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Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media

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After years of working as a respected journalist, Nick Davies broke the unwritten rule of the media by investigating the practices of his fellow colleagues. In this eye-opening exposé, Davies uncovers an industry awash in corruption and bias. His findings include the story of a prestigious Sunday newspaper that allowed the CIA to plant fiction in its columns; the newsroom After years of working as a respected journalist, Nick Davies broke the unwritten rule of the media by investigating the practices of his fellow colleagues. In this eye-opening exposé, Davies uncovers an industry awash in corruption and bias. His findings include the story of a prestigious Sunday newspaper that allowed the CIA to plant fiction in its columns; the newsroom that routinely rejects stories about black people; the respected paper that hired a professional fraudster to set up a front company to entrap senior political figures; as well as a number of newspapers that pay cash bribes to bent detectives. His research also exposes a range of national stories that were in fact pseudo events manufactured by the public relations industry and global news stories that were fiction generated by a machinery of international propaganda. The degree to which the media industry has affected government policy and perverted popular belief is also addressed. Gripping and thought-provoking, this is an insider’s look at one of the world’s most tainted professions.


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After years of working as a respected journalist, Nick Davies broke the unwritten rule of the media by investigating the practices of his fellow colleagues. In this eye-opening exposé, Davies uncovers an industry awash in corruption and bias. His findings include the story of a prestigious Sunday newspaper that allowed the CIA to plant fiction in its columns; the newsroom After years of working as a respected journalist, Nick Davies broke the unwritten rule of the media by investigating the practices of his fellow colleagues. In this eye-opening exposé, Davies uncovers an industry awash in corruption and bias. His findings include the story of a prestigious Sunday newspaper that allowed the CIA to plant fiction in its columns; the newsroom that routinely rejects stories about black people; the respected paper that hired a professional fraudster to set up a front company to entrap senior political figures; as well as a number of newspapers that pay cash bribes to bent detectives. His research also exposes a range of national stories that were in fact pseudo events manufactured by the public relations industry and global news stories that were fiction generated by a machinery of international propaganda. The degree to which the media industry has affected government policy and perverted popular belief is also addressed. Gripping and thought-provoking, this is an insider’s look at one of the world’s most tainted professions.

30 review for Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nigel

    Well, this is cheerful stuff. Nick Davies, respected journalist, gives the lie to the notion that the biggest threat to journalism is the interference of owners or the threats of advertisers. His thesis is that the drive for profits has driven journalism to the brink of destruction. Staff cuts and spending cuts have resulted in fewer journalists working with fewer resources on more stories. Unfortunately those stories are provided by the booming new sector that is the Public Relations industry, Well, this is cheerful stuff. Nick Davies, respected journalist, gives the lie to the notion that the biggest threat to journalism is the interference of owners or the threats of advertisers. His thesis is that the drive for profits has driven journalism to the brink of destruction. Staff cuts and spending cuts have resulted in fewer journalists working with fewer resources on more stories. Unfortunately those stories are provided by the booming new sector that is the Public Relations industry, which is not above manufacturing news and events and whipping up fear and disinformation. Meanwhile, the network of reporters who used to cover all sorts of stories from all over the world has shriveled to nothing. Which leaves us with the interesting question of how true the picture of the world presented to us daily in the media actually is. Davies traces the decline of old-fashioned journalistic practices and values and the rise of the new 'churnalism,' which reproduces and rewrites PR copy without much in the way of checking or exploring or context. Not everything you read on your newspapers or see on your television is churnalism. But a lot of it is. He also touches on the campaign of lies, distortions and misinformation that was part of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, shocking in its scope and in the utter capitulation of the media in the face of the official line. Just when you thought you were outraged out, Davies saves the most appalling for last: The Daily Mail and the Press Complaints Commission. One routinely lies and distorts and attacks innocent targets with unmitigated ferocity. The other turns down more than 90% of the complaints it receives without even considering their content. It ends on a note of pessimism. The only real solution, unstated by Davies, is for a widespread return to the proper funding of proper journalism. The trend at the moment, however, is for less reporters, more stories, higher profits, and so long as that continues truth will suffer and so will we.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    "Media outlets pick easy stories with safe facts and safe ideas, clustering around official sources for protection, reducing everything they touch to simplicity without understanding, recycling consensus facts and ideas regardless of their validity because that is what the punters expect, joining any passing moral panic, obsessively covering the same stories as their competitors. Arbitrary, unreliable and conservative . . . this flow of falsehood and distortion through the news factory is clearl "Media outlets pick easy stories with safe facts and safe ideas, clustering around official sources for protection, reducing everything they touch to simplicity without understanding, recycling consensus facts and ideas regardless of their validity because that is what the punters expect, joining any passing moral panic, obsessively covering the same stories as their competitors. Arbitrary, unreliable and conservative . . . this flow of falsehood and distortion through the news factory is clearly being manipulated, by the overt world of PR and the covert world of intelligence and strategic communications . . . the boundaries of acceptability have slowly slipped backward . . . what was scandalous is now merely normal. Somewhere out there, the truth is dying." (pp. 255-256) A highly recommended read, and a good companion to Knightfall: Knight Ridder and How the Erosion of Newspaper Journalism Is Putting Democracy at Risk and Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done To Fix It.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark Love

    As a news junkie who loathes Metro and the redtops, this was right up my street, and depressingly re-inforced my suspciions/cynicisms and added a whole heap more. John Humphries says "If you watch the news you should read this book" but don't let him put you off. This is an insider's expose of how and why journalism has descended into "churnalism" - regurgitating agency news feeds, press releases and celebrity gossip as "news", squeezing more column inches from tired journalists, and more pounds As a news junkie who loathes Metro and the redtops, this was right up my street, and depressingly re-inforced my suspciions/cynicisms and added a whole heap more. John Humphries says "If you watch the news you should read this book" but don't let him put you off. This is an insider's expose of how and why journalism has descended into "churnalism" - regurgitating agency news feeds, press releases and celebrity gossip as "news", squeezing more column inches from tired journalists, and more pounds from a shrinking market, whilst genuinely big stories go ignored or unchallenged. Nick Davies tells all(this is the guy who recently re-broke the News of the World hacking scandal) and whilst it must have made him feel good to get it off his chest, it made me angry and depressed to hear it like it is. And made me even more resolute not to pick up Metro again.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James

    Propaganda is as old as the flood... I'm not a particular fan of big media but Nick is. Especially if its of the type of which he approves. We're awash with news today, but the reader has to employ his own common sense and fact check himself if he really wants to ensure the veracity of any story. In fact he should have always done that rather than leaving it anonymous editors to do it for him. In a lot of cases we only need the story. We shouldn't need a professional to interpret it for us. That Propaganda is as old as the flood... I'm not a particular fan of big media but Nick is. Especially if its of the type of which he approves. We're awash with news today, but the reader has to employ his own common sense and fact check himself if he really wants to ensure the veracity of any story. In fact he should have always done that rather than leaving it anonymous editors to do it for him. In a lot of cases we only need the story. We shouldn't need a professional to interpret it for us. That is just the innate laziness of the consumer. . The solution which Nick suggests is a return to the good old days..( Bah...technology).. The actual solution is we all have to became journalists of sorts..if we wish..

