I Guess Being A Thug Is Better Than Being A Child Molester

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70 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    I agree BUT…You know some folks tweeted and re-tweeted took delight, actually enjoyed, seeing someone fall from on high and desired to spread this far and wide to better bring him down. It's a common human desire to see our "betters" or "celebrities" etc. fall from grace. I doubt you could distinguish those tweets from those simply passing it along, maybe you could, but I wouldn't be that much against going after those folks who contributed/aggrivated the fiasco vs simply passing the info along.

  2. Lizard says:

    Wow. The stupid, it burns.

    Certainly, it's good behavior to wait until things are confirmed before you comment on them. Equally certainly, humans are prone to comment without thinking, and we (in the West) tend to internalize the idea that news published by "reputable" organizations has been vetted to some extent, the tinfoil hat brigade notwithstanding. So if I see a story on CNN stating so-and-so sells crack to children and strangles kittens, I will tend to believe it and comment accordingly. If it later turns out to be wrong, well, it's wrong, but my comments, which express my opinion on the news reported, still stand; they are truthful statements about what I think of crack-dealing kitten-stranglers. I may be embarrassed at being very passionate about something that later turns out to be wrong, but that just tells people *I* am an untrustworthy commentator, posting without studying the issue, and they should weigh my opinions accordingly. Only if I go out of my way, after the truth is known, to continue to spread disinformation, would I be possibly crossing the line from opinionated blowhard to libelist. (Is libelist a word?)

  3. Jim Baker says:

    Ken – there are many of us here in the UK that would dearly love a US-style first amendment protecting the right to free speech. As a free speech guy, I agree with your assessment of the UK's awful libel laws.

    What you haven't quite understood is the political dimension to this, and how it relates to the UK's unique media landscape. The BBC is a state-funded organization and controls around 70% of the UK's media output. It receives about USD 6 billion a year from individual licence payers. Each British household has to pay USD 250 a year direct to the government to watch the BBC. You cannot opt out. You go to jail. The BBC has some fine output, but it is a sprawling bureaucracy and has a virulently left-wing agenda.

    The reason the BBC Newsnight program – one of the most left-wing shows in the network – abandoned all attempts at normal journalistic practice was that it was desperate to link in the public's mind the words "paedophilia" "child abuse" and "Tory". They hate the Conservative Party, and particularly the party of the Margaret Thatcher era (Lord McAlpine was a senior figure in that administration) so they didn't check basic facts, didn't check the witness was telling the truth, didn't show the witness a photo of Lord McAlpine to prove it was him.

    A newspaper like the New York Times or a station like MSNBC would never have done this in a million years.

    The others that gleefully jumped on the Twitter bandwagon were the likes of Alan Davies (left wing comedian), George Monbiot (left wing commentator) and others. None of them stopped to think "this is a serious allegation, best not hit the keyboard" because they had a political agenda.

    In US terms, it's like NPR (but with the circulation of CNN/Fox/ABC/NBC/CBS combined) putting a completely false report on their show accusing one of Ronald Reagan's aides of being a paedophile, and then Michael Moore, Bill Maher and Nancy Pelosi sending on the rumor to millions of people.

    I'm pretty sure if you had been labeled a paedophile, you might want to go after the people that had spread the malicious rumor.

  4. Ken says:

    Jim: are you then comfortable with the proposition that if you post a link to a BBC story, or retweet someone who does, or reference a BBC story obliquely, you are liable if the BBC was wrong?

  5. Damon says:

    @Lizard,
    Thanks for articulating essentially my position more clearly that I did. I'd also add, that I'm talking about doing something other than flowing info out and not commenting. I'm talking about, oh say, working to have the guy fired, organizing a mob to protest him everytime he leaves his house, posting personal info/address/phone numbers publicaly and encouraging folks to go see him, etc. is probably on my list of too far–damn might be actionalble….

  6. Lizard says:

    "The others that gleefully jumped on the Twitter bandwagon were the likes of Alan Davies (left wing comedian), George Monbiot (left wing commentator) and others. None of them stopped to think "this is a serious allegation, best not hit the keyboard" because they had a political agenda."

    While not offering my opinion on the specific people, due to my pure ignorance about the political situation in the UK, it is the function of comedians everywhere to jump on anything that might be funny, especially things that mock the powerful (even when the comedians are among the powerful). Rare, indeed, is the comedian who will pass up a chance to jump on an easy target just because the facts aren't in; it really isn't their job, and it's not in their psychology. Assuming these comedians are the UK equivalents of Colbert or Stewart, they have to crank out material on a daily basis, and they are expected to be making jokes in the evening about whatever happened in the morning.

    To my mind, honestly stating what someone else has stated ("CNN said that so-and-so is a pedophile" is true, even if CNN is wrong; it is TRUE that this is what they SAID) , when a "reasonable man" would assume it's true (it's coming from a news source generally considered reliable and biased only in how it frames facts, not on the facts themselves), isn't criminal, even if the motives are pure schadenfreude. If CNN says "So-and-so is a pedophile", and I post on my FB page, "Hey, check this out! So-and-so is a pedophile!", with a link to the CNN article, I've made a factual statement about what CNN is saying, not a lie about the person CNN is reporting on. I think I have some personal responsibility, if the truth comes out, to post, "Ah well, it was too good to be true. CNN is retracting the story.", but this isn't a legal obligation; it's more a test of my character.

    A decent case can be made the original report showed, I believe the legal phrase is, "reckless disregard for the truth", is what you're saying is true. That's fine. I don't think anyone here is arguing that news media, etc, should be able to engage in actual deceit (or irresponsibility so great it is clearly motivated by malice). However, to hold the audience, pundits, etc, who comment on the false report while they reasonably believed it to be true as responsible for spreading libel is ridiculous. To say that Joe Sixpack should conduct his own investigation prior to making comments on what he heard on the news pretty much eliminates free speech; if I feared jail every time I ranted about some report on the news because there was always a possibility, however slight, it was wrong, I'd be disinclined to talk at all. The journalists ought to be legally and morally held accountable, but not the masses, unless it can be shown someone knew they were repeating false information at the point at which they repeated it.

