The Year in Blog – 2016 Edition

Although 2016 was by most accounts the worst year in living memory, for me it was a lot of fun. There were yuge cultural and political upsets – right (or should I say “alt-right”?) – but there were also a couple of inspiring victories for the good guys.

Across the pond, my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy, independent investigative journalist Peter M. Heimlich, fought for his Freedom of Information – or OPRA – rights, and won.

Rounding off the year, the BMJ nixed a flagrantly censorious retraction demand of an article by New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz, who had dared to challenge the science underpinning the US dietary guidelines. More about that later.

On the blogging front, I made some winning changes in the tone and form of my writing, transforming from snarky opinionator to part-time sleuth. My efforts in this direction were not in vain, and I turned up a number of original news stories, some of which served as the basis for articles in Techdirt, FoodMed.net, FOODStuff SA, Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund (CBLDF).

Blogging became an exercise in minimalism, even as I explored often strange new terrain running the gamut from issues of censorship to alternative medicine, at times bridging the nexus between free speech principles and the scientific method.

There was the Scottish police inspector who apologised for an Orwellian tweet, the British celebs who abused UK privacy laws to censor critical news stories about their open marriage, the LA-based integrative medicine organisation whose owner ‘fessed up about patient deaths, plus much more.

Special thanks to my pals in Atlanta, Peter M. Heimlich and his wife Karen, whose joint example certainly helped inspire this citizen journalist. On that note, I strongly recommend paying a visit to Peter’s website, MedFraud.info, about their “improbable odyssey” into the fraudulent world of Peter’s famous father, Dr. Henry Heimlich, of the maneuver.

And lastly thanks to my incredible girlfriend Kelsi M. White, who listens patiently to every draft of every article I write – without complaint!

Without further ado, here’s a collection of my personal favourite posts of the year in blog.


PART ONE: INVESTIGATIONS


Lifting the Lid on the Meta-Medicine Movement – June 30, 2016

‘Advising against a potentially life-saving procedure is absolutely irresponsible’ – Meta-Medicine founder Johannes Fisslinger opens up about patient deaths in Norway

In June/July, I wrote a series of investigative posts about the International Meta-Medicine Association (IMMA), an LA-based integrative medicine organisation founded in 2004 by Munich native Johannes Fisslinger, inventor of the “Aura Video Station.”

The Aura Video Station

source

For the uninitiated, IMMA – via its online university, Meta-Health University (MHU) – claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in the “art and science of self-healing,” an elaborate philosophy of preventive health based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a ghoulish German doctor who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.

According to IMMA Master Trainer Richard Flook, Fisslinger is a former student of Hamer. GNM proponent Ilsedora Laker has even accused Fisslinger of plagiarising Hamer’s work.

IMMA founder Johannes Fisslinger (source)

During the course of a month-long e-mail exchange, I asked Fisslinger about IMMA’s relationship to Hamer, and his opinion of Hamer’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Fisslinger credited Hamer with providing the basic framework for IMMA’s philosophy of preventive health, but made clear he does not endorse Hamer’s racial views or his “do-nothing” approach to treating patients.

“I agree that Dr. Hamer’s method and therapy is ineffective or dangerous,” said Fisslinger, alluding to a 2001 Swiss study of Hamer’s cancer theories.

“[Hamer] basically did not use any therapy at all, telling people to just allow the body to heal without doing anything. This is 100% opposite to what we are doing.”

Fisslinger insists IMMA closely monitors its practitioners to ensure that they adhere to the company’s lengthy code of practice.

Meta-Medicine Code of Practice

source

However, according to a series of 2009 reports by Norwegian television station TV 2 (click here to read the translated reports), three or more people died after they were advised by IMMA practitioners Dagfrid Kolås and Bent Madsen to abandon conventional cancer treatments.

I asked Fisslinger if he was aware of these reports; if he had spoken with and/or reprimanded Kolås and Madsen; and if he had carried out an investigation to ensure that other practitioners aren’t advising patients to refuse potentially life-saving treatment.

“Our code of ethics and policy is very clear about this,” said Fisslinger. “A client needs to make the decision together with their doctor and the Meta-Health professional. [Advising] not to use a potentially life-saving procedure is absolutely irresponsible.”

Fisslinger said Kolås’ and Madsen’s conduct was “absolutely unacceptable” and confirmed there had been an investigation into the deaths in Norway.

IMMA practitioners Dagfrid Kolås and Bent Madsen (source)

He also denied that Kolås and Madsen were ever on IMMA’s Advisory Council.

However, this screenshot from the official IMMA website lists Kolås and Madsen as members of IMMA’s Advisory Council.

Meta-Medicine Advisory Council

source

Furthermore, Kolås – who according to Fisslinger retired “several years ago” – gave a talk (on the subject of “healing breast cancer naturally”) at the 2014 International Meta-Health Conference.

When I asked Fisslinger to clarify, I didn’t receive a response (more alt-med madness in the next article below!).


Freunde von Meta-Medicine – July 25, 2016

Here’s what celeb doctors Dean Ornish and David Katz said when I asked about their involvement with IMMA (one of them accused me of harassment!)

In 2007, best-selling author and White House policy/public health advisor during the Clinton and Obama administrations, Dr. Dean Ornish, was awarded the distinction of Excellence in Integrative Medicine” from IMMA’s breast cancer research charity, the Heal Breast Cancer Foundation (HBCF).

2127726747_edd1cc0985_o

Dr. Dean Ornish (photo by Joi Ito)

Based on Hamer’s widely discredited theories, HBCF believes that cancer can be prevented and even cured via a “biopsychosocial and holistic understanding of the body, mind, spirit and environment connection.”

Dr. Ornish later appeared in Fisslinger’s 2010 film, Titans of Yoga, and at one time was slated to host the 2013 “Be Meta-Healthy Online World Summit.”

As recently as March 2016, Dr. Ornish was identified as a teacher at IMMA’s online teaching university, Meta-Health University (MHU).

Meta-Medicine Tuition Dean Ornish MD

source

Dr. Ornish’s other connections to pseudo-science have been criticised by anti-quack medicine experts, still it was surprising to see him featured alongside Quackwatch regular Dr. Bernie S. Siegelwho claims that “happy people generally don’t get sick,” and Gary Craig, inventor of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), sometimes described as “emotional acupuncture.”

When I asked about Dr. Ornish teaching at MHU, Fisslinger replied that he had invited Dr. Ornish to teach, but had “not confirmed anything.”

When I asked Dr. Ornish, he initially replied that he has “no relationship” with MHU. He subsequently clarified that he in fact had been invited to speak, but had “not yet confirmed anything.”

Dr. Ornish did not respond to questions about his participation in the 2007 gala and 2013 summit.

– The Katz Connection

Dr. Ornish was replaced in the above list of “Guest Faculty Speakers” by celebrity nutrition expert and Oprah advice columnist Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the CDC-funded Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

Meta-Medicine Tuition David Katz MD

source

Dr. Katz is also listed as an MHU faculty member in the organisation’s 2015 programme.

META-Health University Program Guide 2015

source

When asked about his relationship with IMMA or MHU, Dr. Katz replied that he has never endorsed any of the company’s programmes or products.

I once gave a talk, via Skype, on my model of integrative medicine for something called the Meta Health Summit [but] that is the extent of my involvement,” said Dr. Katz.

Dr. David Katz (source)

I also asked him about his correspondence with German journalist Aribert Deckers.

A few weeks before the 2010 Integrative Medicine Congress” – an IMMA event held in Munich, at which Dr. Katz was scheduled to appear – Deckers wrote an open letter to Dr. Katz informing him about IMMA’s ties to the notorious Hamer.

Here is Dr. Katz’s June 17, 2010 reply to Deckers:

Thank you for these precautions, Aribert.