  5. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Interesting, depressing, and a little repetitive. Worth a read, but the writing style is dull and becomes a chore after the first few chapters.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Hartley

    I studied as a journalist; worked as one for a while, and can sadly vouch for Mr Davies´ grim take on the world of the media. Things have probably worsened since this book was written - the internet has decimated the industry and more than ever it´s a wing of the PR and Marketing world. Two bugbears for me, which Davies addresses, among others: one, the under-representation of real news, that is, local news which might make a difference to local communities. The national papers use a common agend I studied as a journalist; worked as one for a while, and can sadly vouch for Mr Davies´ grim take on the world of the media. Things have probably worsened since this book was written - the internet has decimated the industry and more than ever it´s a wing of the PR and Marketing world. Two bugbears for me, which Davies addresses, among others: one, the under-representation of real news, that is, local news which might make a difference to local communities. The national papers use a common agenda, narrow and limiting, which they all doggedly follow. Some might have a "northern correspondent" for example, or "Welsh correspondent", but ask yourself what that really means: Where that Welsh correspondent works, where his or her office is - and, ask yourself, how does one person cover the news of three million people? Second: the sheer laziness of the media and the death of journalism. The flooding of UK newspapers with American news - not just politics, but showbusiness, tittle tattle and even weather stories. Why? Because it´s cheap. The American media churns out so much content that it´s cheaper for UK publications (many part of US media groups anyway) to simply pass on this dross to a country which is four thousand miles away. As someone who lives in Europe, this is awful stuff: France and Spain might as well be on another planet for all the coverage they get. Ai ai ai...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    An excellent discourse on why you shouldn't believe everything you read in the newspaper, hear on the radio or see on TV. Davies digs into the pitfalls of for-profit (above every other consideration) journalism, corruption, biased reporting, the problems arising from valueing speed over accuracy, and much more. An excellent discourse on why you shouldn't believe everything you read in the newspaper, hear on the radio or see on TV. Davies digs into the pitfalls of for-profit (above every other consideration) journalism, corruption, biased reporting, the problems arising from valueing speed over accuracy, and much more.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jur

    Hopelessly late in reading this, but Nick Davies´ Flat Earth News is probably more true now than it was when published first in 2008, before the great culmination of scandals that brought down the Sun and threatened the Murdoch media empire. Davies argues that by the establishment of media empires in the 1980 and 1990s there started a trend towards rationalisation of news production. Budgets were lowered, fewer journalists were required to produce more news. This has led to a decline in the quali Hopelessly late in reading this, but Nick Davies´ Flat Earth News is probably more true now than it was when published first in 2008, before the great culmination of scandals that brought down the Sun and threatened the Murdoch media empire. Davies argues that by the establishment of media empires in the 1980 and 1990s there started a trend towards rationalisation of news production. Budgets were lowered, fewer journalists were required to produce more news. This has led to a decline in the quality of journalism as there is not enough time to check facts and dig beyond what is delivered to them. News is now delivered by press agencies with similarly reduced staff, but increasingly directly by PR organisations from the government, interest organisations, companies and intelligence agencies. Davies notes that the time is fast approaching where PR personnel outnumbers the journalists. PR people have become much better at offering journalists ready-made news items. Political press officers provide Sound bites, arrange exclusive interviews and plant scoops. Interest groups selectively quote-mine scientific reports to support their arguments. Businesses subsidise related research that draws headlines, so that their message gets across. This is just what allows journalist, short of time, to meet their expected levels of productivity. The lack of time available has led to several sub-trends, picking stories which: Are easy to process. So only give the facts, not the context Carry low risk. They come from 'trusted' sources like the government, don't offend those powerful/wealthy enough to sue you or block your access to new stories, present both sides of the story as is they are equal. It also means that news media tend to hunt in packs, because a story published elsewhere is a safe source. Esepecially when there's a moral panic. Are guaranteed to sell. So no news from far off places that nobody cares about, but endless celebrity gossip. And nothing that challenges the preconceptions of your audience. The most interesting development is the support of astro-turf organisations, that is (fake) grassroots organisations supported by companies or intelligence agencies. Look for instance at the many patients representation groups supported by the pharmaceutical industry and non-representative expatriate organisations like the Iraqi National Council. Or the dubious think tanks and research establishments used by the oil industry to sow doubt about climate change. Most worrying is that the intelligence agencies have found their way to the newsrooms as well. It is not entirely new, as Cold War agencies also had their journalistic ´assets´, conduits through which they could convey their message. Or undermine the credibility of someone who lifted the lid on them. But since the 1990s they have used their information monopoly to steer reporters in their desired directions. Their power is as big as those of the independent press agencies. The War in Iraq being a case in point. Davies´ chapter on The Observer shows how the CIA led reporters astray by misinforming them (through the Iraqi National Council) while the political editor was bagged by Downing Street. But the chapters on other newspapers are as chilling and depressing, especially the collusion with private investigators and policemen that bug phones, gather private information from protected databases and harrass victims to get their side of the story even when all they want is to be left alone. Tragically, it seems that this book has not been able to change much, although I can see an undercurrent of journalists trying to wrest away from Big Media. And judging by the results of the Leveson Inquiry and the opposition from the media to its conclusions, I have no confidence that it will prove more than a dint in the trend, let alone a break. It would be nice to say that this trend is only confined to the UK or the anglo-saxon media, but there's enough signs that it also applies to the Netherlands. Joris Luyendijk, writing about the same time, showed the weakness of foreign correspondents in the Middle East. He argued that in countries with hardly any room for independent public opinion, lacking social scientific research or even opinion polls, if not controlled by security services, how could the foreign correspondent really know what people felt? And when you cover such a large and diverse region, you end up doing a standup from your hotel roof 30 minutes after you'd flown in based on nothing more than what you got from the newsroom and a quick chat with your taxi driver on the way in from the airport. But his criticism of the work of foreign correspondents was met as much by indignant replies from his colleagues as by others commending him for his bravery to be open about the limitations of his job.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Cheshire

