difference between community sentences/suspended sentence orders and short prison sentences.
Oh, right. So there's a fundamental difference between the 'short' sentences and the longer ones which means that factors other than simply the length of sentence itself could be responsible for a discrepancy. That is really a quite major difference, as it implies that effective managment programmes and post-release supervision are possibly having a big effect, not just the actual banging-up of people for as long as possible.

Custodial sentences of less than twelve months were less effective at reducing re-offending than both community orders and suspended sentence orders
That's another nuance somewhat left alone in the media coverage today, which all seems startlingly similar. (Although, if you read the Express' frankly childish attempt to cover it you might come out a tad stupider than if you'd read one of the other, real newspapers). While the Guardian mentions the importance of community sentences for minor crimes, the Mail's effort, somewhat unsurprisingly, doesn't.

The only thing that's really clear from this study is that, like most reports, you can spin it how you want, and that newspapers will spin it in a way that reflects their politics. Or, at least, that newspapers will copy other newspapers' spin. There's a lot of depth and complexity to the figures, but the bottom line is this - it seems ludicrous that you could have, for example, a BBC headline that says;
Longer prison sentences cut reoffending, study suggests
...referring to a report that says;
The findings are not conclusive on whether the deterrent effect of longer custodial sentences is effective at reducing re-offending
Or so you would think!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

On AV and the Daily Mail

Tomorrow sees many of us head to the polls to vote on the alternative vote (AV) system, a system which, if implemented, would sort of actually change some shit a bit. Predictably, the Daily Mail doesn't really like it.

Under the typically restrained and understated heading of Vote No tomorrow to stop Clegg and his cronies destroying democracy in Britain - forever, the Mail's leader column argues that putting candidates in order of preference rather than just voting for one is "fiendishly-complicated". Because putting candidates in order of preference (if you feel like doing so), is presumably incredibly taxing to its readers. Why on earth would you want a system which risks encouraging voters to think about it, when you can just stick your customary X next to whoever your local Tory is?

The piece goes on to refer to "the lies, cynicism and personal insults of the desperate Yes camp", a particularly laughable charge to anyone who's paid even the slightest bit of attention to the No campaign.

For this paper passionately believes that the arguments against the arcane AV system, in which candidates are marked in order of preference, rather than with a simple ‘X’, are overwhelming.
The simple 'X', there! Nice and simple. Not like those complicated 'numbers'. What are they all about? We don't know, and we don't want to know! Let's just do an X, please, so we can be back in time for Emmerdale. It's not all frivolity though, the Mail has actually thought about this shit. In the next paragraph they drop their big fact bombs:

The reallocation of losing votes, until somebody gets 50 per cent, wrecks the historic principle that every citizen has one vote of equal value, which can be counted only once.
This is, broadly speaking, horseshit. Or at least a distraction from the issue. Winning votes remain the most important. If a candidate gets 50% of first preference votes, they win! If not, they don't have such a convincing mandate. AV then starts to count up the second preferences, then third, and so on. If the candidate who didn't quite win is popular as a second choice, then he will win. What AV does is attempt to seek the candidate who meets with the approval of most voters. The Mail prefers the system whereby a candidate with the approval of 30% of the electorate, in a low turnout, would still win even if the other 70% absolutely hated the bastard, simply because their votes were split between the other much nicer candidates.

Again, the counting of second and third preference votes only comes into play if the 'winner' doesn't have a majority. Under first past the post, your vote isn't really as equal as you think. If you don't vote for the winning party, your vote and your opinions count for precisely jack shit. You don't get to influence the election one bit.

Next we get to my favourite bit of the article:

Votes initially given to fringe parties, such as the BNP, will be counted two, three or even four times — and prove decisive in some constituencies.
Now, in the very next paragraph, we get this:

Overwhelmingly, AV is a system which — by requiring candidates to campaign for second, third and fourth preferences — favours bland, common denominator politicians over bold, decisive leaders. It rewards those who cause minimal offence — rather than those who have the courage of their convictions.
So, there you have it. AV is a system which rewards the most inoffensive candidates. But it also rewards the most offensive candidates, such as the BNP! I'm pretty sure you can only make one of these arguments, though perhaps the Mail is putting the "the BNP will win!" argument as their first choice, and expressing a second preference for the contradictory "no offensive politicians will be able to win!" argument. Either that or the Mail doesn't actually consider the BNP offensive, which I suppose is always a possibility.

A moment of decision in the polling booth is replaced by a process of relative judgment, as voters try to decide who they dislike least.
Doesn't that just fill you with terror? Voters would be largely unable to just vote on the spur of the moment by tossing a coin, or voting Tory on a whim because they were given a blue pen and their favourite colour is blue. They'd have to have some actual preferences! Nuances to their views! Imagine a world in which a voter who wants to vote Green, but would also rather keep the Tories out and is painfully aware that the Greens are unlikely to win, was given the ability to express his or her preferences in a simple numerical order? It'd be fucking insane!