The speech was canceled roughly a week ago; I would hope the website would promptly be updated to reflect that.

All best,
DK

Three years later, Dr. Katz gave his Skype talk at the 2013 Meta-Health summit.

Meta-Health Summit Dr. David Katz

source

Deckers then published a statement accusing Dr. Katz of knowingly support[ing] a lethal cancer fraud.”

After having sent my email (Date: Thu, June 17, 2010) to Prof. David Katz, and having spoken with his office I thought that he would stop from making further contacts with the “meta-mediciners”. But that is not the case: Prof. David Katz AGAIN is on the list of speakers at a “meta-mediciner” “symposium”. But this time he can not claim to have known nothing.

Responding to Deckers’ accusations, Dr. Katz said he doesn’t recall the exchange, but reiterated that he “did not support anything,” stating: “I gave a talk, and permission to promote only that.”

As of publication, Dr. Katz is still listed as a “Guest Faculty Speaker” at MHU.

Incidentally, MHU’s sister website, Lifestyle Prescriptions TV, charges ninety-six dollars per year to watch Dr. Katz’s 2013 Skype conversation with Fisslinger.

I asked Dr. Katz if he had signed-off on the sale of these videos.

Dr. Katz then referred me to his attorney, Alan Neigher, who didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. When I again asked Dr. Katz, here’s what he sent me:

Sterling/Dean/Cartoon Character-

You have asked me the same questions several times, and I have answered them. My office has done the same. At this point, you are harassing us. Kindly state your agenda.

Best,


David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center
Griffin Hospital


Butter, Meat and Free Speech – December 3, 2016

This is an overview of a story I blogged throughout 2016 about a censorious retraction demand by the Center for Science in the Public Interest of New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz’s BMJ US dietary guidelines critique

In December, the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) announced it would not retract a “controversial” 2015 article by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of NYT best-seller The Big Fat Surprise.

Following a lengthy investigation lasting over a year, the BMJ said that two independent reviewers “found no grounds for retraction,” and that Teicholz’s criticisms of the methods used by the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) were “within the realm of scientific debate.”

051716-teicn-0169_5x7_v3

US author/journalist Nina Teicholz

As reported on this blog and The Sidebar (Peter M. Heimlich’s investigative journalism blog), Washington, DC-based lobby group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – in bed with prominent members of the DGAC – aggressively campaigned to get the article retracted.

Bonnie Liebman

source

Leading the charge was CSPI’s Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman, who in her September 23, 2015 opening salvo called the article an “error-laden attack” on the 2015 DGAC report:

The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.

One month later, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.

The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.

However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.

As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.

Frank Hu MD PhD MPH (source)

But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatories to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.

You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog herehere and here.

Accompanying December’s announcement, the BMJ has issued four corrections (plus three clarifications) of the 11 purported errors highlighted by the CSPI, but Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee said the journal is standing by Teicholz’s article:

We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’

Via the BMJ’s press release, Teicholz thanked the journal for its support:

I am very grateful to The BMJ editors for their profound commitment to verifying the facts of my article and for their professionalism and integrity throughout this process. I am also grateful that they are providing a space for rigorous scientific debate, especially on a subject so important to public health. I hope the original intention of that article can now be fulfilled—to help improve nutritional advice, so that it is based on rigorous science. This will help us to better combat nutrition-related diseases that have caused so much human suffering around the world.

In a separate statement, Liebman doubled down on her position, claiming that the BMJ has “stained its reputation”:

The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.) It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report–the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the scientific merits of Teicholz’s arguments. My opinion, from a free speech perspective, is that the CSPI’s retraction demand was not about merit, but about a powerful lobby group wielding its influence to try to suppress a voice of dissent.

As Ian Leslie remarked in his April 7 Guardian long-read“Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data.”

20 years ago, Teicholz might have gone the way of the beleaguered British scientist John Yudkin, and others who have dared question the conventional wisdom on nutrition. As it stands, Teicholz has survived the ordeal, in no small part thanks to the support of a committed, widespread and ever-growing group of LCHF enthusiasts.


Spreading the News – July 29, 2016

In July, leading South African health and nutrition journalist Marika Sboros reported about a dubious Harvard nutrition study into saturated fats. Sboros’ article also detailed a story first reported on this blog and The Sidebar about DGAC member and Harvard Chan professor Frank Hu’s efforts to solicit signatories to CSPI’s censorious retraction demand of Nina Teicholz’s 2015 BMJ article.

foodmed-marika-sboros-july-29-2016-article

Marika Sboros’ July 29, 2016 article (source)

Via “Why is Harvard sticking the knife into butter again?” by Marika Sboros, FoodMed.net, July 29, 2016.

A study senior author is Dr Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. On Harvard’s website, Hu says the study shows “the importance of eliminating trans fat and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, including both omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids”.

He says in practice, “replacing animal fats with a variety of liquid vegetable oils” achieves this.

Hu also says in a New York Times blog the study shows that low-fat, high-carb diet doesn’t benefit health and longevity”. He says fats from fish and avocados are better than animal fats.

…Seen from another angle, Hu’s involvement can look suspiciously like  another salvo in what Irish investigative journalist Dean Sterling Jones calls Silencing Science – The War on Nina Teicholz”. In the murky politics of nutrition science, that’s not hyperbole. Jones reveals the unedifying behaviour of those opposed to Teicholz’s research.

That war began in earnest after Teicholz published The Big Fat Surprise (Simon and Schuster, 2014). In a review on the BMJ titled Are some diets mass murder?, former BMJ editor Dr Richard Smith is fulsome in its praise. He says all scientists should read it.

The war intensified after Teicholz wrote a commissioned feature highlighting the shortcomings of the DGAC report which the BMJ published in 2015. Titled The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz concludes that the DGAC report “fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture”.

…The DGAC report’s authors published a response in the BMJ calling Teicholz’s claims “misleading and unsubstantiated”. They say all their procedures were “expansive, transparent, and thoughtful, with multiple opportunities for public input through open commentary, public meetings, and hearings”.

They see nothing wrong in having a chair from industry, not medicine, science or academia: Barbara Millen. Millen has a doctorate and an academic background in nutrition. However, she is currently founder and president of the US-based start-up Millennium Prevention. The company develops web-based platforms and mobile applications to encourage better lifestyle behaviours, and for corporate, academic, and community wellness initiatives.

The DGAC refers positively to the kind of products her company sells. Millen dismisses criticisms that this constitutes a conflict of interest.

None of the DGAC report authors appears to see anything wrong in the extraordinary lengths to which Hu and Millen have gone to muzzle Teicholz. Just how extraordinary shows up in an intricate cross-posting collaboration between Jones and US investigative journalist Peter Heimlich.

Heimlich writes The Side Bar, an annex to his MedFraud website. He accessed damning emails via public record requests under the US Freedom of Information Act. These document just how far both Hu and Millen went to get the BMJ to retract Teicholz’s feature. Hu lobbied colleagues and professionals, eventually getting around 180 academics at top universities, in the US and Europe to sign a letter to the BMJ requesting retraction of Teicholz’s feature. (Other reports put the number lower at just over 170. Millen signed.)

Read the full article by clicking here.

For my work on Teicholz I also received cites via FoodStuff SA, available by clicking here; via Dr. Verner Wheelock’s website, available here; via the 2 Keto Dudes podcast, available here; and via Ketopia.com, available here.


Erdoğan Strikes Again – November 27, 2016

WordPress censors Turkish blog featuring satirical cartoons following court order from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

In November, İstanbul lawyer Ahmet Özel filed a complaint with WordPress on behalf of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The complaint, in the form of a court order, requested that WordPress restrict access to a Turkish blog page featuring satirical cartoons depicting Erdoğan as a tyrannical dictator, claiming they constitute “an attack on personality rights” and do not “reflect reality.”

lumen-database-erdogan-court-order

Erdoğan’s October 9, 2016 complaint, via the Lumen Database (source)

Earlier this year, WordPress (via transparency.automattic.com) stated that, absent a US court order, it refuses to take action in response to takedown demands from Turkey.