    Phone hacking is not in the index of this book, published in 2008 so just before that story broke. Every other journalistic crime is. The central argument is that corporate commercialism in what we used to fondly call "Fleet Street", has created two huge abuses: firstly cost and corner cutting, so "churnalists" no longer have time to check stories,but rely on re-churning everybody else's stories; secondly profit-chasing, resulting in news "values" which pander to market prejudice and the rejecti Phone hacking is not in the index of this book, published in 2008 so just before that story broke. Every other journalistic crime is. The central argument is that corporate commercialism in what we used to fondly call "Fleet Street", has created two huge abuses: firstly cost and corner cutting, so "churnalists" no longer have time to check stories,but rely on re-churning everybody else's stories; secondly profit-chasing, resulting in news "values" which pander to market prejudice and the rejection of anything that might not sell easily to global news outlets (this includes stories showing black people in positive settings, stories set in the developing world, anything difficult). But the most riveting chapter is the one about one paper, the Daily Mail. Quite simphly the Mail dictates the "rolling narrative" of our whole national discourse. Its driving force is the semi-psychotic fury of its disturbing, "c**t"-yelling editor, Paul Dacre. His skillful articulation and profoundly cynical manipulation of the psychoses of middle England has boosted the Mail's circulation into the stratosphere, making Dacre indespensable, invincible, invulnerable. He can afford to bribe his staff (big salaries, cars) into toeing his hateful and morally corrput line. He can buy off any potential theat from his many litigious (and frequently 100% traduced) victims. Thus Dacre has succeeded in bullying an entire nation and its governing elite into total, hopeless, fearful submission. Forget Murdoch. Our tabloid problem has another name. It is more intractable. And much, much corrupt. The reason is clear. Absolute power and all that.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pvw

    It seemed interesting when I picked it up in the library: an insider account on how the modern media are being corrupted by mass hysteria, propaganda and commercial objectives. Unfortunately "Flat Earth News" has become an endlessly long list of examples that are treated in the utmost detail. You quickly get the jest of it, but start to wonder if yet another example is really going to make the point even better. The book seems to favour quantity over quality where evidence is concerned. Therefor It seemed interesting when I picked it up in the library: an insider account on how the modern media are being corrupted by mass hysteria, propaganda and commercial objectives. Unfortunately "Flat Earth News" has become an endlessly long list of examples that are treated in the utmost detail. You quickly get the jest of it, but start to wonder if yet another example is really going to make the point even better. The book seems to favour quantity over quality where evidence is concerned. Therefore, leafing through "Flat Earth News" is a much more rewarding activity than actually reading it from cover to cover.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    !!!!!!!!!!!! Amazing book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sergey Bir

    People have faces, organisations don't have faces - they have masks. A face reflects what is inside the person but a mask is a construct. What is behind the mask can be entirely different to what is portrayed at the front. The media is not the face of the world. It's not the face of anything. It is a bunch of masks that are produced to sell. You wouldn't trust an entertaining anecdote on the back of a pack of chips to tell you the truth about reality so why would you trust the media? You trust th People have faces, organisations don't have faces - they have masks. A face reflects what is inside the person but a mask is a construct. What is behind the mask can be entirely different to what is portrayed at the front. The media is not the face of the world. It's not the face of anything. It is a bunch of masks that are produced to sell. You wouldn't trust an entertaining anecdote on the back of a pack of chips to tell you the truth about reality so why would you trust the media? You trust the media because it has a beautiful mask of truthfullness and trustworthiness. But it is still a mask. Before reading this book i had several beliefs about the media: 1. The media industry is vast so there must be some value to it, otherwise it would collapse. If they say they provide a service of investigating the truth then there is a high chance that that is where their value lies. 2. There are checks and balances around the media. If they tell a lie then somebody will point it out and the lie will be corrected and i will know about it. 3. The media is neutral and covers most aspects of life uniformly. If there is a gap then eventually another media outlet will fill it. 4. The commercial PR is somehow separated from the main content of the media or made clear that it is PR. 5. Personal blogs and forums are trustworthy because they are written by individuals who are not subject to the pressures of a media company. After reading the book i now believe that: 1. The media often don't know the truth, don't like the truth, don't care about the truth, don't have time and resources to get to the truth. What is packaged as news and truth often has nothing to do with the truth. It's fiction. Fiction might be good when you know it's fiction. 2. There are checks and balances but they are not enough. The scale of the lies and propaganda overwhelms the available institutions that protect the reader. Sometimes there are no institutions at all, or just fake institutions created by the media itself. 3. The media doesn't cover everything and is not neutral. It covers what it will be paid for. It will blatantly lie to you to push an agenda or to grab your attention. Many important aspects of life are not covered at all because they are hard to exploit for money. 4. There is a lot of manipulation embedded in the media products which is not made clear at all. Some of it is very hard to notice but it nevertheless makes an impact on your opinions. 5. Uncovering truth is hard work. The individuals often don't have the resources, the skills, the will to do it. Some bloggers share their own experience which can be valuable but not necessarily true on a larger scale. Others just regurgitate the same lies but filtered only to those they personally enjoy. My heart is bleeding now. Digesting the detail after excrutiating detail of how this person lied and this group people deceived and this agency betrayed and these guys stole and this newspaper threw their ideals and humanity out the window and on and on until my head hurts - well, it's painful and sad. I don't remember being as sad reading any other book. With every story i felt like a piece of my idealism fell off and withered. It's revolting to drink such concentrated essence of the dark side of humanity. I desperately need to watch kitties playing with cotton balls now. Besides the numerous examples of the workings of the media the book also provided glimpses into workspace environments in agencies, newspapers and even governments. It was enlightening to see how human interactions in toxic environments play a role in the production of lies. Some journalists hate their jobs and their bosses, they hate to tell lies, they didn't sign up for it, they came into the industry to deal with truth and facts - but now they are stuck because they enjoy the pay and can't leave. The media is in constant conflict between telling the truth and earning a profit. I wish i could proclaim that from now on and until they figure their shit out i will not trust anybody, i will not derive any of my opinions based on speculative fiction dressed as news, i will discover the world for myself and check everything important. But i realise that it's just a dream. Just like the media i don't have the resources to find the truth and i most certainly have to rely on other people. The question is how do i do that without getting bamboozled. I guess reading this book and learning about the production of news is a good start.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Edmund

