A Note on How Charisma News Re-Writes Syndicated Headlines

Two different headlines for the same story on the Evangelical/Neo-Pentecostal news website Charisma News:

As the byline shows, the story was syndicated from the Religion News Service. The RNS itself gave the story the headline “Notable Christians Who’ve Had a Change of Heart on LGBT Issues“: (1)

 It seems reasonable enough that the re-publisher of a syndicated story should have some leeway with amending headlines: there may be spacing issues, or a wish to emphasise a different aspect of the story. However, it seems to me unethical to change a headline to give the strong impression that a story has been written from a particular angle when this is not the case – especially when a named author is bylined.

In this instance I compared the RNS headline with the “8 Evangelical Leaders Who Have Publicly Embraced Apostasy” version on Twitter, which resulted in some criticism of Charisma News from other users. It appears that this fed back to the site, which decided to amend its headline.

However, it is not the sole example. In November, Charisma News changed the Reuters headline “Le Pen Says ‘World Peace’ Would Gain from a Trump-Putin-Le Pen Trio” into “Trump Presidency Could ‘Bring World Peace,’ Says French Leader“, which obviously misrepresented how Reuters regarded Marine Le Pen; and before that, two Reuters journalists named Alexander Winning and Denis Pinchuk were transformed into End-Times prognosticators when the Reuters headline “Russia, Spurning Censure, Launches  Second Day of Syria Strikes From Iran” morphed into “Is this the Beginning of Gog and Magog?” (2) I expect there are other examples.


(1) The RNS story was written to tie in with news that the evangelical pastor Eugene Peterson had told the RNS’s Jonathan Merritt that he would be willing to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. Peterson came under criticism for this, and the evangelical book chain LifeWay announced plans to remove his books from its shelves, including The Message, a popular translation of the Bible in contemporary idiom. Peterson then backtracked.

(2) The Reuters article as published by Charisma appears to have been later superseded on Reuters with an updated version in which Pinchuk’s byline was replaced with Andrew Osborn.

John McCain’s Illness and Claims of Supernatural Causality

One of the easiest things in the world is to imagine the most misguided or unpleasant “hot take” on a subject of public interest, and then seek out its existence on Google as a specimen of human stupidity and/or malice. Thus Newsweek runs a headline:

John McCain Cancer Is ‘Godly Justice’ For Challenging Trump, Alt-Right Claims

…”The last president for McCain will be Trump. There’s some godly justice right there,” wrote one user on the “Politically Incorrect” message board of social media network 4chan, a hothouse of right-wing memes.

“I’m pretty sure that God is punishing him,” wrote another 4chan user. “God made it pretty clear that he supports New Right now.”

It is unlikely that these trivial taunts reflect a strong belief that McCain’s illness is due to supernatural causality. For that, there is a social media ministry called “John 8:32- The Truth Will Set You Free”:

BREAKING! John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer – WOW! THIS IS WHY WE ARE WARNING DO NOT TOUCH GOD’S ANOINTED POTUS TRUMP! (pray for John’s repentance, salvation, healing and deliverance in Jesus’ name)


On the one hand, there’s not much evidence that the author here has any particular standing or influence within a wider religious context; but on the other, Trump as “anointed” is now a trope within US Neo-Pentecostalism, and this includes claims that critics will either be punished by God or allowed to suffer misfortune.

In particular, there is a man named Mark Taylor, who claims to have received a prophecy in 2011 of a Trump presidency. Taylor has recently been catapulted to Christian media celebrity status, with appearances on the Jim Bakker Show and on other programmes that blend evangelical Christianity and conspiracy theories (Rick Wiles’s TruNews, Josh Peck’s The Sharpening Point, and Carl Gallups’s Freedom Friday). He is also the author of a book called The Trump Prophecies, co-authored with Mary Colbert (wife of best-selling Christian nutritionist Don Colbert) and published by Thomas Horn.

Taylor has explicitly said that those who criticise Trump will fall ill; as Right Wing Watch transcribed last month:

“God has anointed this man for such a time as this,” Taylor said of Trump. “God says, ‘Do not touch my anointed,’ and Donald Trump is anointed by God and that’s why you saw people literally getting kicked out of the race because they were going after Donald Trump. You’re seeing it in the news media right now. Megyn Kelly was a prime example. She went after Donald Trump in the first debate, she got violently ill that morning and she didn’t even know if she was going to be able to do the debate and that was a warning shot from the Lord saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed.'”

Given this context, there is absolutely no reason why Taylor would not say the same thing about McCain. Unless he’s hesitating over how such a claim might be received.

Katie Hopkins and a Newly Repentant Holocaust Denier

From the Huffington Post (UK):

Katie Hopkins has deleted a tweet which showed her posing with a Swedish journalist known for claiming the Holocaust never happened.

The picture, screengrabbed by another Twitter user, shows Hopkins with Peter Sweden.

