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Sunday, 31 July 2011

We’re Getting Around

The events of the past week in and around Phonehackgate have, at last, brought the name Zelo Street to the notice of thousands more people, as those on both sides of the north Atlantic have picked up on this blog’s responses to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog.

A first and most significant name check came from the appalling Piers Morgan, who in this instance has backed factual accuracy over personal praise – and may be trying to tell us that the version of the Sven’n’Ulrika-ka-ka-ka story given here and by Noel Young at The Drum is the right one. Morgan has wisely declined to go into any detail, but getting a plug from someone with over a million Twitter followers is always useful. Well done that man.

This prompted msnbc.com to also name check Zelo Street in a piece on Morgan and the attempts to connect him to phone hacking. There was even a quote from the blog, although they err by suggesting I accused the Telegraph of “faulty reporting”. But I did say that the Sunday Telegraph had illegally obtained phone records for the household of David Kelly less than five hours after the announcement of his death.

This forthright condemnation of the Telegraph did not prevent that paper also giving this blog a name check, at the foot of an article by our old friend Raf Sanchez. The thought occurred that Sanchez might not have included that link had he taken the time to follow it and read the post. But his endorsement, inadvertent or otherwise, is much appreciated.

And there was a second prompt from the Telegraph when the loathsome Toby Young, like Sanchez looking to paint Morgan’s position as less than secure (the piece includes the Fox style rhetorical question “Piers Morgan – will he lose his CNN show?”), mentioned Zelo Street on Friday, although he did not link to a specific post. I really must insult him more in future.

[The posts highlighting the Fawkes blog’s lack of rigorous research in its pursuit of Piers Morgan can be seen HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE – and it goes without saying that no dossier has yet been received by the Metropolitan Police]

The Unclear Motive Of David Jones

Out on the fringes of Phonehackgate ever since her twice told whopper – since corrected – has been Tory MP and author Louise Mensch, now taking a family break over in the USA. But any thought that being a few thousand miles from the action would be any guarantee of peace and quiet has been dispelled by Twitter, and the appearance of someone called David Jones.

Ms Mensch has been devoting regular attention to her growing array of Twitter followers, discussing things like Operation Motorman – about which this blog has already posted – and also disappointing the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, by coming out unequivocally against capital punishment, and in any circumstances.

But it’s the entrance of David Jones, or someone using the name as an alias, that has caused the most interest to those keeping tabs on Ms Mensch. The name is familiar to anyone observing the behaviour of the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail: Jones wrote the why-oh-why piece complaining about the weather last December which I roasted afterwards.

The David Jones enquiring after Louise Mensch, however, is someone else, as the Guardian’s Nicholas Watt has found, and he’s digging after Ms Mensch’s past, when she may have taken currently illegal drugs. This is truly yawn inducing: millions of folks across the UK indulge in these substances at least occasionally. Moreover, his assertion that she supports criminalisation of drug use is unproven.

And even if Ms Mensch did take this stance, it would be no more than disappointing – as I’ve argued many times, criminalisation is part of the problem, not the solution – and no different to scores of other MPs. Also, as she has now apologised to the appalling Piers Morgan, the enquiries will turn to the publication behind “David Jones”, if there is one.

Because any paper commissioning a dirt digging exercise on any member of the Commons culture committee right now – and especially Louise Mensch – is effectively admitting they would rather not be investigated over Phonehackgate, and Motorman, any further.

Put simply, they would be saying “look at us – we’re guilty as hell”.

Del Boy And The Reward Package

Friday brought good news from the Maily Telegraph as its blogger James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole momentarily stopped selectively interpreting other folks’ selective interpretations on climate change. Del Boy has moved on to the subject of economics, where he puts his faith in the hearsay of someone who is not an economist.

Why he can’t find a real economist to come to his defence is not known, but the parallel with his pal Christopher Booker, who cites those with no relevant qualifications while demanding specialism from others, is clear. Also clear is Delingpole’s air of disillusionment: of Britain he tells that “the country I love has abandoned me”, so Young Dave must be doing something right.

But Del Boy is still up for the usual quota of abuse aimed at anyone who might dissent from his worldview: the Government is “Cameron’s bastard Coalition”, its junior partner consists of “economically illiterate Lib Dems [sic] loons”, and the “useless” Coalition are, in total, “braindead, communitarian lummocks”, although on the 50p tax rate, “Boris gets it”.

The thought that “Boris gets it” because his income stream – including £250,000 a year from the Maily Telegraph which Bozza has let slip is merelychicken feed” – puts him well into 50p territory, and his stance is therefore an act of blatant self-interest, does not enter with Delingpole. Instead, Del Boy turns for inspiration to a man called Eric who “works in computers”.

And Eric knows what is wrong: “everyone else is racing ahead, but Britain is stuck in the slow lane” he concludes, which by fortunate coincidence chimes with what Delingpole believes. Eric’s solution is that high earners should be at the front of the queue for tax cuts, the inference being that these people are creating jobs. But almost all of them are doing no such thing.

In any case, this idea was behind giving the most well-off in the USA tax cuts, and the extra jobs that were supposed to follow never materialised. The well-off already have enough money to service all their needs: one can only dine out seven days in any one week. For them, the propensity is to save: extra money will be taken out of the economy and economic activity will not be further stimulated.

The least well-off, on the other hand, inevitably have more demands on their funds than they have money coming in, so for them, the propensity is to spend. Extra money will be spent and economic activity will be readily stimulated. Thus one of the best ways to promote economic activity is to give tax breaks to the least well off.

This will continue to be true, no matter what someone “in computers” says, no matter how much abuse Delingpole hurls against it, and whether or not “Boris gets it”.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Regulation – Buscombe Bows Out

In recent weeks, more and more pundits and even journalists have wondered aloud what they may not have even previously thought: what is the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for? In the aftermath of the worst revelations to come out of Phonehackgate, the PCC has been not merely toothless and ineffective, but missing in action. It has been invisible and silent.

And so it was that PCC chair Peta Buscombe appeared before Andrew “Brillo Pad” Neil on the Beeb’s Daily Politics to face the music. Hers was not a happy passage before the Brillo inquisition, and it was no surprise to hear that she is to step down by January next. Thus there is another opportunity for real change in the way that the press is regulated.

As I argued previously, what the public need is a solution that works: in addition to Phonehackgate, there has just been another multiple apology and libel payout, this time concerning Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates. As with the McCann family and Robert Murat, the PCC was absent and therefore ineffective as Jefferies’ character was systematically smeared.