Much of the rest of the article is devoted to detailing the pant-soiling nightmare scenario AV might bring, of hung parliaments and their resultant coalitions, with leaders who didn't win the popular vote colluding to form uneasy alliances and breaking manifesto pledges. I don't really feel it's necessary for me to write a clunking punchline to that, is it? Let's just sound the IT'S OBVIOUS WHAT I'M DRIVING AT HERE klaxon and move on.

The article continues to moan about the Coalition government, which obviously could have only happened under the AV we don't have:

The replacement of Trident has been delayed . . . counter-terrorism powers have been weakened . . .  the promise to reduce the number of non-EU migrants to the tens of thousands has been downgraded . . . reform of Labour’s insidious Human Rights Act has been kicked into the long grass.
And the reason the Tories couldn't force through all these promises? Because they didn't have a mandate. There was a hung parliament. The Tories failed to convince the majority of people that these policies were important, and so they had to compromise.

Indeed, the messiest compromise of them all is the referendum itself — an expensive distraction which is taking place for no reason other than Mr Clegg insisted upon it as part of the price of his support.
Of course, the fact that it's only now that we the public get to actually vote on AV is a demonstration of one of the limitations of the first past the post system. We would never have had the option of doing this if the Tories had been in complete control, even if they only had a low percentage of the vote. AV is not a perfect system, but because of the brutally black-and-white nature of FPTP, we're most likely not going to get the choice of alternatives like the single transferable vote or full proportional representation unless we get this, because it's usually not in the interests of parties who rule under FPTP to implement. Only the hung parliament has afforded us this opportunity for now, and we'd probably need another to get a similar chance in future.

The latest estimate is that, of those certain to go to the polls tomorrow, around two-thirds will vote No.

But, alarmingly, more than half of those asked say they may not bother to take part at all. This is where the danger to our democracy truly lies.

For it is certain that the luvvies and political anoraks who support AV — if only as a step to full proportional representation — will turn out in their droves to cast their ballots tomorrow.
Ah, the political anoraks! They'll be out there, voting. With their bloody considered political opinions, the big fucking nerds. Get a life! Just vote for who your dad voted for, or for whoever's promising the most frequent wheelie bin collections.

And, thanks to a disgraceful agreement between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, no minimum turnout is required for the referendum to be binding.
...just like no minimum turnout was required for the current election's result to be binding. You know, the one that brought us here. The irony here is something else; the Mail is arguing against AV, a system that tries to appoint a candidate with the broadest majority appeal, while defending a system which actually gave us the no-overall-mandate situation it's complaining about, a system in which the Conservatives failed to get an overall majority on a relatively low turnout.

Of course, no lazy No-to-AV article would be complete without "We will be stuck with a system used by only three countries in the world", and sure enough that appears at the end of the article, enabling you to cross off the last bit of your No-to-AV bingo card. It's just a half-arsed argument that plays into people's fear of change; it adds nothing to the debate about how well AV might actually work and just replaces it with "You don't want to look like Fiji, do you? They're probably fucking MENTAL in Fiji!".

So anyway, there you have it, the AV debate, laid out in idiot's terms by the Mail. To summarise: Vote no to AV, because it's waaaaaaaaay complicated and you couldn't possibly understand it. And it'll bring boring, safe, bland, do-nothing candidates who are also extremist and offensive. Also, NICK CLEGG LIKES IT AND HE IS A DICK!

Actually, that last argument is reasonably compelling.

Friday, 15 April 2011

In which Littlejohn defends phone-hacking

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the ongoing revelations in the NOTW phone-hacking scandal has been watching underwhelming hacks attempting to justify it or attempt to diminish its relevance with increasingly extravagant and unconvincing shoulder-shrugs. True to depressing form, Richard Littlejohn has made own typically crap attempt.

Before that, in, today's grating word-dump, Littlejohn rails against the 'gruesome slappers' who sell kiss-and-tell stories, happy to put the blame primarily on the women involved and, in so doing, glossing over his profession's own grubby yet pivotal role in the whole business. His apparent contempt for people like "a bird called Linsey Dawn McKenzie" seems to contrast with his insistence that we all have a right to know about where celebrities' dicks are going. You'd think he hail them as heroes of citizen journalism!

Surprisingly, Littlejohn actually approaches a point when he complains about how legal injunctions taken out in the reporting of these matters unfairly favour the rich, but typically pisses on his own chips with self-parodic mentions of how it's all the fault of 'yuman rites'.

Having established that we all have a Right To Know about stuff, Littlejohn moves on to the pressing topic of belittling the importance of the NOTW affair. Under the sub-heading "Sorry, but this isn't Watergate", Littlejohn lays bare his "couldn't give a shit" attitude:
But nor do I understand what the difference is between the Screws listening to Sienna Miller’s tittle-tattle, and the self-righteous Guardian publishing leaked emails from national security agencies.
Now, I'm not particularly supportive of every decision Wikileaks has made, but I'm not so cretinously fucking stupid as to be unable to tell the ethical difference between releasing not-even-hidden diplomatic memos which relate to issues of serious international political importance, and bugging the private phone lines of actors and footballers so we can all have a good voyeuristic pry into who they're knobbing/being knobbed by.