However, it appears the offending blog page is currently geo-blocked in Turkey, and when you enter the URL into a Turkish proxy, you get this message…

unavailable-for-legal-reasons

…which links to an official WordPress page on how to bypass the block.

When I asked WordPress if it had taken action against the Turkish blog, I received the following response from Community Guardian Janet J:

From: Janet J ­ WordPress.com <tosreports@wordpress.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geo­blocking
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:11

Hi there Dean,

Yes, that is correct. We are forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country. Instead, we direct users to a message explaining why the site is unavailable, and point them to this site:

https://beatcensorship.wordpress.com/

All the best,


Janet J | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

When I then asked about WordPress’ policy of refusing to take action against bloggers, per the above mentioned Automattic statement, this was her response:

From: Janet J ­ WordPress.com <tosreports@wordpress.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geo­blocking
Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:40

Hi there,

Thanks for the follow up.

That blog post was correct at the time of writing, but our process has since changed, in order to find the best possible compromise to allow us to continue to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users in Turkey. Rather than have sites blocked by ISPs with no explanation, we have decided to implement blocks ourselves so that we can provide alternative messaging, and an explanation for visitors to the sites in question.

There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.

All the best,


Janet J | Community Guardian | WordPress.com

I also spoke with Jaume Capdevila aka KAP, an award-winning Spanish cartoonist whose 2013 cartoon of Erdoğan features prominently on the censored blog.

KAP, Cagle Cartoons, 2013 (source)

“[Freedom of expression] is a basic right of people, it is a basic freedom,” said Capdevila. “The debate of ideas is fundamental, and it enriches all. Censorship is the first step towards ignorance and fear.”

He went on to explain how satire “erodes the image of power.”

“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (source)

Capdevila said he felt honoured to know his cartoon had succeeded in riling the Turkish despot, whom he described as “an authoritarian politician” seeking to maintain power through fear and repression.

“As a cartoonist it is an honour to know that an intolerant prohibits one of your drawings, of course! In recent years, the satirical cartoonist is a trade with more risk… we are not heroes and do not want to be, but things like this give some sense to our trade.”

He added: “One of the best things in our job is to know that there was someone in Turkey who thought that this drawing could be useful for his struggle for freedom and used it on his blog, or wherever. The ultimate meaning of satirical drawings is to reach the maximum of people and awaken in them something…”

Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila aka KAP (source)

The censored blog also features work by renowned American cartoonist Daryl Cagle, and Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist for The New York Times.

In Cagle’s cartoon, the Turkish leader brazenly denies that his pants are on fire (literally), labelling his accusers “drunkard, extremist Twitterheads.”

Daryl Cagle, Cagle Cartoons, 2013 (source)

In Chappatte’s cartoon, Erdoğan is building a huge statue of himself in Taksim Square as an “urban development project,” while angry protesters are gathered outside.

Patrick Chappatte, Cagle Cartoons, 2013 (source)

Turkey has a long and colourful history of trying to censor cartoonists.

In 2015, Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan, from the Turkish satirical magazine Penguen, were sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in prison after having published a cartoon satirising Erdoğan’s heavy-handed treatment of journalists (the sentence was subsequently reduced to a fine of 7,000 Liras – equalling 1,600 Pounds – each).

In August 2016, top Turkish cartoonist Dogan Güzel spent two days in detention following a raid on İstanbul-based newspaper Özgür Gündem (Turkish for “Free Agenda”).

In December, another top Turkish cartoonist, Musa Kart, was jailed as part of a roundup of journalists from the country’s opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet.


Free Speech: No Lines Drawn – November/December, 2016

Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe weighs in on the above post about Erdoğan’s WordPress takedown demand – after which the story gets picked up by various cartoonists’ rights publications including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

After I blogged about Erdoğan’s takedown demand of a Turkish political blog featuring satirical cartoons depicting the Turkish leader as a tyrannical dictator, the story made the rounds on Twitter, even being re-tweeted by Laurence Tribe, a well-regarded Harvard law professor whose former students include President Barack Obama and Senator Ted Cruz.

The November 28, 2016 tweet:

laurence-tribe-erdogan-trump

source

Shortly after, the story was picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), a New York-based advocacy non-profit that actively defends the First Amendment (ie. free speech) rights of comics creators and publishers, including paying their legal costs.

cbldf-maren-williams-december-9-2016-article

CBLDF article based on my blog post (source)

Via “Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey” by Maren Williams, CBLDF.com, December 9, 2016.

Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey
December 9, 2016
By

A blog post featuring satirical cartoons of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently blocked by court order inside Turkey but freely available elsewhere, highlighting the delicate balance between intellectual freedom and local laws that online hosting platforms must maintain if they wish to operate internationally.

The post on a Turkish blog hosted by U.S.-based company (and CBLDF.org host) WordPress was originally made in November 2013, but only blocked this October after an Istanbul lawyer representing Erdoğan filed a court order alleging that the cartoons were libellous and untrue. According to independent U.K. journalist Dean Sterling Jones on his own blog, WordPress had announced earlier this year that it would ignore any potential takedown requests from the Turkish government. The reality of an actual court order may have forced it to reconsider, however: as a representative told Jones via email, the company was “forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” meaning that all blogs and other sites hosted on the platform would be unavailable there.

Faced with no ideal options, WordPress chose to geo-block the specific site requested within Turkey but direct users to a multilingual site with directions for circumventing online censorship via services such as VPNs and Tor. It also reported the takedown to the Lumen database, and the WordPress rep identified as Janet J told Jones that the company is brainstorming ways to maximize intellectual freedom and transparency for its users:

“There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”

Jones also spoke with Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila, whose work was among the panels featured on the blocked page and also reproduced above. He expressed pride that a Turkish blogger found his cartoon “useful for his struggle for freedom,” and highlighted the importance of laughing at authoritarian leaders through satire:

“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”

The takedown order also comes at a time when Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart has been imprisoned for over a month along with several journalist colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper. Erdoğan has used a failed coup attempt in July as an excuse to crack down on journalists, academics, judges, and government workers who do not toe the line. Kart and his colleagues are now facing charges of colluding with the Gulenist movement which Erdoğan blames for the coup, as well as with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The story was also reported by Catalan-based cartoonist J.R. Mora on his website, available to read by clicking here; by Jerusalem-based civil rights activist Steve Amsel on his website, available here; by Pittsburgh, PA-based website Comics Workbook, available here; and by the Cartoonists Rights Network International, available here.


Dishing the Dirt – November 22, 2016

One of the most bizarre stories to feature on this blog last year involved a fake lawyer who falsely claimed to represent a US police department in a failed attempt to have mugshots scrubbed from Google’s search engine – here’s what happened

In November, I blogged about a DMCA complaint by so-called ‘legal agent’ Mike Ferrell who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove news stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots.

november-8-2016-dmca-complaint-on-behalf-of-the-burlington-pd

Mike Ferrell’s incomprehensible November 8, 2016 DMCA complaint to Google (source)

When I passed the story on to TechDirt, I was awaiting a response from the Burlington PD to my request for comment. The following week, TechDirt founder Mike Masnick, who coined the term “The Streisand Effect,” reported that the department had contacted him putting the record straight.

Via “Burlington Police Insist Someone Is Pretending To Abuse Copyright Law To Censor News Stories About Arrests” by Mike Masnick, November 21, 2016.

Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”

So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.

Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright connection of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.

As I later discovered via a public records request to the Burlington PD, Kent had drafted a clarifying e-mail which he had intended to send me prior to TechDirt publishing the story. For whatever reason, he did not send that e-mail.