…Sweden has previously used Twitter to question the fact that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust as well as expressing some sympathies for the policies of Adolf Hitler.

…He also believes the Jews and the Vatican are colluding in a plot to create a New World Order which is seeking to undermine Europe by moving Muslim populations under the guise of the current refugee crisis.

The same photo was also Tweeted and then deleted by Sweden himself, suggesting that he complied with a request from Hopkins for its removal.

As has been widely reported, Hopkins – known as an opinion-monger rather than a journalist – met Sweden while reporting for Mail Online (1) from Sicily on the refugee crisis. Sweden is part of Defend Europe, a group affiliated with the Identitarian Movement that has chartered a boat to prevent refugees and undocumented migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.  They argue that this will prevent human trafficking and save lives, and they stress that refugees found adrift will be returned to Libya – i.e. not left to drown. The Defend Europe website is registered to Patrick Lenart, the Identitarian Movement leader in Austria.

Hopkins presented herself on Twitter as also having met with Save the Children, which assists those who get into difficulties while making the crossing, and thus as someone who is investigating both sides of the argument; however, another Huffington Post article states that Save the Children denies this, and it notes that Hopkins’s article, titled “Katie Hopkins on NGOs colluding with traffickers in Sicily”, was pulled by the Mail website after being up for just a couple of hours.

The new attention on Peter Sweden (not sure if that is his real name) has not been to his advantage. He had been scheduled to speak at an anti-Islam protest in Bristol in September, but he has now been removed from the line-up following complaints from UKIP’s Anne-Marie Waters. Sweden describes Waters as “supposed right wing” (here) and a “radical feminist” (here), and he appears to believe that this is an issue of “free speech” (here).

He has also attempted some Twitter PR. He began with a dismissive brush off: “There were some old tweets but people mature and views change.” Then, he moved on to a complaint of “character assassination” by “leftist trolls” using “old tweets” that have been taken “out of context”, before finally announcing that “I have had opinions in the past that I strongly regret”. In this third Tweet, he explicitly repudiates his former Holocaust denial, and he asks readers to recall the words of Jesus, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. These were “stupid misstakes [sic] done in one’s youth”.

There are a few problems here: his anti-Jewish conspiracy Tweets date from only a year ago or less, and this is the first indication that he has had a re-think. He doesn’t explain when or why his views changed, and he has done nothing to make amends for hate he was spreading just a few months ago. His concern appears to be only for his own reputation and advancement as a political activist.

The first Huffington Post article also notes a couple of other Defend Europe crewmates: Lauren Southern, and one Brittany Pettibone. The article notes Pettibone’s belief that the West is experiencing “white genocide”, and her attempts to raise funds for a podcast based on her self-described status as a “Pizzagate expert”.


(1) Hopkins is frequently described as a writer for the Daily Mail, although the Daily Mail‘s editor Paul Dacre has recently complained that this is “a lie”, because Mail Online is “a totally separate entity that has its own publisher, its own readership, different content and a very different world view”. However, Mail Online is very obviously the online presence of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday (the url refers to “dailymail”), even though it also has extra content that does not make it into the print editions.

US Anti-Gay Group MassResistance Announces UK Launch

MassResistance describes the appearance of one of its “no rainbow” stickers during Pride in London 2017 as a “coincidence

From the website of anti-gay group MassResistance:

The largest MassResistance chapter outside of the US officially got started this month in the United Kingdom. Brian Camenker, president of MassResistance, traveled to the UK June 29 – July 10 at the invitation of MassResistance activists there for the launch of the group. He met with national pro-family leaders and activists from across the country…

…On July 1, Camenker addressed a meeting in Salisbury (organized as a garden party) with about 50 UK pro-family leaders and activists… Later, in London, Camenker met with the people at Christian Concern, a leading UK pro-family and legal defense group.

… For three full days Camenker and various key activists and political operatives – not just theorists, but people who’ve fought the battles – from across the UK met at a retreat in Bournemouth

MassResistance-UK kickoff meeting in London. On July 7, over 60 committed activists from across the UK came to London for this meeting. There were speeches by several pro-family leaders.

… On July 8, Dr. Robert Oscar Lopez, the leader of Texas MassResistance, gave a stirring speech at the Anglican General Synod in York, England, brought in by a major UK pro-family group.

Lopez’s appearance at the synod was reported by Christian Concern at the time, although he was described as “a professor at the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary” and the link to MassResistance was not mentioned in the write up.

Christian Concern has been close to MassResistance for some time: in 2012 Christian Concern’s Paul Diamond addressed a MassResistance “banquet” in Massachusetts (the name “MassResistance” is derived from the state), and Camenker and Christian Concern’s Andrea Minichiello Williams both travelled to Jamaica in 2014 to urge politicians not to repeal the country’s “sodomy provision”.