    Reading this book (published first in 2009) at the end of 2017 raises much curiosity how Davies would react and analysis today's "fake-news" "Post-Truth" environment. In many respects Flat-Earth News lays the ground-work for modern 'news' and explains clearly how we got to this place of political echo chambers, shareable garbage and click-bait. The greatest irony is towards the conclusion of the story Davies saw the internet as a possible solution to the problem of inaccurate and biased media. An Reading this book (published first in 2009) at the end of 2017 raises much curiosity how Davies would react and analysis today's "fake-news" "Post-Truth" environment. In many respects Flat-Earth News lays the ground-work for modern 'news' and explains clearly how we got to this place of political echo chambers, shareable garbage and click-bait. The greatest irony is towards the conclusion of the story Davies saw the internet as a possible solution to the problem of inaccurate and biased media. Anywho as to the book itself, I absolutely loved it, while written quite densely and unapologetically thorough Flat-Earth News provides an excellent review and explanation of how and why news is so often warped, spun, biased and sometimes outright wrong. While I think most of us have a general sense that there is something a bit off about journalism and news, Davies does a brilliant job of summarizing the issues pointing out that its not so much that people peddle "fake-news" its more a systemic problem of PR, profits, manpower and politics. Probably the most alarming thing for me wasn't actually the racist spins, the invention of facts or absurd lack of checking, but the omissions - the fact that despite how it feels, the world isn't covered in media, much of foreign and internal news is simply generated by 'expert' opinion and the is a massive dearth of journalists on the ground. The best thing about Flat-Earth News is that Davies perspective is relatively balanced. He is one of the few non-fiction writers I've picked up (possibly the only) that actually pointed out his conflicts of interest in the beginning of the story, and while he does have some opinions and obvious stances he doesn't pick on any particular cause or political wings, for example he reveals the poor tactics of both big petroleum companies and environmental groups in the same chapter. Overall this book is a must read for anyone wanting to understand journalism and media better, especially in today's somewhat toxic environment - "It's not a conspiracy, its a mess"

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vasil Kolev

    This could also have been called "why news is crap and should not be believed". The book itself, even though showing the somewhat obvious fact that most journalism nowadays is biased, distorted and outright wrong, has the same issues itself - there are parts where you stop and start asking yourself "why is this piece of information presented in this way?". The book is focused on the UK with bits on the US, but as the media is becoming more and more global (and more crap), a lot of the description This could also have been called "why news is crap and should not be believed". The book itself, even though showing the somewhat obvious fact that most journalism nowadays is biased, distorted and outright wrong, has the same issues itself - there are parts where you stop and start asking yourself "why is this piece of information presented in this way?". The book is focused on the UK with bits on the US, but as the media is becoming more and more global (and more crap), a lot of the descriptions in it would match almost any country. This should be a book that everyone who watches TV or reads newspapers should read, but I highly doubt that would happen...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Thorkell Ottarsson

    An amazing book. Even more relevant today than it was back when it was written. It fact it shows what went wrong and why people like Trump and Putin could so easily manipulate the media. So if you want to understand how we got here, this is a good place to start. It is also a sober reminder of why we have to be critical of the media, even though it is a necessary foundation of democracy. In fact if the media is the 4th state, then the reader is the 5th state. As a side note. I thought I could not An amazing book. Even more relevant today than it was back when it was written. It fact it shows what went wrong and why people like Trump and Putin could so easily manipulate the media. So if you want to understand how we got here, this is a good place to start. It is also a sober reminder of why we have to be critical of the media, even though it is a necessary foundation of democracy. In fact if the media is the 4th state, then the reader is the 5th state. As a side note. I thought I could not hate Rupert Murdoch any more. After reading this book I realized that disgust has no limit.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Francesco Petraccone

    Vote: 3,50 Class: P-B1 (FP) This was a surprising book, which made me open my eyes about what I diary read in the newspaper. This was also a sad book, because now I know for certain (I already had my doubts!) that much of what I see in the news has very little to do with the truth. It was a surprising book and it was a good book to read, but it has its flaws: - it is too long and often slow to come to the point; - the author too has his personal battles and prejudice: is anger toward Murdoch (maybe j Vote: 3,50 Class: P-B1 (FP) This was a surprising book, which made me open my eyes about what I diary read in the newspaper. This was also a sad book, because now I know for certain (I already had my doubts!) that much of what I see in the news has very little to do with the truth. It was a surprising book and it was a good book to read, but it has its flaws: - it is too long and often slow to come to the point; - the author too has his personal battles and prejudice: is anger toward Murdoch (maybe justified, but anger all the same!); his prejudice against the Catholic Church and against some specific journals (I had direct information about one only thing he said against the Church in all the book and he was mistaken and he didn't give any evidence!). This last particular thing left me dawn: how can you criticize all the world for writing news without checking the facts and then write something totally untrue? But I'll recommend this book because it's quite well done and a real eyes opener.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sunnie

    Flat Earth News examines the reasons behind the decline in both standards and depth of news media in the UK. Nick Davies looks at the changing face of media owners. They are no longer people whose main interest is good news reporting but business folks whose focus is profit over good journalism and that is reflected in ever increasing cuts in budgets and resources leaving little time for fact checking. The increasing reliance upon and influence of PR is examined. It's sobering to note that there Flat Earth News examines the reasons behind the decline in both standards and depth of news media in the UK. Nick Davies looks at the changing face of media owners. They are no longer people whose main interest is good news reporting but business folks whose focus is profit over good journalism and that is reflected in ever increasing cuts in budgets and resources leaving little time for fact checking. The increasing reliance upon and influence of PR is examined. It's sobering to note that there are now more journalists in the UK working in PR than in news gathering. Particularly disquieting is Davies account of media coverage of the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq where half truths and outright lies went unquestioned. The extent to which the CIA (and to a lesser extent MI6) infiltrated mainstream media is chilling. At one point apparently there were half a dozen journalists at the influential New York Times who were CIA agents. Davies track record as one of the rapidly dwindling number of true investigative journalists gives the book considerable credibility. Among his achievements are Julian Assange/Wikileaks Warlogs and the Phone Hacking scandal that brought down the News of the World. A major focus of FLAT EARTH NEWS is the reprehensible behaviour of many of the major newspapers in the UK who seem to have thrown all morality out of the window in pursuit of news. Even the "quality"newspapers are guilty of this. Davies names names and details stories to back up his claims. Davies looks at a number of stories and takes them apart to examine how distortions, half truths, misleading headlines and downright fabrication take place to give the reader a skewed view of a story that doesn't quite fit the actual facts. There is an entire chapter devoted to the most aggressive of these publications, The Daily Mail and it's editor Paul Dacre. Dacre comes across as a foul mouthed bully completely devoid of any scruples whatsoever, who has no hesitation in going after someone who has incurred his displeasure. In fact while writing this I noticed that the Daily Mail has a column on its website devoted to doing just that to Davies. While FLAT EARTH NEWS is about the news media in the UK, it pays to be mindful that it could apply to any news outlet, anywhere. And while Australia does not have a publication as venomous as The Daily Mail (yet!), there are signs that it could be on its way (case in point some of the headlines in The Daily Telegraph before the last Federal election. Is a photo of Kevin Rudd on the front page photoshopped to look like Adolf Hitler actually news?) I found FLAT EARTH NEWS one of the most fascinating and compelling reads I've had in a long time and highly recommend it to everyone.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tara van Beurden