Even then, as Tabloid Watch has pointed out, the apologies were shown on many papers’ Page Two, the use of left hand pages for releasing items the paper would rather its readers not see being an old and trusted trick (putting that item at the left hand side of the page and towards the foot is even more effective). And this kind of thing is not good enough.

We need a regulatory body that works, and if necessary instructs papers as to the prominence and placement of apologies. As to the pleading of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre that “a newspaper’s front page needs to sell itself”, well, he and every other editor would be most certain of retaining the freedom over that page by not indulging in libellous and fact free hackery.

The thought that the newspaper industry could make regulation work without Government intervention, given the attitude of Dacre and his fellow editors, looks bleak. The Jefferies case shows that the PCC cannot stop the periodic Fourth Estate feeding frenzy, and Phonehackgate underscores its lack of ability even after the event.

Now that Peta Buscombe is stepping down, there is that opportunity: the PCC has to change, and if the press will not make the changes the public demands, the Government will be forced to act. It is looking more and more likely that, despite the protestations of editors and owners, Ofcom, which Young Dave was looking to all but abolish only last year, will increase its remit to the press.

And Paul Dacre will just have to live with it.

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result (5)

The pursuit of the appalling Piers Morgan by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, has changed tack as Staines has belatedly discovered Operation Motorman, which Zelo Street covered five days ago. He mentions Steve Whittamore, former resident of 3 Orchard Grove, New Milton, who he describes as a “notorious blagger”. Not quite.

Whittamore, as Nick Davies has shown, was known mainly for running a network of information gatherers, much of whose product was generated by illegal means. And before Staines gets too far ahead of himself, he might pause to consider the result of the court case brought against Whittamore and others: they all got away, astonishingly, with nothing more severe than a conditional discharge.

Moreover, Staines’ obsession with Morgan fails to consider that the Daily Mirror was not even close to being Whittamore’s largest client. Taking Staines’ assertion that the paper was identified as being behind 65 information requests over a two year period, that makes less than three a month. The Daily Mail, with 986 requests in three years, was making more than one request every working day.

And Staines could also bear in mind that – which may surprise some – Whittamore and his network did obtain some information legally, though probably not much beyond searches of the electoral register. Also, he could consider not making conclusions without those pesky facts: his claim that actor Kate Winslet had her mobile number blagged is no more than that.

But what does not appear to have entered in Staines’ pursuit of CNN’s 9pm ET weekday host – quite apart from the shortage of replacements, especially as 8pm man Eliot Spitzer has just been given the boot – is that shining more light on Operation Motorman will reveal the identities not just of Mirror hacks, but those at other papers that used Whittamore’s services.

As already mentioned, those include the Daily Mail. They also include the Maily Telegraph, which as I pointed out last week, illegally obtained David Kelly’s phone records less than five hours after the announcement of his death. And they include the Murdoch press. And all of these have recently used the services of a well known blogger to get stories or just information.

Who might that blogger be? Step forward Paul Staines!

Whether those papers will still be up for doing business with Staines, if his over-zealous pursuit of Piers Morgan drags them into the mire, is somewhere in the range between doubtful and out of the question. The great Guido should be careful what he wishes for.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result (4)

Another day, another lack of a result in the increasingly desperate campaign to damage the appalling Piers Morgan by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog. Not only has there been no result: the star witness, Tory MP and author Louise Mensch, has retracted her bogus assertion against Morgan.

Ms Mensch, who claimed that Morgan had boasted of getting the Sven’n’Ulrika scoop via phone hacking – he hadn’t, and Zelo Street has pointed up a variety of evidence to show that, if any paper was hacking, it wasn’t the Mirror – has now written to John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, admitted she had “wrongly stated” in her appearance on that committee.

She blames the Maily Telegraph for making the claim, repeating the assertions of “a blogger” (wonder who that is?). But fair play to her, Ms Mensch says “I must apologise to Mr Morgan and the committee for this error about his book”. There’s only one blogger who has been majoring in throwing dirt at Morgan on the hacking front, and that is Staines.

So what of the reaction from the Fawkes blog? Sadly, anyone assuming that Staines and Cole might even consider approaching the small yet perfectly formed tray of humble pie, let alone eating from it, will be sorely disappointed. The Fawkes blog has not even mentioned Ms Mensch and her retraction. There has not even been an attempt to spin the news for positive effect, as happened with the Chris Huhne expense claim rejection, which I covered yesterday.

And, if the desperate tone of Staines’ Twitter efforts is anything to go by – he tells Morgan how he’s “taken down cabinet ministers” in an (unsuccessful) effort to get attention – the Fawkes blog may be running on empty. Unless they can come up with more than book and article excerpts where Morgan says he was played a voicemail, Staines and Cole are stuffed.

So that looks like yet another glorious failure. As I said earlier, time to do some proper research, chaps.

First Responder Exclusion – Bang Out Of Order

Regular visitors to Zelo Street will know of the Zadroga Bill, which provided compensation for those in the emergency services who had provided first response following the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center towers. The good news was that, after some GOP filibustering, the bill passed before the legislature broke for Christmas last year.

The very bad news, however, is that there was one compromise of jaw-dropping wickedness written into the bill: it excludes cover for cancer. That’s right: many of those who selflessly waded into the dust and debris of the Twin Towers, who have suffered with the big C in the intervening years, are not eligible for compensation from the $2.8 billion fund.

Moreover, last Tuesday federal officials confirmed the exclusion, the reason given being the supposed lack of scientific evidence connecting cancer to time spent in the debris at Ground Zero. This news not only dismayed citizens meeting at Jersey City Hall yesterday evening – many of those attending were either first responders on 9/11 or were in the area in the aftermath of the towers’ collapse – but all those who had campaigned for the bill’s passage last December.

Citizens are being urged to contact their representatives in Congress to press their case, but as time passes, those most in need are suffering and dying. Some commentators have not minced words about the cancer exclusion: Jon Stewart spent a whole segment of last night’s Daily Show (not available, sadly, in the UK), titled “I thought we already dealt with this shit”, on it.

Let’s hope a little common sense is applied to the matter, and soon. People need help right now, and there must be no hiding behind forms of words as an excuse to deny them.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Guido Fawked – Huhne Complaint Thrown Out

With all the noise and space taken up by the continuation of Phonehackgate, the latest numbers on the economy, and the aftermath of the grim news from Norway, one news item has managed to sneak out almost unnoticed. Moreover, it’s been massaged to make it look other than what it is.

As the heading of this post suggests, the news event follows from the actions of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog. Through the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics – in reality a front organisation for the less than dynamic duo to go after politicians they don’t like – a complaint was made against Chris Huhne.

