Knights of the Green Garter: culture, practice and (absence of) ethics of the press

In August 2011, my mouse and I began an exploration that became a series of posts pertaining to coincidences that – with the benefit of hindsight – can be found in chronologies, Climategate, Copenhagen and media coverage of the activities of key characters and constabularies.

If there is an overarching theme to be found in these explorations, I would suggest that it lies in the many unasked and/or unanswered questions to which the indisputable facts give rise. Incidentally, in my reading of Andrew Montford’s excellent Hiding the Decline: A history of the Climategate affair I noticed that a similar theme emerges.

Yesterday in the U.K. members of the press were all a-twitter, so to speak, in anticipation of the today’s release of the report of the Leveson Inquiry. The background of this Inquiry tells us that:

The Prime Minister announced a two-part inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal, on 13 July 2011.

Lord Justice Leveson was appointed as Chairman of the Inquiry. The first part will examine the culture, practices and ethics of the media. In particular, Lord Justice Leveson will examine the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians. He is assisted by a panel of six independent assessors with expertise in key issues being considered by the Inquiry.
[…]
It will make recommendations on the future of press regulation and governance consistent with maintaining freedom of the press and ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards.

Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings on 14 November 2011, saying: “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?” [emphasis added -hro]

Speaking of ‘guarding the guardians’, one of the Leveson Inquiry related articles that caught my eye today, was that of the U.K. Guardian‘s “crime correspondent” Vikram Dodd:

Leveson warns Metropolitan police it faces criticism

Letter from Leveson follows claims that Scotland Yard failed to fully investigate criminal practices at News International titles

The Metropolitan police has been formally warned by Lord Justice Leveson that it faces criticism from his inquiry into the force’s handling of the phone-hacking scandal and relations with the media.

A letter to the Met says the force’s own actions allowed a perception to emerge that certain media organisations were favoured. It has also been warned that senior officers were encouraged to be close to the media over many years.

Several past and serving officers have been told that the inquiry is minded to criticise them over their actions and decision-making during the first phone-hacking investigation in 2006, and then a decision to refuse to reopen the criminal investigation for 18 months from the summer of 2009 despite mounting evidence that the number of victims was much wider than officially admitted.

Leveson’s long-awaited report is published on Thursday and will rule on the relationships between the press, politicians and police. While most media coverage preceding publication has focused on the reform of press regulation, the report is also one of the most significant inquiries into the conduct of the police in a generation.

[…]

The phone-hacking scandal convulsed the Met, Britain’s biggest police force, leading to accusations that Scotland Yard had failed to investigate the full extent of criminal practices at News International titles because it was too close or fearful of the media group controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Some went further and suggested the Met’s allegedly botched inquiries were the result of impropriety.

[…]

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the Sun who resigned as News International chief executive, Clive Goodman, the former royal editor of the Sun, and Bettina Jordan-Barber, an official at the Ministry of Defence, will appear in court on Thursday on charges relating to Operation Elveden, the Met inquiry into alleged payments to police and public officials.

[…]

The demise of [News of the World’s] top leadership followed more than a year of allegations, but was cemented when it was revealed that former NoW deputy editor Neil Wallis had been employed part-time by the force to work on strategic communications. [emphasis added -hro]

Neil Wallis, eh?! Now there’s a familiar name with some rather familiar “high-powered” connections: in particular, to the University of East Anglia (UEA) and its Climate Research Unit (CRU) during its hours months and weeks of need on the “strategic communications” front in the aftermath of Climategate.

There are two schools of thought as to the point at which Wallis and his (apparently now former) colleagues at the PR consultant-to-the-stars firm known as the Outside Organization began their association with UEA/CRU. One is that which was confirmed (very reluctantly, I would guess, considering that it took Freedom of Information requests to pry the details out of them) by UEA. According to the documents disclosed under FOI, Wallis’s engagement began in early February 2010.

The third anniversary of (what is now known as) Climategate 1 (CG1) was marked on November 19. So this early February 2010 date suggests that it took UEA more than two months to realize that they needed rescuing from a bad press mess of their own making. As someone who is perhaps more perceptive of disasters in the making than the powers that be at UEA, journalist Fred Pearce’s December 10, 2009 analysis is worth noting:

Climategate: Anatomy of A Public Relations Disaster

The way that climate scientists have handled the fallout from the leaking of hacked e-mails is a case study in how not to respond to a crisis. But it also points to the need for climate researchers to operate with greater transparency and to provide more open access to data.

The media blizzard that has descended on climate science since the hacking of hundreds of e-mails held on the webmail server at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, is set to become a case study — in public relations disasters, in the folly of incontinent electronic communication, in the shortcomings of peer review, and, very probably, in “how not to save the world.”

The e-mails, dating from the mid-1990s to early November this year, first surfaced online on Nov. 20. Within hours they were being described by a columnist in one national British newspaper, the right-leaning Daily Telegraph, as “the final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic global warming,” adding for good measure that “this scandal could well be the greatest in modern science.”

Follow that. Well, the world’s media did.

Pearce had concluded this well-worth reading article, as I have previously noted, by writing:

I have been speaking to a PR operator for one of the world’s leading environmental organizations. Most unusually, he didn’t want to be quoted. But his message is clear. The facts of the e-mails barely matter any more. It has always been hard to persuade the public that invisible gases could somehow warm the planet, and that they had to make sacrifices to prevent that from happening. It seemed, on the verge of Copenhagen, as if that might be about to be achieved.

