Category Archives: Crime

Greed is not good: Our dangerous love affair with American-style capitalism

capitalism_a_love_story_xlgIn one of the early scenes of Michael Moore’s scathing 2009 documentary on free market corporate greed “Capitalism: A Love Story”, the filmmaker interviews a farmer and his wife, who are having their property repossessed.

It’s recurring image in the film, the sheriff knocks on the door, working class people are thrown out onto the street with their furniture, and the house is boarded up, later to be sold for a quarter of the price.

The farmer, his life packed into the back of a van, says he tried everything “except robbing a bank” to save his farm.

“I’m thinking about doing that. It’s one way someone can get their money back. They did it to me. I don’t know why I can’t do it to them,” he says.

As the camera pans back over the abandoned farm buildings, Moore narrates:

“This is the capitalism of taking and giving…mostly taking.”

Later, Moore questions how capitalism allows commercial airlines to pay pilots less than $20,000 a year forcing them take second jobs or apply for food stamps.

To which he answers: “I guess that’s the point of capitalism, it let’s you get away with anything.”

Australian-style capitalism

That’s the exact sentiment I felt when reading about the multi-million dollar handouts to executives at the scandal-ridden Commonwealth Bank financial planning division. People like retiring CBA banking executive Grahame Petersen (total pay $5.6 million), who oversaw the division responsible for the systematic destruction of customer retirement savings through investment in risky products recommended by the bank’s licensed financial planners in return for millions of dollars in commissions.

I thought that the retirees who had lost everything to this free market system that rewarded greed and deception could be forgiven from thinking about doing something similar to the American farmer: walking into a Commonwealth Bank branch and “asking for their money back”.

This is something Michael Moore does in the documentary in his typical sardonic style, walking up to the head office of Goldman Sachs in New York to perform a citizen’s arrest of chairman Lloyd Blankfein (2013 annual salary: US$23 million), after accusing the bank of “stealing’ US$170 billion of American taxpayer’s money to save it from collapse. Later he wraps police crime scene tape around the whole building.

henry paulsonAs Moore explains in the film, the bail out of the banks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that sparked the Global Financial Crisis, was orchestrated by former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry ‘Hank’ Paulson (one of 25 people Time magazine blames for the crisis happening in the first place).

The then US Treasury Secretary cut a backroom deal that gave the banks $700 billion of US taxpayers money to keep them afloat. Paulson was apparently unaware of the irony that he had broken the basic law of capitalism – that you don’t ask the government for help, you either sink or swim on your own.

It seems this form of failed American style free-market capitalism – so brilliantly depicted in Moore’s film – is what the current Australian government wishes to mimic with its plans to increase the cost of car fuel, doctor’s visits and university education while Australia’s poorest paid workers earns a minimum wage that is the lowest in history relative to average full-time pay (currently $640.90 a week, or $16.87 an hour).

The 3% pay rise they got this year was more than double what the The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – the powerful lobbying body, which represents big business, wanted. It suggested a 1.25% pay rise, less than half the projected cost-of-living increase of 2.7%.

Perhaps Treasurer Joe Hockey – a man who proves himself time and time again to be completely out of touch with most Australians – and his investment banking advisors should watch Moore’s documentary to see the longer term outcome of such policies in the US before and after the GFC: hundreds of thousands of job lay-offs, the poorest people unable to afford basic health care, the boarding up of whole suburbs and ruination of cities like Detroit and Cleveland.

Of course, there is also a message of hope at the end of Capitalism: A Love Story as Moore documents the fight back by ordinary Americans against the systemic free market failure (this appears to be happening in Australia too, at least in political opinion polls)

He tells the story of the employees of Chicago Republic Window and Door factory, who, having been told they will lose their jobs in three days time without being paid their wages lock themselves inside refusing to leave until they get what is theirs. The local community rallies around them providing food and encouragement. Then there’s the story of the Warren Evans, Sheriff of Wayne County, Detroit who decides to stop all home foreclosures, when he realises the hypocrisy of what is happening to working class homeowners after the US$700 billion hand-out to the banks.

More widely, Moore reports of how Barack Obama’s form of democratic socialism has been embraced by young American voters (33%), with only 37% favouring capitalism and the rest undecided.

As explained by Vermont independent senator Bernie Sanders, democratic socialism means “the function of government is to represent middle-income working people rather than just the wealthy or the powerful”.

He goes on to say that America “worships greed”

“We put on the front cover of magazines guys who have made  billions of dollars, rather than the cops, fireman, policeman and nurses, who are doing so much in the lives of people. We have to change our value system.”

Sound familiar?

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You can watch the whole documenatry ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ for free on YouTube.

Downloading a movie is wrong, but is it the same as stealing a car?

Perhaps you remember this ad:

It was an anti-piracy commercial warning the DVD viewer that downloading pirated movies was the same as stealing a car, or a handbag or a television.

People who downloaded movies were very bad people, the ad insinuated, a message that was replicated around the world in similar campaigns like this:

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M-Tv anti-piracy ad

I was reminded of this campaign strategy after reading that the Australian government under the direction of Attorney General George Brandis planned a fresh move to crack down on movie pirates. Mr Brandis said:

“The government will be considering possible mechanisms to provide a legal incentive for an internet service provider to co-operate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks.

“This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy.”

It’s unlikely this will succeed.

In 2012, an Australian High Court ruled that internet service provider iiNet (the second biggest ISP in Australia) was not responsible for the conduct of its subscribers and could not be ordered to terminate services of repeat copyright offenders.The five high court judges in the case ordered Warner Bros, Disney, Fox and Paramount Pictures and 29 other companies including Australian independent distributors and TV networks under the umbrella of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft to pay $9 million in court costs.

In addition, prosecutions of individuals who pirate material remain rare and are primarily restricted to those who make and sell pirated DVDs (the kind you can pick up overseas or in a dodgy market for a few bucks) and the websites that host them.

Campaigns like “You wouldn’t steal car…” and more recent ones by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation which appeal to the public’s guilty conscience have also failed.

Australians are downloading pirated movies and TV shows in record numbers, as seen in the recent download stats for hit HBO show Game of Thrones, where they accounted for the highest proportion (around 11 per cent) of the 7.5 million people worldwide who downloaded the finale of season four within days of it being shown on pay television, according to website Torrentfreak.com.

