April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Next in the continuing saga of Rolling Stone printing surprisingly good long-format journalism: The Stoner Arms Dealers.

Packouz was baffled, stoned and way out of his league. “It was surreal,” he recalls. “Here I was dealing with matters of international security, and I was half-baked. I didn’t know anything about the situation in that part of the world. But I was a central player in the Afghan war… It was totally killing my buzz. There were all these shadowy forces, and I didn’t know what their motives were. But I had to get my shit together and put my best arms-dealer face on.”

The author, Guy Lawson, seems to have written a string of in-depth articles on international crime in Rolling Stone.

Although you suspect Rolling Stone is also dropping serious money on lawyers, to let them say things like:

The Albanians cut him out of the deal, informing AEY that the repackaging job would be completed instead by a friend of the prime minister’s son. What Trebicka had failed to grasp was that Thomet was paying a kickback to the Albanians from the large margin he was making on the deal. Getting rid of Thomet was impossible, because that was how the Albanians were being paid off the books.

I suspect part of the reason Rolling Stone can support this kind of journalism is that they force their writers to be entertaining. Not only does this mean people read and appreciate the long-form articles (and thus build demand for more of them), but it forces the writers to properly get to grips with their subject.

Leigh, Assange, BAE and Saudi Arabia

March 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Telegraph reports a (not yet public) wikileaks cable) discussing the massive corruption in BAE’s Al-Yamamah arms deal to Saudi Arabia.

BAE has earned more than £40 billion from the deal, by selling military planes to Saudi Arabia. There’s long been strong evidence of corruption — but the SFO abandoned an inquiry into the deal, quite possibly under political pressure.

Now, via Wikileaks, we have more details both of the evidence, and on how the SFO were pressured to drop the case. The SFO had evidence that:

  • BAE paid £73 million to a Saudi prince who had “influence” over the Al-Yamamah defence contract and that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe another “very senior Saudi official” received payments;
  • The contractor was being covertly investigated by the SFO for carrying out a “potential fraud” against a government department;
  • BAE allegedly circumvented anti-bribery laws by making “substantial payments” to overseas agents employed by the Saudi government;
  • Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, then British ambassador in Riyadh and now a BAE Systems’ director, “had a profound effect” on the decision by Robert Wardle, then SFO director, to end the investigation.

There’s also some media politics going on here. The Guardian was long the most active newspaper following the Al-Yamamah deal. Much of their investigation was conducted by David Leigh, who also led the Guardian’s Wikileaks coverage, and is now publicly squabbling with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

So David Leigh has seen another newspaper get a scoop connecting two of his biggest investigations — surely the result of some kind of personal politics. It also makes me wonder whether the Guardian does have all the Wikileaks documents. Surely Al-Yamamah is one of the first things David Leigh would have looked for, once he got his hands on the cables?

Or perhaps I’m over-thinking this, and the Telegraph just happened to read the relevant cable before Leigh did.

Chinese art in Germany

November 29th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Sign and Sight, in its weekly guide to the cultural pages of German newspapers, is keeping up a relentless focus on Chinese art. I’m struggling to figure out how much this is a reflection of a genuine trend in the German media, and how much it’s just the interest of S&S’s writers, editors or backers.

Photoshop labelling

November 29th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

The Telegraph:

A group of 50 politicians want a new law stating published images must have bold printed notice stating they have been digitally enhanced.
“It is not an attempt to damage creativity of photographers or publicity campaigns, but to advise the public on whether what they are seeing is real or not.”

Well, yes. And that’s before you get onto how unpleasantly inhuman all these doctored images look.

Also, I love that the term ‘airbrushed’ seems set to stick around long, long after every genuine airbrush has been consigned to the scrap-heap

New Europe

October 15th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

The Wall Street Journal is, judging by its website, one of the few media organizations to pay serious attention to Central and Eastern Europe. It’s mostly paywalled, alas, but there is at least a dedicated [blog](http://blogs.wsj.com/new-europe/) for us shallow-pocketed types.

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