Of course, when in doubt, always pull the "ah, but what about...?" distraction card;
Incredibly, there are now 50 officers investigating this matter full-time, having been pulled off rape, robbery and murder cases. Is this a proper use of scarce police resources at a time when London is in the grip of gun crime?
At this point I could probably go and try and check whether officers actually HAVE been moved off rape and murder cases, or I could go and check if London really is "in the grip of gun crime", but it seems kind of pointless, right? If the best thing you can come up with to defend phone-hacking is that it's less bad than rape, then it's not really worth the effort of trying to argue.

Next up, hilariously, rumoured £800,000-a-year celebrity newspaper columnist Richard Littlejohn tells us what we the plebs think:
The paying public don’t share the collective Fleet Street/Westminster/Scotland Yard fascination with phone hacking. They must conclude that this particular three-ring circus has gone stark, staring mad.
Actually, some of us very much do share the fascination. No, we don't wish for the police to stop investigating all rapes and murders, but some of us actually would like to see journalism's grubby and illegal reliance on bugging celebrity phones for shit sex-based gossip come to an end. Some of us rather enjoyed Hugh Grant's revenge-bugging of Paul McMullan (Grant trended on Twitter as a result of the interest in this, and Roy Greenslade was moved to complain about how much interest the story was getting now Grant was involved). Some of us also enjoyed how Grant's piece undermined this bit of utter fucking celeb-obsessed nonsense.

But, more importantly, some of us just think that it's actually a bit wrong for the media to use their powers to bug private phones in pursuit of the story. Perhaps we the public would have more sympathy if you, the journalists, actually used it to target people in power, people of influence, catching them in acts of actual corruption, exposing real crimes, conflicts of interest or duplicity among those whom we vote for or who run the country. Instead, it's easier for Fleet Street to just find out who a footballer is cheating on his wife with and run article after article of pisspoor thigh-rubbing about how many times they did it and what his stamina was like. I mean, for Christ's sake, if you're going to commit acts of criminality in pursuit of content, you could at least target someone more important than professional charisma-vacuum Sienna "Sienna Miller" Miller, a human being so forgettable I'm surprised I even got to the end of typing her name before having to go on Wikipedia to remember who she was.

The bottom line is, if there's a crime here, some of think it needs investigating, not simply shelving because there are more important things going on. The police work for all of us, and some of us are actually concerned about the pressure the media puts on the Met in particular to keep their nose out and turn a blind eye while the tabloids dig around in people's fucking bins. It's a grubby, hard-to-justify business, and you're going to need one helluva better excuse than the shit ones Littlejohn is tossing forward if you're going to convince us we shouldn't care.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Quentin Letts vs the massive liberal conspiracy