    This is a really important book. I stumbled upon it in the back of another book (I think it was Female Chauvinist Pigs) and when I was working in London I found it in Barnes and Noble and bought it. It was not lost on me that I discovered the TV show ‘The Newsroom’ about two months after I read this book, late one night while staying in New York City with my parents, after I’d finished my stint in London. This book compliments what the show is trying to do. Davies worked on Fleet Street, home of This is a really important book. I stumbled upon it in the back of another book (I think it was Female Chauvinist Pigs) and when I was working in London I found it in Barnes and Noble and bought it. It was not lost on me that I discovered the TV show ‘The Newsroom’ about two months after I read this book, late one night while staying in New York City with my parents, after I’d finished my stint in London. This book compliments what the show is trying to do. Davies worked on Fleet Street, home of London’s media, and in Flat Earth News, he takes apart the mess that is the media industry in the modern day, and why not a word of what it spews out can be trusted, not because of the evil desires of the Murdoch’s of the world to direct what we think, but rather to make money. Cutting, and cutting, and cutting back the budgets for journalism teams while expecting faster and faster news coverage in order to ‘get the scoop’ before anyone else has resulted in news that is barely news, human interest crap to keep the masses watching, but providing little actual truthful news about what is happening in the world. Davies details how this has come to be, how pervasive it is, and what media outlets are the worst. There is, in fact, a whole chapter dedicated to the Daily Mail, which is one of my favourite papers to read online, despite the fact that I know its utter trash. This book confirms that view (I still read the Daily Mail – its hilarious!). All in all, along with the noble endeavor of the Newsroom (even if some consider it completely fanciful), this is an important book, highlighting the critical thinking we all need to apply when watching the news.

  19. 5 out of 5

    trang

    I read the Vietnamese version of this book. Hence, any comment/judgement in this review is only applicable to the translation. First of all, the publisher successfully managed to publish a book with low translation quality. To think this book is an award-winning work of a well-known journalist, I strongly recommend a re-do of the translation. Many times it was easy to guess the English words for the Vietnamese texts that I was reading (and I was so sure that my reverse translation would be very c I read the Vietnamese version of this book. Hence, any comment/judgement in this review is only applicable to the translation. First of all, the publisher successfully managed to publish a book with low translation quality. To think this book is an award-winning work of a well-known journalist, I strongly recommend a re-do of the translation. Many times it was easy to guess the English words for the Vietnamese texts that I was reading (and I was so sure that my reverse translation would be very close to the original texts). Since I desperately tried to get ahold of an English version but to no avail, it is my guessing (again) that the translator had used too much "big words" or at least wrongly chosen words through the whole translation. The level of exaggeration, which was particularly found in the author's description of the characters involved, was too much that I was fed up with the reading after several chapters. More than once had I questioned myself if I was really reading a non-fictious book. So, please, Nha Nam and the publishing house, do the readers a big favour of having this book retranslated by a capable translator. I have never been an avid fan of Nha Nam (mostly due to the popularity of their cheesy books in the bookstores) but this low quality work could totally butcher the interest of any Vietnamese reader once they bother to buy this book (which clearly is not a best-selling).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    this should be compulsory reading for anyone who reads newspapers or who likes to pass on 'news' items as truth. and while you might think you are aware of the role of PR in current media, or how rupert murdoch is changing global media and politics, this is still a necessary read. davies makes his statements and then backs them up with example after example of how media manipulates and is manipulated. and unfortunately, the conclusion is rather depressing. i reread the bit on chernobyle, after a this should be compulsory reading for anyone who reads newspapers or who likes to pass on 'news' items as truth. and while you might think you are aware of the role of PR in current media, or how rupert murdoch is changing global media and politics, this is still a necessary read. davies makes his statements and then backs them up with example after example of how media manipulates and is manipulated. and unfortunately, the conclusion is rather depressing. i reread the bit on chernobyle, after all the fukushima hype, and was reminded of how fear plays such a big role in misinformation. twenty five years later, and there is no difference in media coverage of nuclear power plants and radiation 'evil'. sigh. and all this while japanese gov't needs to make rational decisions on the future of nuclear power in their country. the focus is a bit heavy on the brit newspapers, as that is davies' milieu, but the examples he provides are no less worthy of examination. in fact, you might it exhausting after a lengthy reading session. but more info is surely better than less? it would be interesting to read davies' comments after wikileaks (this book was published in 2008); i should look for his blog...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pablo

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is too long for itself, the classic example of a should-have-been-a-blogpost book. Don’t read it, it’s not worth it. Why? Because the whole thing could be summarized in one line, and here it is: “You can never trust any news organization because everything they say is biased”. Just as much as you can’t trust my review because it’s biased. But look, you don’t need an endless stream of examples to understand that. It is obvious, isn’t it? Plus, most of the times I felt like it was trying to This book is too long for itself, the classic example of a should-have-been-a-blogpost book. Don’t read it, it’s not worth it. Why? Because the whole thing could be summarized in one line, and here it is: “You can never trust any news organization because everything they say is biased”. Just as much as you can’t trust my review because it’s biased. But look, you don’t need an endless stream of examples to understand that. It is obvious, isn’t it? Plus, most of the times I felt like it was trying to hit a word count. I don’t mean to be pedantic but I have to be honest: you will like this if you are still enamored with the concept that news organizations are truthful; if you are not, you won’t like it. And if you have, there’s nothing in here for you other than useless examples and lots of “gotcha’s”, “turns-out’s”, and the like. If you want to read it really bad, do this: read the prologue and the epilogue, and you’ll get all the value this book has. This structure is classic for book-length blogposts: all the sauce is at the beginning and the end, the middle is just padding.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Terry Clague

