How the Daily Mail invented Britain's bungling-est spy-agency


Adam Curtis's latest piece for the BBC starts out as a strange history of the role that the Daily Mail had in the formation of the British MI5 spy-agency, but then veers into an amazing history of MI5 brutal, awful, terrible record of incompetence, foolishness, self-sabotage, and waste. It turns out that the MI5 owes its origins to a German spy-scare the Mail whipped up 1910 by publishing a serialized novel about a fictional German invasion of England (the route of the invasion was tailored to pass through towns with large populations of Mail subscribers). This led to thousands of impressionable Mail readers writing in, saying they'd seen German spies out and about, and they demanded that Parliament Do Something. And so, MI5 was born.

But as I said, this is just the start of the story. Following on from its weird origin, MI5 spent generations cocking up, framing people, missing double-agents in their ranks, and generally wasting tons of money on paranoid losers who never caught a spy. Curtis is brutal in documenting the depth of MI5's failures, from its storied roundup of a "German spy ring" in 1914 (decades later, it emerged that none of the 21 "spies" were actually spies) to its failure to spot the incipient demise of the Soviet Union, to its hilariously evil false espionage accusations against 33 Iraqi students in 1991, none of whom were spies.

Curtis builds up a picture of spooks as neither evil masterminds nor brave sleuths, but as banal incompetents. As John Le Carre said of his own service in the spy-world: "the reality was the mediocrity. Ex-colonial policemen mingling with failed academics, failed lawyers, failed missionaries and failed debutantes gave our canteen the amorphous quality of an Old School outing on the Orient express. Everyone seemed to smell of failure."

Read the rest

Arms folded: a study in local reportage


Local People, Arms Crossed: exactly what it sounds like. A Tumblr full of hometown heroes, posed by unimaginative newsies with their arms crossed for extra competence. (via Waxy)

Rumor: Koch Brothers to buy 8 major newspapers, including LA Times


The Koch Brothers -- billionaire ultra-conservative puppet-masters and Tea Party funders -- are rumored to be in talks to buy eight newspapers, including the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant from the Tribune company, which is emerging from bankruptcy protection. Half of the LA Times's newsroom has threatened to quit if the Kochs take over.

One thing sure to happen if the Koch brothers take over the paper is a conservative agenda on the editorial page. As other newspapers have cut back on editorials and endorsements, the Times is now often the only LA news outlet that issues endorsements on political candidates and on ballot measures and initiatives. This is particularly crucial in California, where even the most educated voter is left clueless and confused -- or worse, tricked -- after reading the state propositions put on the ballot by Californians who simply gathered enough signatures to push a private agenda.

If the Times' editorial page is filled with the Koch brothers' libertarian opinions, other journalists in LA will need to step up and voice opposing views.

If Koch Brothers Buy LA Times, Half of Staff May Quit (VIDEO) [Kathleen Miles/HuffPo]

(via Reddit)

(Image: LA Times, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 24293932@N00's photostream)

Issuing an apology on behalf of the New York Post

Andy writes, "As you guys know, the New York Post made some pretty terrible editorial decisions following the Boston Marathon attacks, including putting two innocent kids on the cover. Someone wrote a fake letter of apology from the paper's editor and inserted it into a bunch of papers around NYC, and ANIMAL made a video about it. Take a look!"

The Apology the New York Post Should Have Issued - ANIMAL (Thanks, Andy!)

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Act now to stop the UK Leveson press-regulations from applying to blogs and individuals online!

I've written here before that the impending UK press-regulation rules coming in as a result of the Leveson report will inadvertently end up treating bloggers and other everyday Internet users as though they were newspapers, exposing them to the threat of arbitration proceedings where they will have to pay the legal costs of people who want to silence them, and be subject to "exemplary damages" -- enormous statutory fines that grossly exceed any actual harm caused.

Now the Open Rights Group has started a campaign to warn party leaders about this in the three days we have left before Leveson becomes law. We need your help now, or bloggers and the open Internet will become collateral damage in the campaign to control Britain's awful tabloids.

Jim from ORG writes, "The Leveson regulations are being applied to UK websites -- in ways that could catch more or less anyone who publishes a blog. Ordinary bloggers could be threatened with exemplary damages and costs. If this happens, small website publishers will face terrible risks, or burdensome regulation -- and many may simply stop publishing."

Cameron, stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill (Thanks, Jim!)