However, despite the bullish nature of the MassResistance announcement, it’s curious that names and locations are so vague, and that Camenker’s trip to the UK has left very little by way of a social media footprint. Who are these “pro-family leaders”? Where exactly was the “kickoff meeting”? What was the name of the retreat in Bournemouth? (1)

Bournemouth has featured as the link to US anti-gay activism before: Scott Lively, author of The Pink Triangle, attended a Bible conference in the town in September 2013, and this event inspired the Danish pastor Johny Noer to compose the much-mocked song “The Rainbow Belongs to God” (although it doesn’t any more, judging from the photo above). Noer said that he had attended a location called “the White House”, which I have been unable to identify; there is a retreat centre in Poole with a similar name, but there is no sign that it was there (which is why I’m not naming it here).

The link-man appears to be one David Skinner, who has been named as the head of MassResistance UK. Skinner is in his seventies, and he was in the news in 2014 after he alleged that he had been assaulted by an academic while protesting a lecture titled “Why Gay Sex Is Better than Straight Sex”. The lecturer, one Eric Anderson, had opined that the “damage that’s caused by child molestation is socially constructed by the Western world”, although he later clarified that in his view “sex should only occur between consenting adults”. Skinner was supported by Christian Concern, and the matter was settled out of court.

Skinner has also contributed to The English Churchman, a resolutely old-school Evangelical newspaper that I’ve blogged on previously (here and here). Skinner wrote in memory of Harry Hammond, an anti-gay street evangelist who had been arrested in 2001 and fined on a public order charge over a sign that read “Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism”. Hammond died shortly after his trial, and Skinner regards him as a martyr.

(H/T: Right Wing Watch for initial link)


(1) An indistinct photo on the MassResistance website shows that the London meeting was in a church. Faces are too small to discern with confidence, although my guess for the blonde woman is Anglican Mainstream’s Lisa Nolland, and the man on the far-left as Alan Craig. Nolland and Lopez organised a “Children’s Rights” conference under Christian Concern auspices last year.

Claim: Donald Trump has Secretly Arrested 3,000 Elite Paedophiles and Satanists

From Right Wing Watch:

Last month, “firefighter prophet” Mark Taylor appeared on a YouTube program called “The Sharpening Report,” where he asserted that President Trump has secretly had thousands of “elite pedophiles” arrested and predicted that Hillary Clinton will soon be behind bars.

“Divine justice is being poured out right now,” Taylor said. “3,000 elite pedophiles have been arrested since the inauguration, but that’s not a whole lot of common knowledge, people don’t understand that because they’ve had a 100 percent media blackout on it.”

Taylor said that thousands of well-known, high-ranking figures have been arrested in recent months as part of Trump’s crackdown on satanic pedophile and child sacrifice cults, but we are not hearing anything about it because Trump is keeping it all under wraps.

Taylor has featured on this blog previously; he received a message from God in 2011 that Donald Trump would become president, and he recently co-authored a book titled The Trump Prophecies, in which it is explained that Trump is anointed and guided by God and should not be criticised. (1)

Taylor’s latest claim appears to derive from Craig Sawyer, a former Navy SEAL who heads a non-profit called ‘Veterans For Child Rescue. In April, Sawyer told Alex Jones’s InfoWars that

we are raising the money to shoot a documentary series to expose high level elite paedophile rings that are snatching up our children and doing unthinkable things to them… Some of them are into satanic rituals and actually torturing children to death….

I’m getting high level information about it from federal law enforcement and intelligence communities. There have been over 3,000 arrests already just since January. So, we’ve got a President now that is not ok with children being raped and tortured to death, so thank God.

With all of these arrests going on, I’ve been learning more and more about it and I realised i have to go independent to get around the gatekeepers in the mainstream media who apparently aren’t inclined to cover it. (2)

Leaving aside the issue that “arrested” does not mean “proved guilty”, it is not explained why exactly the media would want to cover up such a sensational story. Sawyer believes the Trump actually fired James Comey for covering up “Pizzagate“.

Veterans for Child Rescue has a four-member Board of Advisers: the anti-Kinsey obsessive Judith Reisman; Bob Hamer, a former FBI agent who has co-authored books with Oliver North; Jack L. Farmer, a security consultant; and Charles W. Moore, Jr., a retired Vice-Admiral and oil executive.

There is an insatiable appetite for stories claiming that political figures and other members of “the establishment” are actually child rapists and child murderers; this blog has recently covered examples from AustraliaBelgium, Britain, and the USA. Such tales appeal to millennial longings both on the left and the right: the world will be turned upside-down, and those who now have worldly status and influence will soon be exposed and forever reviled as the very worst dregs of humanity. Such allegations are also useful more cynically, as simple political smears.