This was the second attempt by Staines and Cole to pin an election expense irregularity on the Lib Dem MP for Eastleigh, the first having been thrown out at the end of May. Second time round, though, the Fawkes bloggers were sure of their ground, with Cole hectoring Mark PackWhy are you putting your neck on the line for a politician who in all likelihood will be out the door any minute?”.

Staines addedmy tanks are real and we have him firmly in our sights. He won’t survive”, demonstrating an inflated sense of self-worth, and the belief that politicians can be removed merely by throwing dirt at them on his blog. So, accompanied by the assertion that he and Cole had “been looking into Huhne’s election returns for nearly a year”, this looked a dead cert.

And so it came to pass that the Electoral Commission gave their judgment on the complaint. The Fawkes blog reported the event as an exclusive (it wasn’t), telling “Commisson Order LibDem Expenses Review”. Cole’s piece was the biggest heap of rank, steaming bullshit I had seen for, oh, at least half a day. This was spin on a scale that would shame Malcolm Tucker and Alastair Campbell both.

Because what the Electoral Commission had said was that, barring a ten quid under-reporting of website costs and a reminder to Huhne on letter imprints, they had found no fault, concluding that “the Commission do not believe that further action is required”. The Sunlight Centre complaint had been thrown out.

And thus another glorious failure was chalked up by Staines and Cole. Just how much more of this success can they manage? And how much had they bet and lost this time?

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result (3)

Another day, and still the appalling Piers Morgan is there at CNN in his 9pm ET weekday slot, despite the attempts of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog. The latest episode of Staines’ attack on Morgan has included the mirth inducing claim that a dossier is about to be passed to the Metropolitan Police.

This follows the Fawkes blog exhuming a piece in the Daily Mail – one of the papers with which Staines has a nice little earner – from 2006, in which Morgan says he was played a tape of a message left by Paul McCartney on Heather Mills’ mobile. This has caused Staines to become particularly excited, so much so that he then claimed Morgan “played the recording ... to the newsroom for fun”.

Sadly, Staines’ perusal of the Mail does not include Alison Boshoff’s article, where she tells – in 2006 – that “by last year, even before their daughter Beatrice had reached her second birthday, the problems in the marriage were too profound to be ignored”. So it was known that the relationship was in trouble in 2005.

This is consistent with the Guardian’s assertion that Mills was considering taking action against the Screws – not, notice once again, the Mirror – after being given information seized from Glenn Mulcaire “which cover his activities in 2005 and 2006”. The article continues “It is understood that Mills’ name and mobile phone number are listed in Mulcaire’s notes”.

And it is consistent with the Screws – in this archived article – telling of an argument McCartney and Mills had over the phone, which suggests that more than voicemail interception may have been at work. But let’s cut to the obvious flaw in the Staines attack: the evidence of Mills having her phone hacked points to it happening in 2005.

Piers Morgan was sacked from his post as editor of the Daily Mirror in 2004.

And thus Paul Staines was once again undone by a little research.

So when Staines blusters that “we’re taking our dossier to the Metropolitan Police”, I urge him to follow through and do it. After all the recent bad publicity and the resignations of Paul Stephenson and John Yates, they could do with a good laugh.

Zelo Street will be examining the Fawkes blog crusade against Piers Morgan further in a later post. Because, like the Met, we're always up for a good laugh, too.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result (2)

[Update at end of post]

Following this morning’s post on the continuing business of Phonehackgate, the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, have maintained their attack on the appalling Piers Morgan via the Guido Fawkes blog, while pretending not to have been looking in on Zelo Street.

The dead giveaway came in a post on the Fawkes blog timed 1325 hours today, where readers are told “how quickly Morgan was to use the magazine Private Eye” in his defence. A glance at Morgan’s Twitter feed shows no mention of the Eye, only links to two posts, one on The Drum (of which more later), which also makes no mention of the Eye, and one to this blog, which does cite the Eye.

So I’m glad to see the less than dynamic duo looking in on Zelo Street to see how it’s done properly. And let me put them straight at the outset: as regular readers will know, this blog doesn’t quote the Eye without having another source to hand. And, as for the accusation that Morgan “went for the man rather than the ball”, this is merely further confirmation of Olbermann’s dictum, that “The right exists in a perpetual state of victimhood”.

Anyhow, on to the corroboration: the Guardian effectively confirmed that the Mirror Sven’n’Ulrika-ka-ka-ka story was a spoiler on April 20 2002, and echoed the Eye’s assertion that the next issue of the Screws was going to clear a whole eight pages for their scoop. In addition, it notes “the News Of The World ... has records of text messages and voicemail messages”. Who is Ulrika suing, Fawkes folks?

Backing up the Guardian version is the previously mentioned post on The Drum by Noel Young, where we learn that Ulrika’s Mum was involved, and that another paper not happy about the Mirror’s scoop was the Daily Mail, domain of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, which had shelled out an estimated £700,000 to serialise Ms Jonsson’s biography. The Screws and Mail are recent clients of the Fawkes blog.

And, just to make three corroborations, we have the account of Matthew Bell in his Independent On Sunday diary only last weekend, where he reveals the involvement of the sadly departed Sean Hoare, and that the Mirror scoop “came from a tip-off by a News Of The World journalist, who had hacked the relevant phones”.

The simple fact of the matter is that Hoare and his fellow Screws hack had met the Mirror man in the pub, bragged about their story, and this got back to Morgan via his show-business man. The Screws only published once a week, and the Mirror beat them to it by a day.

Piers Morgan may be in the mire. He may not. But that is no excuse for the abysmal standards of the Fawkes blog. As I said earlier, time for some proper research. If Staines and Cole can’t be arsed doing it, someone else will.

[UPDATE: Unlike the less than dynamic duo of Staines and Cole, this blog likes to get its details right, and in the penultimate paragraph I was wrong to say that the Mirror beat the Screws by one day. The Mirror led on the Sven'n'Ulrika affair on Friday April 19, 2002, and so was two days ahead of the Screws]

Guido Fawked – No Research, No Result

[More information can be found HERE in a later update]

[Update at end of post]

Private Eye issue 1053: front cover

Nothing highlights the gulf between real investigative journalism and the speculative, scattergun approach than Phonehackgate. The real results have come out of the tireless work by Nick Davies and the team at the Guardian – resignations, arrests and the fall of the Screws – while nothing yet has been achieved by those going after individuals and organisations on little more than a wing and a prayer.

And nowhere is this highlight shown better than in the petulant and hectoring pursuit of the appalling Piers Morgan by Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere, at the Guido Fawkes blog. Morgan, as regular visitors to Zelo Street will know, is one of the least liked media people in these parts. But that is no excuse for the approach of Staines and Cole.