  7. Jim, your whining about the BBC bias says more about your political sympathies than it does about the whole affair. It's also irrelevant bullcrap. Ken's point stands. Lord McAlpine is behaving like an entitled bully. He and his legal advisors have also not heard of the Sreisand Effect, or if they have, they are hubristic enough to believe that it does not apply to them.

  8. Oomph says:

    "Each British household has to pay USD 250 a year direct to the government to watch the BBC. You cannot opt out. You go to jail." – Well, that's not really true. But hey, why worry about facts when you're ranting about liberal bias?

  9. frymaster says:

    "Each British household has to pay USD 250 a year direct to the government to watch the BBC. You cannot opt out."

    Not true, if you don't use a TV for receiving TV broadcasts you don't have to pay.

  10. different Jess says:

    The UNCHR should create a new "right to link", whereby no human would ever be held responsible for the mere act of linking or otherwise referring to possibly objectionable content.

  11. Sean Keeney says:

    Jim Baker – that's utter cock.

    The BBC doesn't have a left-wing agenda. I know people who work there, and they get equal amounts of bitching from the left and right wings about bias. To me, that says they're doing their job correctly.

    Also – the bit about everybody needing to pay the license fee is rubbish, despite what the letters from Capita may insinuate.

    To the readers from the rest of the world – please hold Jim's views with the contempt they deserve. There's plenty wrong with the BBC, but I forget about it each time I travel abroad and see the horrendous TV everybody else has to put up with.

    Ta.

  12. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    I can't say I'm surprised. With rare exceptions, I have always found it safe to assume that anyone who has inherited a title of aristocracy (as opposed to, say, been granted one) is a thug at heart, and therefore necessarily an entitled thug.

  13. Grifter says:

    @Lizard:

    At the risk of being a smartass, I think whether you post that accusations of pedophilia "[were] too good to be true" is also a test of character…

    As to the general question: Granted, the UK is a den of iniquity as regards to free speech/libel, but I'm curious how much responsibility a person generally has for speech if they made an honest (if egregious) mistake…such as "I just heard Blank's a kiddie toucher", sans link; in general can the person just post "oh, wait, no they aren't, stupid BBC not vetting themselves properly"? Do they have a legal obligation to do even that?

  14. Lizard says:

    @Grifter: Oh, I know my own character. I'm a petty, mean-spirited, vicious, bitter, creature who shamelessly delights when those I disagree with are found to be as evil as I might imagine they are. I just try to avoid conscious deceit, of self or others. If the raw truth doesn't support my views, then, how can I justify holding them?

  15. mojo says:

    Twitter is not limited to the UK – what about the rest of the world? Good luck enforcing your judgement there, m'lud.

  16. Jim Baker says:

    @ken – in response to your question, no, I would not be comfortable with that. But it depends on what is being said. You’re presenting your free speech argument in very stark terms – surely it’s more nuanced, and there must be some limit to what you can say?

    With Lord McAlpine, you had an old man who did nothing wrong his whole life. He is then accused by the BBC, not some ragtag blog, but the state-backed voice of the establishment that wields enormous influence (there is no equivalent tin US media terms) of being a pedophile.

    So he goes after the BBC and has now settled for USD 250K. He may go after the “little guys” on twitter, and if he does they will have to make a five pounds (less than 10 dollars) donation to charity. I’m not mad on that idea. That’s a step too far I think, and I suspect the Lord and his advisors may stop short of that. What they’re more likely to do is go after the more high-profile politicians and celebrities, but even then, it will just be an apology and 10 dollars.

    There was a few partisan bloggers who went in to overdrive like this guy http://blog.scrapperduncan.com/ and they may get a letter from McAlpine’s people.

    The point I’m making is not about media bias in a polarized US private sector context where you have large partisan media companies going at each other. There is an honesty and transparency to that – you know where you stand when you listen to Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly.

    It’s about a state-run media organization that derives almost all its income from the people (it does no advertising in the UK), and is legally obliged to act in neutral and impartial fashion. It then goes after a public figure without any evidence because of his political allegiances. The BBC would not have run the McAlpine story had the target been a politician from the Labour Party (the party for which 99% of the BBC votes).

    This would never have happened in the United States. Crudely speaking, you can pretty much say and print what you want in the UK media, but you will get sued if what you said was wrong (and the defendant has got deep pockets and can afford good lawyers). In the US the journalistic standards are much higher. So you don’t get these speculative journalistic forays without some serious proof.

    @shevlin The Streisand Effect? Are you serious? Some photographers took picture of her home and she said her privacy was invaded. McAlpine was wrongly accused of raping small girls and boys. For the record, I’m a “liberal”. But this was an abuse of state power. It’s not irrelevant at all, because the people who re-tweeted the allegations and wrote blogs about it and spread the rumor did so because it carried the weight and authority of the BBC, the respected state media group. That’s the point. They would not have done so had it been a less reputable media organization. The BBC caused the whole thing because it hates Margaret Thatcher and anyone associated with her.

    You guys are the US legal experts. Tell me what would happen in this scenario. The federal government says that NPR will become the state media organization as of next week. Every household in the U.S has to pay 250 dollars a year to NPR. So that’s 250 million households multiplied by 250 dollars – around 60 billion dollars. As a result of that budget, it then grows to 70% of the US media market and becomes the establishment voice. Let’s say it hires predominantly Republicans, and adopts a conservative viewpoint. On NPR’s respected nightly political show, they run a false accusation that a senior aide in the Bill Clinton administration was a serial child abuser and pedophile. Various right wing commentators and senators and journalists then write blogs and do tweets egging on the story. Is the accused – who is innocent – entitled under the US system to go after those who were circulating the allegations?

    And to those pedants arguing the toss about the TV License law: give me a break. 95% of households in the UK have to pay the TV License. The only exemptions are those who do not have a device to play TV programmes – a computer, TV, VCR, DVD player, or mobile phone. Do you know anyone without any one of those things? And those over 75. Even the blind have to pay it – although they get a discount!

  17. Sean Keeney says:

    Jim – I don't pay the license fee. Legally.