1. Taylor’s book is published by Thomas Horn’s Defender Publishing; Horn is a former Assemblies of God pastor, but his faith today revolves around science-fiction themed conspiracy theories that recall Alex Jones and David Icke rather than orthodox Christian theology. Horn and Taylor both receive wider exposure through outlets such as WND and Charisma, as well as The Jim Bakker Show. Taylor’s “3,000 elite pedophiles” comment was made on The Sharpening Report, an online video programme made by one Josh Peck, whose works include a book co-authored with Horn called Abaddon Ascending: The Ancient Conspiracy at the Center of CERN’s Most Secretive Mission. Peck also contributed to an “End Times” anthology edited by Horn called I Predict, as I blogged here.

2. A transcript was published on YourNewsWire, although it diverges slightly from the video of Sawyer’s statement.

Klaus Eberwein, the Clinton Foundation, and Fake News

The above image shows the top results for the phrase “Klaus Eberwein” on Google. Eberwein was a former Haitian official who apparently committed suicide several days ago in Miami; the Miami Herald reported the incident on 12 July:

…it appears that Eberwein had fallen on hard times. An Uber spokesperson confirmed that he worked as a driver for awhile in South Florida.

During and after his government tenure, Eberwein faced allegations of fraud and corruption on how the agency he headed administered funds. Among the issues was FAES’ [Fonds d’Assistance Economique et Sociale] oversight of shoddy construction of several schools built after Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.

Eberwein was scheduled to appear Tuesday before the Haitian Senate’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the head of the commission, Sen. Evalière Beauplan confirmed. The commission is investigating the management of PetroCaribe funds, the money Haiti receives from Venezuela’s discounted oil program.

This PetroCaribe context can be confirmed by Haitian media – Le Nouvelliste wrote about Beauplan and the Commission on 7 July.

A couple of days after the Miami Herald article, however, a contribution at YourNewsWire by one Baxter Dmitry offered an alternative take on the story:

…Eberwein was due to appear next Tuesday before the Haitian Senate Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission where he was widely expected to testify that the Clinton Foundation misappropriated Haiti earthquake donations from international donors.

According to Eberwein, a paltry 0.6% of donations granted by international donors to the Clinton Foundation with the express purpose of directly assisting Haitians actually ended up in the hands of Haitian organizations. A further 9.6% ended up with the Haitian government. The remaining 89.8%  – or $5.4 billion – was funneled to non-Haitian organizations.

The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals, they are thieves, they are liars, they are a disgrace,” Eberwein said at a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan last year.

This version has now been widely disseminated by alternative news sources, and appears to form the basis for the two headlines that reference Clinton given above. In the case of WND – Donald Trump’s go-to site during his Birther period – the incident is further evidence of a “Clinton death list”. The Dmitry article also prompted a video by the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich.

Here are some problems:

1. There have been anti-Clinton protests in New York, organised by a group called the Committee Against Dictatorship in Haiti (var. Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti, KOMOKODA). However, no reports link Eberwein with this group or state that he attended any protests. The presence of a former government official at such protests (he left FAES in February 2015) ought to have been of some note at the time.

2. The supposed Eberwein quote “The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals” appears to be variation of a quote attributed to the protest group’s head, Dahoud Andre, by the BBC News in November 2016:

“The Clinton family, they are crooks, they are thieves, they are liars,” says Haitian activist Dahoud Andre.

He has been leading protests outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign base in Brooklyn for the last two years.

The claim that the Clinton Foundation is “a disgrace” appears as a quote from Donald Trump in the same article.

3. I can’t find any quotes from Eberwein about Clinton or the Clinton Foundation.

4. The PetroCaribe scandal, noted by the Miami Herald but ignored by the conspiracy sites, was given as the reason for Eberwein’s departure at the time:

À rappeler qu’au début du mois de février courant, le journaliste Valéry Numa a rapporté les propos de l’ancien Directeur général du FAES qui avait affirmé que « l’État haïtien a dépensé 50 millions de dollars pour les initiatives sociales sur le 1.3 milliard de dette de Petro Caribe ». Ces 50 millions de dollars dépensés représentent environ 4% du montant total du Fonds pétro caribe.

Au lendemain de la vulgarisation de ces informations, les locaux du FAES, situés à Delmas 75, ont été badigeonnés de matières fécales. Ce, en signe de protestation contre la gestion de l’institution par l’ancien Directeur général, Klaus Eberwein.

5. A Haitian news site called Rezo Nòdwès apparently has a statement by Eberwein’s widow, in which she states that her husband was innocent of the corruption allegations but that he had become depressed about it. Again, no reference to the Clintons anywhere.

6. Baxter Dmitry appears to be notorious even among conspiracy theorists as a purveyor of fake news. He is also responsible for items such as “Retired MI5 Agent Confesses On Deathbed: ‘I Killed Princess Diana”, along with “Pope Francis: ‘Relationships With Jesus Are Dangerous And Harmful’” and “The 1918 Influenza Epidemic Was Caused By Vaccines”, among much else. Indeed, the entire YourNewswire website is a fake news site, run by a man named Sean Adl-Tabatabai in collaboration with his mother. The site was discussed The Times in January (paywalled, although a derivative article can be found at The Drum).

