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Savilegate: Some troubling questions for the new CEO of ‘The New York Times’

I wonder if Mark Thompson had anything to declare when he went through customs en route for his new job at the New York Times? Probably not.

And now he is ensconced as CEO at the NYT, I wonder if Thompson has anything to declare over the Jimmy Savile scandal that has engulfed the BBC?

Probably not.

Even so, I can’t help thinking that this is not the end of the story, for I find it hard to believe that Thompson knew nothing about those stories regarding Jimmy Savile, or was not at least aware of them. It now appears that I am not the only one who thinks this. Allegedly former BBC journalist, Keith Graves, finds it hard to believe, as he, or someone commenting under his name, posted on the Daily Mail:

Mark Thompson says that during his time at the BBC he “never heard any allegations” about Savile. During his years in the television newsroom, culminating in a period editing the flagship evening new, rumours about Savile being ‘into little girls’ were rife as were often crude comments about hims and his behaviour. It is inconceivable that those rumours, which were, I recall, often discussed in the BBC club bar by news staff, did not reach his ears.

- Keith Graves, Valencia, Spain, 28/10/2012 13:27

Even Mike Hollingsworth, the man who first employed Thompson as his assistant at the BBC, said in the Daily Telegraph, Thompson would have had to been “tone deaf” not to have heard rumors about Jimmy Savile.

“He must be mad denying that he’d heard anything about Saville. We had all heard the rumours. You would have to have been tone deaf not to have heard them…

“I know that Mark has a strong Catholic faith, but it wasn’t as if this was something that people would whisper about when he came into a room – he is a man of the world. You just have to look at the programming he put out when he took over at Channel 4 to see that he wasn’t in the least bit squeamish when it came to all kinds of discussions about sex.”

This incredulity from former colleagues has only increased the growing disquiet over the “baggage” Thompson is perceived to be bringing to his new job at the New York Times, as one of the paper’s editors, Margaret Sullivan wondered in a blog: 

“How likely is it that [Thompson] knew nothing?....His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The [New York] Times and its journalism – profoundly. It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events.”

The questions hinge on what Thompson knew about the Jimmy Savile scandal, when he was Director General at the BBC. It’s an important issue, one that saw his replacement, George Entwisle (or “Incurious George”) resign his position over not knowing about a Newsnight item that led to a gross libel against an innocent man. If Entwistle was considered guilty for not knowing about the serious allegations broadcast by his flagship news program, then where does that leave Thompson, who claims he knew little or virtually nothing about a planned Newsnight investigation into abuse allegations involving Jimmy Savile?

What little Thompson did know he dismissed in a letter to Conservative MP, Rob Wilson:

“What did happen is that, at a drinks reception late last year, a journalist mentioned to me the existence of the investigation and said words to the effect of “you must be worried about the Newsnight investigation?” This was the first I had heard of the investigation…Although I recall hearing at the time of his death that BBC Television might do something (a tribute) about Jimmy Savile in due course, again I had not been briefed about the programmes themselves. I assume they were commissioned and broadcast by BBC Vision, the BBC’s television arm, in the usual way.”

This is obvious buck passing. Moreover, as it was Thompson who tightened up BBC procedure after the scandalous Brandgate affair - where 2 BBC presenters (Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross) were involved in a prank call that was deemed to be offensive and “a catastrophic breakdown of editorial and compliance control by the BBC” - it seems incredible that Thompson did not take any real interest into a planned BBC investigation into serious allegations of pedophilia involving a major BBC star. 
More questions for ‘NYT’ CEO Mark Thompson, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Facebook’s sneaky Trojan horse: You won’t ‘LIKE’ this!

This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.

The writing is clearly on the wall: The Internet is up in arms against Facebook.

The biggest grouse being the way Facebook is scuttling the reach of status updates in the news feed. Enough has been written already about the topic and the voice of dissent is only growing by the day. The recent furor has served to confirm what everyone already suspected about the way Facebook’s notorious EdgeRank algorithm was hiding status updates.

In a smart move to counter this backlash, Facebook has launched a special news feed dedicated only to Pages. This should act as a soothing balm to the bruised egos and angry voices, but the reality is something else. This new Pages only feed is but a glorified version of the main news feed with the censoring of content still more or less intact! To call it a minor improvement would be overstating the case, but it does show, to a certain extent, that Facebook is listening. Maybe.