To reiterate: the Burlington PD did not use Google’s DMCA takedown system to attempt to censor journalists reporting about arrests made by the department. Luckily for me, Kent is a right-on dude and didn’t hold it against me for incorrectly reporting about his department.

Incidentally, “Mike Ferrell” is still at large and continues to file bogus takedown notices as ‘legal agent’ for the Burlington PD.


The Bitch is Back – September 12, 2016

Carter-Ruck Lawyers passes the baton to Schillings solicitors in Elton John three-way tabloid scandal, but where does that leave Internet users threatened with legal action?

The juiciest celebrity news story of 2016 went unreported by the British press thanks to strong-arm legal tactics by David Furnish, husband of pop singer Elton John.

As you didn’t read in the newspapers, Furnish was allegedly given permission from his famous hubby to participate in a three-way sexscapade with British businessman Daniel Laurence and his husband Pieter Van den Bergh in a paddling pool of olive oil.

The story as reported by the National Enquirer in April (source)

When Laurence and Van den Bergh decided to go public with the story, Furnish took out an injunction – dubbed the cheater’s charter – preventing papers in England and Wales from revealing the names of those involved.

But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.

Earlier this year, non-UK Twitter users began tweeting e-mails they received from Twitter’s legal department demanding that they delete tweets outing John and Furnish as the celebrity couple first identified in court documents as YMA and PJS.

neil-saunders-twitter-legal

source

As an experiment, I set up a pseudonymous Twitter profile and tweeted about the story.

YMA PJS Tweet

Sure enough, within a few days I received the following e-mail.

Twitter Legal Notice

Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the complainant and the nature of their complaint, so I took my enquiry to Carter-Ruck Lawyers, a British law firm known for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele.

According to court documents, Carter-Ruck represented Furnish when the National Enquirer broke the story in April. However, when I asked Carter-Ruck’s Managing Partner Nigel Tait about his firm’s legal shenanigans, he forwarded my questions to defamation lawyer Jenny Afia of Schillings partners, another British firm specialising in reputation and privacy.

Unfortunately, Afia declined to comment on whether Schillings represents Furnish, or if it intends to pursue offending Twitter users.

– Don’t shoot me I’m only the messenger

In April, UK-based anti-piracy company Web Sheriff filed 12 copyright complaints with Google requesting it remove a total of 447 URLs linking to articles about the scandal.

web-sheriff-requests

Sample of Web Sheriff’s DMCA complaints to Google (source)

Among the websites flagged for removal was TomWinnifrith.com, whose namesake – a prominent British entrepreneur and blogger – outed the couple in April.

Although Google ultimately didn’t enforce the request, Winnifrith said his web hosting provider took down his website following a legal threat from Web Sheriff.

Investment columnist Tom Winnifrith (source)

WS [Web Sheriff] contacted our hosting company and bullied it into taking our site down and only putting it back up if we pulled the article,” said Winnifrith. That hoster cravenly did this even though WS had no power to threaten.

He continued: “I asked WS on whose authority it was demanding we pull content since that authority was actually vested with the UK Courts not a US law firm. I asked if it was acting for Mr. John. It refused to reply.”

When I asked Web Sheriff similar questions, I received no reply.

Self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff” John Giacobbi (source)

It isn’t the only time an article about the scandal was pulled following legal threats.

In May, an article by Irish political activist and blogger Paddy J. Manning was pulled from MercatorNet, an Australian opinion-based news website.

According to Manning, MercatorNet was forced to take down the article after the website’s web hosting provider was threatened with legal action.

Irish electoral candidate Paddy J. Manning (source)

MercatorNet warned me that the website was run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ so that if they were sued in Australian courts they would capitulate, said Manning. They received several warnings but no effective legal correspondence outside of threatening e-mails.”

He continued: It was their hosting company who were threatened successfully with a court action against their mirror/backup in Florida. No legal action was taken against the host; the threat was enough.

This was a perfect lesson in the brittleness of the web, how weak some constituent parts are and how quickly they snap.”

– Redressing an unfurnished press

Thanks to the Internet, unflattering details about celebrities’ personal lives are accessible to anyone who wants to know. Ironically, there appears to be little public interest in Furnish’s affair, as demonstrated by the scanty coverage it initially received in the US.

daily-mail-elton-john-david-furnish-perfect-marriage

May 20, 2016 edition of the Daily Mail (source)

It’s perhaps an indication of the futility of Furnish’s efforts that, since April, Google has removed just two of the 447 offending URLs flagged by Web Sheriff. Nevertheless, the residual chill from the injunction can be felt as far as the US and Canada.

Toronto-based newspaper the National Post is just one publication whose article about the scandal, “Why the English media could go to jail for reporting on the olive oil trysts of Elton John’s husband” by WMA award-winning reporter Tristin Hopper, is currently unavailable to view in the UK after being targeted by Web Sheriff.

tristin-hopper-the-national-post-april-11-2016

Via a US proxy, the National Post’s April 11, 2016 article (source)

However, when I asked Hopper about Web Sheriff, he said the Post geo-blocked his article after being contacted by Fasken Martineau, an internationally renowned Canadian business law and mitigation firm with offices in London and Toronto.

“Web Sheriff did not contact us, but we did hear from a lawyer hired by Mr. Furnish,” said Hopper, referring to the Canadian firm.

He added: “It might be Furnish or Elton John’s regular Canadian lawyer. At a certain level of fame, I imagine you’ve got a lawyer on speed dial for every major country, whether it be for copyright issues or signing contracts or the like.”

National Post reporter Tristin Hopper (source)

About the Post’s decision to geo-block his article in the UK, Hopper said: “[The] legality is murky, but I do believe it was done on the belief that we become subject to UK law once we enter UK web space.”

Unfortunately, Fasken Martineau did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


PART TWO: ENQUIRIES AND CORRECTIONS


The #ThinkBeforeYouTweet Police – April 10, 2016

“[We] would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves” – Police Scotland apologises for “Orwellian” tweet

On April 1 – also known as April Fool’s Day – the Greater Glasgow Police force issued the following, rather cryptic warning via Twitter urging Internet users to “think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend.”

Greater Glasgow Police

source

Unsure whether or not the above tribute to George Orwell was intended as an April Fool’s joke, I e-mailed Police Scotland asking what precautions social media users should take to avoid receiving a visit from Glasgow coppers.

Shortly after, I received this thoughtful, informative and – dare I say it, yes – good-humoured response from Inspector Kenny Quigley of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Department, Greater Glasgow Division:

Dear Mr Jones

Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us regarding the recent ‘tweet’ from our Greater Glasgow Police Twitter account.  Firstly, may I apologise for the concerns this has caused you personally as it undoubtedly has for others judging from the reaction on social media, both positive and negative, over the past few days.

This message and acronym ‘THINK’ came from a third party account and was originally ‘re-tweeted’ by a community police team in Lanarkshire and then subsequently re-tweeted by other police teams. Likewise, our Safer Communities team in Glasgow saw these re-tweets (we all follow each other’s accounts for key messages to promote) and thought it was a simple enough message to encourage people to avoid hateful comment on social media which is often reported to the police as bullying, trolling etc..  This message seemed to us particularly pertinent following the dreadful events in Shawlands which had led to some people ‘trolling’ messages of support for the Shah family and wider community.  Occasionally, such trolling crosses the boundaries from being merely distasteful into criminality under various hate crime legislation or indeed domestic abuse or threats. 

To answer specifically your question, there is no test applied by my officers as to what passes the THINK criteria.  Clearly, that is not the Police Service’s role and we are concerned with investigating reports of behaviour on social media that is suspected to be illegal.  We are certainly not the ‘good taste’ police nor are we in any way seeking to stifle free speech – indeed, we regularly police public events where opposing groups do not agree with alternate political standpoints but we ensure that Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are protected. 