Dmitry himself is obscure (indeed, it’s not even clear that he even exists), but WND is a significant media player when it comes to conservative news and opinion (often with a religious slant, too) – and as noted above, its headlines are promoted by Google.

UPDATE: The false story has now been debunked on Snopes, but this has not affected the appetite for the false version.

The Clinton link claim has also now been promoted on the German-language version of the Russian news-site RT, in a derivative article by the former communist spy Rainer Rupp. The piece is listed as an op-ed (“Meinung”), and the headline includes a hedging question-mark, but its purpose is obviously to spread fake news.

Dennis Rice vs Byline Media: The IMPRESS Arbitration in Context

From Press Gazette:

The arbitration arm of press regulator Impress has concluded its first complaint and ordered website Byline to pay £2,500 in libel damages to freelance journalist Dennis Rice.

Rice complained about two Tweets published by Byline Media (a website I previously wrote about here and here), the second of which associated Rice with”tabloid trolling”:

the panel found that “tabloid trolling” means it was alleged Rice was involved in “disruptive and upsetting” activity.

Rice said the tweets caused him “serious harm” as required under the Defamation Act, because they come up in Google searches and could deter prospective clients for his business. The panel agreed that tweet number two was not true and did cause serious harm to Rice’s reputation.

It found that £2,500 was reasonable compensation for Rice and directed that Byline Media shall not republish the information.

This is worth considering in more detail, making reference to the full arbitration document as posted to the IMPRESS website (image pdf here).

I take on this task despite the fact that the complainant reacts viciously and childishly to anyone who refers to pertinent information that is not to his liking – in my own experience, this has included several years of abusive taunts, gratuitous and intrusive references to members of my family, threats of a physical confrontation (of some concern given that he made a direct threat of a “bloody encounter” to someone else), and even vexatious police complaints (at least two – see below for more on this).

1. Tweet 1

Rice complained to IMPRESS about two Tweets and their juxtaposition. The first Tweet referred to the appearance of Rice’s name and details on a phone blagger’s list of contacts. That in itself of course is not evidence of wrongdoing or even of an association, but in itself his name on this list is a fact and as such the Tweet was “found not to have a defamatory tendency”.

2. The “Harassment and Malicious Falsehood” Claims

Rice also made allegations of “harassment and malicious falsehood”, which he withdrew following a directions hearing. Rice has a history of making extravagant allegations against Byline‘s Peter Jukes, going back to 2014 when Peter drew a distinction between being phone-hacked and finding your private life in a tabloid, and being phone-hacked for industrial espionage, as happened to Rice and two relatives. Rice pretended that this was an attack on his family, and that as such he would write about Peter’s family in response. Rice crowed that Peter was “wetting himself” at the prospect, which is hardly consistent with either journalistic professionalism or with being a victim of harassment.

Rice became particularly agitated when Peter indicated that Rice’s trolling of him would be included in his book about the phone hacking trials, Beyond Contempt – I discussed this here. Rice sent an email claiming that he had been assured by police that anyone who Tweeted about him in a way that he considered to be “abuse” would be issued with a harassment warning, and that anyone who “breached” such a warning would be criminally charged. Rice also filed a complaint against Peter (and me) in 2016, which he then boasted about on Twitter but which was then dropped due to his subsequent non-communication with police. This in itself is evidence that Rice’s interactions with police have been manipulative and entered into in bad faith.

The arbitration result thus relates solely to “tabloid trolling”.

3. “Tabloid Trolling”

Paragraph 23 of the arbitration award lists some examples of statements by Rice that might reasonably be considered trolling:

(a) an alleged personal attack by the Complainant on Express journalist Richard Peppiatt;

(b) a threat to report a Leveson witness, Mr Steve Nott to the police. He was apparently described as a “mentally ill imbecile” and a “delusional nut“;

(c) Mr Tim Fenton who received emails in 2014 from Mr Rice demanding immediate deletion of his posts and threatening a defamation claim;

(d) Mr James Dolman [sic – should be James Doleman] who had been falsely accused by the Complainant being reprimanded by a judge for his court reporting;

(e) Mr Dan Waddell a Byline journalist who was the subject of an email in January 2015 for replying to one of the Complainant’s Tweets;

(f) Mr Peter Jukes, CEO of the Publisher who was regularly criticised by the Complainant and a tabloid troll referred to as “nutter”, “thief”, “liar” guilty of fraud;

(g) Dr. Evan Harris described as a “gutless six form prefect

Some of this is insubstantial, but it is nonetheless unpleasant and the comments about Steven Nott are particularly nasty – there is still some stigma about having received treatment for a mental health problem, and those who make such a disclosure in the public interest deserve some respect for having done so, not to have it thrown back at them in mocking and contemptuous terms (1).

Rice’s explanation, as cited in the arbitration award document, is that he “could go through each and every one of the individuals cited by Byline as apparently being trolled by me and show that all the exchanges are in a response from me to something defamatory or abusive they have posted in the first instance about me”. So why didn’t he?