    "The type of political culture that accompanies the rise of the corportate media system worldwide looks to be increasingly like that found in the US: in the place of informaed debate or political parties organizing along the full spectrum of opinion, there will be vacuous journalism and elections dominated by public relations, big money, moronic political advertizing and limited debate on tangible issues. It is a world where the market and commercial values overwhelm notions of democracy and civ "The type of political culture that accompanies the rise of the corportate media system worldwide looks to be increasingly like that found in the US: in the place of informaed debate or political parties organizing along the full spectrum of opinion, there will be vacuous journalism and elections dominated by public relations, big money, moronic political advertizing and limited debate on tangible issues. It is a world where the market and commercial values overwhelm notions of democracy and civic culture, a world where depoliticization runs rampant, and a world where a wealthy few face fewer and fewer threats of political challenge" Wall Street Journal article quoted in this book which just about sums it up. I'd recommend Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent in addition to this.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Valroy

    Fascinating insight, but at the same time quite a depressing read as you learn about the inner workings of not just the press, but all of our news media. Most of us know that our news maybe biased, distorted a little, small details omitted to steer opinion, but after reading this book, the situation is far more serious than that, where stories are systematically fabricated, unchecked, and cynically skewed to alter our perception of the world. This book isn't a rant from some journalist with a gr Fascinating insight, but at the same time quite a depressing read as you learn about the inner workings of not just the press, but all of our news media. Most of us know that our news maybe biased, distorted a little, small details omitted to steer opinion, but after reading this book, the situation is far more serious than that, where stories are systematically fabricated, unchecked, and cynically skewed to alter our perception of the world. This book isn't a rant from some journalist with a grudge, it's thoughtfully written, and gives plenty of examples of misinformation that you can refer back to, or ones you may remember yourself when they were first reported. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who has any interest in current affairs, you will not regret it!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    A real eye opener for all those that are active in the media sector. Shocking in his description of the bad practices in the press: the conscious dirty tricks and the link between press and politics, but that was already largely known. New in this book: the mechanism of 'churnalism'. Handsome, well reasoned analysis, although occasionally a bit ambiguous in some of his examples, as for instance in his stance for the legalization of heroin. A real eye opener for all those that are active in the media sector. Shocking in his description of the bad practices in the press: the conscious dirty tricks and the link between press and politics, but that was already largely known. New in this book: the mechanism of 'churnalism'. Handsome, well reasoned analysis, although occasionally a bit ambiguous in some of his examples, as for instance in his stance for the legalization of heroin.

  25. 5 out of 5

    William

    Depressing, yet excellent. A highly insightful study into how news, global and otherwise, has been distorted by the relentless quest for breaking news, and how cuts have weakened local news immensely. Papers such as The Daily Mail and the Murdoch collection are the worst on the planet, and are threatening the very fabric of our society. Read this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nduka

    I chose to listen to the Audio Book version to fit into my on-road activities... Very intersting!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy Laurens

    Stop trying to make "Flat Earth News" happen. It's not going to happen. Stop trying to make "Flat Earth News" happen. It's not going to happen.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    Davies covers a number of compelling topics that fall into the dubious category of flat earth news. From the Y2K bug to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. He also touches the tip of the phone hacking scandal iceberg, that he would later go onto develop further and fully on his outstanding, “Hack Attack” a few years later. He also gives a terrifying insight into the CIA’s reach and power within the world of media, describing its latent presence in almost every capital city in the world. He bri Davies covers a number of compelling topics that fall into the dubious category of flat earth news. From the Y2K bug to Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. He also touches the tip of the phone hacking scandal iceberg, that he would later go onto develop further and fully on his outstanding, “Hack Attack” a few years later. He also gives a terrifying insight into the CIA’s reach and power within the world of media, describing its latent presence in almost every capital city in the world. He brings a fresh clarity to the farcical war on drugs, saying, “Heroin is not a poison. Contrary to popular belief, pure heroin, properly handled is a benign drug…It is rather difficult to kill yourself with heroin: the gap between therapeutic and a fatal dose is far wider than it is, for example, with paracetemol. It is addictive-and that is a very good reason no to use it-but its most notable side effect on the physical, mental and moral condition of its users is constipation. The truth is that all of the illness and misery and death which are associated with heroin are, in fact, the effect not of the drug itself but of the black market on which it is sold as a result of this war against drugs.” He goes onto say, “The truth about the prohibition of heroin is that it creates the very problems which it pretends to solve: causing the sickness and death which it claims to be preventing; provoking the crime and disorder which it wants to stop.” He explains the many flaws and shortcomings of the Press Association, which is the main source of news that come down the wires to outlets. He shows how deprived their resources are, and ultimately how sacred their information is treated and subsequently how little it is challenged or checked, which results in a lot of lies and nonsense being printed and reprinted elsewhere in the world. Concluding that, “Every day fiction slides effortlessly around Britain, passing unhindered through media channels which are supposed to be reserved for fact. And then with equal ease, it slips across the border and flows around the world, while fiction from other parts of the world glides quietly into Britain.” He also focuses on the Associated Press and Reuters which provide most of the news for the rest of the English speaking world. So called “churnalism” and how various news agencies and outlets end up cannibalising each other’s work, creating a messy end product. He also delves deep into the murky world of PR, spin, lobbying, psychologists, marketers, think tanks and just outright liars whose presence in the news is growing more powerful and stronger all the time. He ridicules the sycophantic and deeply distorted headlines and coverage that followed the deaths of the likes of the Queen Mother and John Paul II. Highlighting the blatant PR manipulation of the Pope’s alleged last words, when he had been unable to speak for days, going onto reveal how his incredibly conservative, intolerant and ignorant campaign for a global ban on contraception which clearly had an impact on the spread of HIV and AIDS was largely ignored as well as his many other policies. Davies dedicates chapters to various papers and some of their shocking behaviour, though by far the most alarming of these is the “Daily Mail” He goes onto say, “The Mail is deriving at least some of its commercial and political success precisely from the fact that it can play fast and loose with the facts and frequently have no fear of the consequences: the PCC bails them out; the victim can’t afford to sue; or, if the victim does sue, the paper can live with the cost. It’s like watching a footballer who, finding himself the last man between his opponent and his gaping goal, will deliberately foul the opponent in order to protect that goal, calculating that it is worth it even if he is punished by the referee. Brilliant and corrupt, the Daily Mail is the professional foul of contemporary Fleet Street.” He summaries by saying, “People sometimes say that government listen to the Daily Mail because it is ‘the voice of Middle England’, but that’s just another easy cliché. It’s the aggression that makes the Mail powerful. I know of nothing anywhere in the rest of the world’s media which matches the unmitigated spite of an attack from the Daily Mail. And since it is part of an industry in Britain whose sole attempt at regulation is an organisation which rejects more than 90% of complaints without even considering their content, that aggression is free to cripple reputations, free to kill ideas, regardless of justice, regardless of truth.” This is another hugely important and compelling read from Davies and is essential reading for anyone who has an interest in the news or media. He shows that there are no sacred cows and freely criticises his own, now former, bosses and sister paper. He shows that all news and media is flawed to an extent and he paints a grim picture of where it may be going in the future, no matter how uncertain and worrying that may be this is essential reading.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Simon Howard