As such, the colloquial phrase, “receive a visit from the police” which appears in this controversial tweet is misspoken and misleading.  Such police action may only be applied when a crime or offence is reported to us by another member of the public – we do not routinely monitor social media as frankly, we are far too busy answering calls from the public for assistance, investigating reported and detected crimes and undertaking a myriad of other duties than to find time to police the internet as some pressure groups would rather have us doing.  Of course we do investigate cybercrime but that is a new and rapidly developing area of law enforcement not concerned with name-calling or offensive remarks on social media.   I am sorry this phrase “receive a visit” was used in the tweet and rest assured, the officer who tweeted this message is sorry too – it was certainly not their intention to cause a furore or any confusion in this regard. 

Thank you again for taking the time to write to Police Scotland.  It is through practical criticism and challenge that we learn how better to police our communities with the public’s consent and support.  Social media is undoubtedly a great opportunity for the Police to quickly and effectively communicate with the public but it also carries the risk of getting our messages wrong on occasion.  I hope I have reassured you that we do not apply a THINK test when assessing complaints about social media and that on this occasion, we would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves before tweeting that message. 

Yours sincerely. 

Kenny Quigley

Inspector Kenny Quigley G2436
Greater Glasgow Division
Safer Communities Department
Glasgow City Centre Police Office

With reservations as to whether Police Scotland should have any jurisdiction over social media, Inspector Quigley’s answer helps settle the dystopian impulse to invoke 1984.

I don’t recall Orwell being so reassuring.


Worst in Show – May 10, 2016

After Scottish police arrested North Lanarkshire man for extremely silly Nazi dog video I asked authorities to advise dog owners on how to behave their pooches online

In May, Scottish police reportedly arrested a 28-year-old man from North Lanarkshire on hate crime charges because he posted a video online of his dog gesturing a Nazi salute.

The video/apology, via SWNS TV (trigger warning – fascist pug):

In an e-mail, I asked Police Scotland to further advise on what precautions dog owners can take to avoid causing offence online, stating my concern that police interference could have a ‘chilling effect’ among people who wish to upload videos of their dog to the Internet, “but who are worried that the canine’s natural proclivity to raise its paw on command might be misinterpreted as offensive.”

Police Scotland didn’t reply to my question.


BBC News-Bait – October 5, 2016

BBC Newsbeat says it aimed “to provoke conversation” with tweet about Ukrainian serial prankster Vitalii Sediuk’s alleged sexual assault of reality TV star Kim Kardashian

In September, BBC Newsbeat, the flagship news programme on BBC Radio 1, tweeted the following apparently rhetorical question concerning Ukrainian prankster” Vitalii Sediuk’s alleged sexual assault of US television personality Kim Kardashian:

bbc-newsbeat-29-september-2016-tweet

Newsbeat was roundly criticized for using “clickbait rhetorical questions as headlines and “legitimizing an indefensible POV, as award-winning English author Joanne Harris (MBE) charged in a series of tweets.

joanne-harris-tweet-2

source

I put Harris’ questions to Newsbeat, along with my own question asking if the BBC believes there’s any ambiguity about whether it’s “OK to grab a woman on the street” – prank or not.

Here is the BBC’s October 5, 2016 reply:

Hi Dean,

Thanks for contacting us about the Kim Kardashian tweet.

We accept it could have been worded more carefully.

We swiftly followed it up with a second tweet, headed “obviously not”.

Broadly our tone is more informal than the rest of BBC News but we do aim to provoke conversation around topical issues like this one.

We were not in any way legitimising the “prank” carried out by Vitalii Sediuk.

Kind regards,

Newsbeat team


Faux News – October 6, 2016

Fox News pundit Monica Crowley “incorrectly labeled the Bullsh**ter of the Day” – Salon publishes my corrections request re: snarky takedown column

Via Salon’s “Bullsh**ter of the Day” column “highlighting the most outrageous quotes from the world’s most virtuosic shovelers,” staff writer Mireia Triguero Roura took aim at former Fox News pundit Monica Crowley.

salon-monica-crowley-bulshittter

source

The target of Roura’s ire was an October 5 tweet in which Crowley, pictured standing next to a segment of the Berlin Wall, joked: “At the Berlin Wall last week. Walls work”.

salon-monica-crowley-tweet

Salon’s article as it appeared on October 5, 2016

Hawk-eyed readers will notice from the above screenshot that Crowley’s tweet is dated October 5, 2015 – not 2016, as Roura stated in her article.

That day, shortly after making a corrections request pointing out the mistake, I received the following reply from Salon’s senior art director Benjamin Wheelock:

Thank you for bringing this error to our attention, it has been corrected.

Salon’s (unintentionally?) hilarious correction states that “due to a reporting error” Crowley was “incorrectly labeled the Bullsh**ter of the Day” and includes an obvious misspelling of her name:

salon-monica-crowley-correction

Let this be a lesson to aspiring writers: waste time writing snarky nonsense, and one day you could end up having to shovel your own bullsh*t.


Hoax-ception – December 15, 2016

Busted: Purported Guardian article hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax – but the true author remains anonymous

In November, the Guardian newspaper ran an anonymous article about how its author was almost turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, social media prankster Godfrey Elfwick – who had already duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to disparage Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast – claimed authorship of the article.

In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title, but dated weeks before the Guardian article.

godfrey-elfwick-wordpress-file-screenshot

source

He also shared a print out of the article with his name on the byline.

godfrey-elfwick-guardian-article-print-out

source

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning US writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to almost becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

This led to a high-profile Twitter spat between Harris and eminent US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

glenn-greenwald-guardian-sam-harris

source

Harris then used Elfwick’s unsubstantiated claims to demand an apology from Greenwald.

sam-harris-glenn-greenwald-guardian

source

When I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45

Dear Dean Jones,

Thank you for your email.

The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.

I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.

In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.

I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.

Thanks again for making contact.

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Chadwick about his paper’s vetting processes for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: sterlingjones1989 <sterlingjones1989@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

While Elfwick didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, this episode raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how can we know the article isn’t a hoax?

Maybe that was the point all along.


Blurred Lines – September/October, 2016

After the Crown Prosecution Service fudged the rape conviction rate I asked The Daily Telegraph and the Independent to correct their articles – here’s what happened

In September, I reported that the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had seemingly exaggerated the 2015-16 rape conviction rate.

Via a press release, the CPS claimed it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

These figures were widely reported in the British press, including the Independent…

the-independent-cps-rape-conviction-rate-2015-16

Snapshot of the Independent’s Sept. 6 article, via the Wayback Machine (source)

…and the Daily Telegraph.

the-telegraph-september-6-cps-article

Snapshot of The Daily Telegraph’s Sept. 6 article (source)

However, a close look at the CPS’ 2015-16 Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report reveals that the rape conviction rate “includes cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

On Sept. 17, I made a corrections request to the Independent regarding “Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200’ just 18 months after law change,” the newspaper’s Sept. 6 article which, as per the above screenshot, stated that “in 2015/16…There were a record numbers of rape prosecutions (4,643) and convictions (2,689).”

Shortly after, I received notification from the Independent’s readers’ liaison assistant Jane Campbell that the article has been updated.

Dear Mr Jones,

Thank you for contacting us via our online complaints form. We are always glad to hear from our readers, whether or not feedback is positive, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch about ‘Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200′ just 18 months after law change’ (6 September).

Your point is well taken and the article has now been changed to reflect that rape conviction figures also include cases where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.

I hope that, in spite of your concerns on this occasion, you will continue to read and enjoy The Independent. And please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future should cause arise.