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory board)

UK press-regulation defines "press" so broadly as to include tweeters, Facebook users, bloggers


UK regulations may soon regulate all tweeters, bloggers, and other people who post on the Internet as part of a new system of press regulation.

Today in London, Parliament is the in throes of a closed-door horse-trading exercise over "Leveson" -- that is, the Leveson Inquiry in to the bad behavior of the British press, whose tabloids got caught illegally spying on people (from MPs and Lords down to grieving parents of murdered children), bribing cops high and low, and otherwise engaging in shenanigans that were pretty awful. Strangely, although all of these things were already illegal (but were not vigorously investigated by cops and politicos who were beholden to the press for lucrative "columns," gifts, and favourable coverage), the English political establishment has decided that the real problem is that the press isn't regulated enough.

The Tories want the press regulated without a specific law -- they favour an obscure instrument called a Royal Charter. Labour and the LibDems want a press-regulating law. All of the coverage of this issue today is about the difference between these two options. What neither of them are talking about is Schedule 4, which establishes that the new rules will cover "a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)" where publication "takes place in the United Kingdom" and relates to "news or information about public affairs" or "opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs."

In a nutshell, then: if you press a button labelled "publish" or "submit" or "tweet" while in the UK, these rules as written will treat you as a newspaper proprietor, and make you vulnerable to an arbitration procedure where the complainer pays nothing, but you have to pay to defend yourself, and that will potentially have the power to fine you, force you to censor your posts, and force you to print "corrections" and "apologies" in a manner that the regulator will get to specify.

As Alec Muffett writes, "anyone who says 'Yes, but this is all about 'smoke filled rooms' and controlling Murdoch, they’d never do it to bloggers' has no memory of any previous overreach of powers by the state, police or other regulators."

UK Bloggers & Tweeters: Be aware that the Royal Charter re: #Leveson is also aimed at regulating *you* (Thanks, Hal!)

National Post wants to copyright article titles

Canada's National Post is trying to convince a court that article titles should be copyrightable, overturning centuries of law and practice. Well, that's dumb. (Thanks, Chris!) Cory

Canada's National Post pretends fair dealing doesn't exist, presents you with bill to copy a single word


Michael Geist sez, "If someone wants to post a quote from Selley or anything else written by the National Post, they are now presented with pop-up box seeking a licence that starts at $150 for the Internet posting of 100 words with an extra fee of 50 cents for each additional word (the price is cut in half for non-profits). For example, in yesterday's Full Pundit, Selley quotes John Graham in the Globe on the death of Chavez:"

"Illiteracy has all but disappeared. Education and free health care are almost universally available. Improving the quality of life for millions at the bottom levels of society is no small achievement. He also imparted to these millions a sense of dignity about themselves and pride in their leader's often bombastic rhetoric."

"If you try to highlight the text to cut and paste it, you are presented with a pop-up request to purchase a licence if you plan to post the article to a website, intranet or a blog. The fee would be $150. In other words, the National Post is seeking payment for text in an article that was itself copied from the Globe. Of course, it is not just Selley's work as many articles quote from other articles or sources (for example, this Post article on Taylor Swift is primarily quotes from Vanity Fair. If you highlight a chunk of text, the licence message pops up).

"None of this requires a licence or payment. In fact, the amount of copying is often so insubstantial that a fair dealing analysis is not even needed. Last year, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that several paragraphs from a National Post column by Jonathan Kay posted to an Internet chat site did not constitute copying a substantial part of the work. If there was a fair dealing analysis, there is no doubt that copying a hundred words out of an article would easily meet the fair dealing standard. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that copying full articles in some circumstances may be permitted."

Forget Fair Dealing: National Post Seeks $150 To License Short Excerpts (Thanks, Michael!)

Globe and Mail runs loony screed against "hackers", Aaron Swartz, logic

Cory wrote on Monday about Ahmed Al-Kabaz, the Dawson College Comp Sci student who found a massive bug on his school's website that left total data on thousands of students vulnerable to an easy hack. Ahmed reported the bug to Dawson's administrators and later checked to see if it had been closed. He was then expelled. The story outraged Canadians, disgraced Dawson College and won Ahmed some job offers. Yesterday, the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, Canada's "newspaper of record", published this contrary view:

"When did it become wrong to punish hackers?"