By comparison, about 500,000 people watched the episode legally on Foxtel when it premiered.

thrones-cast

“Australia, I am sorry to say, is the worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy,” Senator Brandis told the Australian Senate.

But, contrary to what’s being said, people who download or stream movies illegally (between 25 per cent and 55 per cent of Australians depending on what survey you read) are not also stealing cars or handbags or televisions. They’re not trying to put someone out of work (about 6,000 jobs are lost each year as a result of piracy) or send a production company bankrupt.

Most go to work, pay their taxes, pay their mortgage, pay for their groceries at the checkout counter and pay for their petrol after filling their tank. They’re your friends, your work colleagues, your bank manager, the guy making your chai latte at your favourite cafe, your kid’s kindergarten teacher – everyone is doing it.

The main reason people download shows illegally are convenience, to save money and anger and frustration at the cost of paying for it legally.

The internet has made it incredibly easy and safe to download or stream favourite show just by clicking on a link.

Many people are rebelling against the high cost of movies (now above $20 for some time slots), and the inflexibility and arrogance of providers like Foxtel, which does not allow subscribers to pick and choose their movie channels they want (channels are bundled) and which has a virtual monopoly on pay television in Australia, (though this is being challenged by online competitors).

There’s also the anger at service providers like Apple iTunes, which charges Australian customers between 50 and 100 per cent more for movies and music than they do customers in the US (as highlighted in the ABC’s The Checkout) for the same products

The relative cost of buying the movie "Life of Pi" in Australia and the US (from The Checkout)

The relative cost of buying the movie “Life of Pi” in Australia and the US (from The Checkout)

There’s nothing like the feeling that you are getting ripped off to encourage you to try and get something for free.

There’s also the harm factor. While some Australian companies may be impacted by lost revenue to piracy the public will also be aware that the really big entertainment companies are still doing rather well despite it.

Time-Warner reported revenues of US$7.5 billion for the first quarter of 2014 and earnings of $1.5 billion primarily from shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective and The Lego movie. Nobody at Time-Warner is crying poverty.

Australia’s biggest entertainment group, Seven West Media (owners of Channel 7) reported a 4 per cent rise in television revenue to $683 million for the six months to December 2013 and profits of $190 million.

Foxtel – half-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – has 2.5 million subscribers (not far off one in two Australian households) and last year had revenues of $3.1 billion and earnings of almost $1 billion.

Add the $20 – $30 million plus some Hollywood stars get paid to appear in a single movie  and you can understand why some people’s attitudes to movie piracy is this:

illegal download campaign - parody

Or this:

illegal download campaign - parody2

Intriguingly, while pay television companies, cable networks and cinema owners shake their fists at the public for being pirates and Australian attorney general George Brandis threatens tough new measures, others are taking a far more realistic view.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of entertainment giant Time-Warner, owner of network HBO, which produces Game of Thrones, said during an earnings call last year that having the most pirated show of the year was “a tremendous word-of-mouth thing” and “better than [winning] an Emmy.”

He wasn’t alone. Game of Thrones director David Petrarca said piracy contributed to the show’s “cultural buzz”, while author of the novels, George R.R. Martin also called it a “compliment,” (though one he would rather not receive).

Mr Bewkes compared piracy to “cable-splitting” (illegally sharing a cable subscription) and said it had in fact contributed to HBO subscriptions and greater penetration of the HBO brand.

Also interesting to note is that US movie streaming service Netflix uses piracy data to decide which shows to buy, a back-handed compliment to the tastes of online pirates.

And perhaps also a concession that piracy is part of the entertainment industry like popcorn and paparazzi – and something that they will have to learn to live with even as the authorities threaten a clampdown.

Mexico is indeed “gentle and fine”, Jack Kerouac

lonesome_travellerIn Lonesome Traveller, he’s poetic, mystical, sometimes incomprehensible account of wanderings and odd jobs in the mid-1950s, the beat writer Jack Kerouac writes of a trip to Mexico:

“There is no violence in Mexico, that was all a lot of bull written up by Hollywood writers or writers who went to Mexico ‘to be violent’.”

Kerouac continues:

“I know of an American who went Mexico for bar brawls because you usually don’t get arrested there for disorderly conduct, my God I have seen people wrestle playfully in the middle of the road blocking traffic, screaming with laughter, as people walk by smiling – Mexico is generally gentle and fine, even when you travel among the dangerous characters as I did – ‘dangerous’ in the sense we mean in America – in fact the further you go away from the border, and deeper down, the finer it is, as though the influence of civilizations hung over the border like a cloud.”

I recall the warnings from well meaning friends and family – There’s still time to change your plans/It’s not safe/It’s a dangerous place/Don’t go – before we boarded a New York flight in Christmas 2010 for a month long Mexican bus sojourn from Cancun all the way west to Guadalajara.

Though the notion of Mexico as a violent place is indeed “a load of bull” but still seemingly engrained in the American psyche more than fifty years after he wrote about it, Kerouac’s description of Mexico as “generally gentle and fine” is wonderfully precise.

There is little violence south of the shady border towns where the stories of gangs, beheadings, shootings and drugs garner garish headlines in American newspapers and stoke the flames of fear.

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A fruit stall, Mexican style

As travellers, we found the biggest danger in Mexico to be from a falling coconut while snoozing under the shade of a palm tree on an unspoilt sandy beaches on Isles Mujeres or Tulum.

Or perhaps from one of those mad windy bus journeys – where brakes are unnecessary accessories – up through the mountains to postcard perfect town like San Cristobel de las Casas, where the only sense of danger are the dolls, paintings and postcards for sale in souvenir shops depicting the Zapatista rebels with guns criss-crossed across their chests (and scary steely stares).

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The colourful, quite streets of San Cristobel de las Casas beneath the mountains

I write in my journal of a day spent in this oasis of bright colours, cobbled quiet streets and lazy wanderings:

“Students and tourists abound.The streets are lined with brightly painted mainly single story houses and shops in shades of yellows, reds, blues and oranges and with slanting roofs of Spanish-style red tiles…the perfect place to wander, sit and sip a coffee or beer and people watch.”

In comparison to the constant pleadings, coercions and tourist tricks and traps in Thailand, India, Morocco and Egypt (all places I nonetheless loved), Mexicans are so laid back they hardly bother when it comes to approaching tourists.