You might think, as we sit here under a primarily Tory government, watching as it makes at least partly ideologically-motivated 'savings' to public services, that it would take some pretty massive balls to claim that the Left was running the country, right? Well! Enter, stage right, Quentin Letts, his giant, monumental balls resting in a shopping trolley as he trundles in, eager to make that exact point. In We may have a Tory PM - but Lefties and luvvies still run Britain, Letts attempts the quite extraordinary, beginning;
Over at Ofcom it is shrug-your-shoulders time. The broadcasting regulator had shown leniency to ‘edgy’ comedian Frankie Boyle after he made jibes about a disabled child — letting him off with no more than a rap on the knuckles. Boyle’s remarks were made on Channel 4, another public body. Chairman David Abraham and the channel’s liberal supremos were similarly disinclined to take the matter too gravely.
This is a pretty baffling tactic in itself. Firstly, the right hardly has the monopoly on being irritated and/or offended by Boyle's laboured, tiring, scattergun shock-making. He gets some leeway on account of being a comedian, rather than, say, someone actually running the country (more on this distinction later, Quentin!), but even liberal lefties aren't always massively keen on rape and incest jokes where the imagined rapist is a real, blameless disabled, mixed-race child. Hang on, reading that again, one might think that chastising Boyle for insulting such a person would be a sign of 'political correctness', and that leniency would be the more right-wing or libertarian position? Either way, it's a strange point to make a mere two days after everyone's favourite denim-afflicted right-wing tossbag Jeremy Clarkson was similarly let off over his hilarious Mexican stereotyping, much as he was when he made a joke referencing Ipswich's murdered sex workers. It's almost as if Letts is talking one-eyed garbage ('one-eyed' being another insult Clarkson hurled at left-wing colossus Gordon Brown and got a minor rap on the knuckles for). Later in the piece we find out just how wide the liberal tentacles that control Britain are spread:
Over on Twitter, meanwhile, millionaire actor and Labour supporter Eddie Izzard was regaling his faithful munchkins with his latest political apercus, attacking the Government’s cuts.
Who would have thought that famous transvestite comedian Eddie Izzard would be a liberal? Witness the power he wields; talking to people on Twitter...er...being at a Labour conference? Help me out here.
They all show the way that our politics is increasingly being influenced by unelected voices from the Left.
If only Eddie Izzard had existed before May 2010! We might have been spared Tory rule, for the socialist liberals to reign supreme. But alas.
The Yes To AV referendum campaign has been dominated by showbusiness personalities. Stephen Fry has been involved. Isn’t he always? So have Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in TV’s Blackadder, Oscar winner Colin Firth, militant atheist Richard Dawkins (ugh) and dreadlocked poet Benjamin Zephaniah.
The more you think about it, the more astonishing it is that Cameron is Prime Minister, right? He had defeat massed ranks of leftist forces that blocked his path; titans such as Baldrick out of Blackadder, and a poet. Letts continue to rage on in bewilderment;
Hang on. Are politicians not voted in by us? Do we not choose them to represent us and to be accountable? How can an inadequate ‘star’ such as the impeccably Left-wing novelist Zadie Smith be held up to scrutiny when she appears on BBC Radio to rail against library closures?
I agree to some extent that there can be problems with unelected and often uninformed celebrities and lobbyists appearing on the airwaves. This is hardly an exclusively left-wing problem though. Turn on the radio and you're as likely to hear Stephen Green, the Taxpayers' Alliance or any number of unelected anti-abortion campaigners mouthing off as you are to be subjected to the terrifying danger of a novelist talking about libraries. Letts dribbles on in this manner, apparently staggered to discover that artists are not typically fond of cuts/'savings' to the arts, gently accusing (with caveats) Phillip Pullman of being motivated by pure financial self-interest for not wanting libraries to be shut down. Eventually, once he's mentioned Stephen Fry and Judi Dench, he starts to run out of big-hitting lefties to complain about the staggering political influence of. At one stage he refers to "Actor Sam West, whose mother Prunella Scales (of Fawlty Towers fame) appears in Labour Party adverts". Yes, an actor whose mum was in Fawlty Towers! An actor I had to Google! He was in Howards End apparently! Who could fail to unite behind such a totemic figure?
No discussion of pay is allowed to pass on the public airwaves without a contribution from Left-wing journalist Will Hutton
Letts stumbles onto a hint of some kind of point here. But it isn't Leftist bias. The BBC and other news organisations are obsessed with, appearing 'balanced', as they are obliged to be. You have a climate scientist on? You need a 'climate sceptic' to argue with him. Pro-choice campaigner? Better get someone virulently anti-abortion to oppose them. Alternative medicine debate? Get one scientist and one homeopath and give them equal time, as if they're merely two equally correct alternatives. I'm happy to accept that actors and rock stars and comedians are overwhelmingly left-wing. There are reasons for that I could go into if I a) could be bothered to do the research and b) wasn't at work right now. But they're just mouths flapping in the wind, much like Clarkson and Littlejohn and Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama. None of them have managed to prevent Tory rule. They didn't even manage to prevent the rightwards slide of the Labour party either. It must be strange to be Quentin Letts, looking at a Tory-led coalition government, who in turn took over from an ever-increasingly centrist 'New' Labour, and argue that we are dominated by socialists and left-wing thinking because a few comedians and actors get some airtime to say they don't want libraries to close. Particularly strange given that he writes for the ever-popular Daily Mail, whose readership dwarfs that of the Guardian or the Independent. Some people are just never bloody happy, are they?

Friday, 18 March 2011

On the Daily Mail and rape

For a paper famed for its pearl-clutching prudery about sex, the Daily Mail often seems to get surprisingly defensive about the wayward wang deployment of men accused of rapes and sexual assault. It's rare that more than a couple of weeks go by without the paper running a story about a woman convicted of lying about a rape, as if to create a narrative whereby women routinely use sex and subsequent lies about it as a form of manipulation.

If you want to know how far the Mail's attempts to muddy the waters surrounding rape cases will go, then look no further than today's Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy. Here, the Mail comes across as largely sympathetic to the six men involved, despite them being a) footballers, b) accused of raping two twelve-year-olds, and c) largely of ethnicities permanently forbidden from entering Midsomer.

Straight off the bat, in the first line, words like 'rape' and sexual assault are replaced by "midnight sex orgy". By the fourth paragraph we're told that the poor lads "were encouraged by the schoolgirl 'Lolitas'" who apparently ensnared them with text messages. We're informed that one of the two girls, the "most active" (shouldn't that be "more active"? - Pedantry Ed.), "called the defendants over one-by-one to have full sex or perform sex acts on them", whereas;
The other girl was more reluctant and was raped by just one player.
Ah, just the one rape there, then. Good job she looked reluctant, and therefore only got raped rather than gang-raped.

The entire tone of the article continues in this manner. The girls, or one of them at least, were up for it, and so it was unfortunate that these six men took it in turns with her, apparently believing she was 16 or over. We're then told the men all made the exact same "mistake", and informed;
They were said to have been shocked and disgusted to learn the true ages of the girls, with one stating: 'I've got a little sister about that age.'
The most worrying part of all this is that the Mail doesn't seem to agree with or believe in the established legal position that 12-year-olds cannot legally consent. Yes, if the story is to be believed, this wasn't a violent, physically coercive stranger rape. However, even given that, what we have here is a group of 18-21 year old men taking sexual advantage of two children too young to legally consent to sex. Even the Mail's rather sympathetic-to-the-convicted retelling of the story admits that one of the girls was 'reluctant'. But all this is rather glossed over in favour of what seems like a narrative which deflects blame from the men involved and onto the slutty, cock-hungry 12-year-old girls who ruthlessly tempted them to gang-fuck them in a park without first checking if they were 16. It's difficult to imagine a 21-year-old not being able to tell that the girl he's about to have sex with is under 13, but the Mail seems to buy it unreservedly. This isn't a 16-year-old having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend that he's in the same class with, the gap is much more distinct than that. This is important.

