L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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24 July 2007 Blog Home : July 2007 : Permalink

Robert Fisk is Right - So is Ben Goldacre

Now there's a headline, the first half of which I didn't ever expect to write. However his oped yesterday about the lies and evasions of the MSM with respect to race and genocide is spot on. The prime cause for his displeasure is that Patterico's favourite Dog Trainer and the Canadian Globe and Mail prefer to suck up to Turkey with respect to the "alleged" 1915 Armenian Genocide. The Globe and Mail gets the worst hits because it also "borrowed" a Fisk column without permission (or payment) and also had some issues with another correspondent.

I should note that in both cases the journalist Fisk is defending (Arax for the Dog Trainer, Wong for the G&M) are pretty sleazy: With regards to the latter, Fisk himself writes:

Wong is not a greatly loved reporter. A third-generation Canadian, she moved to China during Mao's "cultural revolution" and, in her own words, "snitched on class enemies and did my best to be a good little Maoist."

She later wrote a "Lunch With" series for the Globe in which she acted all sympathetic to interviewee guests to catch them out. "When they relax, that's when their guard is down," she told a college newspaper. "It's a trick, but it's legit." Yuk!

However that is beside the point. In both cases the newspaper finds ways to avoid taking the blame for journalists who
state what are probably accurate but definitely politically incorrect points of view. As Fisk concludes:

The Independent's subscribers promise to make no changes to our reports. But when our syndication folk contacted the Globe, they discovered that the Canadian paper had simply stolen the article. They were made to pay a penalty fee. But as for the censorship of the word "genocide", a female executive explained to The Independent that nothing could be done because the editor responsible had "since left the Globe and Mail".

It's the same old story, isn't it? Censor then whinge, then cut and run. No wonder the bloggers are winning.

I find it fascinating that newspapers which complain about the shoddy standards of bloggers and the ethical lapses of politicians, celebtrities and business leaders are willing to be so cavalier their own standards and ethics.

Talking of shoddy standards and ethics leads me back this side of the Atlantic. The Observer newspaper wrote a completely unsustainable scare story about Autism and MMR earlier this month. It was so error-filled that they have written a defense by the reader's editor which is wrong and, last weekend, "a clarification" that is longer than the original article (by my count 946 vs 763 for the original). Not only that but Ben Goldacre - the writer of the Bad Science column in the Grauniad (the Observer's sister paper) - still finds much to criticise on his blog. For example in the initial piece one of the claims is that:

Although the new research is purely statistical and does not examine possible explanations for the rise, two of the authors believe that the MMR jab, which babies receive at 12 to 15 months, might be partly to blame. Dr Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott both say it could be a factor in small numbers of children.

Later on there are a few lines about a certain Dr Wakefield:

Controversy over the MMR jab erupted in 1998 after Dr Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, said he no longer believed it was safe and might cause autism and inflammatory bowel disease in children. Many parents panicked and MMR take-up fell dramatically. More families opted to have their child immunised privately through three separate injections to avoid the possibility of their immune system being overloaded by the MMR jab, thus leaving them at greater risk of infections.

The medical and scientific establishment denied Wakefield's claim, described research he had co-authored as 'bad science', and sought to reassure the public, with limited success. Wakefield and two former Royal Free colleagues are due to appear before the General Medical Council next week to answer charges relating to the 1998 research. The trio could be struck off.

The doctors' disciplinary body claims that Wakefield acted 'dishonestly and 'irresponsibly' in dealings with the Lancet, was 'misleading' in the way he sought research funding from the Legal Aid Board, and 'acted unethically and abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner' by taking blood from children after offering them money.

You might think that in such a case the fact the one of the two researchers "quoted" above works with Dr Wakefield might be relevant, and indeed in their clarification they state that:

Dr Stott, one of the authors of the Final Report and described by The Observer as believing that there maybe a link in a small number of cases between MMR and autism, does some work for Thoughtful House, the autism centre in Texas that treats children from all over the world. Dr Wakefield works at Thoughtful House. Dr Stott’s links to Dr Wakefield should have been made clear in The Observer news report.

As Mr Goldacre points out Dr Wakefield is rather more than a fellow minion working at Thoughtful House that Dr Stott might run into occasionally:

Dr Wakefield founded Thoughtful House!


He doesn’t “work at” Thoughtful House. He is the Executive Director.



In the Observer’s world, Wakefield “works at” a place in America where Stott also does “some work”: in the real world, Stott and Wakefield have even issued joint press releases answering critics of Thoughtful House.

Oh and the other researcher? Dr Fiona Scott. They never called or emailed her until the night before the "clarification" despite the fact that email and work phone contact methods are clearly listed. This sort of jornalism is almost as good as that practiced by the New Republic!

All I can say is that we can be thankful that some journalists appear to have problems when they see their colleagues lying, stealing and then trying to pretend they didn't.