On Isles Mujeres, the little island off Cancun, this lack of savvy was perfectly captured by a man offering boat trips to see whales:

“Wanna go on a whale ride?” he enquired as we strolled by one afternoon.
“No gracias,” we replied.
Silence, then he said sleepily:
“Lotta whales…”

DSCN0833

Ice creams in the park, Valledolid

No one harasses you in Mexico. Not in the small, sleepy afternoon siesta towns like Valledolid (where we visited the ruins of Chichen Itza and swam in the underground Cenotes) and not in sprawling, bustling Mexico City, the world’s best functioning mega-sized city.

Are there dangers in Mexico? Of course. I would not be so naive as to suggest otherwise. But the risks are small unless you’re smuggling drugs, heading for the seedy border towns or in the words of Kerouac going there “to be violent”

The Mexico I remember is that of little black haired men with moustaches; their plump wives pulling chihuahuas on leads, climbing steps to find churches painted in brightest pink and orange, wandering streets in shades of yellow and red, the little taco stands sizzling away by the side of the road, poodles sleeping in hammocks, glorious, colonial Spanish architecture, the boulevards of Mexico City, the murals of Diego Rivero, Frida Kahlo’s sad paintings in the blue house in Coyoacán, ancient Mayan ruins overlooking beaches and azure oceans.

Alive in colour, light and smiles. A sentiment Jack Kerouac would have agreed with, I think.

Jack Keroauc top left next to the poet Allen Ginsberg and firends in Mexico City

Jack Keroauc top left next to the poet Allen Ginsberg and firends in Mexico City

Snake oil: Door-to-door salesmen and other scams

snakeoilIf an alien crash landed on earth, probably the first thing that would happen to him is he’d get scammed and he’d have to fly back to his faraway planet in just his space undies. That’s if someone hadn’t stolen his identity and sold his space-craft already.

My wife and I were the proverbial ‘aliens’ a couple of years, when we flew into Cairo for a week’s visit as part of a round-the-world trip in 2010.We figured since it was so short a visit and all we wanted to do was see the Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum, take a cruise on the Nile and wander around the ancient streets that we’d not bother to buy a guide-book and just wing it.

Big mistake!

We got conned on our way to the pyramids.We got conned wandering the ancient streets. I got conned on an evening stroll when looking for a place to eat. Conned. Conned Conned. By old kindly looking men. By young boys. By exuberant fathers with stories about their children. It was incredible.

camel ride

Riding a very expensive camel in Cairo, October 2010

The scams were not sophisticated in the way they are in Australia and other westernised cities and “harmless” in the sense that all you lost was a bit of dosh. Looking back they were somewhat endearing (or perhaps pitiful) and assumingly thought-up as a means of getting by in a very tough city.

Back in Australia, it’s a far more dangerous proposition with greed the primary motive. There are scam-artists waiting on the telephone, in the letter box and at the front door. It’s so bad that the government has a dedicated website called Scamwatch to warn you about each of them with real-life stories and advice.

Our home phone, which we hardly ever use except for our internet service is a constant source of dodgy phone calls. We hardly ever answer it now, figuring that if it’s an important call, people will try our mobiles or Skype.

The other day I picked up the phone and  a woman proceeded to tell me she was from Microsoft support and that I had downloaded a virus on to my computer. She implored me to go on to my computer and search for a certain file to verify this. I could hear she was talking from a faraway place, and with a strange manner of speaking English, so I just hung up the phone. Sure enough this was a scam as described on this UK website with the end result that you download a real virus that steals all your personal information.

Then’s there’s the door-to-door energy salesmen trying to get you to switch energy accounts.

Twice this has happened to us in Melbourne. The first time the salesman identified himself as from an energy company, the second time was more sinister.

Last week, just before dinner, a guy appeared at our door with a clipboard. He pulled out a spreadsheet, told me he was from Jemena and said he needed to see my last energy bill to compare what I was currently paying.

Jemena is an energy infrastructure company which provides electricity and gas to homes. This electricity and gas is then on sold to consumers from retail suppliers like Origin Energy, who are our gas and electricity supplier.

The salesman gave me the impressions this was all very official and pressing so I rifled through a cupboard full of documents and on my iPad until I found an online bill. The man stood there quietly, smiling with his clipboard. I showed him the bill and he studied it. Then he said something like “Oh my god” and went on tell me I was paying 20 per cent more each month then  I needed to. He said he would sign me up and that I would save money from next month.It was then I realised this wall all a deceptive little scam.

He wasn’t from Jemena, but from a retail energy supplier called “Simply Energy”. I told him I wasn’t going to sign up to anything on my doorstep and he left with a piece of paper on which he had scribbled his mobile phone number in pencil in case I changed my mind.

I googled Simply Energy. The reviews were scandalous. It got an average rating of 1.4 out of 5 from 235 reviews on productreview.com.au with stories of customers being overcharged, having their gas and electricity supply cut and even contacting a customer’s current supplier to say they had switched to Simply Energy even when they never agreed to.

They use to call these people snake oil salesmen, referring to travelling charlatans selling miracle cures and quack medicines. Now the scams have become far more sophisticated and devious.

Have a look at the Scamwatch website, there are dozens of scams preying on the naive, weak-minded, plain unlucky or vulnerable from online auctions, to pharmaceutical products to real estate scams.

One of my most popular blog posts was about a letter I received in the post over a year ago covered with Spanish stamps and postmarks. It was addressed to me in person, offering me the chance to share in an inheritance of an oil magnate called “Albert Schlesinger” who had apparently died in a car crash in 2004.

Seems ridiculous right? Who would fall for that? But every year thousands of Australians do.

A program on the ABC’s 7.30 Report reported that every month, Australians lose $7 million just through internet scams.

They’re impossible to avoid unless you choose to live like a hermit, never answering the phone, turning on your computer or answering the doorbell.

Not Wikipedia worthy: The story of Jennifer and Jordan Nash

wikipedia

One Saturday morning in July, I received a call from Jennifer Nash, a single mother living in Logan City, south-east Queensland.

She asked if I would consider writing an article about her son, Jordan Nash, to  be posted on Wikipedia, the free user-sourced internet encyclopedia. She hoped a Wikipedia article would draw attention to his sad story.

jordan nash

Jordan Nash, as a young school kid

I said I thought I could help.

Her story tumbled out over the phone: she was at war with the Queensland government and the Federal Government since Jordan  – who has learning difficulties – was removed from school almost 10 years ago.