    And, yet again, you twist the truth – Lord McAlpine is asking for an undesignated amount to charity, but he *also* is claiming fees for the lawyers. Do me a favour, add up ? + ? and tell me what he's after?

    Yet again, I tell you I know people at the BBC, and each new brand of government brings people complaining about bias there. Do yourself a favour – do a FOIA request and get the numbers involved, then come back and tell me there is left-wing bias. Before you end up looking like a bigger moron.

    Ta.

  18. Oomph says:

    "The only exemptions are those who do not have a device to play TV programmes – a computer, TV, VCR, DVD player, or mobile phone." – That's essentially a lie. Owning a computer does not require that you pay the licence fee. Owning a VCR does not require that you pay the licence fee. Owning a DVD player does not require that you pay the licence fee. Owning a mobile phone does not require that you pay the licence fee. Owning a TV does not require that you pay the licence fee, however – on rare occasions – you may experience a slight pain in the ass sensation if you have to argue about the fact that the TV can not receive live broadcasts because it is not connected to an aerial.

    And back to your original claim that jail will result if you don't pay the licence fee. That is, again not really true, since jail would only result if you didn't pay the fine.

  19. Sean Keeney says:

    Apologies for the O/T bitching about the license fee. I've been proud to be from a country that has something like the BBC.

    That's 40 years – in which time the Tories have been in power, as have Labour, and the complaints are the same from either side.

    *cough*

    as you were…

  20. Jim Baker says:

    @sean – you don't think the BBC has a bias? Well, you're either deluded or an idiot. The bias is much more subtle than the US media polarized talking heads, as the BBC is an estbalishment organization, not a commerical organization.

    But it clearly has a an urban, liberal, metropolitan bias. I'm an urban liberal myself so I can see it clearly enough, but don't pretend it isn't biased. The BBC is rapidly pro-EU, despite about 60-70% of the British population saying they want to leave the EU. It's pro Palestine, anti Israel. Anti business. It's hideously anti-American. It projects a particular view of the world, which is representive of an upper middle classs liberal London elite.

    Numerous senior BBC presenters such as Peter Sissons, Michael Buerk and Andrew Marr have said the same thing publicly (look it up.). Even the former DG, Mark Thompson, who now runs the New York Times, was interviewed recwently in which he said thee BBC was "hideously left wing". Despite what you think, I don't have a politcal agenda. I voted Labour in four general elections. And I would happily pay for the BBC because I like the Today programme, Newsnight, and the World Service.

    But don't force me and 60 million others to pay 3.5 billion pounds a year to a government-run media organization, and face jail if I don't pay it. If the BBC is that good, it can survive as a silmmed down commerical entity with a small state subsidy, not by taxing the poor.

  21. Sean Keeney says:

    Come on then Jim, where's the proof of the left-wing bias? Considering that I don't like the E.U either.

    You might also need schooling in American politics too, considering both 'sides' in America are completely to the right of either main party in the U.K, hence Mr Thompson's remarks.

    And, yet again, you're not forced to pay – despite what Capita, or you, say. Trust me I know all about them – I used to work in their Bristol office, they're akin to the private parking lot sending official looking letters to get you to pay up.

    When it comes down to it I would rather have a BBC than the rest of the privately funded crap. At their best they are a joy. The problem with the BBC is that it has to be everything to everybody, so any slight indiscretion becomes a murder investigation. Go abroad, anywhere, and see the cack they have to watch then tell me the BBC for all its faults isn't worth paying for. Not that I do.

  22. Jim Baker says:

    @sean – right, so you love the BBC so much, but you won't pay for it, and you criticise me for criticing the BBC. On ther other hand, I also like the BBC, but I don't like being forced by the state to pay for it. Yet if it wasn't state subsidized, I would still happily pay for it. Would you?

  23. Sean Keeney says:

    I don't pay for it because I don't have a TV – myself and my girlfriend split up 4 months ago, so I moved back into my own flat that i'm still renovating.

    I do watch BBC content on catchup – which is legal, before you start.

    Next?

  24. Martin Parker says:

    Without wishing to sideline Ken's main point, I'd like to join Sean in defending the BBC. What people in the US (and I'm speaking as a Brit who lived in NY for five years) don't get is the affection and respect that most people in the UK have for the Beeb. Funded through the government, it has always fought to maintain its status outside of governmental control, making it a uniquely powerful and authoritative voice within and outside the UK. In terms of public feeling for it, there is no equivalent in the US – PBS comes closest, but it has a far softer profile than that of the Beeb. As noted above, pretty much every government – right or left – has looked on it as a real or potential thorn in its side, and from time to time tries to bring it to heel. Jim's nitwit arguments are just another iteration of standard right wing moans about perceived bias within the organisation. Sadly, the BBC has shot itself in the foot big-time with McAlpine, and will now have a real struggle to keep itself free of government interference.

    On another point, and with no wish to slight the honorable men and women working in Ken's field, it strikes me that McAlpine's personal response has been quite moderate, compared with what he could have launched in the (ridiculous) UK legal system. The twitter-chase smacks of lawyers (albeit working for a 70 year old, somewhat frail gent) sniffing a bonanza to me…

  25. different Jess says:

    I've never been to the UK but I've enjoyed the BBC in various other countries, including while in Japan when my only other English-language option was Fox News. (To my consternation, other primarily-English speakers had the same menu, and they delighted in complaining about the American Idiot Channel, which was taken to somehow represent me and the USA both. I guess I'm lucky we didn't get Headline News.) So, I'm something of a fan of the BBC.

    That said, I'm a bit suspicious of the pack of stalwart defenders of the status quo who have gathered to excoriate Jim Baker for his BBC heresy. Does Popehat really have so many British fans that the tiny subset of Britons who care at all about how accurately their state television programmer is portrayed, would include four different commenters commenting nine times in three hours? What is that smell? Oh right I recognize that odou̶r it's bullshit. Was this linked on a BBC employee message board or something? When you're advocating for your employer here you should be honest enough to say so.

    That said of course the UK should be more like the USA (just as the USA should be more like the ideal of the USA) so that its citizens might enjoy real freedom of speech. Every court that stands in judgment of a hypertext link, in addition to all the myriad other forms of speech that are not free in the UK, threatens the internet in a small way.