Whilst the Guardian built its story through literally years of research, the Fawkes blog has tried to smear Morgan based on inflating quotes from old interviews, hearsay about past stories, and even recycling items from Private Eye. This thin brew was typified by the latest “revelation”, a 2009 edition of Desert Island Discs, where there is a general chat about the “dark arts” between Morgan and Kirsty Young.

The “storywas then fed to the Maily Telegraph, which as I pointed out yesterday, has no cause to occupy the moral high ground, having illegally obtained phone records from the household of David Kelly less than five hours after news of his death was released by the Police. Sadly, not all commentators have hailed this as a game changing discovery, and Morgan is still there at CNN.

Eye 1053, Page 4 (click for larger image)

As to the hearsay strand, this was exemplified by the attempt to cite the Mirror’s scoop of the Sven’n’Ulrika-ka-ka-ka affair as being down to Morgan overseeing hacking at the paper, when in reality the story was gifted to the Mirror as a spoiler, and it was the Screws that had been doing the hacking – hence Ms Jonsson instructing her lawyers to go after the latter (see above).

Eye 1293, Page 9

So what about the material from Private Eye? As can be seen from the image above – the right hand column is the one to watch – the latest issue of the Eye checked out the previous behaviour of the Mirror. The item at the foot of the page, about Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, was then featured by the Fawkes blog the following day, with the “Just Fancy That” item being directly recycled the following Sunday.

And nothing has changed with the latest “revelations” being the Desert Island Discs discussion, and now a diary entry from Morgan which is being hailed at the smoking gun, referring as it does to a voicemail message and the Sven’n’Ulrika story. But this does not admit hacking, and when put alongside the account in Private Eye issue 1053, looks as flat as ever. Time for some proper research, chaps.

[UPDATE August 3: a shout-out, if only by inference, in the latest issue of Private Eye (number 1294), where they tell that Morgan was "pointing his Twitter followers in the direction of a story in Eye 1053". The reference to that issue was not made by Piers Morgan, but by this post. My thanks to the great and good Emmanuel Strobes (for it is he). I'll be looking again at the Sven'n'Ulrika story soon]

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Not The Moral High Ground

There are some hacks reporting on Phonehackgate who clearly have little knowledge of their own paper’s involvement, and one of these is the Maily Telegraph, today joining in the kicking of former Daily Mirror editor Piers “Morgan” Moron. In a piece that contains nothing not already known, Raf Sanchez trots out the tired headlinePressure on Piers Morgan as Daily Mirror phone-hacking allegations grow”.

The clincher for Sanchez is that he has found a photo of the appalling Moron in the company of the twinkle-toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, and – most damningly – Andy Coulson. All three are smiling, and Moron is in possession of a glass of sparkling wine, so that’s him off to the Scrubs for a handful, then.

But what’s the evidence? James Hipwell, who fell out with Moron over the “City Slickers” affair – for which one can hardly blame him, given that Hipwell did time and Moron got away with it – has told “I can’t say 100 per cent that he knew about” phone hacking. But he says it’s “inconceivable he didn’t”. Fine – bring on some real evidence and let’s have more spectator sport.

And, while Sanchez goes looking for something better than what he dug up from half an hour’s Googling, perhaps he could stop for a moment and consider the potential fate of the “news executive” at the Telegraph who may be in the frame for the excursions into the territory of the “Dark Arts” performed by the Sunday Telegraph, and which have been duly recorded by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News.

As Davies noted, reporters at the title “were allowed to commission the dark arts themselves, but the costs started running out of control so the paper imposed a rule that all such work must be commissioned through a news executive”. So who might that person be? One information request that was made, and fulfilled, on his or her watch occurred in July 2003.

MoD weapons specialist David Kelly was found dead at 0830 hours on Friday the 18th. The Police gave out the information in a press release at 1100 hours. At 1538 hours, a fax was sent to the Sunday Telegraph with details of every phone number called from the Kelly household between 1 March and 23 April. All those numbers would give hacks leads to quiz friends and get more stories.

That information was obtained illegally. The effect of its arrival at the Sunday Telegraph was to prove intrusive to anyone on the list, with little or no public interest defence. And, taken with the willingness of the Telegraph to engage in acts of entrapment with Cabinet Ministers, and their eagerness to outbid even the Sun for dubiously obtained CDs, this is one pair of titles skating on very thin ice.

Glenda’s Gateway To Hypocrisy

Following the death of singer Amy Winehouse, the wrong-headed rant yesterday from “Mad” Melanie Phillips about a country “awash with drugs and alcohol” was predictable enough, and so in its own way is today’s bonus outing for the Mail’s resident Glenda, Amanda Platell.

In yet another mildly disturbing echo of Jan Moir’s hatchet job on Stephen Gately, La Platell treads the familiar path of why-oh-why punditry by telling how bad drugs and alcohol are – and that by implication both should be made less available, particularly to the young – while bemoaning the supposed influence of Winehouse on “vulnerable young people”.

At the forefront of Platell’s argument is the idea that using drugs like cannabis inevitably leads to the use of cocaine and heroin, or as she puts it, “cannabis is a gateway drug”. She also makes adverse comment on those leaving bottles of vodka at the makeshift shrine outside Winehouse’s London flat, so clearly this, too, is A Bad Thing.

So anything that provides a “gateway” to vodka must also be A Bad Thing. Like wine, or cocktails, for instance: these clearly provide a way in to those bad habits that contributed to the unfortunate Winehouse dying at the age of just 27. That means the author of comments such asLike the first glass of Pimm’s of the summer, I’m relishing the return of The Apprentice”. Signs there of an alcohol craving.

Likewise, whoever saidThe simple act of raising a glass of wine to my lips (admittedly more than once)” is not a good influence on all those “vulnerable young people”. Nor is describing parties by how much one had drunk – as in “A glass of wine in [to the event]...”. And proclaiming thatI wanted to be a judge on the new Richard and Judy’s wine club – it’s my specialty subject” gives the impression of habit.

That impression is only reinforced by reading the follow-up comment: “a fine evening was had by all, from what I can remember”. But, guess what? The author of these comments is the same person who has warned that “one in five women are occasional binge drinkers”, the comment coming in ... the same article as today’s why-oh-why on the unfortunate Amy Winehouse.