    I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while now. It’s a difficult one for me. I only read Flat Earth News because so many people had recommended it, and most of them are people whose views I tend to agree with. But I’m afraid I didn’t really like it. Flat Earth News is Nick Davies’s “exposé” of the practices of the media. Nick is, of course, a brilliant Guardian journalist, and is perhaps the journalist most responsible for the eventual uncovering of the widespread use of phone h I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while now. It’s a difficult one for me. I only read Flat Earth News because so many people had recommended it, and most of them are people whose views I tend to agree with. But I’m afraid I didn’t really like it. Flat Earth News is Nick Davies’s “exposé” of the practices of the media. Nick is, of course, a brilliant Guardian journalist, and is perhaps the journalist most responsible for the eventual uncovering of the widespread use of phone hacking by members of the press. Unfortunately, he approaches the task of “exposing journalism” with two central premises which I find bizarre. Firstly, he appears to labour under the wrongful impression that members of the public imagine journalists to be crack investigators who stalk the streets with notebooks and pens, looking for exclusive stories to serve up to expectant readers. Clearly, as an adult who lives in the real world, I know that’s not what a journalist’s job is like. I know that journalists are expected to churn out multiple stories per day, and I know that most of what they write starts out as wire copy or press releases. It’s true to say that I didn’t fully realise the extent of the number of stories they’re expected to file, nor the extent of the reliance on agency copy, but I didn’t think the world of modern journalism was made up of Lois Lanes. This makes the tone he uses for much of the book seem enormously patronising. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt as patronised by any factual book I’ve ever voluntarily subjected myself to as I did by the first third of this book. It’s horrendous. Secondly, he claims – and repeats ad nauseam – that the central job of any journalist is to tell the truth. Again, I’m afraid I cannot agree with this. There are many parts of any journalist’s job which are equally as important as telling the truth – engaging readers and selling papers being two of the more important ones. He seems to suggest that an ideal newspaper would simply be a list of facts of things that occurred during the day, with few adjectives and no opinions. That is clearly not sensible, as nobody in their right mind would part with good money for something so utterly dull. Those are the two big, central problems with the book. They are the two which each and every time they crop up made me want to scream. There were times when I actually had to put this enormously repetitive book down and walk away. But, in a way, this is only the start of the list of problems. When I read books with the intention of reviewing them, I often make notes along the way. I select key quotes, I list the bits I really like and the bits that made me angry. This book caused me to write more notes than any other I’ve ever reviewed for this site, and almost all were in the “bits that made me angry” category. I don’t intend to make all of those points here, but I will share a select few which raised questions in my mind that Davies failed to answer. Davies has bizarre ideas on what is and isn’t news. He cites a story in which there was a rumour of Terry Leahy stepping down from his role at Tesco. In the face of these rumours, Tesco issued a denial. Davies then criticises news bulletins for continuing to run the story that a rumour was circulating but that it had been denied by Tesco. Does he honestly believe that this story is not newsworthy? Should flat denials always be taken at face value? There’s a section of this book where Davies criticises the Daily Mail for not having a coherent economic policy. Seriously, I’m not making this up. He talks about the unexpressed and hence unexamined “moral values” which underpin reportage in newspapers, citing the Daily Mail’s treatment of asylum seekers as an example. I’m afraid it’s a little beyond this reviewer to understand how Davies can argue that the Daily Mail’s attitude towards asylum seekers has not been widely acknowledged, criticised and challenged. But, beyond this, he then goes on to suggest that the Daily Mail’s opposition to immigration coupled with its support of free trade adds up to a deeply flawed economic policy. Does Davies honestly believe that a newspaper like the Daily Mail should put forward coherent economic policies? Really? Of course the Daily Mail picks and chooses causes, and of course they do not add up to anything sensible. I struggle to believe that people – including its readers and editor – would argue that the Daily Mail offers a cohesive policy for government, however it presents itself. This feels a bit like criticising Bram Stoker for opening Dracula with the suggestion that all events within the novel are accurate reporting of a true event. There’s an odd passage in which Davies criticises a newspaper – I forget which one – for reversing its stance on the Iraq war in the face of plummeting readership. Yet I wonder what he believes to be the alternative? If readers are deserting a paper due its opinions, does Davies suggest that it should continue to parrot the same line until it is forced, by lack of readership, to close? Davies argues that the BBC’s aim to break news within five minutes of it reaching the newsroom is flawed because it doesn’t allow for checking. Does he honestly think that the BBC should only ever report confirmed stories? Does he believe that repeating clearly identified “unconfirmed reports”, as they so frequently do, harms the practice of journalism? Is it his honest belief that if they returned to the old days of checking every detail before publishing that their readers, viewers and listeners wouldn’t desert them in favour of faster rivals? Or does he believe that it doesn’t matter than nobody watches, provided that there is a news outlet of record? And how does Davies suggest that journalism should be funded? He suggests several times in the book that the funding sources of some campaign groups mean that their view of the world is, by definition, skewed by the funders and should be ignored. So who does he suggest should fund the media? Who has he thought of as a potential provider of revenue to fund totally impartial journalism? He has no answer to this question, but suggests in his epilogue that money saved from moving to digital publication rather than dead tree publication should be reinvested in journalism. The suggestion, of course, completely misses the point that nobody has yet worked out how to make anywhere like the revenue from digital journalism as from print journalism, so there is no money to be reinvested. Yet, for all of its many faults, I think this is an important book. Strip away the odd proselytising tone, and within this book there is an interesting, informative and detailed “state of the profession” report. There are still those who believe that the Daily Mail prints literal truth, those that don’t understand how news stories are gathered, and those that think that quotes in newspapers are verbatim transcripts of something that someone actually said. For those people, this book would doubtless be an eye-opener. All of this leaves me with something of a dilemma. I hated this book. I found it patronising, and a real struggle to get through. It’s irritating tone made me frequently set it aside to read something that made me less angry. And yet, I recognise that it is important, and that many people like it. Indeed, many people like it very much. So how many stars should I give? Since there’s no easy answer, I’m going to plump for an arbitrary three. Original review can be seen at http://sjhoward.co.uk/archive/2013/02...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bartholomew