With best regards
Jane Campbell
Readers’ liaison assistant

Here’s the Independent’s published correction:

the-independent-cps-rape-conviction-rate-2015-16-correction-2

I also made a corrections request to the Telegraph regarding “Sexual offences convictions in England and Wales hit record levels in the past year,” the paper’s Sept. 6 article which stated that in 2015-16 “[the] conviction rate for rape cases rose to 57.9 per cent of the 4,643 cases brought.”

Shortly after, I received notification from the Telegraph’s Head of Editorial Compliance Jess McAree informing me that the article had been updated.

Dear Mr Jones

Sexual offences convictions in England and Wales hit record levels in the past year, 6 Sept 2016

Thank you for contacting us about this article.

The statistics cited in the article come from the CPS report you identify and were relayed to our journalist via a CPS press release; as an official authoritative source, it was one on which she was entitled to rely, and the information was published in good faith.

Regarding the disparity between CPS and MoJ figures that you highlight, the VAWG report makes clear that whereas the CPS rape figures are compiled over the financial year, the MoJ collects its figures for the calendar year. Moreover the latter represent cases charged and convicted for rape only; as you say, CPS figures include not only cases resulting in conviction for rape, but also those “initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”

This is clarified by the VAWG report on p49:

“From CPS data 2015-16, 4,518 (98.6%) of cases initially flagged as rape were finally prosecuted for the principal offence categories of ‘sexual offences, including rape’ or more serious principal offences of ‘homicides’ or ‘offences against the person’. Of these, 3,972 were for sexual offences including rape; three for homicide and 543 for offences against the person’. Only 1.4% were for offences less than ‘sexual offences, including rape’ ”.

Where most rape cases under the CPS definition were indeed finally prosecuted as ‘sexual offences, including rape’, it does not appear that the CPS conviction statistics cited in our article are likely to be significantly misleading. Neither are they clearly irreconcilable with MoJ figures, as you suggest. Following your complaint, we asked the CPS how many convictions in the category ‘sexual offences, including rape’  were ‘pure’  rape convictions. They told us that this information is not available.

We are content to clarify this, and we will publish the following in our Corrections and Clarifications spot in a forthcoming issue of the Daily Telegraph. A version appropriate for context has already been added to the foot of the online article:

Rape conviction rate
An article on Sep 6 reported on CPS figures showing that the conviction rate for rape rose in the year 2015-16 to 57.9 per cent of prosecutions brought. We wish to clarify that though these cases were initially flagged as rape, CPS data show that the majority were eventually prosecuted in the principal offence category of ‘sexual offences including rape’. A breakdown of outcomes in this category is not available.

I trust that this is satisfactory.

Yours sincerely

Jess McAree | Head of Editorial Compliance
telegraphmediagroup | 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT

The following month, a clarification was also published in “Corrections and Clarifications,” Page 2 of the print edition of the Telegraph.

corrections-and-clarifications


Presumed Guilty – May 24, 2016

Concluding the search for “Special Notice 11/02,” the Met Police’s never-before-seen document overturning the presumption of innocence

In May, I blogged about my enquiry to the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) requesting a copy of “Special Notice 11/02,” an official police document issued in 2002 which – according to a controversial Feb. 10 Guardian article by former Met commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe – said that officers should “accept allegations made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful.”

bernard-hogan-howe-february-10-guardian-article

Bernard Hogan-Howe’s February 10, 2016 article (source)

Shortly after, I received a copy of “Special Notice 11/02” from the Met’s Information Rights Unit. As far as I’m aware, this marked the first time the document has been made available to a member of the public, thus answering questions raised by legal expert Susanne Cameron-Blackie aka blogger Anna Raccoon (you can read her post on the subject by clicking here).

Via “The Presumption of Innocence” by Susanne Cameron-Blackie, annaraccoon.com, February 16, 2016:

Special Notice from 2002 (11/02) has never been made public. I have had to work from excerpts which appeared in a 2013 hearing regarding compensation for victims of John Warboys, and an old Observer article; it might appear to be the Holy Grail for those like myself seeking the origins of the dramatic change in policy that #Ibelieveher represented – but I confess, I am no nearer to discovering who wrote that Special Notice nor why – if you can throw any light on this I would be grateful.

First, Special Notice 11/02 does indeed appear to reverse the presumption of innocence for suspected sex offenders (however, the wording is slightly different to that used by Hogan-Howe in the Guardian). Here’s what it says:

Special Notice 11-02 Principle 1

Second, the document appears to have been authored – or at least approved – by the Assistant Commissioner of Territorial Policing.

Special Notice 11-02 Assistan Commissioner of Territorial Policing

In 2002, this position was held by Michael J. Todd QPM (deceased), who was appointed chief constable of the Manchester Police Service later that year.

Click here to read a copy of “Special Notice 11/02.”


The Tyranny of Values – October 23, 2016

Downing Street used misleading data from “right-wing think tank” to “name and shame” universities that host “extremist” speakers, newly released e-mails show

Late 2015, Downing Street unveiled its updated Prevent strategy requiring universities and colleges to “stop extremists radicalising students on campuses.”

Citing work by Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), Downing Street claimed that in 2014 there were “70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy.”

Honouring the former PM David Cameron’s pledge to “name and shame” institutions that host “hate speakers,” four universities were singled out: King’s College London, Kingston University, Queen Mary, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

pms-extremism-taskforce-tackling-extremism-in-universities-and-colleges-top-of-the-agenda

Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release (source)

However, e-mails recently obtained via a public records request show that much of the data attributed to the EAU in the above press release – including information used to “name and shame” universities – was taken from a misleading July 2015 report by Student Rights, an arm of “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society.

“Striking similarities” between the press release and the Student Rights report were first highlighted in this October 1, 2015 Times Higher Education article by Jack Grove.

For instance, the Student Rights report lists the four London universities mentioned by Downing Street in its own table of most-visited universities. 

student-rights-downing-street-data-comparison

Top: The Student Rights report (source) / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release (source)

It also includes a list of former students later convicted of terrorism-related offences – of whom eight are also mentioned in the press release.

The appropriated data was used to put a favourable spin on the government’s controversial counter-terrorism measures in a supporting statement by David Cameron, who prefaced his comments about “making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish” with a caveat about not “oppressing free speech.”

But efforts to assuage concerns about the possible chilling effect on free speech failed to convince, and the PM’s arguments in favour of limiting speech faltered under scrutiny.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron (source)

Via the Independent, two of the four universities “named and shamed” by Downing Street denied hosting any of the so-called “hate speakers” listed in the press release, calling into question the premise that British universities are “hotbeds” of terrorist activity.

There were also questions about the list of convicted former students, two of whom were supposedly radicalised during their studies.

Both the press release and the Student Rights report cite the example of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a transatlantic flight to Detroit in 2009, even though an independent inquiry commissioned by University College London found “no evidence” to suggest he was radicalised during his studies there.

student-rights-downing-street-comparison

Top: The Student Rights report / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release

Roshonara Choudhry, who was jailed for life for stabbing Labour MP Stephen Timms in 2010 shortly after dropping out of King’s College London, also appears in both documents. She admitted to having been radicalised by watching over a hundred hours of speeches on YouTube, and said she dropped out of King’s because she felt it to be “anti-Islamic.”

– So how did Downing Street get it so wrong?

As this “URGENT” September 16, 2015 e-mail shows, Downing Street’s press office was still in the process of collecting data the morning prior to publication.

redacted-september-16-2015-e-mail

Per this quick response to the above request to fact-check an early draft of the press release, the office was then urged to “amend the figures for numbers of events in 2014.”

redacted-september-16-2015-e-mail-reply

It was suggested using the dubious Student Rights report in response to the office’s request for “case studies on extremists speaking on campuses.”

redacted-september-16-2015-e-mail-reply-2

Downing Street has yet to substantiate its claim that in 2014 “at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses” – the only figure in the press release to have come from the EAU – with the Home Office refusing to provide a more detailed breakdown.