Yes, the wine and cocktail habit belongs to none other than Amanda Platell, the Glenda who’s lecturing the Mail’s readership about “gateway” drugs. Mandy, you’re an even bigger stinking hypocrite than I ever imagined, and therefore ideal material for a Mail hack.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Read The Real Motorman

There has been a sudden realisation, in the wake of Phonehackgate and the Commons culture committee grilling of Rupe, Junior, and the twinkle toed yet domestically combative Rebekah Brooks, that before the apprehension of Glenn Mulcaire and Clive Goodman came something called Operation Motorman. So how can the average punter get clued up on this affair?

The answer is that there is no need to wait on John Whittingdale and his team to release information: anyone wanting to get the basics need only visit their local bookshop or have a shufty on Amazon. Zelo Street doesn’t normally plug books, but there is always an exception, and that exception is the excellent Flat Earth News, the go-to work on the machinations of the Fourth Estate.

Nick Davies – the same man whose tireless and tenacious application precipitated the fall of the house of Murdoch – covers Motorman and more in a chapter appropriately titled The Dark Arts. From Whittamore feeling “positively gutted” to find that the morning raid on Orchard Grove was targeting his house, via the BT blagger and the man scanning Scotland Yard’s databases, to the two men from the DVLA and three others getting their information from the DWP, all is present.

A taster of Whittamore’s target list is also given: this included Ricky Tomlinson, Ken Livingstone and Bob Crow, all hate figures for papers like the Sun and Daily Mail. And then the sorry story of the trial where Whittamore got away with a conditional discharge is told, along with the Information Commissioner’s office effectively giving up the ghost at the prospect of the papers “lawyering up” and costs escalating.

We are introduced to other Private Investigators, such as Jonathon Rees, of whom we know following a recent Panorama, and another simply known as “Z”, of whom Davies observes “He was bent in the Police and he went on to be bent in Fleet Street”. Rees, we learn, had a contact called Robert who got him details of bank accounts, and rather imaginatively went by the nickname of Rob The Bank.

Daily Mail hacks admitted that they had bribed both Police officers and civil servants, with one former reporter telling “We used to use the social security computer as if it was an extension of the Daily Mail library”. One hack told Davies “If the Mail go for you, they get every phone number you have dialled, every school-mate, everything on your credit card, every call from your phone and from your mobile. Everything”.

Other titles bribed, and enjoyed the products of blagging, bugging, and of course the trawl through dustbins by the legendary Benji Pell. Hacks routinely targeted other hacks, and, yes, editors. And even after Goodman and Mulcaire were convicted, Davies reveals that the Dark Arts continued to flourish.

Anyone concerned by the behaviour of the Fourth Estate should read this book.

More Mel Odiousness

As any regular visitor to Zelo Street will know, this blog has long urged a revisiting of the so-called “War on Drugs”, in which billions of pounds is expended, and no more than 1% of currently illegal drugs is taken off the streets, while users are criminalised and drugs become genuinely dangerous, as the entire business has been ceded to organised criminality.

The latest country to suffer at the hands of a war that was long ago lost is Mexico, where violent crime in the capital, Mexico City, appears out of control. I would have thought that anyone looking rationally at the situation would be able to see that, for the ideology of prohibition and punishment, the game was up. But I had reckoned without the presence of Melanie Phillips.

Mel has pored over the sad and premature death of singer Amy Winehouse, and has characteristically concluded that this is yet another indictment on the last Government, the supposed glorifying of drug culture, not locking up Pete Doherty, the “Great and Not-so-Good” (who they?), sloppy thinking, “and a society that has decided to inhabit a never-never land”.

Quite apart from the creepy similarity between Mel’s latest column and the Jan Moir hatchet job on Stephen Gately – the idea that both deaths were the shattering of some kind of fantasy or myth – there is the attempt to justify media intrusion into Winehouse’s life, telling that others were “lapping up news of her latest excesses”. No Mel, the Daily Mail’s readers were having it rammed down their throats.

And the idea that the entertainment industry “positively lionises the self-destructive behaviour that brings in such handsome rewards” is a quote of total and utter crap. Self-destructive behaviour does not bring “handsome rewards”, and no business that needs to generate substantial income “lionises” it. Some in and around the music business have used, and continue to use, currently illegal drugs.

But guess what, Mel? Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, many of whom never saw an Amy Winehouse gig or shelled out for a copy of Back To Black, use those same drugs. For them, it’s got stuff all to do with celebrity. And it’s the same for the low level suppliers, the mules, the poor souls caught in the Mexico City crossfire, and the emergency services who clear up the mess.

Prohibition, the solution of Melanie Phillips, has been an abject failure. This cheap and nasty attempt to pin the problem on her usual suspect list merely shows that Mel doesn’t get it. Worse, she wants to make damn sure that anyone who reads the Daily Mail doesn’t get it, either.

And that’s not good enough.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Guido Fawked – No Mail Aggression

The potential for Phonehackgate to mutate into something to give many in and around the Fourth Estate their worst nightmare has come closer with the revisiting of what at the time was called Operation Motorman. Those who have read Nick Davies’ excellent Flat Earth News will need no introduction to this exercise, or its subject, private investigator Steve Whittamore.

When the Information Commissioner’s officers descended on the south coast town of New Milton, and raided 3 Orchard Grove on the morning of March 8 2003, they found records of six or seven years’ evidence of Whittamore’s trade in illegally obtained information. Most of his customers were hacks at national papers: eight dailies and ten Sundays.

The largest single buyer was the Daily Mail: 63 journalists had made a total of 985 requests for information. So one might have drawn the conclusion that those currently going after the instances of questionable goings-on would be on the case of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre and his obedient hackery. But one leading light of the blogosphere has proved noticeably reticent so to do.

Step forward the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere. This less than dynamic duo have shown themselves to be most reluctant to lay into the Mail, preferring instead to go after the Mirror, in a crude attempt to “get the lefties” in retaliation for the damage done to their beloved Rupe.

So it was that yesterday the Fawkes blog went into judge-and-jury mode and pronounced thatthe Mirror group ... are as guilty as those arrested at the News Of The World”, for which no evidence was offered, as neither Staines nor Cole had bothered to do any research first: this is all about blinkered tribalism. Not for the Fawkes blog and its readership the enjoyment of spectator sport.

A case of so far, so predictable, but why not also go after the Mail? Ah well. Despite the image of “being outside the hated MSM”, the Fawkes blog is anything but. In fact, so mainstream are Staines and Cole that they have developed a nice cosy relationship with the followers of the Vagina Monologue. This first came to light when they worked together with the Daily Mail newsroom over the unsuccessful attempt to go after William ‘Ague.