While reach of status updates is a major concern there are other problems that ail Facebook, some of which I discussed in detail in an older blog post of mine Meet the Enemy of the Internet! This was a post that I published six months ago and luckily for me it came alive once again because of it being featured here on Dangerous Minds.

Needless to say, traffic from Dangerous Minds to my site was fantastic and this in turn gave me a lot of additional data to substantiate what I had discussed in my earlier blog post.

The main issue of contention, apart from the apparent scuttling of status updates, is the battle between the SHARE and the LIKE buttons on our websites. These buttons are the primary marketing tools on every site and are supposed to help our readers share content to Facebook and in return we expect referral traffic coming from Facebook. That is the only reason why these buttons exist in the first place.

As I pointed out in my original blog post, the SHARE button, including the organic shares (links inside status updates) drove 95% of the referral traffic to my site from Facebook as opposed to the LIKE button which drove the remaining paltry 5% of the traffic. In a curious twist, Facebook decided to get rid of the SHARE button. Why did Facebook do that? The detailed reasons I gave in my previous exhaustive blog post about this, but to cut things short: Facebook hates it when you bring content from the outside, it tries its best to hide stuff that originates from outside the gated community of Facebook. (Photos, however, they, uh, “like” because you don’t have to leave Facebook to view them. This is why Facebook purchased Instagram).

I have gone through the traffic statistics of my blog for the last week since the moment that Dangerous Minds shared my post and below are the findings, taken from Facebook Insights, for my blog during that period. Mind you, during this period my site did not have the SHARE button on it, just the LIKE button. See for yourself what happened.

Organic Shares:
There were 159 people who shared my post “organically” on Facebook. That is, they posted the links to my blog in the status update box manually without the aid of any SHARE button residing on my site. These updates resulted in 32,496 impressions on Facebook and 452 people clicked those links on Facebook and landed back on my site. Somehow 32,496 impressions sounds very small considering that some pages that shared this post had followers in the thousands including Dangerous Minds which counts over 61,000 people who have “liked” its Facebook Page.

Like Button:
The LIKE button was displayed 20,020 times on my blog and 178 people clicked the LIKE button in that same time period. These LIKE’s are supposed to display in the news feed of the person clicking the LIKE button so that their friends can view the stories similar to the way SHARE buttons did earlier.

To my surprise I found out that the clicks on the LIKE button drove ZERO impressions on Facebook which in turn means no one saw those LIKE’s on Facebook and hence there was ZERO referral traffic back to my site. I wonder what would have happened if I had the SHARE button there in place of LIKE?

Nearly without exception—almost every one of us—the website/blog owners, have gotton rid of the SHARE button at some point of time in favor of the poorly functioning LIKE button, which can be seen to be suicidal for traffic. Those who still stuck with the old code of the SHARE button were brutally ambushed when Facebook discontinued technical support for it in its old form sometime earlier this year.

Do you smell a rat here?

I smell a Trojan horse.

PS: Think twice before you click LIKE below, you are better off SHARING this post rather than clicking LIKE, or maybe it’s best if you do both.

This has been a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand

You can catch him here:

Twitter: @KartikDayanand          
Facebook: Mind u Read

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘Whaur Extremes Meet’: A Portrait of the poet Hugh MacDiarmid

When Hugh MacDiarmid died in 1978, his fellow poet Norman MacCaig suggested Scotland commemorate the great man’s passing by holding 3 minute’s pandemonium. It was typical of MacCaig’s caustic wit, but his suggestion did capture something of the unquantifiable enormity of MacDiarmid’s importance on Scottish culture, politics, literature and life during the twentieth century.

Hugh MacDiarmid is perhaps best described by a line from his greatest poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), in which he wrote:

‘I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet - it’s the only way I ken
To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt
That damns the vast majority o’ men.

It explains the contradictory elements that merged to make him a poet.

Born Christopher Murray Grieve, on August 11, 1892, he changed his name to the more Scottish sounding Hugh MacDiarmid to publish his poetry. He was a Modernist poet who wrote in Scots vernacular. One might expect this choice of language to make his poetry parochial, but MacDiarmid was a poet of international ambition and standing, who was recognized as an equal with T. S. Eliot, Boris Pasternak and W. H. Auden.