Assuming this figure is accurate, why did one of Downing Street’s internal fact-checkers request a correction? It seems that Downing Street was determined to find facts to fit its agenda, even ignoring calls to amend figures later used to smear British universities.

In doing so, it betrayed the supposedly “British values” of open debate, free speech and political dissent it originally claimed to protect.

– To ban or not to ban?

Also contained in the e-mails is a trial script” of the press release, plus an early draft of a scolding letter from Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson to former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Megan Dunn.

As stated in the published version of the press release, the updated Prevent guidance requires universities to ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.”

This means that when a university suspects an external speaker of holding “extremist” views, they must not be allowed to speak unless the “risk” of allowing them to do so is “mitigated by challenging the speaker…with someone holding opposing opinions.”

Anti-Prevent demonstration held in 2015 (source)

Downing Street had originally pushed for a statutory ban on “extremist speakers, including “non-violent extremists. The plans were were reportedly scrapped in March last year over concerns about free speech.

However, as this trial script” of the press release shows, Downing Street was still toying with the idea of a ban on “extremist speakers right up until September 16, 2015, just five days before the updated guidance came into force.

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In May this year, the government announced its intention to revive the proposed ban.

The plans were criticised by the police lead for Prevent Simon Cole, who warned that a ban risked creating a “thought police,” and suggested it was questionable whether the proposed legislation was even operationally enforceable.

– Jo Johnson’s letter to the NUS

In the published version of the Jo Johnson letter, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) minister urged the NUS to end its overt opposition” to Prevent, citing the legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges.”

However, per this early draft of the letter, Johnson chastised the NUS for its supposedly “inaccurate, outdated” and “misguided opinions,” which he claimed left no space for “balanced debate.”

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Responding to the revised letter, Megan Dunn said that she was confused about why the government was so focused on the NUS, as “students’ unions are not public bodies and therefore not subject to the act.”

She added: “The NUS is a campaigning organisation, so our opposition to this agenda, based on both principled and practical concerns…is both valid and appropriate.”

– Preventing Prevent

Since the updated strategy was brought into force, the Guardian has reported that the British government’s loose definition of extremism” is being used by other countries to crackdown on non-violent” dissent.

In September, prisoner advocacy group CAGE published a startling report on the junk science” underpinning the Prevent strategy’s assessment criteria for identifying at-risk” individuals at the so-called pre-criminal” stage of radicalisation.

CAGE’s “pre-crime” report re: Prevent (source)

The report prompted more than 140 academics and experts, including the renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter voicing concern over the lack of proper scientific scrutiny or public critique.”

In October, the Open Justice Society Initiative (part of the Open Society Foundations, or OSF) published its report recommending a “major government rethink of the “badly-flawed Prevent strategy – particularly on its use in the education and health system.

The report highlights multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws, the foreseeable consequence of which is a serious risk of human rights violations” including the right against discrimination, as well the right to freedom of expression, among other rights.”

See also: “The Year in Blog – 2015 Edition

Katz Against the Wall

“A closed mouth collects no feet” – Columnist/nutrition expert Dr. David L. Katz criticised for political articles

Last month, I blogged about The Clear and Present Menace of SciLence, a politically charged opinion piece by Huffington Post columnist/nutrition expert Dr. David L. Katz, founding director of the CDC-funded Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

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Dr. Katz’s January 27, 2017 article (source)

In that article, Dr. Katz railed against reports that the Trump administration had issued gag orders to the USDA and other US federal agencies:

I have a friend who told me he voted for Trump for one reason only: the Second Amendment. I have a question for him and others like him: what purpose can the Second Amendment possibly serve when the First Amendment is desecrated? When science is subordinated to silence, and the press to propaganda – only tyrants control the flow of information. 

After I published my item, Dr. Katz received several unusually critical comments from readers in the comments section of his article.

Via LinkedIn:

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In a follow-up article, Dr. Katz addressed the backlash, stating he would not stop writing about politics:

Lately, I am hearing from friends and colleagues with prominent voices in health and medicine – in some cases voices much more prominent than my own – that members of their large following are advising them to stop talking about politics. Sometimes my friends tell me this directly; sometimes I see such commentary in their social media feed. I see it in my own, too, as well as my email inbox every day. 

I am told, in essence: I am interested in what you have to say about health, but please just stick to that topic or I will stop following you. And indeed, weighing in about what I think matters most to our well being right now, I do see my Twitter following dip on occasion.

So be it. My answer, like that of the colleagues who command my respect, is no.

He also included the startling admission that he “[finds] it hard to care” about his patients’ health while Trump remains in office, and that as a credentialed MD, he believes Trump is “mentally ill.”

Honestly, I find it hard to care and counsel about the state of your colon or your coronary arteries while our democracy is self-destructing. Telling you why, or how to eat more kale at the moment feels a bit like arranging doilies on the Titanic. I think we should talk about the iceberg.

I needn’t tell you the particulars of what’s going on right now; you already know, or are living under a rock where this column won’t reach you either. But I can tell you what I think it means as a physician. I believe our president is mentally ill.

Paul Krugman is among those to have said this already, but Dr. Krugman is not a medical doctor. His PhD, like his Nobel Prize, is in economics- so his qualifications are suspect in this case. Mine are not, although I would readily defer to my colleagues in psychiatry. Still, I am qualified to say that paranoia, overt narcissism, and fixed delusions are bona fide mental illness.

Here’s how Dr. Katz’s “friends and colleagues” responded:

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It’s not the first time Dr. Katz has been criticised for offering a diagnosis…by remote observation to “express a political view.”

Via “Nutrition columnist Dr. David Katz slams NFL star Vince Wilfork and his namesake pizza & sandwich sold by Big Y supermarkets, but doesn’t mention his business relationship with Big Y,” by Peter M. Heimlich, The Sidebar, May 23, 2016:

Providing no indication that he examined Wilfork or consulted his physician, Dr. Katz diagnoses Wilfork as “severely obese” and adds, “I very much suspect his health is a ticking bomb, and retirement will markedly trim the fuse.”

Here’s how the “internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight control, and the prevention of chronic disease” says he arrived at those conclusions:

“Studies show that the ‘eyeball test’ differentiates fat from muscle nearly as well as fancy measures of body composition. Meaning no disrespect whatever to Vince, an especially perspicacious eyeball is not required to see that his health is in peril. There are plenty of images on-line; search them and see for yourself.”

See also: Censorship and Science, my January 27, 2017 item re: Author/journalist Nina Teicholz’s response to Dr. Katz’s concerns about censorship of science – she says “specious retraction efforts are also a form of censorship.”

Preaching to the Press

Is the British press shooting itself in the foot with efforts to halt state-backed press regulation?

Last October, IMPRESS became the first Royal Charter-backed press regulator in Britain after its application was approved by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), the government-funded body set up in the wake of the 2012 Leveson Report to oversee press regulation.

The decision to approve IMPRESS has proven controversial with the British press, with speculation about its motives and sources of funding.

What the press thinks of IMPRESS (source)

One particularly controversial area of concern is the involvement of motor racing tycoon Max Mosley, son of notorious wartime fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley (source)

In 2008, the younger Mosley – who currently funds IMPRESS via two charitieswon a court case against disgraced British tabloid the News of the World (now defunct) after it reported about his participation in what it termed a “sick Nazi orgy” with prostitutes.

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Sleazy 2008 report by News of the World (source)

Critics claim Mosley has a vendetta against the popular press, and is bankrolling IMPRESS using his father’s money to serve a personal agenda – accusations he has repeatedly denied, albeit unconvincingly.

Another primary area of concern is Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, under which publishers who are not a member of an approved regulator could soon face “exemplary” damages – for instance having to pay their opponent’s costs in libel and privacy cases, regardless of who wins.