The cooperation between the Fawkes blog and Dacre’s finest has continued, with the story of the 2003 fixed penalty notice which Chris Huhne is claimed to have got his former wife Vicky Pryce to take on his behalf. It’s a nice little earner, and Staines and Cole know full well that if they cross Dacre, he’ll cut them off at the knees.

Which is why there won’t be any Mail bashing in the Fawkes blog any time soon.

Keep Bashing That Beeb!

While some in and around the Fourth Estate go after any paper that looks remotely left of centre in pursuit of revenge for the downfall of the House of Murdoch, most of the ire is directed at the BBC, an organisation that has suddenly, if some of the hyperbole is to be believed, become so awesomely powerful that it is endangering the very fabric of society.

This must be true because ConHome’s Tim Montgomerie says so in the Maily Telegraph. Monty has a problem with the Beeb: it doesn’t serve up the news he wants, in the way he wants it, or as he puts it, “misses the bigger picture”. He also wheels out his tired assertion that BBC staff, on their Facebook pages, are eleven times more likely to describe themselves as “liberal” rather “conservative”.

This smear depends on using the Stateside interpretation of “liberal”, and whether the Beeb staffers whose Facebook pages are being pored over substitute “left” for “liberal” is not told – because it has been assumed, so as to fit the exercise. He also delivers a howler when asserting that “other organisations could do the same [as the BBC] if they had the same income”. Like BSkyB, whose income is far larger, then?

But Monty is just one prong of the assault on the Beeb, with a second front having been opened up over Steve Jones’ report for the Corporation on their science coverage. This has produced the suggestion that the climate change denial lobby should not be treated as an equal to the scientific mainstream, and the usual suspects are not happy.

Christopher Booker is suitably indignant: after his usual telling of “statistical manipulation based on flawed data”, he protests about Jones’ use of pejorative language, while slipping in the occasional “warmist”, and accusing any scientist he mentions of not knowing what they are talking about, because their specialism is not to his taste (Booker read History at Cambridge). Some background on Booker and his tendency to spread misinformation can be read HERE.

But the most over-the-top Beeb bashing piece comes from David Rose (who has previous on this subject) in the Mail. After suggesting that Steve Jones is in hock to the BBC, Rose also talks of “warmist orthodoxy”, then pulls a whopper of some substance with the assertion that “the world temperature trend since 1995 has been flat, with no evidence of warming at all”.

That will be why the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1995. But that does not stop Rose throwing in a Communist bloc false equivalence and asserting that Jones “seems to want BBC coverage to be subject to ... quasi-Stalinist thought-policing”. Attaboy, Dacre doggie!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Clarified Motive Of Louise Mensch

Recently, I considered the whopper deliberately told during televised and widely viewed sessions of the Commons culture committee by Tory MP and author Louise Mensch, and wondered why she had done it. Since then, Ms Mensch has continued to press the non-trivial matter of illegal behaviour by those employed by a variety of newspapers, and this cannot be other than commended.

So the clear emergence of this motive partly answers my initial question. But a further motive has also appeared: this is neither benign, and nor is it in the public interest. Moreover, that motive is as malicious as it is personal: Ms Mensch is deliberately trying to damage the appalling Piers Morgan, now in possession of the weekday 9pm ET slot at CNN.

Hence the Tweet trying to bring attention to Morgan’s dismissal from the editorship of the Daily Mirror. But anyone and everyone at CNN and elsewhere who is bothered already knows the backstory.

And, in case the thought enters that this was a one-off, here’s another Tweet addressed only to CNN. As this is the third rated cable news channel – behind Fox and MSNBC – and way behind the main networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), it comes clear that Ms Mensch is not pitching for audience share.

She then reminds everyone – but only CNN in the USA – that Operation Motorman is significant. Well, better late than never, say I. If only she’d read Flat Earth News.

Ms Mensch then points up an old GQ article, and again prods CNN. At least this time she also mentions the New York Times, but not any other broadcaster.

She then figures out that CNN has a generic Twitter handle and prods them once again over the potential testimony of former MirrorCity Slicker” James Hipwell.

Then matters become desperate, as Ms Mensch again prods CNN, but quotes the Mirror title that was not edited by Morgan.

As Emma Thelwell, who authored the Channel 4 News Fact Check piece on the Mensch whopper, put it, what had been said were “potentially career-crucifying comments”. And Fact Check judged Louise Mensch’s assertion to be “fiction”: PolitiFact would certainly have awarded a “False”, and maybe even a “Pants On Fire”.

Being concerned about the scale of illegal activity in and around the Fourth Estate is one thing, but deliberately trying to get someone the sack and ruin his career is quite another. While Louise Mensch’s attention to the former is to be applauded, her indulgence in the latter is totally out of order. What was that about the “Nasty Party”?

Kicking The Dog

In the Blake Edwards film 10, there is a scene featuring an elderly housekeeper who breaks wind, followed immediately by the family dog whimpering and running out of the room. Dudley Moore is informed that whenever the housekeeper farts, they always kick the dog.

That was funny, but the immediate reaction to yesterday’s explosion in the centre of Norwegian capital Oslo – followed soon after by a massacre on the island of Utoeya – was not. The rush to pin responsibility on anything that might feature the presence of Muslims was sadly predictable and disturbing in equal measure.

The lessons of recent history do not, in the aftermath of such events, appear to enter: instead, there is an immediate knee-jerk reaction that dictates that whoever is responsible must be either al-Qaeda, a franchise or associate of al-Qaeda, or inspired or encouraged by al-Qaeda. No other source is even considered.

So the explosion, and subsequent shooting, is labelled as “terrorism”, and without waiting for any more information, the rumour mill is transformed into what are asserted to be facts. This process is helped along by generous use of the rhetorical question, so often used by our old friends at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).

As early as 1607 hours came a suitably ill-considered example, as Will Heaven, deputy editor of the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland, pointed the finger with a piece titledOslo explosion: Is al-Qaeda behind this?” which, freely translated, says that the Muslims did it. The post was still available after 1100 hours today.

Which means that Rupe’s troops at the Sun had to outbid such equivocation, and thus the removal of all doubt as the paper’s front cover screamed “AL-QAEDA MASSACRE”. Readers were told of “two terrorist atrocities ... Islamist fanatics ... homegrown al-Qaeda convert”.

That the gunman was blond and Norwegian – he has been identified as Anders Behring Breivik, “Conservative and Christian” – has not deterred the Super Soaraway Currant Bun from going into an all too predictable default mode. And elsewhere in the media, the change of language has also been disquieting.

Instead of the bombing and shooting being described as “terrorism”, both BBC and Guardian are now using the term “attacks”. At least the Telegraph has retained the word “terror”. Why is it only “terrorism” when it can be pinned on followers of The Prophet?