It should also be noted that Rice’s threshold for “abuse” when he’s on the receiving end of criticism is very low (2).

4. The Identity of Tabloid Troll

It is difficult to see on what basis someone can object to being associated with “Tabloid trolling” when they have published material under the name “Tabloid Troll”. The arbitration award document refers to evidence in Paragraph 30:

The Publisher also produces evidence that Mr Rice was the source of the “@tabloidtroll” account. It particularly he refers to a recent post “How to take down an internet troll” in which Mr Rice apparently admits having “fed a series of articles to this anonymised blog”.

This ought to have been “case closed”, but for some reason the arbitrator does not assess its significance either way.

The quote from Rice refers to a blog associated with the @tabloidtroll Twitter account. Items on the blog were published as “by tabloidtroll” – it is claimed that this was a collective name, but this was a late device that Rice adopted half-heartedly after harassing Tweets published as @tabloidtroll came to police attention. However, the posts made to the blog made no reference to having been passed to tabloidtroll by someone else, and even if there is some mysterious third person using this name (and there isn’t), the very fact of providing material to someone who refers to themselves as “Tabloid Troll” is “tabloid trolling” by self-definition. And that’s before we get onto the content of the blog,  which was vile and professionally discrediting. (3).

Rice continues to maintain that he was not tabloidtroll, and he has referred to Tweets published at a time when he had an alibi as proof that this person must be someone else. However, he does not seem to have been asked directly about this by the arbitrator. Had this been a full-on libel action in a court of law, Rice would have been obliged to make a denial under oath, after which several lines of evidence could have been considered. The most obvious starting point would have been the @tabloidtroll avatar, which for a while consisted of the lower half of a man in shorts an running shoes – there is strong reason to believe that this was a photo of Rice. There are also various photos and locations referenced in the @tabloidtroll Twitter account that he could have been asked about, as well as the evidence discussed here.

On his side, Rice could perhaps produce his friend Andrew Roberjot, who says that he has “met TT” and that it’s not Rice; however, the problem here though is that Robjerjot also said that a photo of Rice that the Press Gazette published online (since removed) was someone else – even though Rice later confirmed that it was indeed a photo of him. It thus appears that Roberjot – described by former News of the World Deputy Editor Neil Wallis as a “drinking buddy” – is unreliable as a witness.

5. The Basis for the Award

Despite only a very minimal assessment of the evidence presented in Paragraph 23, and none at all of Paragraph 30, the arbitration document goes on to assess damages, using the case of Jack Monroe vs Katie Hopkins as a guide. In that case, as is well known, Hopkins made false allegations against Monroe after confusing her with someone else; Hopkins never denied her error, but instead argued that the mistake was not so serious that Monroe was deserving of compensation. That case thus never had to consider a defence of truth, which may be why the arbitrator bafflingly overlooked it in this instance.

The document also refers to two statements, by a PR professional named Jonathan Hartley and and media trainer named Jonathan Chandler. Both state that they have commissioned work from Rice in the past, but that the Tweets’ reputational damage is so great that they are now unable to do so.

I do not dispute this is their genuine opinion (although they have simply provided statements rather than testimony under oath), but the reasonable basis for it can be challenged.

First, the Tweets may indeed be indexed on Google, but they would be very difficult to come across unless the exact wording were used.

Second, Rice has been widely identified with the name “Tabloid Troll” for years now, which means that a new Tweet that refers to “tabloid trolling” is barely significant. Rice has been named as Tabloid Troll by several public figures, most notably David Aaronovitch, Owen Jones, and Tom Watson MP, now the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party – and Hartley was aware of this as long ago as 2012.

5. Conclusion

On the basis of the above, it seems to me that Byline has a very reasonable basis for an appeal.

The above is also relevant because Rice’s allies have written derivative pieces based on the Press Gazette article, in which they crow about “fake news”, but fail to go into any detail. This may have been out of laziness, or out of a deliberate wish to promote a false impression.

UPDATE: The story has also reached Private Eye magazine (1449, p. 8). The magazine dislikes IMPRESS for being “Britain’s official, royal charter-recognised press regulator”, and it writes that Byline has a “symbiotic relationship” with Hacked Off, described as an “anti-press” campaigning group. The article refers to Rice as

a defender of tabloid practices who has been embroiled in a tedious online feud with Jukes for years involving  mutual accusations of trolling, bullying or sock-puppeting, outlined at length on blogs by supporters of either side…


In other words, a system… intended as a universal system which would finally give the public confidence in self-regulation by the national press… has ended up with a white elephant overseeing arcane personal squabbles among a tiny, incestuous circle at loggerheads over the very subject of press regulation itself.

This is a polemical perspective, in which the terms “tedious” and “arcane” are deployed as deflections from the issue of Rice’s behaviour over the years – a matter of some public interest given his press and media career, but here a distraction from the Eye‘s preferred targets. But given the animus against what we might call the “press reform crowd”, its notable that the magazine also keeps its distance from Rice’s own claims.