The girl-blaming tone continues into the comments section:
They did a reprehensible thing but I cant help having sympathy for them. The 12 year old girl is clearly a danger to herself and should be removed from her parents no question.
Another commenter says;
Ummmm am i the only one who took any notice of the parts where this girl had lied - saying she was 16 - and had willingly called them over one by one!!!
And yet another;
It wasnt rape, girls nowadays look much older than they actually are, if these girls state they 16, one even having a facebook page with a fake age, then im sorry it is their fault. Guys of that age are always persistent when it comes to sex, its hardly a girl being pinned down and violated...
And one more for good measure;
abslutely that's not rape. the girls were cooperative
It's depressing to see the lack of seriousness with which those below the line are treating the story, but on this occasion they're not much different to DAILY MAIL REPORTER'S rather one-sided account.

Still, at least these men didn't buy the girls some penis-shaped sweets, that would have been a real fucking scandal.

Monday, 31 January 2011

A True Story Of Daily Mail Lies (guest post)

In a departure from this blog's usual jokey fisking, what follows is a guest post from fellow Manchester-dweller and fellow cool person Juliet Shaw. It's the story of how she agreed to be the subject of what turned out to be a deeply misleading Mail article, and her subsequent fight against it.

I grew up with the Daily Mail. When I was younger and living with my parents, they read it every day. As I got older and began to form my own opinions, I decided I didn’t like it and instead opted for what I thought to be the more independent viewpoint of The Guardian. However, I didn’t actively oppose the Daily Mail. I had no opinion on it, other than it wasn’t for me.

Pre-Facebook, pre-blogs and Twitter, if you didn’t like a particular newspaper, you didn’t buy it and could quite easily go about your life without becoming involved in any discussions about its content.

So when, in 2003, I received a request on Response Source (an online resource for journalists to request information from PR companies) from a freelance journalist working for the Daily Mail looking for people who had left the city to live in the country and the benefits it had brought, I decided to respond. I vaguely knew the journalist as she’d started work at the Manchester Evening News just a few weeks before I left my job there. I’d recently left Manchester to return to my home town in Cumbria with my two children (three and 10 at the time) because of an acrimonious relationship breakdown, and I was working as a freelance copywriter and PR consultant and keen to raise my professional profile in my new home town, where I lived in an unremarkable semi-detached house 10 minutes away from the beach.

What followed was a catalogue of events that proved just how little regard the Daily Mail has for the people it relies on for its content. Some might argue that the celebrities the Daily Mail and other tabloids pick apart on a daily basis deserve the negative coverage they get. After all, they’re only too keen to court publicity when it suits them, when they’ve got a new film or book to plug – so they’re fair game when it comes to exposés about their love life and can’t be surprised if they’re the subject of a negative article about their weight/hair/dress sense, right?

However, I wasn’t a celebrity. Some might be of the opinion that, working in PR, I knew the game and how it worked and that by putting myself forward to appear in a national newspaper, I too deserved everything I got. But my speciality at the time was business to business PR – writing case studies about wonderful things IT companies did and then getting them placed in the trade press. Everything I wrote was – and still is - backed up with statistics and evidence, and then sent to my interviewee to confirm that I’d quoted him/her correctly and in the right context. I’d never have dreamt of paraphrasing or using artistic licence – I was of the opinion that if I had to start making bits of the story up, then I didn’t really have a story.

So I naively (or stupidly, depending on how far you’re willing to push your sympathy levels) believed that when I was interviewed about the benefits of leaving the city to live in the country, my comments would be reflected accurately and I would have a nice bit of publicity in a national newspaper with which to promote my business.

My response to the journalist was met with a request for a photograph, and after sending it I was told I’d be ideal and that the feature would be a great plug for my business. Unfortunately, rather than promoting my business, the feature made me a laughing stock. I earned a reputation within my community for being a fantasist and a liar, and spent the next two years learning the intricacies of the laws of defamation and in order to try and salvage what was left of my reputation.

The whole episode started badly. I was alarmed by the line of questioning during the interview, which seemed entirely focused towards the number of men I’d been out with rather than the benefits of country living.

Then I was coerced into attending a photo-shoot in London – a round trip of 580 miles - after being told by the journalist that her “neck was on the line big-time” if I didn’t. Not wanting to be responsible for someone I barely knew getting into trouble and perhaps losing a commission, I reluctantly agreed to attend after they agreed to pay my travel costs and put me up in a hotel for the night – coming all the way from Cumbria, it couldn’t be done in a day. It took many weeks and countless emails to increasingly senior members of Daily Mail staff before my expenses were eventually reimbursed.

On 11 September 2003, the article appeared in the Femail section of the Daily Mail. I’ll reproduce it here – what was printed, along with what actually happened.