Jennifer claimed she’d been bullied, mistreated, harassed, ignored, hit with a $28,000 court bill and been the victim of judicial corruption because a court transcript – which proved she had been bullied and mistreated – had been “edited”.

Over the next few months I spent many hours on the phone with Jennifer, an exhausted, but determined and sincere woman, as she described what had been done to her.

Much of her and Jordan’s story appeared on unofficial media sites – essentially citizen journalism or blogging sites like Independent Australia  – but some of it did make it into the mainstream media.

In March 2011, WIN Television reported her address to former Queensland state premier Anna Bligh at a community forum at Toowoomba, where she said, quite eloquently, that “this soul crushing travesty of justice cannot be allowed to be covered up any longer”.

Last year she appeared in the  Brisbane Times, which incorrectly reported that she’d called then prime minister Julia Gillard “white trash” at a community cabinet meeting at Redbank Plains outside of Brisbane. The story, later corrected by the online newspaper, was that she had in fact told the prime minister “We are not white trash” as she explained to radio presenter Gary Hardgrave on radio station 4BC

Jennifer and Jordan Nash speaking out at a community cabinet

Jennifer and Jordan Nash speaking out at a community cabinet

Her battle reached the upper echelons of power this year, when both her and Jordan were  banned from attending a federal government community cabinet in Rockhampton by Jamie Fox, a government secretary working within the cabinet of then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who was due to speak at the event.

Asked why she’d been banned, Jamie Fox responded via email that following checks by “security agencies” the government had been advised by the Attorney-General’s Department and the state police that she had a “history of disrupting public events” at other community cabinets and would not be permitted to attend.

“I am responsible for organising community cabinet meetings and this decision is taken on my authority,” wrote Fox.

Jamie Fox's email to Jennifer Nash

Jamie Fox’s email to Jennifer Nash

Just what had a single mother without any financial or political muscle done for the Australian government to ban her from airing her views in a forum seemingly open to all?

The answer: stand up on a chair and demand justice for her and her son.

Hardly the sought of behaviour I thought to warrant a security crackdown or a sneering email from one of Kevin Rudd’s flacks.

In late August, I submitted the story of Jennifer and Jordan Nash to Wikipedia.

It was rejected by someone called “Sionk” who wrote:

This submission’s references do not adequately evidence the subject’s notability

Sionk also remarked:

Maybe there has been extensive news coverage of Jordan Nash, but there isn’t any presented here. The way this is written is also problematic, Wikipedia isn’t the place to make lengthy, one-sided (and poorly sourced) legal arguments.

Essentially, what Sionk was saying was that Jordan Nash was not worthy of  a Wikipedia article because his case had not been reported in the mainstream press and he was not someone of note.

I explained to Jennifer that no matter how many times I re-wrote it, I did not think her story would make it onto the pages of Wikipedia for the reasons above.

Every now and then I do a search for “Jordan Nash” wondering if Jennifer has managed to convince Wikipedia editors they should publish her story. But there’s still no entry.

Interestingly, many of the people who she accuses of mistreating her do have Wikipedia entries such as Queensland state member for Logan, Michael Pucci, who Jennifer says refused to help her, Supreme Court justice Jean Dalton, who dismissed Jennifer’s initial complaint at the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal (QADT) and former minister for education, Cameron Dick who dismissed further investigation into claims the court transcripts had been edited.

There’s some consolation for Jennifer. At least Jamie Fox, the government flack who barred her from the forum, doesn’t get a Wikipedia page.

(If you’d like to read more about Jennifer’s case, Independent Australia  provides a fairly comprehensive summary).

What reading ‘All the President’s Men’ can teach journalists

all the presidents men“All the President’s Men” – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s account of how they uncovered and reported the Watergate Scandal in 1972 and 1973 in the Washington Post and brought down President Nixon and his goons – should be compulsory reading for any journalist wanting tips on how to break a big story. It’s practically a ‘how to’ manual on investigative journalism.

I don’t know if they still make journalists like Bernstein and Woodward, but even in the digital age, where research and information is just a search term away, the techniques, tricks and cunning they employed still apply. Truly great stories don’t come from Google.

I should be upfront and say, that I did not find ‘All the President’s Men’ an easy book to read.

Firstly there are the sheer number of characters and the very convoluted plot. In the inside introductory pages of my paperback edition there is a list of 51 people – presidential staff, advisers, aids, campaign directors, lawyers, editors and prosecutors – who were the main players in the scandal. I found I had to constantly turn back to the beginning of the book to remind myself of who each person was as the plot diverged into a myriad different strands.

This may sound harsh, given Bernstein and Woodward’s reporting (and others on the paper) helped the Washington Post win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973, but it’s also not incredibly well written. Perhaps writing a 300 page book gave crack newspaper reporters – accustomed to writing 500 – 1000 word articles – too much leeway to tell their story. There’s too much information crammed into paragraphs and too many minor incidents that get in the way of the overall plot – a good, tight edit would have done marvels to the finished work.

That being said, it does provide some incredible insights into how these two brave, foolhardy, and belligerent reporters dug down the deepest of rabbit holes to uncover the truth.

Married journos need not apply

The first thing that’s apparent is the long and strange hours Bernstein and Woodward put in to crack the story. Neither of them were married at the time or in relationships, nor did they have children. This made it easier for them to work late into the night in the offices of the Washington Post, or drive out to the outlying suburbs of Washington or jet off to Miami or Los Angeles to track down and interview people and give up their weekends in pursuit of a story.

Anyone journalist today married or in a relationship would find it impossible to put in the hours they did – they would either end up divorced or entirely burnt out, or both.

Woodward famously would head out well after midnight to meet up with “Deep Throat” (later revealed to be the FBI’ no.2 man Mark Felt) in deserted car basements to verify information or seek help with stories.

Both journalists also had no qualms about ringing up legendary Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee at 2am and asking if they could come over to discuss an idea or situation.

Hit the phones relentlessly. Put in the hard yards.

In the book, Woodward and Bernstein recount countless hours spent calling people on long lists, hoping to come across someone in the White House, Justice Department or some friend of a friend willing to share confidential information with them.

bernstein and woodward

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward at the offices of the Washington Post in 1972

By beginning at the top of a list and working their way through it, Woodward Bernstein would eventually find someone willing to speak to them. Sometimes they’d spend the whole day just telephoning people in the hope of finding a useful contact. In this way, they built up an incredible network of insiders. This is how they worked:

Each kept a separate master list of telephone numbers. The numbers were called at least twice a week. Eventually, the combined totals of names on their lists swelled to several hundred, yet fewer than 50 were duplicated.