Critics argue Section 40 could undermine a “vibrant local press” by “blackmailing” publishers into joining, otherwise face “draconian” sanctions.

These are fair and principled criticisms, and the British press is right to be concerned that state-backed regulation presents a threat to freedom of the press. However, critics would be wise to listen to and acknowledge pro-regulation arguments – if not to reconcile their aims with those of Leveson, then to save their own neck.

Lord Justice Leveson (source)

Take for example The Sun, one of several British tabloids to come under close scrutiny during the 2011 Leveson Inquiry. A fierce opponent of state-backed press regulation, it casually dismisses pro-regulation campaigners like Hacked Off as “leftie plotters.”

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The Sun’s gratuitous “leftie plotters” headline (source)

Are supporters of Leveson likely to find this sort of language persuasive? Or is The Sun merely preaching to the converted?

Another recent example, by way of the Daily Telegraph, perfectly illustrates the way in which the British press is carelessly sowing the seeds of its own destruction. As reported on this blog, last month the Telegraph published a sensationalist article about Steve McNought, whose Bristol-based publishing company Arkbound was recently approved by IMPRESS.

The January 21, 2017 article, “Armed robber turned publisher wins approval from state-approved Press regulator funded by Max Mosley” by the Sunday Telegraph’s chief reporter Robert Mendick, focused on McNought’s criminal past, namely a series of armed robberies he committed in 2007-08 for which he received a 12-year prison sentence.

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The Telegraph’s January 21, 2017 article (source)

The details of McNought’s US crime spree would make for a compelling episode of True Crimes, but that’s not what the Telegraph intended; as McNought told me in a comment on this blog, the article was a clear attempt to undermine Impress, using me as a tool to do so, in the most nasty and underhand way.”

In other words, the Telegraph fulfilled the worst expectations of its critics, betraying the principles of ethical journalism – if not the “full spirit” of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) code of practice to which it supposedly subscribes. To boot, McNought says he is considering legal action against the Telegraph for allegedly falsely reporting about his crimes and infringing his privacy.

The “draconian” Section 40 is presently awaiting a final signature from Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. Question: Is the British press willing to risk its hard-won freedoms for the sake of a few cheap shots at its political opponents?

Let’s hope not.

See also: “Crime and Regulation,” my January 24, 2017 item re: Steve McNought’s full response to the Telegraph’s article about his criminal past.

And: “The Case for Regulation,” my October 31, 2016 item re: Members of IMPRESS answer criticism that state-backed regulation could undermine a “vibrant local press.”

And: “UnIMPRESSed,” my October 27, 2016 item re: Two publications are no longer applying to join IMPRESS – with another on the fence.

WikiLeaks Goes “Full Trump”

WikiLeaks claims it invented popular whistle-blower program SecureDrop and that Julian Assange co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation – claims denied by FPF co-founder Micah Lee in heated exchange with the WikiLeaks Task Force

Last week, WikiLeaks tweeted that the Associated Press (AP) and other press organisations had adopted “WikiLeaks technology” in adopting SecureDrop, a whistle-blower submission program developed by US “hacktivist” and transparency advocate, the late Aaron Swartz.

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In response, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) co-founder Micah Lee tweeted that Wikileaks’ claim re: SecureDrop was “a lie” and that it had “never contributed” to the program’s development.

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This was followed by a heated exchange between Lee and the WikiLeaks Task Force, an official WikiLeaks account set up in October 2016 to “correct misinformation” about its namesake organisation.

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In its response, the Task Force claimed Swartz and the FPF developed SecureDrop using technology “invented at WL,” and that WikiLeaks’ founder, exiled Australian journalist Julian Assange, co-founded the FPF…

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…claims denied by Lee in another tweet:

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The Task Force then doubled down, claiming Lee was not a founder of FPF…

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…in another tweet even claiming Lee was “an anti-freedom of speech campaigner”:

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However, the FPF website clearly lists Lee as one of its co-founders:

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As covered on this blog, the WikiLeaks Task Force recently began threatening legal action against Twitter users – including journalists – who criticise WikiLeaks and Assange.

In this case, at least, Lee had the final word:

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See also: “WikiLeaks Threatens Writer,” my January 15, 2017 item re: WikiLeaks Task Force’s demand that Jezebel writer delete “rapist shitbag” Assange tweet or “face the consequences.”

Preventing Prevent 2.0

Does Trump plan to implement a US version of highly controversial British counter-extremism strategy?

Via “Exclusive: Trump to focus counter-extremism program solely on Islam – sources” by Julia Edwards Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke, Reuters, February 2, 2017:

The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.

As covered on this blog, the unintended consequences from the British government’s own counter-extremism programme – the much-maligned Prevent strategy – have proven to be deeply troublesome, and the strategy is frequently criticised by students’ groups and free speech organisations as a threat to academic and religious freedoms.

Of particular concern is the government’s loose definition of “extremism,” which essentially provides legal remit for authorities and British institutions such as schools and universities to shut down political dissent (one Yorkshire council even used Prevent to target anti-fracking environmental protesters).

Yorkshire anti-fracking protesters (source)

According to Prevent duty guidance, the government defines “extremism” as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British Values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Metropolitan Police commander Mak Chishty expanded on the government’s definition to include subtle changes in behaviour, such as the shunning of certain shops, claiming there was a need for authorities to “move into the private space” of Muslims.

Asked to define “private space,” Chishty said: It’s anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things.”

Conservative MP Lucy Allen put it best: “Prevent…sounds positively Orwellian.

Metropolitan Police commander Mak Chishty (source)

The clincher is that much of the data used to support Downing Street’s premise that British institutions are “hotbeds of “extremist activity, was taken – without attribution – from a misleading report by “right-wing think tank the Henry Jackson Society.

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July 2015 report by Student Rights director Rupert Sutton (source)

Via my December 2015 public records request, Downing Street was still in the process of collecting case studies about extremism just five days before the updated strategy came into force, and appears to have ignored a request from an internal fact-checker to amend figures about the number of events featuring “hate speakers” held on university campuses in 2014.

The strategy is currently facing a legal challenge from British Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt, who claims the government breached his free speech rights when it branded him an “extremist” in a 2015 press release.

Info-Warring

Leading US conspiracy news website InfoWars accused of stealing content

According to multiple DMCA complaints that were sent to Google, InfoWars didn’t seek permission before republishing articles that originally featured on pro-gun news website AmmoLand and Danish-run news website nsnbc international.

Via the Lumen Database – a website that collects takedown requests of online content – AmmoLand claimed that InfoWars duplicated, in full, its July 11, 2015 interview with Donald Trump, published shortly after he announced his candidacy for US president.

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AmmoLand’s August 14, 2015 complaint to Google (source)

Via nsnbc’s complaint, InfoWars is accused of duplicating an article about Syrian journalist Maya Nasser, who was killed in 2012 while reporting from war-torn Damascus.

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nsnbc’s undated complaint to Google (source)

InfoWars is also accused of duplicating an article about bioterrorism originally published on Cincinnati survivalist news website On Point Preparedness.

Via Why I Hate Infowars & Internet Plagiarism”, On Point Preparedness, May 6, 2015:

It was during October 2014 that I had my first popular article. I contacted Mac Slavo @ SHTFPlan.com and he was excited to repost my article. He was very courteous and asked if he could repost the article text “in full”, or whether I wanted him to only republish 1/3 of the article with a “read more” tag. Excited with the opportunity, I told him that he could republish my article in full text and all was good in the world.

After only a day of being up on his site, bigger fish like Infowars republished the story in full text, but did not ask for my permission. Additionally, they sited [sic] SHTFPlan.com as the source, rather than On Point Preparedness as the original author.

Last week it was reported that InfoWars founder Alex Jones, once described by New York magazine as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” has applied for White House press credentials.