“Sex & the Country – What happened when four singletons, fed up with shallow urban lives, upped sticks in a quest for rural romance?”

Shallow urban lives? I didn’t have a shallow urban life. I had two children and a career. I’d just been through a very traumatic relationship breakdown and a period of severe depression. And I certainly didn’t force my children to move 100 miles in a ‘quest for rural romance’. I wanted a better life for us all, away from a situation that had caused me immense distress.

“Sex And The City is back on TV – but an increasing number of British career women are turning their backs on metropolitan life in favour of the traditional courting rituals of the countryside.”

So now it became clear that the article had never been about the benefits of leaving the city to live in the countryside, as it had been told to me. The article was a reposte to the final series of Sex And The City. I was never made aware of this. Had I known the feature was to take this angle, I would never have taken part.

“FEMAIL spoke to four, including Juliet Shaw, 31, a PR consultant, who moved from Manchester to Walney Island, Cumbria, in August 2000. She split from her partner four years ago and has two children, Amelia, four, and Bethany, ten.”

I was 33. I moved in April 2000. I’d split from my partner three years ago. Nothing defamatory there, but inaccurate nonetheless.

“She says she has been asked out on more dates in her three years in the country than in 20 years in the city.”

No I didn’t. Not true. I said I rarely went out and, other than two occasions which I’ll describe later, I didn’t meet men - repeatedly, in response to the increasingly probing questions about my love life.

“Juliet says:”

That simple line made it all oh so much worse. I wasn’t being paraphrased, or speculated about. What was to follow was directly from me, in my own words. Or so the Daily Mail would have its readers believe.

“The ‘best’ man I met in my final year of being single in Manchester, a doctor, ‘forgot’ to tell me he was married until a few weeks after we met in a nightclub.”

Fabricated. All of it. In my final year of being in Manchester I was in a relationship with my daughter’s father. My final year of being single in Manchester? It had never been discussed. Without sitting down with a calender, I’d struggle to work out when that even was. Either way, I had certainly never had a relationship with a doctor, married or otherwise. During the interview, after racking my brains for romantic encounters following increasingly probing questions from the journalist, I had finally remembered a drunken snog I’d had with a friend of a friend on a night out around six months’ previously. He was a doctor, but he wasn’t married and there was certainly no relationship. We didn’t even exchange phone numbers.

“To me, it summed up the hypocrisy of the whole city experience, and I despaired of ever finding a man to settle down with.”

No I didn’t. I left Manchester because of an extremely traumatic relationship, and I would have been quite happy to never date again. As for the ‘hyprocisy of the whole city experience’, I don’t even know what this means.

“It was all the more difficult for me because I had two children from a previous relationship.”

What was difficult? Dating? I didn’t want to date. Before I left Manchester I was in a relationship, so no dating there. When I left, I was more than happy to be on my own with my girls. I certainly didn’t begrudge them from preventing me from going out on the pull.

“But I have been delighted to discover that most social events in the countryside are children friendly, such as garden parties, camping and walking on the beach.”

I’ve never been to a garden party in my life. I enjoy camping and we did walk on the beach regularly. I did these activities to have fun with my children, not in a desperate attempt to snare a man.

“In the city, dating revolves around the sort of places to which you can’t take children, such as bars and clubs.”

Does it? I wouldn’t know. I was in a relationship so didn’t go out dating.

“It was difficult to find a man when I could go out only if I had a babysitter.”

I already had one so wasn’t looking.

“My sister had lived on a farm in Cumbria for ten years, and she and her husband loved it so much that I decided to move nearby. I grew up in Derbyshire, so I was used to the pace of life in the countryside.”

No I didn’t. I spent a few years in Hadfield, Cheshire, but the majority of my early years were spent in Barrow-in-Furness. Again, nothing defamatory, just a simple inability to get things right.

“I now live in a gorgeous three-bedroom semi-detached house with a massive garden and its own beach.”

Now, this is where I started to become really alarmed. I lived on Walney Island which doesn’t have any houses that have their own private beach. You can walk all the way around the island on very public shores, and anyone familiar with the island will know this to be the case.

“I am a ten-minute drive from the Lakes, and it costs me just £400 a month, which is what I paid to live in a two-bedroom flat in Manchester. I have started my own PR business and because it’s online, it doesn’t matter where I am – I’ve been earning more than I ever did as a wage-slave in the city.”

Again, basic factual errors. I’d been working as a freelance PR consultant and copywriter for four years by 2003, and started doing so two years before I left Manchester. My business wasn’t ‘online’, whatever that may mean, and I was never a wage-slave in the city. I had a job I loved which I chose to leave after the birth of my second daughter.

“But most importantly, I’ve been asked out on more dates in the past three years than in the 20 years I spent in Manchester.”

Leaving aside the assertion that had I spent 20 years in Manchester which meant that, using the ages in the article, I would have been 11 when I left my family and moved there (and she’s already stated I grew up in Derbyshire), this was simply not true. It was made up.

“Eligible country bachelors have asked for my number in village pubs, on the high street, on the beach and at the local fete.”

Fabricated. All of it. Never said it.

“Now I’m more experienced at countryside dating, I take full advantage of all the opportunities there are to meet men.”