And why do we keep on kicking the dog?

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Athenian Haircut – It’s Official

Once again, those hacks and pundits predicting the demise of the Euro have worked themselves and their followers into a froth of anticipation, only for the Euro to – once again – survive, with the Greek debt crisis averted. As I’ve predicted many times recently, there has been rolling over of debt, plus some private sector investors have had to take a haircut.

But even the latter class of investor, as the Beeb’s Stephanie Flanders has noted, has come out ahead of the game: they are taking a hit of 21% of Net Present Value (NPV), while the market discounting of NPV is more like 40%. And on top of all that, the cost to Ireland and Portugal of servicing their bail-out packages has been made that much more manageable.

Is that the end of the problems for the Eurozone, then? Well, no it isn’t. The problem of Greece is more than likely to return, any efforts by that country’s Government notwithstanding. And the tendency of the market to probe any supposed weak links in the Eurozone – most recently Italy – will not go away.

Moreover, there is the question of whether or not Greece has defaulted, but then, the state of California, as I mentioned a while ago, had its bonds circulating at a price that returned well under 100 cents on the Dollar, and no call of default has come. The all-important C-word (as in Confidence) has clearly returned to the markets, and that is what matters, and will continue to matter. Forget ratings agency bluster.

But what this episode has proved is that the European Central Bank (ECB), together with major Eurozone players, are prepared to defend the Euro and Eurozone, and are likely to continue so to do. This reinforces that market confidence, though the minus point is that this array of players is still not able to mobilise rapidly enough: that will have to change.

In addition, the idea of fiscal convergence will also not go away: there is only so much that can be done through what is effectively a larger version of what the UK calls regional policy, especially given the range of nation states involved. The various Governments and their populations may not wear that one right now, but that is where the members of the Eurozone are inexorably heading.

Should we in the UK be bothered? Yes, it’s happening on our doorstep, we do most of our trade there, and if it kicks off in the Eurozone there is no way we can insulate ourselves.

So I’ll be checking back regularly to see how it’s going.

Grow Up, Gilligan

There were many across the UK who opposed our involvement in the Iraq adventure: I was, and remain, one of them. And one of my greatest subsequent disappointments was to discover that Andrew Gilligan was not only carrying on an anti-Labour campaign – rather than an anti-war one – but also that his actions did not stand up to the scrutiny of the subsequent Hutton enquiry.

As a result of its misplaced trust in Gilligan and his imperfect journalism, the BBC was heavily criticised and has rightly had nothing to do with him since. So nowadays he plies his dubious trade in the bear pit that is Maily Telegraph blogland, from where he has continued his single handed crusade to transfer the blame for his own abysmal standards to Alastair Campbell.

And late yesterday came a superb example of that crusade, in which he actually tries to pin phone hacking on Big Al. Gilligan’s overarching argument is that enquiries – like the one where he came up short – aren’t all that useful, and that they just give the result that the Government of the day wants. Moreover, they don’t always get to “the truth”, or maybe that should read “the truth acceptable to Andrew Gilligan”.

Sadly, Gilligan’s argument is derailed by partisan attacks and the occasional non sequitur: Yates of the Yard resigning is held to have “decapitated” counter terrorism operations – the thought that the Met might appoint a successor does not enter – and Keith Vaz is not acceptable to Gilligan, mainly because he is called Keith Vaz. And we get an Al-Qaeda versus phone hacking false equivalence thrown in.

But Gilligan saves his most damning criticism for Campbell, which has nothing to do with Big Al being in demand for his punditry across a range of broadcasters, while Gilligan is not – perish the thought!

A quote from an MI6 officer is supposed to clinch Gilligan’s crusade against Big Al, but were that true, most of the Fourth Estate would have piled in. The acid test is whether the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre run with that news, and they haven’t. The MI6 statement is not new news. But Gilligan saves his best smear till last.

Discussing the upcoming Leveson enquiry, Gilligan warns that “several anti-hacking campaigners and the lawyer for Milly Dowler’s family protest that there is no mention of officials and special advisers like Andy Coulson and Alastair Campbell”.

Wallop! Big Al hacked Milly exclusive! That’s an Olympic standard smear. Give the clown a medal.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Guido Fawked – More Tribal Myopia

Someone who fell out with a tabloid editor and even spent time in prison has since said to a Guardian journalist that the editor in question was running a paper which got information from hacking phones. And the piece in the Guardian was five years ago. This is the latest supposedly shock revelation from Paul Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole, the Laurel and Hardy of the blogosphere.

Thus the continuing attempt by the Guido Fawkes blog to pin phone hacking on the appalling Piers “Morgan” Moron, former Mirror editor and recent replacement for Larry King as CNN’s weekday 9pm Eastern host. Moron, as any visitor to Zelo Street will be aware, is not this blog’s favourite former editor. But that does not make him guilty of any known offence.

The Fawkes blog has culled its latest attack on Moron from a piece on James Hipwell, formerly one half of the Mirror’sCity Slickers” until he and other half Anil Bhoyrul were sacked over breaking insider trading rules: they bought and then heavily tipped Viglen shares, making five figure sums in the process.

The thought enters that this is not totally dissimilar to Staines and Cole perhaps betting on events involving politicians – such as, say, William ‘Ague or Chris Huhne – and then going after them on the Fawkes blog. So the less than dynamic duo will readily identify with Hipwell.

And another thought enters from reading the Guardian feature: if Hipwell has so much dirt on his fellow hacks and had already written four chapters of a book back in 2006, then where is it? [OK, I know the answer: canned by lawyers] This, though, does not deter the Fawkes blog, which routinely misrepresents Hipwell, so the book “describing the lengths to which tabloid reporters would go” becomes “describing the lengths to which the Mirror, edited by Piers Morgan, went”.

The Fawkes blog says it is “going to be very blunt about this”, and so will I. That a number of papers indulged in less than totally legal methods to obtain their stories should surprise no-one. Moreover, the potential for more revelations is very strong: there is much more of this excellent spectator sport to come. But to only go after the Mirror, in an obviously clumsy attempt to “get the lefties” as an act of revenge, misses the point and merely demonstrates cluelessness.

Because going after the Mirror is all that this is about. As I’ve already told, the attempt by the Fawkes blog to pin hacking of Ulrika Jonsson’s phone on the Mirror is undermined by her taking action against the Screws, and the lame attempt by their new best pal Louise Mensch to smear Moron fell foul of a simple fact check.

But at least it’s different to going after the BBC, so that’s all right, then.