  26. Sean Keeney says:

    Jess – I can hand on heart say that I have no connection with the BBC than having a couple of people I know work there. One is a guy who worked on the graphics for the nature programs, and another is an ex girlfriend who worked on the moderation of their bulletin boards.

    I have never worked there myself, but I still love the fact the BBC exists. They occasionally piss me off, but i'd rather have the BBC than no BBC.

    I suppose it's anologous to PBS in the US? Or maybe it's the fact that people here are just proud of it – just as we are proud of our National Health Service, for all its faults.

  27. Martin Parker says:

    @ different Jess: Not working for the BBC, don't know anyone who does. I just think it's a great institution – like our National Health Service – that is often targeted by know-nothing dimwits who are unaware of the alternatives (or lack thereof) available elsewhere in the world. But, yes, we are all of us in the UK trying to be as much like the US as is possible. Please be patient with us…

  28. Sean Keeney says:

    Actually – in the interests of full disclosure – I have 2 brothers who work for a company that provide the fire & security for Broadcasting House, or used to. They did however tell me that Chris Moyles was a nice bloke, when I thought he was a massive twat, which upset me.

    Anyways, as you were… (again…)

  29. Martin Parker says:

    Ha! Sean's comment above appeared after I'd loaded mine in, and we both cite the NHS as analogous. Maybe we're both getting the same instructions – or maybe we should just get a room…

  30. Sean Keeney says:

    Martin – oh dear, we're obviously a conspiracy.

    In the interests of disclosure (again), I came here for the Oatmeal faff, and stayed for the lulz :)

  31. Grifter says:

    @Jim Baker:

    You've spent an awful amount of time attacking the BBC, but the substance of this post was included that the BBC was punished and "if (as the stories linked above suggest) it was reckless in its reporting, that's a just result". I think we all agree that if the BBC was reckless, there should be consequences.

    But there is no ethically legitimate grounds to go after those who, in good faith, relied on the BBC reporting to make comments. Even if they already disliked this Lord, and this just fed into their previous dislike. Whether it's 5 pounds (wish I knew the shortcut for the pounds symbol…do you guys have it above your 4 like we have our $?) or 500 pounds.

  32. Martin Parker says:

    @ Grifter – We have a dollar sign above our 4, like you, and a pound sign above our 3, which you don't, right? As I said, we are trying our best to become more like you…

  33. Oomph says:

    @different Jess – I've followed Popehat since the Funnyjunk debacle. I dislike it when people state falsehoods as truths. Methinks your nose is out of whack.

  34. Grifter says:

    Above 3 is #, which we sometimes call "pound", but isn't pound L-with-a-slash

  35. Jim Baker says:

    What you have to understand is that Britain is in terminal decline.

    So the British are incredibly defensive about what little they have left which is world class.

    The British do not take kindly to outsiders criticising the BBC, because they feel it gives them an air of intellectual superiorty.

    In otehr words: "We may not run the world any more but we have the BBC"

    It's a bit like you can shout at your own kids, that's OK, but not for someone else to shout at them, even if they're being naughty.

    You will never see or hear a discussion about the BBC without someone syaing "I'm so proud of it – look at what they have in America, Russia, Italy etc.. – that's what we would have if it wasn't government run"

    As if your average British person has a clue what TV they have in other countries.

    It's a toxic mixture of defensivess, delusion, patriotism, and ignorance.

    US televison is superior in many ways to British TV. There's a lot more of everything in the U.S – a lot more shit but a lot more good stuff.

    One example: the BBC is an organization with almost USD 10 bn of revenue and 23,000 employees. It doesn't even have a business channel. It has nothing to rival Bloomberg, CNBC.

    That's because the BBC is like a massive public sector trade union which hates the private sector.

    They live in terror at the thought that a government will come along and scrutinize them, force them to actually make some money, slim down and run it more like a business.

    I like the BBC – I listen daily to Today, PM, World at One, Newsnight. When I'm in a hotel overseas, I will often watch BBC World. The World Service is invaluable. BBC Monitoring is excvellent.

    But it doesn't deserve billions of public funds each year to make so much dross.

    It breaks hardly any scoops. For an organization of such size, it's shocking how little real news they break.

    And when they do have a scoop, they f==k it up.

  36. Sean Keeney says:

    Jim – answer the questions I asked, or stop talking toss. Ta.

  37. decora says:

    Popehat, while I understand your viewpoint, and would probably agree, there is one little problem. I followed the case from the beginning, the day BBC broadcast. I slowly watched as every last corner of the internet that had anything to do with McAlpine was spammed by conspiracy wackjobs calling him a paedophile, and accusing him of being linked to satanic abuse rituals and all sorts of nonsense.

    I want you to imagine for a moment that someone did this to you, that your blog was hit by thousands of comments about how you are a paedophile, how you have a bunch of journalists camped out on your lawn, and your neighbors ask why, and then the story spreads, "oh yeah, someone called him a pedophile.".

    McAlpine might be a rich Tory, a conservative, a Thatcherite, whatever, but he is also just a guy. I mean, he is just a guy. As much as I find libel law to be ridiculous, I also find the twitterati who perpetrated this social media mob attack to be not only ridiculous, but actually dangerous.

    Maybe it is because I am from the Southern US, but these careless gossip mongers are the type of people who used to start lynchings and riots, i.e. they incited murder. McAlpine might not be using the best strategy here legally, but he has to do something.

  38. different Jess says:

    Apologies to that portion of Popehat contributors and fans who don't care about the BBC, but I'm taking this opportunity to address a point that has puzzled me. In the USA we have giant media conglomerates that span numerous brands in TV, radio, print, etc. This is seen as a bad thing (justifiably I think, although generally the remedies are worse) because of the resulting concentration of power and viewpoint. We'd like a more perfectly neoclassical media market. But the UK's state-subsidized and vastly greater media concentration is apparently not a problem? How does that work? Is there an agency like the FCC charged with ensuring the BBC caters to every region, ethnicity, class, and political party? I don't imply that the FCC does a good job at this or anything else, but I do wonder if this question comes up in the UK?

    ps. Oomph: I don't care one way or the other, but "falsehood" is a pretty smelly word too. Isn't the situation a bit more nuanced than that? Could a UK resident be subject to this fee even if she really wanted to avoid it, simply by hooking up her TV or filling out a form incorrectly? Are there some residents who accept the existence of the fee, but feel it should be lower? Do they have any options? If you really wanted to inform us (although again, we don't care), you could describe those situations rather than just lowering the boom with "liar!" "falsehood!" "truth!" etc. It may be an American mental defect, instilled by too many on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand commercial news reports, but when we're presented with two starkly opposed narratives, the way to convince us is to offer a compromise between them.