    "Flat Earth News" is Davies' term for a particular phenomenon: "A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda". Davies makes the case that such Flat Earth News is now endemic in the media: not because of a conspiracy to placate advertisers or (primarily) because of editorial interference by owners: rather, it is "forces of commercialism which now provide the greatest "Flat Earth News" is Davies' term for a particular phenomenon: "A story appears to be true. It is widely accepted as true. It becomes a heresy to suggest that it is not true – even if it is riddled with falsehood, distortion and propaganda". Davies makes the case that such Flat Earth News is now endemic in the media: not because of a conspiracy to placate advertisers or (primarily) because of editorial interference by owners: rather, it is "forces of commercialism which now provide the greatest obstacle to truth-telling journalism." Much of the story is concerned with "churnalism" – the uncritical use of PR press releases and government propaganda at the expense of fact-checking – although he also reveals a culture of malpractice and bullying within parts of the industry. There are also fascinating revelations and analysis about the media's relationship with intelligence agencies, and how this related to making the case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Davies lays out the basic problem in the first chapter, beginning with a case study chronicling how concerns over the Y2K Bug snowballed into near-apocalyptic sensationalism in 1999. The rest of the book is divided into three main sections: "The News Factory"; "Hidden Persuaders"; and "Inside Stories". "The News Factory" is a broad survey, punctuated with anecdotes, of how newsgathering takes place today. The diagnosis is grim: "the very practice of old-style reporting generally has gone... the army of journalists travelling the country to cover a trial, or any other kind of story; the reporter milking information from contacts among 'cabinet members and cabbies'; the intrepid investigator out on the road following the trail of clues." The "rules of production" favour stories that are cheap, "safe" (meaning not likely to challenge an official line or create unwelcome controversy), and likely to appeal to the widest audiences. The result is a consensus-led "bias against truth", with journalists jumping on moral panic bandwagons and papers running stories because other papers are doing the same thing. The "Hidden Persuaders" section (named for Vance Packard's seminal 1957 book on PR) shows how easily the media can be manipulated, beginning with a case study of how three London bankers who were be extradited to the USA on fraud charges managed to gain public and official sympathy by becoming the "NatWest Three". Davies also draws attention to self-proclaimed and self-promoting pseudo-experts who manage to get themselves into the media. The second half of this part deals with propaganda, beginning with the way that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was puffed inaccurately into "the most notorious Islamist fighter in the world, exceeding even Osama bin Laden" by the time of his death in 2006. Davies discusses a number of false and distorted stories relating to Iraq (in particular, the fiasco of promoting the "Iraqi National Congress" as the future leaders of the country), interspersed with historical material about the CIA and MI6. The chapter includes details of an original interview with Scott Ritter, and Davies' account of attending a "strategic communications" conference with PR and military figures in London ("there was a brief squawk of panic when they suddenly woke up to the fact that I was a journalist"). Davies describes PR people who "spoke of their alarm that the military specialists in Information Operations were trying to gatecrash their territory, jeopardising their credibility", and also of "hard-line military types, on the other hand", who "made no secret of their distain for some of their PR colleagues." The bulk of "Inside Stories" concentrates on three case studies: the Sunday Times' investigative Insight team, the role of the London Observer in the run-up to the Iraq War, and the behaviour of the UK’s most powerful newspaper, the Daily Mail. The Insight chapter is the most Gibbonian tale of decline. In 1967 the team resisted official pressure in order to expose the true significance of Kim Philby's defection to the USSR four years previously; Davies contrasts this with the team's incompetent handling of Mordechai Vanunu in 1986, its compromised reporting on the shooting of three IRA members on Gibraltar in 1988, and, finally, a litany of bogus "scoops". The downward trend encapsulates the book's whole thesis: The lack of staff and experience and time, importing incompetence; the safe and easy recourse to official sources, at the Israeli Embassy [in the case of Vanunu] or the Ministry of Defence [for Gibraltar]; the succumbing to moral panic over terrorism; the willingness to stay on the right side of the electric fence that was being used to punish Thames TV [over its Death on the Rock documentary].The chapter on the Observer presents the case that the paper was too close to government in the run up to the Iraq War, with the result that bogus stories were published and information that could have had important consequences for the decision to go to war was suppressed or sidelined (in particular, a document showing that the NSA was spying on members of the Security Council of the UN); Davies paints a picture of inexperienced editorial staff who were compliant in return for government access. There is a gap, here, though: I was struck that Davies makes no mention of the fact that an Observer journalist, Farzad Bazoft, had been executed by Saddam Hussein in 1990, and that this may have influenced attitudes at the paper. Davies' chapter on the Daily Mail has few surprises, and his unflattering portrait of editor Paul Dacre as a foul-mouthed bully is now well-known. Daily Mail stories are frequently inaccurate, and pander to racial prejudice and xenophobia; Davies concludes: "I know of nothing anywhere in the rest of the world's media which matches the unmitigated spite of an attack from the Daily Mail". As part of his discussion, he also highlights the complete failure of the Press Complaints Commission to hold the press to account in anything like a meaningful way. Davies' three case-study chapters are preceded by a more general account of "the Dark Arts". Davies explores the illegal trade in personal data; the blagging of information from phone companies; and the comical exploits of "Benji the binman". The chapter ends with an account of the arrest of News of the World Royal correspondent Clive Goodman and of Glenn Mulcaire "for intercepting voice-mail messages on mobile phones"; Davies was writing in 2008, and the short-hand term "phone-hacking" had not at that time come into usage. Davies records that the paper's editor, Andy Coulson, resigned, and there's a note of frustration at the PCC's unwillingness to delve deeper. As we now know, Davies decided to keep digging after the book came out, with dramatic consequences for the Murdoch empire, high-profile criminal trials, and even grave embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron. Davies' account of what happened next has just now (summer 2014) been published, under the title Hack Attack .

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