The piece not only sides with Dawson College on Ahmed's expulsion, it also takes the opportunity to state the Globe's support for Carmen Ortiz's prosecution of Aaron Swartz. And it goes on. In five galling paragraphs, the Globe and Mail has declared its opposition to Internet freedom fighters, copyright reformists, privacy activists, transparency campaigners, and hackers of any stripe.

Read it and I think you'll agree that it's a stunningly ignorant piece of writing. A proud declaration of ignorance. An ignorance manifesto.

It's beneath contempt and consideration, save for the fact that it was published by the most influential newspaper in Canada. So it must be dealt with. Where to begin?

Read the rest

How the NY Daily News covered Stonewall

The Stonewall Riots kicked off on June 28, 1969, and marked a turning-point in the gay rights movement. Today, they're remembered as a kind of shot heard round the world, but at the time, the coverage was a lot less sympathetic. Here's a mirror of "Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad," a story by Jerry Lisker that ran in the New York Daily News on July 6, 1969.

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad (via Making Light)

(Image: New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons)

How the vile Daily Mail handles Creative Commons licenses


That's so messed up, it's not even wrong.

Newspapers demand to be paid if you link to them

McGarr Solicitors of Dublin reports on local newspapers' bizarre demand to be paid if you direct people to read their websites. To be completely clear about it, is isn't about fair use, fair dealing, excerpts, headlines or any of that. It's about links.

"This is not a joke. ... This year the Irish newspaper industry asserted, first tentatively and then without any equivocation, that links -just bare links like this one- belonged to them. They said that they had the right to be paid to be linked to. They said they had the right to set the rates for those links, as they had set rates in the past for other forms of licensing of their intellectual property. And then they started a campaign to lobby for unauthorised linking to be outlawed."

It's as if the newspaper business was still run by clueless middle-aged white drunks, or something.

Top Pentagon propagandist boasted of running a smear campaign against USA Today

Camille Chidiac, one of the owners of "the Pentagon's top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan" is being sued for stealing company secrets related to waterproofing Iphones, and the lawsuit's filings include documents alleging that Chiciac boasted of running a smear campaign against USA Today:

The online smear campaign began early in 2012 and included fake Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and fan club sites. Chidiac, according to the lawsuit, said he could mount such attacks and the paper "would never know it was him."

The smears ended in late April after Pentagon officials were alerted to it. Chidiac acknowledged his role in creating the websites in May but said he had done so as a private citizen. He promised to sell his stake in the company but has not done so, said Gar Smith, a Leonie spokesman.

Jason Fandrich, an attorney for Chidiac, called the accusations in the lawsuit frivolous and without merit.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Lawsuit: Propaganda firm owner boasted of online smears

Postmortem on the Daily

Writing on Reuters, Felix Salmon has a good postmortem on the demise of the Daily, Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only, $30,000,000 subscription-based newspaper, which folded yesterday. Among other things, he writes about print media's enthusiasm for iPads, and the inability of closed ecosystems to out-iterate the open Web:

When the iPad was first announced, there were lots of dreams about what it could achieve, and how rich its content could be. But in hindsight, it’s notable how many of the dreamers came from the world of print. Web people tended to be much less excited about the iPad than print people were, maybe because they knew they already had something better. The web, for instance, doesn’t need to traffic in discrete “issues” — if you subscribe to the New York Times, you can read any story you like, going back decades. Whereas if you subscribe to a publication on a tablet, you can read only one issue at a time...

Similarly, when the iPad launched, it allowed people to do things they could never do with a print publication: watch videos, say. But at the same time the experience was still inferior to what you could get on the web, which iterates and improves incrementally every day. The iPad then stayed still — the technology behind iPad publications is basically the same as it was two years ago — even as the web, in its manner, predictably got better and better.

I was skeptical of the iPad for this reason from the start:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who'll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of "content" isn't just that they can get it for free, though: it's that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.

The impossibility of tablet-native journalism (via Making Light)

Precisely why the Daily Mail is irredeemable shit

When I first moved to the UK, I thought I understood why people hated the Daily Mail: it's a shitty, sensationalist tabloid, right? What I failed to understand, in my naive, transatlantic way, was just how shitty a tabloid the Fail is. Here, then, is Martin Robbins doing a 20-minute presentation at The Pod Delusion's third birthday bash, explaining in excruciating (and funny) detail why the Mail is an atrocious, vile fester of stinking shit, and why the people who publish it are scum.

Martin Robbins: Why The Daily Mail is Evil (at The Pod Delusion's 3rd birthday do) (via MeFi)