  39. Capt Dingleberry says:

    @ Jim Baker:

    You're having quite a hard-on for the Beeb, haven't you? The "left-wing" bias surely showed when Mssgr. Blair & Labour were given no quarter by the BBC over Iraq, PPI's and other shoddy policies.
    Before slating the BBC as a bureaucratic behemoth you may want to look around that coastal fringe of yours. Germany's public broadcasters have a budget almost three times that of the BBC with staff numbers to match but without the global coverage and production values on par with clusters of marinated raccoon droppings. Coincidently, in Germany you do have to pay license fee for owning a computer, a car radio or any device that 'can' receive signals. And in 2013 they introduce a flat household fee which you have to pay regardless of devices present that can receive signals or not. Now, that is drastic and intrusive and frigging OTT.

    As has been pointed out by others already, in the UK I don't own a TV therefore I don't pay license fee even though I watch BBC content on the computer using the iPlayer. All perfectly legal. Next time, you may want to 'check' your version of 'facts' before you torture your keyboard.

    You call McAlpine "an old man that has never done anything wrong". Well, having been a minister in Thatchers cabinet alone would make him a rong 'un in many parts of the country. And given the above discussed bully-boy tactics he has employed would suggest this assessment not to be far of the mark.

  40. AlphaCentauri says:

    I agree that some of those tweets couldn't be considered libelous and should never have been part of any legal action.

    On the other hand, the action in general didn't seem like entitled bullying to me. My interpretation of Lord McAlpine's decision to go after tweeters that spread the story is that he is tilting against the windmills of internet false rumors. By identifying people and making them pay an insignificant amount of money, he makes the point that one should not believe everything that gets forwarded in an email or retweeted, and that one is ethically responsible for ones own part in spreading such rumors. A lot of people repeat every vile rumor they hear, and if you send them to snopes.com for the real story, they continue to forward such emails, just not to you. I'd love to have my email-forwarding, Fox-News-watching cousins get a wake up call like that.

    As far as repeating stories like this in the US, the news media is generally very careful to use the word "alleged" until a jury has reached a verdict, even if the evidence of a crime seems overwhelming. The public doesn't always pay attention to that one word, though.

  41. Oomph says:

    @different Jess Yes, I could have said more.
    Jim said: "Each British household has to pay USD 250 a year direct to the government to watch the BBC. You cannot opt out. You go to jail." This is false because: 1) Many households in the UK do not pay the licence fee. 2) A licence is only required to watch or record programmes *as they are being broadcast*. 3) Contravention of the Communications Act 2003 s.363 does not send you to jail, you receive a fine. Failure to pay the *fine* could send you to jail.

    Jim also said: "The only exemptions are those who do not have a device to play TV programmes – a computer, TV, VCR, DVD player, or mobile phone." This is false because a licence is only required to watch or record programmes *as they are being broadcast*. Owning, or using, any of those devices does not prevent you from being exempted unless you are using to watch or record programmes *as they are being broadcast*.

    "If you really wanted to inform us … you could describe those situations" – I could, or I could go and watch TV programmes on my computer. Programmes which I wouldn't even need my TV licence for, because they are not being broadcast live.

  42. I'm completely in favour of the McAlpine *requesting* people who forwarded on the ill-considered news to please apologize and make a small donation as a way of making amends for contributing (unwittingly) to the fiasco. But the idea of *compelling* them to do so under the threat of a lawsuit is abhorrent. It's akin to threatening to sue everyone who discussed the news with their friends down at the pub for slander. On the Internet publication *is* speech. The law needs to make a clear distinction between those who merely pass on information that a reasonable person would find credible, and those who fabricate damaging lies.

  43. Grifter says:

    @AlphaCentauri: I don't think this scenario is the same as those who spread obviously debunked falsehoods; this was a breaking story that was on a legitimate news site. Had someone forwarded it to me, I might have made a comment, since doing my due diligence would show it to be "true", at least until BBC corrected themselves.

  44. EH says:

    The stuff that McAlpine is trying to wring out of the commentariat is entirely the fault of the BBC's bad reporting. This is what the BBC paid McAlpine for, and everybody else down the line should therefore be indemnified from further actions and implications. If the BBC hadn't done what they did, McAlpine wouldn't have any reason to go after them.

  45. Rick H. says:

    Getting unjustly accused of child molestation must be a horrible thing.

    A dignified response would have been for McAlpine to make a public statement reminding those people who unwittingly fueled the rumor mill of their small role in hurting an innocent man. Perhaps solicit an apology, or suggest a charitable donation as penance. That's the "more speech" remedy, and I'm sure he would've gained a lot of public sympathy and perhaps even some moral introspection from the retweeters. Once McAlpine brought the hamhanded agents of the law into it, however, he lost any ethical high ground. A coerced apology is less than meaningless. It's the hallmark of a tyrant.

  46. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    OK, people, Hold. It.

    ALL media is biased. I don't give a good goddamn what the source of funding is, or what their mission statement may claim, any media source will have bias. I press this point because I have been listening to the Right whine about Leftwing bias for forty years, and the Left complain about Rightwing bias any time a media source springs up that doesn't match their prejudices.

    No matter what you do you CANNOT report all the facts of a story or event. It isn't possible. You must necessarily choose those facts you consider relevant (How long was the grass on campus during the Kent State riots? It's a fact about that event, even if nobody across the entire spectrum of opinion cares.). And when you make that choice, your bias affects how you tell the story.

    The notion that it is even POSSIBLE to report unbiased news is simply an example of how bias works.