Think laterally, be creative

Bernstein and Woodward were very savvy and had to be because the might of President Nixon, his ‘men’ and the CIA were out to prevent the ties between Watergate and the White House cover-up ever being revealed.

Sometimes they crossed the line and veered into the murky borders of the unethical or illegal – for instance, when they contacted members of the grand jury investigating Watergate who weren’t supposed to talk to the press or on one occasion, Bernstein not identifying himself as Washington Post reporter.

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One of Woodward and Bernstein’s scoops on Watergate

(Read the actual newspaper article here.)

On another occasion, they met with chief prosecutor Earl Silbert in his fastidiously tidy office. Bernstein noticed a piece of paper on his desk that had as its letterhead the name of the company where bugging equipment for Watergate had been purchased. He used this information to write a story and was severely admonished by Silbert who called his methods “sneaky, outrageous and dishonest”. Bernstein apologised, but saw it differently:

Bernstein had learnt years before that the ability to read upside down could be a useful reportorial skill…

The point is that no opportunity was passed up. Every lead, idea or suggestion was followed up.

Get people to talk

Bernstein were masters at getting people to talk. One way, was to get themselves inside the house of a person they knew had good information, but was reluctant or too scared to speak and then find ways of staying and chatting. In one rather comical episode, they kept on ordering cup after cup of coffee in an attempt to prolong a conversation with the wife of an important person caught up in the conspiracy.

They write:

The trick was getting inside somebody’s apartment or house. There, a conversation could be pursued, consciences could be appealed to, there the reporters could try to establish themselves as human beings

Be daring out and outrageous

Bernstein and Woodward pulled some outrageous stunts and came close to going to jail.

My  favourite one is towards the end of the book.

Following a day in court where the Watergate defendants are being tried, Bernstein and Woodward along with a couple of other reporters notice three of the defendants and their lawyer trying to hail a cab. Bernstein races down as they file into the cab and

…uninvited got in anyway, piling in on top of them as the door slammed.

But it doesn’t end here:

Bernstein arrived back in the office late Saturday (he had gotten into the cab on a Friday afternoon). He had gone to the airport with Rothblatt and his clients, bought a ticket on a flight one of them was taking, edged his way in by offering to carry a suitcase and engaging in friendly banter, and slipped into the adjoining seat. Bernstein did not have to press the man too hard to turn the conversation to the trial. The story came out in a restful flow of conversation as the jet engines surged peacefully in the background.

Talk about outrageous, but this was the way Bernstein and Woodward operated.

Not all their ideas paid of – and a couple almost sunk them.

They misread what they thought were confirmations from sources on at least two occasions (one involved a source agreeing to hang up after 10 seconds if the story read out to them was entirely true. The source hung up but misunderstood the instructions) with spectacular results. But most of the time they got the story.

Every word matters

Every word mattered to Bernstein and Woodward and to their editors. The lead (opening paragraph) had to be perfect and they would fight over words and phrases and re-write and re-write as deadlines approached. This, of course, would be a problem in today’s 24 hour news cycle, where posting stories quickly as well as accurately is the challenge.

However, the digital age has not dampened the importance of writing well and being able to tell an engrossing story in a few hundred perfectly chosen words, as Bernstein and Woodward did back then. The importance of ‘words’ is revealed in this revelation:

The two fought openly. Sometimes they battled for fifteen minutes over a single word or sentence. Nuances were critically important, the emphasis had to be just right…sooner or later however, (usually later) the story was hammered out.

And let’s not forget the end result of their endeavours, the resignation of President Richard Nixon

Child abduction and obsession: reviewing Ian McEwan’s “The Child in Time”

the child in timeIan McEwan’s 1987 novel “The Child in Time” has as its central theme, the abduction of a three-year old child in broad daylight in a supermarket in suburban London in the 1980s.

Having a small child of my own, I picked up the book, read the back cover, and bought it, intrigued.

I think the premise in my mind was similar to what makes people slow down past traffic accidents – a glimpse of something horrifying and the reassurance that, it’s OK, it’s not happening to me. It’s why sadistic horror movies like Saw and Wolf Creek are so successful.

Quickly on in McEwan’s novel, we meet the central character, Steven Lewis, a successful children’s novelist living in a flat with his wife Julie, and their daughter Kate. One morning Steven lets Julie sleep in, while he and Kate dress warmly and walk to the supermarket to pick up groceries.

At the checkout, there is this ominous forbearer of disaster:

Stephen lifted the first items onto the belt. When he straightened he might have been conscious of a figure in a dark coat behind Kate.

And then, a little later:

The man with the dogfood was leaving. The checkout girl was already at work, the fingers of one hand flickering over the keypad while the other drew Stephen’s items towards her. As he took the salmon from his cart he looked down and winked at Kate. She copied him, but clumsily, wrinkling her nose and closing both eyes. He set the fish down and asked the girl for a shopping bag. She reached under a shelf and pulled one out. He took it and turned. Kate was gone.

Then follows the frantic searching down aisles. Calling out his daughter’s name. The police arrive. Stephen returns to his flat, alone, without his daughter, to tell his wife the terrible news.

At first it seemed a little far-fetched

Was is possible for a child to be abducted in such a manner, so swiftly, in a busy supermarket?

I had plans to write to Ian McEwan (or his publisher at least) to ask if this aspect of the novel was based in any way on real events.

But then, serendipitously, I came across a story about an experiment in London, where, under controlled circumstances, parents turn their attention away from their children in park for a just a few seconds, only for them to fall prey to a would-be paedophile.

There were nine children aged between five and 11 who were approached by a “stranger” who asked them to help him find his dog.

Seven, without hesitation and despite being warned about strangers, agreed to go with him, disappearing while their mothers’ attention was diverted by a telephone call.

Certainly the everyday, banal menace created in those supermarket scenes by McEwan – something he does so brilliantly – sends a cold shiver down your spine.

I expected the rest of the novel to be about a father trying to come to terms with the loss of his daughter and subsequent breakdown of his marriage. This is part of it, but McEwan turns the novel into a meditation on the idea of childhood, memory and parenthood.