But he says all that ended on Nov. 20. “The e-mails represented a seminal moment in the climate debate of the last five years, and it was a moment that broke decisively against us. I think the CRU leak is nothing less than catastrophic. [emphasis added -hro]”

Your mileage – and that of others – may certainly vary. But, to my mind it is almost beyond belief that it took UEA/CRU two months to recognize their BIG “reputation management” problem! And it certainly doesn’t jibe with the Sept. 25, 2010 account of their UEA/CRU involvement by the leading lights of the Outside Organization.

UEA/CRU have a longstanding and solid reputation for, well, hiding from public view, inconvenient facts and data (as Montford so ably documents in his book). So, I agree, it would certainly be a toss-up as to whose account is more credible: theirs, or that of a self-promoting PR firm. But, to my mind, Pearce’s analysis above “gives force”, so to speak, to that of Wallis and his erstwhile colleagues.

Wallis has been quite a chatterbox since he launched his latest round of unabashed self-exculpation and self-promotion via twitter in July of this year:

Neil Wallis’s twitter profile as of Nov. 28, 2012. 8,886 tweets and rising!

Yet when presented with an opportunity to resolve the begin-date discrepancy regarding his assistance to UEA/CRU, Wallis very conspicuously – and silently – demurred:

Why didn’t Wallis answer the questions? Curious minds would like to know.

Hmmm …. I wonder if Wallis and Bob Ward, another PR hack (whom we saw in action a few days ago), attended the same “seminar” on how (not) to communicate with the public when they are asked inconvenient questions.

Which brings me back to the Leveson Inquiry. It is worth noting that the “official” name of this inquiry is:

LEVESON INQUIRY: CULTURE, PRACTICE AND ETHICS OF THE PRESS

It is an examination of the rather cosy relationships that seem to have evolved amongst politicians, the press, and the police.

Among those who gave evidence at this Inquiry, are Neil Wallis and the Huffington Post, for which virtual rag Wallis now writes. Perhaps he wrote their submission, just as he seems to have written stories about UEA/CRU’s “Poor Phil”.

Another submission [PDF] to the Inquiry was made jointly by Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) and Tony Newbery (Harmless Sky). In the Background to their submission, they note:

[…] we both consider that forums in which alternative views on the subject can be expressed, exchanged, and discussed, make a contribution to a scientific controversy that has become influenced by politics at every stage. From the funding of research to the reporting of ethical and moral issues relating to mitigation of, or adaptation to, any future variation in climate, there always seems to be a political dimension as well as a scientific one. Inevitably this is reflected in the way journalists report on this very controversial subject.

Montford and Newbery further noted that:

This submission is divided into two parts: comments on the evidence presented to the inquiry on behalf of the Science Media Centre (SMC), and our own experience when attempting to address a major problem affecting science reporting by the media.
[…]
In our comments on the SMC’s evidence to the Leveson Inquiry we first provide additional information about two alleged cases of unsatisfactory press reporting. This new information conflicts with the evidence from the SMC. We then consider whether the SMC’s evidence is compromised by a conflict between its claim to be independent, and its advocacy role on behalf of the scientific community. […]
[…]
[…] we set out the difficulties we have experienced in persuading the BBC to consider evidence that the impartiality of its newsgathering may have been compromised by its journalists having become far too close to environmental activism.

The SMC was represented by Fiona Fox whose advocacy on behalf of UEA/CRU led her to provide a very misleading – and far from ethical – narrative of the impact of Climategate on “Poor Phil”. She very conveniently omitted any mention whatsoever of the – by then well-known involvement, whenever it might have started – of Neil Wallis and his former colleagues at the Outside Organization. Although the silence of the MSM on the Wallis UEA/CRU connection was positively deafening when his involvement was brought to light, in July and August, 2011.

But this submission from Montford and Newbery sets the record straight. As anyone familiar with their excellent blogs, Bishop Hill and Harmless Sky might expect, it was factual and filled in the wide gaps left by Fox’s oral testimony and submission.

They make a very compelling case which includes their experiences in attempting to provide input to the infamous Jones “review” of the BBC’s coverage of climate change. So it will be interesting to see if it has been taken on board in the Leveson Report – particularly in light of the more recent scandalous disclosures regarding the BBC’s conspicuous absence of ethics and impartiality in their reporting of climate change … not to mention their high-priced obfuscatory stonewalling of FOI requests.

But what will be even more interesting, if Leveson’s report does reflect their evidence – and even if it doesn’t – is whether or not the self-appointed Knights of the Green Garter – Leo Hickman, Andrew Revkin, Suzanne Goldenberg, and Damion Carrington to name but a few – will let their readers know that which has been so conspicuous by its absence in their coverage for far too long. Their active participation in the crusade to save the planet has led them into a culture and practice of “journalism” that is as devoid of ethics as Fiona Fox, Neil Wallis and Bob Ward.

2 thoughts on “Knights of the Green Garter: culture, practice and (absence of) ethics of the press

  1. There is a pervasive group of journalists, lobbyists, activists, NGO types, ‘scientists’, crony capitalists, bureaucrats and politicians who do so well out of climate alarmism that their only fear is that the music will someday stop.

    This, for example, is why there is no legacy media criticism, or even mention, of the appalling waste represented by the Doha conference. Insiders are discussing ‘important’ matters with other insiders, and their profligacy is being covered up by more insiders. A genuine consensus.

    They act like an occupying power of the colonial era; living high on the hog of resources that do not belong to them and doing everything in their power to suppress dissent and impose onerous regulations on the colonised communities.

  2. There’s an exponential acceleration of groupthink that develops as fewer and fewer non-co-thinkers are involved. It is not dissimilar from the mob mentality, in which individuals take the “consensus” in which they are immersed as both license and mandate to throw off all restraint.

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