In politics, MacDiarmid had been one of the co-founder’s of the National Party for Scotland in 1928, but was ejected when he moved towards Communism. He was then ejected from the Communist Party for his “nationalist deviation.” He maintained a Nationalist - in favor of an independent Scotland - and a Communist throughout his life.

As literature scholar and writer Kenneth Butlay notes, MacDiarmid was: incensed by his countrymen’s neglect of their native traditions as by their abrogation of responsibility for their own affairs, and he took it upon himself to “keep up perpetually a sort of Berseker rage” of protest, and to act as “the catfish that vitalizes the other torpid of the aquarium.”

In 1964, the experimental film-maker Margaret Tait made short documentary portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid, which captured the poet at home in Langholme, his sense of childish fun, his socializing his the bars and public houses of Edinburgh (the Abbotsford on Rose Street).

More on Hugh MacDiarmid, plus poetry and reading, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Conspiracy theory’s final frontier: Iran’s Ahmadinejad and ‘The Fonz’?
08:38 am


conspiracy theories

No offense to any actors out there – as it happens, I’ve always found you to be a perfectly charmin’ bunch of narcissists – but I can’t imagine a more frightening conspiracy theory than one that posits that they secretly rule the world, which is exactly what Ed Chiarini, aka DallasGoldBug, suggests in his hilarious, bizarre and entirely entertaining “research.” 

It can often seem as if conspiracy theory secretly aspires to transform everything into cinema. Apollo 11 – which many conspiracy theorists would like to see added to Stanley Kubrick’s Wikipedia filmography – is an obvious example, as are the array of special effects that populate 9/11 conspiracy theories, ranging from holograms to exploding buildings.

July’s Aurora shootings faced plenty of this sort of speculation. Here, after all, was a massacre that occurred in a cinema during a Batman screening, executed by a Joker copycat. A few days later, Batman himself (well, Christian Bale) would swing by the hospital. For the victims and perpetrator alike the line between cinema and reality was already smudged, and many conspiracy theorists have since asserted that the entire event was a kind of meta-hoax, with some even suggesting that the following impromptu press conference with an Aurora emergency doctor is a cameo by Tom Cruise! 

Personally, I can’t see it (a pity – I love the idea), but whatever your reaction to the above – “fuck off!” or “fuck me!” – plenty apparently experience the opposite, while the idea that public life is riddled with doubles, doppelgangers, actors and clones currently finds itself in a kind of conspiratorial vogue.     

Which brings us to Ed Chiarini. Many contemporary conspiratorial “researchers” have their own gimmick nowadays, and Chiarini’s is a selection of “biometric” techniques including voice recognition, handwriting analysis and ear comparison, that he uses to argue that numerous figures in the public eye, from politicians to famous felons, are actually played by actors who frequently reappear in other high profile roles.

We’ll get to some of these shortly. They’re pretty fucking out there. Chiarini’s three-hour, three-part magnum opus, The Truth EXPOSED , however, begins quite reasonably, gently taking the open-minded viewer by the hand, and leading them to the edge of the deep end before hurling itself in and attempting to pull them down with it.

After a cursory explanation of ear biometrics (the ears never lie, got it?) the documentary begins by arguing that various US “reality” television characters – none of whom I’d ever heard of – were played by actors who also appeared in other reality shows. It then moves on to the news, arguing that the actors from the “reality” shows also crop up as witnesses and protagonists in current affairs, alongside other recurrent performers. Chiarini supplements the amateur biometrics with other examples of apparent staging in the news, with particular events – like 9/11 and the Occupy protests – ostensibly swarming with plants and choreographed coverage.

At this point, my politely suspended doubt was meandering further and further afield, and I was quite comfortably ensconced in Chiarini’s world of luridly fraudulent news…

All of a sudden, though, it was back, and hammering madly on the window. Out of the blue, Chiarini seemed to be arguing that JonBenét Ramsey grew up to be Lady Gaga, and that Lady Gaga “was” (the supposition here is that they’re all played by an actor) none other than Amy Winehouse! As a Brit, this rather offended my pop music patriotism, but maybe, if he’d left it at that, Chiarini could have reeled me in a little further. As it was, the revelations were coming in so thick and fast you didn’t even have the chance to finish laughing at the last one.