    The idea, bruited about when PBS was formed, that a government funded news program would be unbiased is so silly that I would consider it quintessentially American if the British hadn't fallen for it with the BBC.

    The best you can hope for is multiple sources of differing bias. I LOVED living in Washington D.C., where I could follow local news in the Washington Post (Bias Left), the Washington Times (Bias Right) and the City Paper (often as not, receiving Radio Venus on their bridgework).

    That the vast majority of the American news media is heavily biased to the Left I attribute to the Right preferring to whine about it instead of buying up newspapers and TV channels. At least I HOPE that's their reason. If they actually believe that unbiased news is possible, there's no hope for them.

  47. Anony Mouse says:

    "Well, having been a minister in Thatchers cabinet alone would make him a rong 'un in many parts of the country. And given the above discussed bully-boy tactics he has employed would suggest this assessment not to be far of the mark."

    That's a dangerously slippery slope you're peering over.

  48. Jim Baker says:

    @dingleberry :

    "You call McAlpine "an old man that has never done anything wrong". Well, having been a minister in Thatchers cabinet alone would make him a rong 'un in many parts of the country. And given the above discussed bully-boy tactics he has employed would suggest this assessment not to be far of the mark."

    At last, we have the truth! The real motive is revealed.

    You are saying because that Mrs thatcher was unpopular in some parts of the country (conveniently forgetting that she was elected with three large majoritoes), it's fair game to accuse one of her associates of child abuse.

    In other words: "We hate Margaret Thatcher, we hate the Conservative Party, so let's do what we can in the BBC to bring them down."

    I can accept that as a public sector organization full of liberal journalists, the BBC will naturally tilt to the left and crank out anti-government messages (particularly when the Tories are in power) from time to time. I don't mind that to a point. But attacking someone's politics is one thing. Even going after them personally to expose hypocrisy if, say, they have had an affair or fiddled their taxes is fair game.

    But you do not falsely accuse someone of being a paedophile, whatever their politics, and use the state media as a political weapon.

    Do you not see how disgusting that is?

    When things like this happen, you wonder why people like me have a go at the BBC.

    How would you view this if Sky TV (the competitor to the BBC) had broadcast the same bullshit allegations about a senior left-wing politician.

    "Oh, it's OK, because lots of people in the England don't like the Labour Party".

    I doubt it. You would be salivating Tom Watson-like about getting one over on Rupert.

  49. V says:

    You are saying because that Mrs thatcher was unpopular in some parts of the country (conveniently forgetting that she was elected with three large majoritoes), it's fair game to accuse one of her associates of child abuse.

    That's not what Capt Dingleberry said and I think you know it. Capt tries to cut your hyperbole of "never done anything wrong" to a more realistic size – he probably did something wrong sometime and, according to Capt, some people think it was during Thatcher's time at the helm – but says nothing about the appropriateness of the recent accusations.
    You in turn heap on the hyperbole and left vs right theories bordering on conspiracy theories.

  50. Stephen Glynn says:

    Just to be accurate, I think the threats of legal action relate to material that appeared before the Newsnight broadcast. Rumours that Newsnight was going to name a prominent figure had been circulating for some days before that and rumours about who it was had started to appear on Twitter.

    It is to those rumours that Sally Bercow's and George Monbiot's tweets refer, not to the BBC programme (which had not been broadcast when they tweeted).

    So I don't think it's correct to say that McAlpine is suing people for repeating and discussing the BBC report. He's suing them — several of them, anyway — for repeating rumours they'd heard on the internet.

    I don't much about libel law in the UK, but just as a matter of common sense, "I was innocently repeating, in good faith, this story that I believed to be true because it had appeared on the BBC" seems a good deal more convincing that "I was innocently repeating, in good faith, this rumour that I believed to be true because I'd heard it from a friend" or "I was innocently repeating, in good faith, this rumour that I believed to be true because I'd seen it on twitter".

    As I say, I don't know what the legal position is, but I would certainly have considerably more sympathy with Sally Bercow and George Monbiot, both of whom should have known better, if they'd have waited to discuss the allegations after they'd been made rather than simply said, "here's this juicy bit of gossip I've heard".

  51. Jim Baker says:

    @V – er, that's exactly what he said. He defended the BBC's actions on the basis that McAlpine was a member of a political party that some people (let's say 30% of the country for arguments sake) disliked. That somehow gave them the right to publish false accusations that he was a paedophile.

    Please answer these two questions: would the BBC have run the piece had it been a senior Labour party politician? Secondly, would you be defending Sky had it run the same false allegations against a left-wing figure?

    There's nothing conspiratorial in this at all. I would have more respect for you if were honest enough to admit that there is a political agenda in some quarters of the BBC's political output. Newsnight is the obvious example. Everyone knows this to be true.

    The problem is that people of a left wing persuasion defend the BBC to the hilt because they are terrified that if it disappeared (which it won't) the savages, which have been hitherto kept under control by the "bien pensant" BBC class, would lurch to some type of Fox News alternative leaving their cherised BBC in tatters.

    Instead, you try to pretend that the BBC is neutral, when everyone knows it's political views are of a particular type. Just go on Twitter and look at any BBC presenters handles. Look at who they follow, who they link to, the tweets they make. Then come back and tell me if they're a representative sample of the voting public.

  52. V says:

    Please answer these two questions: would the BBC have run the piece had it been a senior Labour party politician? Secondly, would you be defending Sky had it run the same false allegations against a left-wing figure?

    In case you intend me to answer these questions:
    I don't know and I'm not not defending the BBC's screw-up so I doubt I'd defend Sky's hypothetical one.
    Either way, this isn't a "they're wrong so he's right" (or the other way around) situation, there is plenty of wrong to criticize, such as going after commenters.

    I would have more respect for you if were honest enough to admit that there is a political agenda in some quarters of the BBC's political output. Newsnight is the obvious example. Everyone knows this to be true.

    Again if intended for me, I don't think I particularly need your respect. I don't know that to be true of Newsnight or the BBC in general. I don't live in the UK.