Steven Lewis spends his days in stifling government-sponsored committees who are tasked with compiling a report on childcare and child-rearing. In the evenings, he sits alone in his flat drinking Scotch, thinking about Kate or his estranged wife, now living alone somewhere in the countryside.

There are strange dream-like sequences in a country pub, where he becomes the lost child looking in on his parents, many years in the past, as they come to terms with his own unplanned for conception.

His friend, Charles Darke, a junior minister in Thatcher’s government and the man who made him into a successful children’s author, gives up his plush home in London, the minor celebrity of political life and moves with his wife Thelma to a country estate, where he retreats into a child-like state, building a tree-house and making the woods his home.

There are the elements you expect in such a novel, such as Stephen going to a toy shop to buy a birthday present for his daughter, while he tries to convince himself that this is a healthy act. There is his constant fear of being away from his flat should Kate return and a disturbing episode where he decides that a child he sees in a school playground is his daughter, now much older.

Overall, I found it a strange, disjointed, stumbling and yet also bewitching novel, delving in and out of other people’s lives before returning to the story of Stephen Lewis and his quest to rejoin the world of the consciously living.

Christopher Hitchens, a close friend of Ian McEwan, called this book his “masterpiece”. I am not sure I agree.

I found I plodded along at times, not quite sure of the direction and the need for some of the diversions. But reflecting back, perhaps it deserves a second reading.

As with all McEwan’s books there are little gems here and there that touch on universal truths:

These lines struck me particularly poignantly. They are the thoughts of Stephen when visits his own parents and realises he only knows “outlines and details from stories” about their lives, but “nothing of how his parents met or what attracted them”:

Only when you are grown up, perhaps only when you have children yourself, do you fully understand that your own parents had a full an intricate existence before you were born.

Back on my bike: Of Essendon Station bicycle vandals and London memories

3645939622_505a2122f2A quick post to faithful readers of my blog, of which I hope there are a few.

I’ve been off air for a while moving house and getting set up with a new internet provider.

Moving has necessitated me buying a bicycle and cycling to the train station at Essendon, about 5 kilometres away, a 10 to 15 minute bike ride depending on how fast I’m pedaling.

It’s been a long time since I’ve cycled regularly and it’s not been the best of experiences to date.

Last Friday night I came back to Essendon Station late after going to the rugby and as I was wheeling my bicycle down the platform, a police officer asked me if I had a lock on my bike as they were on the lookout for thieves – they had set up an unlocked, previously stolen bicycle as a trap.

The news was somewhat unsettling.

Returning to pick up my bike on Monday after work, I found the plastic cover on my lock had been ripped off, apparently, I figure, so that someone could try and manipulate the lock.

On Tuesday evening I returned to the station to find one of the brackets that keep my front wheel on lifted up and the front brake cable pulled out of position, rendering the brakes useless.

These incidents angered me and I could just about imagine a couple of young punks in hoodies, messing with my bike out of boredom or frustration at not being able to steal it. I hope they fall on the train tracks!

Tonight I parked it across the road from the station in the Rose Street shopping strip and it seems to have been left untouched.

Hopefully this new spot – under the gaze of shopkeepers and with constant passing foot traffic – will ensure my bike remains the state in which I leave it in the morning.

I’ve been tempted to put a note on it saying:

“Dear bicycle thieves. This bike cost only $200. Please try steal a more expensive one!”

It’s not quite the London experience I recall, the last time I cycled regularly.

I bought a cheap bike at this enormous French sports store called Decathalon somewhere near Docklands and pedaled it back all the way to Golders Green in north London.

I remember the first time a double-decker bus loomed up behind me, it was terrifying.

But I soon grew used to the buses and London cabs, the traffic build-up on Finchley Road and the other mad cyclists, weaving in and out of the traffic and thundering down the road at crazy speeds.

Cycling was best in the summer, those long London days when it was light till 10pm and I would head out through Soho, up through the cobbled streets towards Goodge Street, sometimes detouring through Regents Park to read a book on the grass for an hour or two or just to people watch. Sometimes I’d cycle past Lords cricket ground with its UFO-like media centre hovering above the stands and then up through Finchley, whizzing past the O2 Centre and then into the thigh-burning upwards climb towards Cricklewood and down into Golders Green.

On other occasions I’d chose a route through grimey Camden Town, but then up the steep climb through the wealthy, leafier, cafe-lined suburbs of Chalk Farm, Belsize Park and Hampstead, zooming down North End way (where once I lost my back and front lights over a bump, the gadgets smashing into pieces on the road) and passed Golders Tube Station.

Sometimes on a Sunday’s I’d hop on my bike and explore the East End with no definite destination in mind (though always with my A-Z guide just in case) exploring the quiet streets, stopping for a pint in a pub and taking detours on a whim.

Other times I’d cycle along the Thames, stopping to eat a sandwich in a park near the river.

Great memories.

My ride now is not quite historic, passed largely uninspiring suburbia, but dotted with a few appealing, squat California bungalows and Victorian-era relics, slowing down at traffic circles, freewheeling where I can and mostly alert to the rushing early morning traffic.

It’s good to finally be doing some regular exercise and feeling the wind rushing past my face.

Let’s hope the bicycle vandals don’t spoil my fun.

What’s happened to alleged Ponzi scheme mastermind and resident of Runaway Bay Barry Tannenbaum?

runaway bay

Aerial shot of Runaway Bay

In 1972, work begun to turn 182 hectares of tidal Gold Coast wetlands north of the Southport Broadwater into a canal-lined residential subdivision.

Real estate developer Neil McCowan and advertising agent, John Garnsey coined the new suburb ‘Runaway Bay’ with the idea of promoting the area as a tranquil escape.

Take a stroll along the Runaway Bay marina today with its views of the Surfers Paradise Manhatten-esque skyline and bobbing yachts and luxury cruisers at berth and you may pass by a portly, bald man with a strong South African accent.

tannenbaum

Barry Tannenbaum photographed in Sydney in 2009

It might just be Barry Deon Tannenbaum, now a resident of the palm tree-lined  suburb and the alleged operator of South Africa’s biggest Ponzi scheme, where he now claims to work as an insurance adviser.

When Tannebaum’s name last appeared in the Australian press more than three years ago he was a resident of Runaway Bay, having fled the South African Jewish enclave of St Ives, Sydney when news of the scheme broke.

Indeed, Wikipedia lists, as Runaway Bay’s only notable resident: “Alleged Ponzi scheme mastermind, Barry Tannenbaum”.