Here, off the top of my head, are some of the best…

Matt Stone and Trey Parker “are” Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold

Barack Obama “is” Osama Bin Laden.

Karl Rove “is” Mark Chapman.

David Ike “is” Richard Branson.

And my own and any other reasonable person’s personal fave….

Henry Winkler – aka the Fonz – “is” Iran’s President Ahmadinejad…

Which prompts the perfectly reasonable supposition that Ed Chiarini “is” taking the piss.

For many fellow travelers in the conspiracy racket – at first extremely hospitable to Chiarini and his biometric party pack – the above claims and the many others like them stretched even their extremely flexible credulity to breaking point. Chiarini didn’t do himself any favors with this target audience by treating many of their heroes to a DallasGoldBug mash-up, suggesting that…

JFK “is” Jimmy Carter

Bill Hicks “is” Alex Jones


William Cooper “is” Jordon Maxwell (I can actually see where he’s coming from here).

The predictable result of these was that Chiarini was accused of being a shill sent by the secret government to make conspiracy theorists look like a pack of dickheads. In other words, they accused him of being an actor! Excluding a small hardcore of followers who’d probably believe him if he said Jon Bon Jovi was Albert Einstein, the sense was that Chiarini had gone rogue, madly folding his folded world while hollering “sue me” at anyone who objected to reading that they weren’t real.

Personally – and I’m quite possibly on my own here – regardless of whether he’s a nut-job, a spy, or a prophet in the wilderness, I find something oddly sublime in Chiarini’s claims, and the concept they throw up of an entirely artificial world in which the heroes and villains that constitute history, from Churchill (Lionel Barrymore) to Hitler (Kermit Roosevelt – who also played Walt Disney), are theatrical inventions seducing us from precipice to precipice in a daze of bogus love and loathing.

My imagination enjoys itself in Chiarini’s parallel universe, too. Take, for example, the aesthetic logic in Obama “being” Osama. What I love about this one is how experimental the latter’s assassination becomes – one character cannibalizing the other to enhance their essence, while their real consanguinity is hidden in plain sight by the near – and extraordinarily improbable – correspondence of their names. This showbiz Illuminati, it would appear, are not immune to a touch of l’art pour l’art.

There are, also, times when Chiarini’s parallel universe impinges upon this one. His commentary (see below) over that famous flick known as The Lonesome Death of Lee Harvey Oswald (starring Jim Reeves as Oswald and David Rockefeller as Jack Ruby) is a case in point, and leaves it looking – well, for a glorious moment or two – laughably, transcendentally phoney…

Thanks to Mark Reeve at ORB Editions

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
What’s Wrong With Mabel?: John Cassavettes’ ‘A Woman Under the Influence’

Woman Under the Influence
Unrelenting. That is one of the first words that comes to mind when talking about the work of John Cassavetes. Few filmmakers were as willing to not only open a vein but then deny their audience any easy answers about said act as Cassavetes. A Woman Under the Influence is a supreme example of this, standing as one of the most honest and quietly uneasy films that have emerged in the past fifty years. How uneasy? Well, it made Richard Dreyfuss physically ill after watching it… a good way. (Yes, even vomiting can be a compliment when done correctly.) That reaction sounds completely over dramatic, but when you see the film, you can understand why Dreyfuss or anyone else, would have been so gut punched by it.

Woman stars Gena Rowlands as Mabel, a middle-aged mother of three precocious kids and wife to Nick (Peter Falk), who is a gruff but warm blue collar man. She seems high-strung at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is something not right. Everyone knows it except her husband, with even some of his co-workers asking about her health. Nick’s the kind of guy who lives in denial for the reasons most due in such situations; out of love and out of an inability to deal. But much like in real life, it takes a series of events to bring everything to a simmer and after one particularly ugly and intense intervention with Mabel, her doctor and Nick’s stunningly irritating mother, he has his wife committed.

It is in her absence that he is confronted with the fact that he is not only been out of touch with his wife, but with his children as well. The only time we get to see him bond with the kids at all, is when he gets them unwittingly snockered on cheap beer after a dreary trip to the beach. Two months later and Nick plans a huge welcome back party for Mabel, but then quickly scraps it in favor of a more intimate family gathering. But as she arrives home, looking heavily sedated bordering on shell shocked, it becomes apparent that there are no easy fixes, especially for a family that is so steeped in simply not dealing.