  53. AlphaCentauri says:

    @Grifter: agreed. But I think the Lord is in an age demographic that often doesn't use computers and thinks the internet is bringing about the end of civilization as we know it. He's in a social demographic that values hiring people to do things for them because they consider manual labor undignified. So it just seems to me we're seeing an old man who considers himself on a crusade for justice, who has set in motion a lot of lawyers who aren't really clear on the big picture, and the result, like the original Crusades, is a lot of thuggishness.

  54. Jess says:

    McAlpine might not be using the best strategy here legally, but he has to do something.

    Using the law as a blunt instrument to do that something is the wrong approach. It sets a very bad precedent. It seems to me the best action he could take is one Ken has recommended before. Have his supporters, family, friends, etc. post tweets and replies to those who spread the falsehoods politely correcting them and thus shaming them into publishing an apology. Some will, some won’t. Those that won’t will be judged by the public accordingly.

  55. Lizard says:

    I really can't find a justification for suing anyone other than the people who originated the lie (or who failed to perform due diligence before introducing it into the ecosystem). I really don't give a damn if Lord Wossname was Minister For Kitten Strangling during the Thatcher Era, or if he was a saint who gave unstrangled kittens to orphans, which he then found good homes for (and made sure they weren't adopted by people who voted for the wrong political party, natch.).

    a)It's wrong to make false accusation of pedophilia, and those who made such accusations should be held accountable. At the least, they should be Rathered off into the sunset.

    b)Passing along rumors is much less actionable, pretty much non-actionable, without proof the rumormongers had absolute knowledge they were passing false information.

    Could you imagine if Obama decided to sue every dunderhead who passed along an "Obama is a Kenyan Muslim" email? Or if Bush II decided to sue everyone with a "Hail to the Thief!" bumper sticker? That's pretty much the equivalent; I'd say claiming the President is not rightfully serving (whether allegedly due to hanging chads, or to allegedly being born on the same continent as Chad) to be on par with claiming pedophilia, but no legal action has ever been taken, to my knowledge, against those who originated and/or spread such stories.

    PS: And I'd really only care about the BBC being biased if someone can show me (and I'm happy to say I can see this as possible, if not probable) that members of the opposition party, whatever it is (the Whigs? The Beefeaters? The Drunken Violent Hooligans?) had ordered the BBC to run this story in order to get political power. Then, you might have a real scandal. (Here in America, the media isn't bullied by the government into running stories; the media tries to curry favor with the government by running stories. Hooray, freedom of the press!)

  56. Laura K says:

    Sean–"that's utter cock" was my quote of the day. It's been a while since the year I lived in York (where we legally did not pay a TV fee) with ten drunken archaeology grad students and I've missed stuff like that so much. As for the BBC–well, I would say they are not quite like PBS. From 2003-2010 I watched under-funded drek on PBS (which even predated our economic swirlie) interspersed with a few amazing offerings–which almost always came from the BBC–or that's what the stamp said at the bottom of the credits. Made me wonder if PBS just had some kind of incredible sexual favors or secretly opulent inducements they could offer but once in a while to the BBC so we could have a break from badly out of date documentaries, Laurence Welk, abysmal 'drama' and pledge programing. So yes, the BBC has the capacity for the fantastic.
    Having said all that I am also very appreciative of your blowing the BBC anti-Thatcher conspiracy arguments up. I agree with CSP Schofield–truly unbiased news is not possible. But your point, in turn, that both political sides complain about the BBC–YES that means they ARE doing their best!

  57. Marty says:

    Cart is going before horse here. The BBC report was 'only widely understood to refer to Lord McAlpine' because of the Twitter (and forum etc.) rumours. Without them, only a small number of individuals with friends in Fleet Street etc. would have known who this senior tory was. That's why McAlpine is suing the Tweeters – it was them who spread his name widely as a child molester.

  58. Lizard says:

    @Marty — I think the cart and horse are all tangled up. How do you, for purposes of legal culpability, sort out those who maliciously linked McAlpine's name to the rumors from those who sincerely believed it was him (assuming their belief was based on something substantive enough that it wouldn't be malicious disregard for the truth) from those who just linked to stories and tweets with the general purpiose "Hey, look what people are talking about, do you think it's true?", even if not so phrased?

    One reason that, in America, the bar for libel tends to be set based on the prominence of the target is that the powerful can correct false accusations quickly and comprehensively, while the less powerful cannot. This is clearly the case here; it's dubious anyone will still think he's a pedophile, except those convinced the "truth" was "accidently" released, and now it's being covered up. (I assume the UK has the same %age of tinfoil hatters as the US.) Rather than sticking to "falsely accused victim of a malicious press", which would generally earn him some sympathy, he seems to have gone on a full scale War On Windmills, and at best, he know looks foolish; at worst, he looks vindictive and malicious. Consider also this: I would never have known he was linked, even falsely, to pedophilia had his actions not drawn the attention of Ken. (That's what the Streisand Effect means, since an early poster clearly misunderstood it. It means "drawing massive attention to a thing you want suppressed by the act of trying to suppress it".)

  59. Al says:

    I like Top Gear.

  60. Capt Dingleberry says:

    @V

    Much obliged for your spot-on observation.

    @ Jim Baker

    Could you per chance crank the hyperbole and left-right-bias-tin-foil-hattery up a few notches?!?
    What I actually wrote can be found above and has nought correlation with what you are trying to interpret that I have written. Going by your replies to the criticism of other commentarists suggests that reading comprehension is not your strongest suit.
    Ohh and by the way, which media organisation admits failure in their conduct; has one investigative program investigate another in-house investigative program; has a chairman doing the right thing by resigning rather than trying to sit it out or get pushed (albeit with a years salary for 54 days of work) and pays a fine to the injured party without going through all judicial proceedings available? Erm…the BBC.
    How a privately owned media organisation deals with this kind of misconduct can be observed when looking at News Int. and the telephone hacking scandal. Dooohh!

  61. Thad says:

    For some of my countrymen I have to apologise.

    The most important thing of all to them is that there are reds under the bed. Whether there are or not doesn't matter, just that they think they are.

    I'd like to advise ignoring them and hoping they'll go away, but, sadly, they often don't. But one can try.