The article also refers to Rice’s complaint to IPSO about an extract of Peter’s book Beyond Contempt that was published in Press Gazette in 2014. As with his Impress complaint, Rice began with an extraordinary range of allegations, most of which were rejected, and he went on to portray an eventually partial finding in his favour as a great victory (which, as ever, he also exaggerated). I discussed the details of this finding here.


(1) The threat to report Steven to police followed an online altercation, after which Rice claimed that he had received an anonymous threat against his family. He did the same thing to me a few weeks later – his “trophy” from this is a PIN issued by the police to me (without any investigation) instructing me not to mention him again on social media, but which made no mention of the anonymous threat. However, I ignored the PIN (the pseudo-formal and pseudo-legal nature of which I have critiqued in general here and here) and the matter was dropped by police very soon after. Obviously, I had not sent him any such message, nor would I have wanted anyone else to do so – that kind of thing is cowardly and self-debasing, as well as irrational. This has all been discussed by me in detail here.

(2) A recent example: in October, Rice sprang to the defence of his friend Nick Pisa after Pisa’s appearance in a documentary about the Amanda Knox trial prompted criticism on social media. Rice Tweeted at one critic that the Kercher family were opposed to the documentary, which prompted the reply that Pisa’s “journalism can be critiqued separate from knox and kercher. ure a mess”. Rice claimed that this was “abuse” and promptly set about Googling the woman’s background and involvement in a court case, which he then Tweeted. Clearly, Rice was affecting offence at a mild insult as an excuse to write gratuitously and personally about someone for the crime of expressing an opinion.

(3) I was the subject of one of these posts, which was compiled with the assistance of an accomplice. It was generally foul and abusive, and it also included a mock-up screenshot that purported to show that I use a dating site. That kind of gratuitous fakery ought to be of serious concern to other media professionals who work with Rice. I discuss the background here.

Academic Text on Sharia and Religious Accommodation Condemned in Australia

From the Australian Daily Telegraph:

Sydney University adopts law courses pushing for recognition of sharia law, polygamy and young marriage in Australian legal system

THE most prestigious law school in Australia has two courses which call for elements of sharia law to be recognised in the mainstream legal system — including allowances for polygamy and lowering the age of consent.

One of the Sydney University courses, Muslim Minorities And The Law, is taught by Salim Farrar and Dr Ghena Krayem and it uses a book the pair wrote as “the monograph upon which the unit of study bases its teaching”.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal the book claims “sharia and common law are not inherently incompatible” and that police’s failures to accommodate Islamic religious identity during operations was hampering the fight against Islamist terrorism…

In a chapter on Islamic Family Law, the authors say a man has the “exclusive” right to divorce his wife and states that sharia does not recognise minimum age in marriage.

The article was referenced in a brief segment of Channel 7’s Sunrise news programme, in which two talking heads (the politician Mark Latham and another man whose name I was unable to catch) were invited to express their mockery of and contempt for the course and its alleged content.

The book at the heart of the controversy is Accommodating Muslims under Common Law: A Comparative Analysis, published by the mainstream academic publisher Routledge. The text can be browsed on Google Books and Amazon, and the Introduction is available on the Routledge website. Here is the book blurb:

The book explores the relationship between Muslims, the Common Law and Sharīʽah post-9/11. The book looks at the accommodation of Sharīʽah Law within Western Common Law legal traditions and the role of the judiciary, in particular, in drawing boundaries for secular democratic states with Muslim populations who want resolutions to conflicts that also comply with the dictates of their faith.

Salim Farrar and Ghena Krayem consider the question of recognition of Sharīʽah by looking at how the flexibilities that exists in both the Common Law and Sharīʽah provide unexplored avenues for navigation and accommodation. The issue is explored in a comparative context across several jurisdictions and case law is examined in the contexts of family law, business and crime from selected jurisdictions with significant Muslim minority populations including: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, and the United States. The book examines how Muslims and the broader community have framed their claims for recognition against a backdrop of terrorism fears, and how Common Law judiciaries have responded within their constitutional and statutory confines and also within the contemporary contexts of demands for equality, neutrality and universal human rights. Acknowledging the inherent pragmatism, flexibility and values of the Common Law, the authors argue that the controversial issue of accommodation of Sharīʽah is not necessarily one that requires the establishment of a separate and parallel legal system.

As a survey and a contribution to a wider debate about religious accommodation, the book contains both descriptive material and the authors’ analyses. The details about divorce and the age of consent in Islamic Family Law are descriptive, but as far as I can see the authors do not “call for” or present any kind of argument concerning lowering the age of consent in Australia or anywhere else. Indeed, they actually write that

Most Muslim countries today have legislated to provide a minimum age of marriage… and Muslim communities in the diaspora also are not calling to alter the minimum age for marriage. (p. 62)

The authors also write that “Muslims are seeking accommodation within the official system by integrating their processes and beliefs without asking for any exemption” (p. 16).