I wasn’t, and I didn’t. I had two young children. I worked from home. I rarely socialised. My idea of a day out was doing the big shop in Tesco.

“I’ve helped out on a local farm, feeding lambs and collecting eggs, because there were several young, fit and handsome men working there.”

My sister lived on a farm. I never helped out on it. Sometimes she gave me eggs, I never collected them. The only men who worked there were here husband, his father, his brother and, some years previously a man called Kevin who I shall refer to in more detail shortly.

“I would never have imagined myself in wellies scrabbling around in the dirt a year ago – I was more at home in designer stilletos – but I have to admit I really enjoyed it.”

Fabricated. I’ve never worn designer anything. I hate shopping. And the only time I’ve worn wellies and scrabbled around in dirt was when I went to Glastonbury in 1997.

“Being at the farm every weekend, I ended up getting to know one of the farmhands, Kevin, very well. He’s three years younger than me and we saw each other for a month before we drifted apart.”

Now the fabrication is damaging not just me, but other people. Kevin was a friend of my sister and her husband, and he had indeed worked at the farm. However, this was a couple of years previously and he’d been married at the time. We saw each other a couple of times long after he’d left the farm and long after he’d got divorced. This single sentence makes it appear that, again, I was dating a married man.

“It was so refreshing talking about nature and the countryside while sitting and cuddling on hay bales, rather than discussing something vacuous about work in a noisy city bar or club.”

Oh my. I laughed so hard when I read this (before the reality of the whole article hit in and I cried). I can categorically state that, prior to attending the photoshoot for the Daily Mail when we were asked to pose on bales of hay brandishing pitchforks, I had never sat on one, never mind cuddled on it. Totally, completely made up.

“Another great place to meet men is on the beach. There are always lots walking their dogs or riding a bike who will smile or stop to talk to me.”

There are men on the beach. Some of them will be on bikes, some of them will have dogs. However, I never said any of this.

“People aren’t afraid of each other the way they are in cities, where even making eye contact with someone can lead to verbal abuse. I’m also convinced the men you meet in the countryside are nicer characters than those in the city. They are easier to approach, less arrogant and not at all concerned iwth how you look or whether you’re wearing designer clothes.”

Not defamatory, but not true either. I never said any of it.

“The only thing I really miss is the shopping and the nightlife.”

I hate shoppping.

“But then I don’t feel the same kind of pressure to keep up with trends.”

What pressure? I’ve never felt any pressure to keep up with anything, except perhaps my rent.

“I’ve swapped my Jimmy Choos for Timberland boots, and I’ll never go back.”

I’ve never owned any Jimmy Choos or Timberland boots. I didn’t say it.

This article appeared in the week my youngest daughter started infant school. I’d been looking forward to it immensely, because I’d spent the last three years working from home and looking after two young children. Working from home meant I didn’t have the social aspects of life that working in an office could bring and being a single parent of two young children meant that nights out were rare. I’d suffered depression of varying degrees, particularly since the birth of my second daughter, and had been happy to stay at home with my girls. But I saw my youngest daughter starting school as an opportunity to meet some new people, make some new friends and the start of a new chapter in my life.

This article changed all that. When I went to school on the day it was published, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. There was audible mockery and thinly-disguised pointing and sniggering. I didn’t blame the perpetrators – after all, here was the braggart who lied in a national newspaper about having her own private beach and boasted of her endless pursuit of men on beaches and at garden parties. I would probably have done the same.

But there was no way of defending myself. I couldn’t approach every single person who sniggered at me in the street or while I was doing my shopping and ask them if they’d read the article, and explain I hadn’t said any of it.

Obviously, I wrote to complain. They responded that they were happy the article was an accurate reflection of what I’d said and were standing by it. I wrote again, pointing out in detail the discrepancies. Again, they stood by their article and told me that they would not enter into any further correspondence with me and considered the matter closed.

I certainly didn’t consider the matter closed. My name, image and brief details of my life had been used to fabricate a story which bore no resemblance to me or my life, then presented as fact, said by me, in my own words. It was damaging to me, my children, my friends and had a significantly negative impact on my life.

I emailed the other three women who’d been interviewed for the article – I found their addresses on an email the journalist had sent about the photoshoot. They each confirmed that they’d been horrified by the article, that it bore no relationship to anything they’d said and that they too had complained to Associated Newspapers and been similarly stonewalled. Sadly, after consulting solicitors they decided not to pursue any legal action because of the prohibitive costs.

I made my own enquiries with a solicitor and he was very sympathetic, but told me that I’d need a five-figure sum to consider bringing a claim.

Not having a five-figure sum, but determined to bring the Daily Mail to account for their damaging article, I decided to pursue my own claim.

So I researched the laws of defamation on the internet, identified the areas appropriate to me and acted as a litigant in person in an action against Associated Newspapers.

In response to my original claim for defamation, the Daily Mail brought a claim against me citing that I had no prospect of success and proposing that my claim be thrown out. This meant that instead of Associated Newspapers responding to my grievances, I was forced to defend myself to them and prove that I had been wronged. They also applied for me to pay their costs.