Woman Under the Influence is a film that not only confronts its characters’ issues but a larger issue looming ahead. Mental illness, along with addiction, are two of the most misunderstood and often mishandled issues. It’s true now and it was true then, especially when you are talking about a time when electroshock therapy was common, a procedure Mabel mentions receiving. There’s nothing like someone leaving a facility worse off than they were beforehand. (For more info on this, just listen to Lou Reed’s song “Kill Your Sons”, which references Reed’s own experiences with electroshock.) Often, families’ ways of dealing with mental illness is to not deal with it all until it becomes the loud and at times, dangerous elephant in the room. Even then, there is an undercurrent of resentment there, something that comes out especially from Nick’s mother, making an already dicey situation worse when her son is finally trying to help Mabel.

Even Nick, who clearly does love his wife, is still impotent in his ability to even truly empathize with his spouse, including slapping her around a few times to calm her down. He’s not a villain just someone who is rendered useless by his unwillingness to try to understand, but also by the fact that he was never raised to see his partner as a full fleshed human being and an equal. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that gender roles have hurt Nick and Mabel. In one scene, she tells her kids that “I never did anything in my whole life than make you guys.” She’s not trying to make them feel bad or anything, but it is a loaded statement because it’s clear that she has been relegated her whole life to the categories of “wife,” “mother” or “daughter.” There is nothing wrong with any of those categories, but every person is more than just a label put on them. The whole being gets neglected, along with any troubles they may have. This applies to Nick too, because men often get a whole other set of baggage to deal with, so you end up with a whole generation of individuals who are not equipped to fully deal with one another.

Cassavetes handles all of this brilliantly, which is no shock for anyone familiar with the man’s work. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to simplify everything. Have Nick be a total bastard or pure doting husband and Mabel just be a misunderstood eccentric or a total psychopath. Not to mention the last 20 minutes, which mirrors Cassavetes equally sublime Killing of a Chinese Bookie, both in terms of open-endedness but even with the main character’s blood on their own hand. (The latter may or may not have been on purpose, but it’s interesting nonetheless.) It’s that gray-area borderland of no easy answers that permeates this film, making it all the more uncomfortable but all the more honest. Cassavetes is a director that not only loves his work enough to be real but his audience as well. This is an artist that respects you enough to never bullshit you. That alone makes me a fan for life.

The acting in Woman, especially where our two leads are concerned, is flawless. Watching Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk together is one blue spark of a gift, with the both of them being equally compelling and heartbreaking. In fact, Rowlands won the Golden Globe for best actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in this film. But enough praise cannot be heaped upon Falk, who’s at his zenith here. While most are familiar with him as TV’s lovable Columbo, Falk was a red blooded actor’s actor. How many can boast about not only working with Cassavetes but also Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) to boot? Not many, but Falk was a special breed of character actor and it’s hard to think of someone who could pull off a guy like Nick, who is both likable, sympathetic and at times, a total ass.

Woman is an incredibly uncompromising work that at times is too close for comfort, but in a way that is needed. There’s a truth to this film that has not faded with age. Illnesses get ignored, families repeat dysfunctional patterns and miscommunication is bred in a hothouse of forced gender roles for all involved.

Luckily for us, the British Film Institute (BFI) have done a wonderful job of presenting this film, both on DVD and Blu Ray, for European viewers or anyone who happens to have a Region 2 (PAL) player. (Never fear, North Americans, for Criterion’s Region 1 release of it is still in print and also available as a part of their John Cassavetes Five Films box set.) This is a loving release, with a 30 page booklet, the original trailer as well an alternative one that features footage which is not in the final cut, an archived interview with Peter Falk and an interview with Elaine Kogan, Cassavetes’ long term personal assistant. It’s a supremely fine release and a great tribute to the man and his work.

A Woman Under the Influence is brilliant and like many a great piece of art, it may bristle and worm its way in your skin. It’s a near flawless film that gives you no easy answers because it does not and will not play you for a fool. (Though do try to ignore the awful bit of weird Dixieland music that pops up at the very end. Not sure what that was about but it’s a minor quibble.)

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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