  62. Mark Clapham says:

    The main lesson that no-one so far seems to be learning from this is that using an army of lawyers to try and control rumours is, in the internet age, counter-productive. If these accusations had been drawn out into the cold light of day years ago, and dismissed properly in public, then its possible that this would be a semi-forgotten footnote in the noble Lord's life story, the mistaken identity could have been resolved and some pursuit of the actual culprit made.

    As it is the Death Star -like presence of the McLawyers hovering over every investigation has resulted in a series of pulped reports, internet rumours, gossip and the current sh!tstorm. It's hard to see how, in the long run, this benefits either the noble Lord or the, as usual, largely forgotten victims of abuse.

  63. Marty says:

    @Lizard – I am not trying to mount a blanket defence of McAlpine's legal strategy, which I agree has strategic and ethical flaws. Having said that, I have not been named as a paedophile by even one person on Twitter and so I am reluctant to sit in judgement on someone who has experienced thousands of people making such an accusation.

    I am simply stating that there seems to be a repeated misunderstanding of the basic facts of this case: the original BBC report did not name McAlpine and the Twitter users did, some before and some after the BBC broadcast. Ken's original post makes this mistake: '…Twitter users who merely linked or commented upon news reported by the BBC'. McAlpine is not suing people who merely linked to the original BBC report, because it didn't name him. He is suing people who named him.

    Many commenters (Grifter, EH) made the same mistake, claiming that the Twitter users only repeated what the BBC said, with only Stephen Glynn pointing out this is a basic misunderstanding. Even in your reply to me you wrote that McAlpine should present himself as a 'falsely accused victim of a malicious press', which again fails to recognise that the press did not name him.

    Finally, powerful as the Streisand Effect is, I don't think it applies in this case. The case was huge in the UK before McAlpine started suing Twitter users, a story which has, generally speaking, received much less attention. Perhaps a few people like yourself have only heard of him because of his legal action, but I'm fairly confident that the increased attention is relatively tiny.

  64. Grifter says:

    @Marty:

    There was no error.

    "This report, premised on mistaken identity, was widely understood to refer to Lord McAlpine, and intended to refer to him."

    The fact that they didn't expressly name him is irrelevant. The British press is (in part thanks to the awful laws of that country) famous for trying to be both oblique and clear at the same time.

    If I say "A commenter on popehat, who has a default gravatar and the screen name of a famous character for a Michael J. Fox movie series about time travel, has murdered seven priests and a dog", I don't think anyone could possibly argue that, because I didn't specifically say "Marty", I wasn't clear.

  65. Marty says:

    You would be completely correct if Newsnight had described McAlpine in such specific terms, but they did not. He was described as a leading Thatcher-era Conservative politician, a description which could apply to dozens of people and which is closer to 'a Popehat commenter' than your example. I should make clear I'm not defending the BBC; to broadcast even this vague report without further investigation when they were aware that McAlpine's name was already being bandied around was irresponsible and wrong.

    My point is that this post contains a basic misunderstanding of the story and this permeates many of these comments. You, for example, described the Twitter users as people who '…in good faith, relied on the BBC reporting…' Since (1) the BBC didn't name McAlpine and (2) many of the tweets in question were made before the report was broadcast, this is not an accurate description of them. This isn't censure, by the way; there is no particular reason non-Brits should know all the ins and outs of this affair, but it pains me to see insightful people discuss an issue based on a misapprehension.

    I do accept that the fact the BBC ran with the story might have emboldened some of those who tweeted after it was broadcast. However, even for that subset of a subset of those being sued, the fact remains that they took the additional step of naming McAlpine which the BBC did not do. Whether or not McAlpine was right to take action against them for naming him as a child abuser, they did more than repeat what the BBC had said. Those who tweeted things like ‘Senior 80s Tory accused by BBC of kiddy-fiddling #crikey #wellinever #wasteofbits’ are not being contacted by McAlpine.

  66. Marty says:

    (Sorry, there should be an @Grifter at the top of that last comment. Hopefully it's clear enough who I'm addressing.)

  67. Ken says:

    @Marty:

    My point is that this post contains a basic misunderstanding of the story and this permeates many of these comments. You, for example, described the Twitter users as people who '…in good faith, relied on the BBC reporting…' Since (1) the BBC didn't name McAlpine and (2) many of the tweets in question were made before the report was broadcast, this is not an accurate description of them.

    Can you link to any indication that Lord McAlpine and his lawyers are limiting their efforts to people who named him before the report was broadcast? Can you link to any indication they are not pursuing — or demanding confessions from — people who merely referenced or linked the story?

  68. Grifter says:

    @Marty:

    I concur with Ken, but I also want to point out: The BBC announced the report in advance and told people about it, and though they didn't use the name, they were referring to him. The posters in question only made the implicit explicit; your argument might hold some water if the BBC was saying "Oh, no, you misunderstood us", but you seem to be faulting these people for understanding exactly what the BBC meant, then saying it in plain language. And, to be clear, these people were not doing reporting themselves, they were all clearly commenting on the upcoming or recently aired BBC report, so it is not as though they were starting rumors of their own. The BBC meant for people to understand who it was, and these people did.

    @Ken: As a heads up, apparently the mobile version of the site may be having problems…I keep getting "invalid security token" when I try from my phone, which I think is usually some kind of bug in commenting (are you using Jetpack?). I tried to reply to Marty this morning, but because it didn't work, I had to stew about it all during my ACLS class. Here I am, supposed to be thinking about Amiodarone, but what's in my head is "But someone is wrong on the internet!"

  69. Careless says:

    The Streisand effect doesn't apply when what's being spread is an exoneration. He likes that.

    As for the BBC's bias, the BBC reports on its bias, and yes, it admits biases. Baker might have gotten a bit unhinged, but he wasn't entirely wrong.

    As for why a group on the left would criticize Blair for invading Iraq… you made Glenn greenwald very sad.

  1. December 10, 2012

    […] UK: Jack Shafer on the trouble with the Leveson press inquiry [Reuters] Journos already cowed by hostile press laws: "Even foreign dictatorships know how to frighten Fleet Street." [Spectator] "Even people who RT'd libelous allusions to [him] on Twitter could be sued. … surreal" [BoingBoing, Popehat] […]