Around six months prior to this mention in the Fairfax press, the Sydney Morning Herald had run as its June 13 Weekend edition front page story: Exposed: the Sydney man accused of a $1.5 billion scam.

Front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald, June 2009

Front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald, June 2009

In the last three years, hardly a word about Tannenbaum has made it into the mainstream Australian media, despite new damning revelations in South Africa.

A failed attempt by the South African trustees of Tannenbaum’s bankrupt estate to take control of his Australian assets in the Queensland Federal Court in August last year also passed without mention, despite the judge noting that “substantial funds sourced from South Africa were transferred to Australian entities controlled by [Tannenbaum] and his wife”.

Funds allegedly stolen from hundres of investors  (some who lost all their savings) and squandered by Tannebaum before fleeing South Africa.

The tag of “mastermind” (one rejected by Tannenbaum) is given by none other than the South African Revenue Service (SARS), in recently leaked documents published on finance website moneyweb.co.za.

They reveals that he owes nearly $80 million in taxes, interest and penalties as part of undeclared income earned when he allegedly perpetrated one of the biggest corporate frauds in South African history.

According to SARS, Tannenbaum under-declared his income between 2004 and 2009 by 444 million rand ($47 million) and now owes 747 million rand ($79 million) in tax, penalties and interest.

By investigating Tannebaum’s 26 bank accounts, SARS discovered that these bank accounts had inflows of 3.91 billion rand ($415 million) of which 3.05 billion rand ($324 million) was paid out to “investors” and “agents” in the scheme.

A page from the SARS assessment

A page from the SARS assessment

Over this five year period Tannenbaum paid tax of just 142,000 rand ($15,000).

Despite these very large sums, they are only a fraction of a purpoted 15 billion rand ($1.5 billion) accrued through an alleged ‘Ponzi’ scheme that drew in 378 investors, including the wealthy and the not so wealthy in the close-knit South African Jewish community by inducing them to invest in his company Frankel International (of which he was the sole trustee), which traded under the name Eurochemicals.

Investors were enticed with offers of very high returns by allegedly forged purchase orders to supply the active ingredients for anti-retroviral drugs (used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS) to drug company Aspen Pharmacare – this in a country with one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.

One purchase order was said to be for 700 million rand ($74 million) – denied outright by Aspen.

Adding believability to the scheme were two things; firstly that the Tannenbaum’s were a well-known, wealthy and respected Jewish family in South Africa and secondly, they have a deep connection to the local pharmaceutical industry – Barry Tannenbaum’s grandfather Hyme was the founders of South Africa’s largest over the counter pharmaceutical company, Adcock Ingram, now owned by Tiger  Brands.

The Tannenbaums sold their stake in the business in 1978.

Frankel Chemicals was subsequently founded in 1983 as an intermediary in the supply chain of drug compounds.

Between 2004 and 2009, Barry Tannenbaum, as director of Frankel, is said to have engaged the services of a number of high-profile businessmen in South Africa as “agents” – the original investors in the scheme and at the top of the pyramid – to sell the idea to other investors that they could more than double their money by making short term (8 to 12 weeks) advances for the purpose of enabling the purchase and importation into South Africa of pharmaceutical ingredients.

In a Ponzi scheme the early investors are paid dividends from investments made by later investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by the company.

I know of friends in South Africa induced to invest who lost all their savings. The sense of Tannenbaum’s betrayal of their trust remains palpable since the story was broken by South Africa’s the Financial Mail in July 2009.

The SARS investigation, which drew in all the major South African government institutions and auditors KPMG, came to the conclusion that “Tannenbaum was indeed the mastermind and operator of this illegal multiplication scheme”.

Following the article in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax papers in June 2009 as well as the ABC, Tannenbaum professed his innocence claiming in a letter to the press that “categorically” he was not “sitting with millions”.

“I have not amassed some fortune that I have spirited away, and in due course an audit will bear out this statement, if people are still interested in hearing the truth,” he said before all but disappearing from the public eye.

In January 2010, the last mention of Barry Tannenbaum in the Australian press appeared when Fairfax ran a story about him fleeing St Ives for Runaway Bay.

It was reported soon after an arrest warrant had been issued for Tannenbaum by the South African police. The short piece said he had fled “a stuffy little office above a strip of shops around the corner from his St Ives home “ only to “pop up in the Surfers Paradise suburb of Runaway Bay”.

And since then nothing.

As an Australian resident since mid-2007, Tannenbaum has received the full legal protections of the Australian judiciary system.

Efforts by South Africa to get Australia’s co-operation in the matter have proved fruitless.

In August last year, the Queensland division of the Federal Court declined an application by the South African trustees of Mr Tannenbaum’s bankrupt estate to administer and realise any assets he had accrued in Australia.

The ruling was made on the basis that South Africa was not the ‘centre of the debtor’s main interests’ as he had “severed all ties” with the country of his birth.

The Australian court documents confirm what is known in the SARS investigation – that Tannenbaum raised $390 million between 2004 and 2009.

Of this vast sum, just 0.05% was on-loaned by Tannenbaum for the purpose of purchasing pharmaceutical ingredients.

According to the court documents, 44.8 million rand ($4.78 million) was used by Tannenbaum for personal transactions “with a substantial portion being spent on gambling”.

He transferred US$31.7 million into an account held by Bartan Group Pty Ltd (Bartan – shortening of ‘Barry + Tannenbaum’), an Australian incorporated company, with an ANZ Bank account, now in liquidation.

Of this money, US$14 million was transferred into other entities controlled by Tannenbaum or to persons associated with him.

The sole shareholder of Bartan is another Australian incorporated company, Bardeb Nominees Pty Ltd, with shares held solely by Tannenbaum and his wife, Deborah.

Bartan was wound up by an order of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 9 March 2010.

The Federal Court court documents note that a report issued about Bartan’s affairs in April 2010 was “noteworthy for its paucity of information concerning the affairs of that company” but does include assets of $586,523 (made up of $150 in cash with the balance being investments in two other entities) and contingent assets of some $21 million.

During the court case, Tannenbaum claimed he had assets of less than $8,000 and just $1,700 in the bank while his liabilities where $90,000 on his credit card, an $85,000 loan from “friends” and $185,000 vehicle finance lease.

