Thursday, June 05, 2008

And they say blogs are "derivative"?

One of the oft' repeated charges made against blogs discussed here is that they are "derivative". They simply feed off the MSM, without which "professional" input they would have nothing to write about.

There is some truth in that – but only some. We, in fact, have our own fair share of original stories (see here, for instance - and here), but the charge also misses the point. Many blogs actually devote considerable effort to monitoring the media, calling it to account – as with Biased BBC and Tim Worstall - itself a valuable and necessary service.

On the other hand, the charge also reflects the arrogance of the MSM who, if anything, are the ultimate parasites, feeding off each other (and us when it suits them), copying out each others' stories, more often than not without even acknowledging their sources (an unpardonable breach of "netiquette" if done by a blogger).

A good example of that comes today, in the report by The Sun based on an "exclusive" interview with the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt.

In this interview, the CGS claims that soldiers get paid "less than parking wardens", on which basis the paper extrapolates a headline, "Soldiers risk life yet earn less than a traffic warden". This is then "helpfully" illustrated with examples of pay, the paper claiming that, "A soldier's starting salary is £12,572 a year, rising to £15,677 as a Level 1 private. A traffic warden's basic pay is £17,000."

Actually, the pay figures are wrong – they are out of date. Currently, trainees are paid £13,012.80 – but, of course, they do not "risk life" on operations. To do that, they must qualify, whence their starting pay is £16,226.76 a year, on top of which they get a £2,320 tax free operational allowance (annualised). By that reckoning - as we explore here - they get paid considerably more than a traffic warden, and get heavily subsidised meals and accommodation (for which they do not pay when on operations).

The point though is that The Sun puts up incorrect figures (so much for their fact-checking) which are then copied out by other hacks who pile in to repeat the story, not least James Kirkup and Lucy Cockcroft of The Daily Telegraph and James Forsyth, the web editor of The Spectator (who also refuses to publish a correction in his comments section - now up!).

Oddly – or perhaps not - Michael Evans of The Times gets it right, basing his story on MoD figures, but in another league entirely is Stephen Glover, columnist for The Daily Mail, who comments on yesterday's story about the grounded Chinooks.

Having clearly swallowed the "spin" (carefully inserted by Tory MP Edward Leigh) that the problems with these aircraft started in 2001 – during the tenure of the current administration – he declares: "We could simply blame civil servants… It was civil servants who ordered duff helicopters - the MoD is notoriously wasteful … But we can't simply leave it at that." He then goes on to criticise (current) government ministers.

What he fails to understand – and obviously failed to check – is that the "duff helicopters" were ordered in July 1995, at which time Michael Portillo was secretary of state for defence. The minister of state for defence procurement – who actually approved the order – was James Arbuthnot (pictured). A former barrister, he is currently chairman of the Defence Committee, charged with scrutinising the actions of the MoD.

Unfortunately (it is usually better informed), Conservative Home falls for the Glover error, echoing his question: "Will the Conservatives be any better?" How ironic that history shows that, last time, Conservative ministers Portillo and Arbuthnot, were not.

Conservative Home, however, is far from on it own. Most of the media yesterday have followed the same line, evidently working from a press release issued by Leigh. But what an interesting story the truth would have made, especially if it had focused on James Arbuthot. The "scourge" of the MoD, not only did he order the ill-fated Chinooks, his "golden touch" extended to ordering the Nimrod MR4A and, for an encore, he sold off the MoD's housing stock at the bottom of the market – for which the ministry is now having to pay dear, forced to rent married quarters back at top dollar rates.

However, you will only read that here, on this "derivative" blog, while those diligent professionals go about their vital tasks of informing the nation. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the British media.

(Cue applause)


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