The Glover Coincidence – 2

As I observed recently, it was a remarkable coincidence that Stephen Glover, the sad looking hack whose outpourings regularly grace the Daily Mail, was on hand to put the boot into suggestions that Phonehackgate was a serious matter only days after the head of the Metropolitan Police had visited the editor of the Guardian and tried to get him, and Nick Davies, to back off.

And it is also remarkably coincidental that today, that same Stephen Glover has produced a column, once more in the Daily Mail, on how the whole business is down to the rotten lefty (and, of course, obsessed) BBC. He starts by selectively identifying those punters who had appeared on Newsnight last Tuesday, omitting to make the connection between Tory MP Louise Mensch and her dishonest attack on the appalling Piers “Morgan” Moron, an event I covered yesterday.

Moreover, Glover fails to mention former hack Paul McMullen at all, such is his determination to prove bias. This means he then characterises Trevor Kavanagh as a mere “columnist” with “no executive responsibilities”, a superb slice of deception. Perhaps he believes his readers are so poorly informed that they will not know Kavanagh is an associate editor of the Sun, and spent over 20 years as its political editor.

And Glover appears to have thrown his rant together with little attention to detail. Thus we are told “Anyone with a grouse against Rupert Murdoch is invited to dilate without any requirement to produce evidence” by a hack who is under no requirement to produce evidence. Then we get “the BBC loathes Murdoch because he has built BSkyB into a formidable programming rival” following immediately from “the estimated audience of all BBC news bulletins ... is some 20 times greater than ... Sky News”.

We also get the suggestion, in Glover’s analysis of the Kavanagh Today appearance, that the Beeb is phone hacking too, something for which he has, you guessed, no requirement to produce evidence. This convenient position has also served Glover well in his previous tirades against the BBC: in October 2008, the predicament of the then shadow Chancellor was down to the Beeb, then the following December there was a rant about Panorama and Robert Peston.

February 2009 brought the assertion that the BBC was run by a “narrow sect”, with readers treated the following May to the idea that the corporation was somehow anti-Christian. And the Glover line was consistent across platforms, with his pontificating in the Independent bringing the false equivalence of Beeb staffers “paid more than the Prime Minister”.

So it’s a remarkable coincidence, but no surprise, to see today’s Glover rant.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Harry Potter And The Churnalist Of Mail

Whatever else can be said about the Daily Mail, one thing has to be conceded: this is, with its Sunday stablemate, the best resourced paper in the UK. Whenever the chequebook needs to be opened, the Mail will be first. Moreover, it pays its hacks top dollar – or perhaps that should be too many dollars, given the dubious level of the talent on offer.

So one might think the Mail could bother to research and sub its copy with more than merely passing diligence, but a piece today about the steam locomotive that pulls the mythical “Hogwarts Express” suggests otherwise. Where the ubiquitous “Daily Mail Reporter” gets much of the piece is not known – perhaps it’s a publicity teaser that has been churned over.

The factual detail is abysmal: the top picture is captioned as the loco “being pulled across the North Yorkshire countryside”, except that the other loco is being pulled, which is later conceded as the article tells “Olton Hall was seen pulling a Mallard between Northallerton and York”. Point of order: there is only one loco called Mallard, and as a record breaker in its own right, the piece could have managed to give it more than a passing mention. Unless it’s an advertorial.

But there must be a fact in here somewhere. How about “Before winning the coveted role in Harry Potter, it was on the verge of being broken up and ‘turned into razor blades’”. Well, no: Olton Hall got the Potter job ten years ago, but left the scrapyard twenty years before that. What, then, of “More than 200 locomotive [sic] have ended up as ‘engine corpses’ assigned to the scrap yard”?

Well, BR scrapped not 200, but several thousand steam locos in the last decade of steam traction. Maybe the number was arrived at by counting those that had been rescued from Woodham’s yard in Barry over the years (Olton Hall was one of these). And the Mail even gets the date the loco was built wrong – by just four years, mind.

But what of the assertion that Olton Hall may be facing retirement? It’s news to the railway preservation community: the loco is certified to run on the national network until 2014, and its boiler has a “ticket” until 2017. This suggests that the source of the Mail article is indeed a publicity teaser, and Olton Hall will stop over at York’s National Railway Museum briefly before the announcement of more “Hogwarts Express” tours.

Those tours will, of course, be priced accordingly, with Potter fans flocking to buy – or to pester parents to stump up the cash. The Mail may not have been paid for this apparent advertorial, but it helps to fill some column inches. Pity about the quality, though.

The Unclear Motive Of Louise Mensch

Among all the boredom yesterday afternoon as the Murdochs were interrogated before the Commons culture committee was the surprising and flagrantly dishonest intervention of one Louise Mensch. Who she? Well, Ms M is Tory MP for Corby, having won the seat from Labour incumbent Phil Hope last year. And she writes so-called “chick lit” fiction.

She is also one of the five MPs to have been quoted by the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines, who styles himself Guido Fawkes, and has falsely tried to pin phone hacking on the appalling Piers “Morgan” Moron, while the latter was editor of the Daily Mirror. But as I pointed out recently, the story that Staines homed in on, the Sven’n’Ulrika affair, was gifted to the Mirror as a spoiler.

Ms Mensch asserted during the hearings – twice, once during the Murdochs’ questioning and again during the session with Rebekah Brooks – that Moron had “boasted that using that ‘little trick’ [entering a default PIN code when a phone went to voicemail] had enabled him to win scoop of the year on a story about Sven-Goran Eriksson”. This “boast” was supposedly in Moron’s book The Insider.

There is only one problem with this assertion: Moron didn’t make it. This may be because, as I pointed out, the paper that hacked Ulrika Jonsson’s voicemail – and the one she is taking to court over hacking – was the Screws, and not the Mirror. So, for once in his life, the host of the all-new Percy Moron Show was able to claim the moral high ground.

And so it was that Louise Mensch then appeared before CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who played the clip of her telling her newly minted whopper, but found Corby’s representative in Parliament claiming privilege and declining to repeat it outside. Blitzer then had the great Moron himself on, and Percy was clearly not pleased. And, as I’ve pointed out, despite my deep dislike of Moron, this time he is right and Louise is wrong.

So why did she do it? Already, the Mensch Twitter feed has attempted to justify the smear by showing how Moron left the Mirror, but that doesn’t cause her whopper to prove true. There are two possible explanations: either it’s a shameless abuse of Parliamentary privilege to provide a publicity stunt, or she’s taken the Staines story as fact without checking it first. If I were part of her electorate, neither would impress.

Or maybe I missed something. More on this sideshow later.