Telling Judge Logan remarks: “It may very well be that his decision to quit South Africa was inherently bound up with a desire not in the future to be dealt with under the law of that country in respect of his involvement in the scheme described and a related desire to enjoy the benefits of proceeds repatriated to Australia.

“It is not necessary in this proceeding conclusively to determine whether or not or to what extent he has enjoyed the proceeds but there is no doubt on the evidence that substantial funds sourced from South Africa were transferred to Australian entities controlled by he and his wife.”

Tannenbaum declined to reveal his Queensland address, claiming he did not have a permanent home, directing the court to a Sydney solicitor.

According to SARS, the money Tannenbaum earned was paid into various companies of which Tannenbaum was either a director or member – nine registered in South Africa and five in Australia, including the Bartan Group and Frankel International.

Julian Assange may be left to wolves by the Australian government, but Barry Tannenbaum, the alleged mastermind of a $1.5 billion fraud has disappeared from view and may very well be living the good life on the Gold Coast, enjoying walks along the marina, eating fresh seafood and feeling the warm sun on his skin.

While Bernie Madoff will remain in jail for the rest of his life, not a single charge has been laid against Tannenbaum in Australia despite a mountain of evidence back in South Africa.

He refuses to return to South Africa and face the charges, even though he claims he is innocent.

In Australia he appears to be protected and untouchable and living in, of all places, Runaway Bay.

Naming Rolf Harris and Sunil Tripathi: mainstream media’s troubled relationship with social media

Last weekend, The Saturday Age splashed this Facebook photo of Sunil Tripathi (below) a missing university student incorrectly identified by bloggers as a possible suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings across its front cover.

The story has been removed from The Age website, but can be read here in its online archives.

MissingStudentUpdate_Sangeeta-Tripathi

The photo of a smiling Tripathi was splashed on the front page of The Saturday Age below a now notorious grainy photo of the two suspects at the marathon just before the bombs went off:

0419-motives-Boston-bombing-suspects_full_600

The caption below Tripathi’s photo read: “Sunil Tripathi was reported missing by his family. He is pictured in a Facebook page set up to find the Brown University student. Sunil is reported to have been named on a police scanner as one of the suspects.”

At the very top of the same page, above the masthead, was another headline in large font and in bold:

Rolf Harris linked to UK sex abuse inquiry

The Australian entertainer’s arrest over sex crime allegations was a poorly guarded secret since November last year, with his name revealed by many bloggers.

The story that mentioned Sunil Tripathi, written by respected journalist Paul McGeough, a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald now based in Washington D.C., detailed the events leading up to the capture and death of one of the suspects, while the other was still at large at the time.

McGeough wrote: “Police did not confirm the names being ascribed to the two men in the blogosphere – Suspect One as Mike Mulugeta and Suspect Two as Sunil Tripathi.” – contradicting what was said in the photo caption.

Tripathi had been named as a suspect on blogging aggregator news website, Reddit, after users said they thought they recognised him as the suspect wearing a white baseball cap.

That man turned out to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now an alleged Chechen terrorist, who along with brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a police gun fight after the bombing, are believed to be the sole perpetrators of the attack.

Sunil Tripahti and “Mike Mulugeta” (even less has been reported of him) had nothing to do with the Boston bombings.

Tragically, the body of Sunil Tripathi, missing since last month, was found in the Providence River on Friday (April 20), much to the anguish of his grief-stricken family.

A day after the Saturday Age story appeared, the following day’s Sunday Age ran with the correct story about the Tsarnaev brothers as the Boston bombers.

There was no mention at all of the misidentification of Sunil Tripathi.

At first I thought I’d mis-read the Saturday Age story, but pulling out the paper from the recycling bin, proved that I wasn’t going crazy.

So I emailed The Age‘s editor Andrew Holden to ask him if he could clear up the confusion.

I received a response from Steve Foley, The Age‘s news director, who confirmed that the newspaper did publish the two names (Tripathi and Mulugeta) “that were circulating on Friday evening (Saturday morning Australian time) in our first edition”.

“As we went to press the story was still unfolding at rapid speed. The updated story for our second edition of the Saturday paper did not mention them. By then it was being reported that two Chechens were the Boston bombing suspects,” said Foley

“On Saturday morning, by which time our coverage was all online, we acknowledged our error – stating that we had published incorrect information on Friday night.

“We aim to get it right, every time, and despite all precautions, lapses do occur,” he added.

As I mentioned earlier, the Fairfax print archives only references the first, erroneous story about Tripathi being a suspect.

Online, there is no mention of  Tripathi being incorrectly identified by the newspaper.

However, The Age and other Fairfax websites have since published two follow-up stories about Tripathi: one under the headline “Student wrongly named as Boston bomber found dead” and another is about Reddit apologising for the grief it caused the Tripathi family for naming their son as a suspect” “Reddit apologises for Boston online witch hunts”.

(This is the official Reddit apology)

Incredibly, neither of these stories acknowledge the fact that The Saturday Age, which has a readership of 227,000, splashed Tripathi’s name and photo across its front page in error, nor has an apology been issued either publicly or privately to the family of Sunil Tripathi for suggesting their son might be a terrorist.

Is this just arrogance on the part of Fairfax or does the media giant really believe it’s entirely the fault of Reddit users for suggesting Tripathi may have been Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

I should point out that Fairfax was not the only mainstream media organisation to get this wrong.

According to The Australian‘s media writer Nick Leys, both Channel Nine and Channel Seven named Tripathi in their 6pm news bulletins, relying on the “blogosphere” as a reliable source.

“Journalists here and in the US threw the rule books out the window on Friday night choosing to use social media as a reliable source…journalists were blindly repeating those names with no reliable source….” wrote Leys in his Media Diary wrap last week.

This of course brings me back to the other heading on the front page of that ill-fated Saturday Age edition.

The story about Rolf Harris.

Why is that The Saturday Age found it acceptable to print Sunil Tripathi’s name and photograph based on entirely unverified accusations almost the moment they became known but waited six months to print Rolf Harris’s name, when it had been splashed across countless blogs?

Steve Foley did not respond to my questions about this issue so all I  can do is speculate.

Was it to give Rolf Harris the benefit of the doubt because he’s one of Australia’s most famous and much-loved entertainers? Was it because they feared a costly and embarrassing lawsuit if the arrest proved untrue?

Possibly both explanation are true.

So why wasn’t a young US student afforded the same duty of care?

And why has The Age not deemed it necessary to apologise to his family?