It took two years of legal wranglings before the claim was finally heard in front of Mr Justice Tugendhadt in the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

I won’t go into detail of his summing up – I’d have to go down to the cellar and sift through boxes and boxes of paperwork to do that, and I’ve already spent two years of my life on this. (You could probably double that if you included all the time I spend jabbering on about it to people I meet at parties.) But Mr Justice Tugendhadt ruled in my favour, and gave me leave to proceed to a full defamation trial with jury. The two or three points he didn’t allow weren’t on the basis that he believed them to be true – it was because although it was accepted they were fictional, I couldn’t prove that my reputation had been harmed as a result of them being in a national newspaper: technicalities. He also declined Associated Newspapers application for costs against me of around £24,000.

Immediately following the ruling, their barrister approached me outside the court and asked what I required to settle. Having not thought that far ahead – I hadn’t dared to believe I might win that round of my battle, so hadn’t given my next move any further thought – I declined to answer, asking her to contact me in writing.

All I’d ever wanted was an admission that they had got it wrong. If, in the response to my original letter, they’d have apologised for the freelance journalist getting some facts wrong, or admitted their sub editors had been a little heavy-handed, I would have left it there. But I was not prepared to be defamed in a national newspaper and then bullied into silence.

While I was considering my position, I received a call from the senior partner in the law firm representing Associated Newspapers. He ever so kindly pointed out that trials cost lots and lots of money, and it would be such a shame if they were forced to take my house off me were I to lose such a complicated case. I pointed out my house was rented and I had nothing to lose. He then very sympathetically informed me it would be just horrid if they had to take my business assets in order to recover their costs should the outcome of the trial not be favourable for me. I thanked him for his concern, and pointed out that as a freelance working from home, my only asset was my brain and I was more than happy to put it to good use fighting my claim to the end, whatever the outcome.

Surprisingly, the next day I received a letter asking me what I wanted in order to avoid the need for a full trial. It was simple – always had been. I wanted an apology. I wanted them to admit they’d fabricated the article, made me look a fool and damaged my reputation.

And given they’d tried to make me pay upwards of £20,000 in costs just to get to that point, I thought it only fair I was reimbursed for my losses: for the money I didn’t earn when I was spending time preparing my claim and subsequent defence; for the reams and reams of evidence and statements I’d had to prepare in triplicate; for the money I’d spent travelling to London to attend the hearing.

I worked it out as accurately as possible – the number of days, the photocopying, the train tickets – and asked for exactly that, with a breakdown of how I’d come to my figure. Given that the partner in Associated Newspapers’ law firm had warned me a trial would cost upwards of £100,000, I could have plucked a number from thin air and added a few zeros. But it was never about the money. It was the principle. It was about standing up to a corporation that thought nothing of using my image, my name and my location alongside a story purporting to be about me, in my own words, but that bore no resemblance to my life or my values. It was about wanting them to accept responsibility for the damage they’d done to my life.

So I sent them my conditions to settle; my costs, and an apology. They agreed to one or the other. I could have the costs and the matter would be resolved. Or they would print an apology, but offer no financial recompense.

By this time, I had spent two years bringing this case to court and defending myself against a national corporation. I was tired of fighting, and although I had been determined to see it through to the bitter end, the prospect of recouping some of my losses and never having to spend another night sifting through hundreds of pages of statements and quotes was too appealing to refuse. I also suspected that had I agreed to an apology being printed, it would never have found its way into the newspaper and I would have to start another lengthy legal battle. And I knew that if I did proceed to full trial with jury, and the jury ruled in my favour but their settlement was the same or less than the figure I’d requested, I’d be liable for all the costs of the trial.

So I went for the money. It wasn’t a massive amount, certainly not life changing. The majority of it went to my mum, who’d been bailing me out when my earnings dipped due to spending so much time on the case. A couple of weeks later my engine blew in my car, so the rest went on a second-hand Punto. That’s the sums we’re talking about, not Ferarri territory. Not even close.

In the five or so years that have passed since my claim was settled, things have got much, much worse. The huge growth in the Mail’s online presence has meant that its search for content becomes ever more desperate, and it gleefully prints pictures of 15 year old girls in bikinis - “Hasn’t she grown up!”- while whipping the nation into an outraged frenzy by falsely claiming Muslims insist extractor fans are removed because they’re offended by the smell of bacon, or that schools are being forced to teach ‘gay maths’ to corruptable young minds. But the majority of the people the Daily Mail tells lies about won’t do anything about it. Bringing a libel claim is prohibitively expensive, and there’s no legal aid. And for those who have the time and inclination to take the law into their own hands, it just got a lot more difficult.

The same judge that ruled in my favour, Mr Justice Tugendhat, ruled in June 2010 that in order to bring a claim for libel, claimants must prove that they have been substantially affected by the offending article, rather than simply being able to demonstrate an adverse effect of publication. The ruling was made in response to a claim against Lynn Barber and the Telegraph Newspaper Group over a book review, and applauded by journalists and news organisations as a step forward for press freedom.

Unfortunately, it also made it much easier for unscrupulous tabloids to print whatever they like about members of the public in order to fit their own agenda, with very little prospect of recrimination.