It is difficult to pronounce on the overall quality of the book without having read it or seen an authoritative review (the one academic review I found, from the University of Tasmania Law Review, is paywalled, although the first page is visible), but it seems to me that taking a couple of quotes out of context and lining up pundits and politicians to express incredulity and outrage offers nothing of value and amounts to simple scaremongering.

Christian Right Activists Comment on Charlie Gard Case

This one has received wide attention; from Franklin Graham’s Facebook page:

As a parent and a grandparent, this is so alarming. Little Charlie Gard’s parents deserve the right to bring him to the U.S. to try to find treatment for him—that shouldn’t even have to be discussed! It’s their prerogative. That the U.K. hospital or the government would not allow them to make the decisions about Charlie’s life and medical care is unfathomable. Days and days have passed that he could’ve been being treated here in America—this is a tragedy. They have now delivered a petition with 350,000 signatures to the hospital, saying that they should release Charlie as the parents request. This is one of the dangers of socialized medicine. We need to stay as far away from this as possible here in the United States as healthcare is reorganized!

Graham’s view here concurs with that of Vice President Mike Pence, who used an appearance on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show to say that “the American people oughta reflect on the fact that for all the talk on the left about single-payer, that’s where it takes us.” Graham’s post also prompted an op-ed in the Washington Times by a Christian author named Cheryl Chumley, who told readers that the medical decisions were being made by “bottom-line bureaucrats feeding into their socialist system”, and that this was the same as “Obamacare”.

Thus are Americans reassured that under Donald Trump they are back on track to having the best and fairest healthcare system in the world, despite what appear to be more equitable arrangements in many other countries.

In fact, the Gard case is just the latest example of a medical ethics dilemma over what is best for a child in such a desperate situation, and to what extent parents should have the final say despite specialist opinion. Decisions about Charlie Gard’s treatment have not been made by “bureaucrats”, and there is nothing in court filings made by the hospital treating him (here’s the latest) that pertain to any identifiable principle of “socialized medicine”.

Another American involved with the case is Reverend Patrick Mahoney, of the Christian Defense Coalition. Mahoney has travelled to the UK and been photographed with Charlie Gard’s parents; according to the Daily Mail, “he appears to be the Gard family’s new spokesman”. The paper adds:

In 1992, Rev Mahoney, along with three other anti-abortion campaigners, was sentenced to up to six months in jail for violating a restraining order prohibiting him from demonstrating in front of an abortion clinic in Houston, Texas, though it is unclear whether he spent time behind bars.

Thus the Telegraph headlines Mahoney as “US pastor with a criminal record”, which unfairly gives an impression of a shady past. Press images and media quotes give the impression that Mahoney is fanatical and strident (and Right Wing Watch has documented a number of Christian Defence Coalition activities); however, when he was interviewed by the BBC’s World at One on Monday he put forward an argument grounded in reason:

They [the Gard family] are not going to some tent set up in the wilderness with snake oil to seek some magical treatment for Charlie. They’re going to one of the most prestigious medical facilities in the world… There is no sense that they have their head buried in the sand, they’re not facing reality – they are…

If we are keeping someone alive and actually prolonging the suffering, prolonging the pain, prolonging the sense that there is no hope for the future, then I think Charlie’s parents would have to make the difficult decision that we need to let Charlie go. But we are not even remotely at that place yet.

Evangelical Leaders Boast of Oval Office Meeting with Donald Trump

Rodney Howard-Browne: “A dream come true”

Robert Jeffress: “The ultimate selfie!”

Jim Garlow: “I just had a picture taken of me/us with the President- TAKEN BY THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!! Am I the only person in the world to experience that ??”

From CBN:

About two dozen evangelical leaders spontaneously prayed with President Trump in the Oval Office Monday during a day-long “listening session” with the Office of Public Liaison.

Johnnie Moore, a former senior vice-president at Liberty University [said:] “It shows a substantive relationship between the evangelical community and this administration,” he told CBN News.

Along with Johnnie Moore and Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the meeting included (emphases added):

Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC); Pastor John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio [previously blogged here]; Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Florida [Trump’s “God Whisperer, blogged here]; former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann; Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition; Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in La Mesa, California; Rodney Howard-Browne, senior pastor at the River at Tampa Bay Church, Mike Evans, the founder of Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem [previously blogged here], and Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte and others.

Several of those in attendance have posted photos and comments on social media, revelling in their validation by Trump, and a number of secular news stories have followed (e.g. Daily MailWashington Post).

Particular attention has focused on “Holy Laughter” exponent Rodney Howard-Browne, whose photo of the back of Trump’s head while the pastors were laying hands on him has now been widely reproduced. According to Howard-Browne:

Yesterday was very surreal for @ahowardbrowne & I. 30 years ago we came from South Africa to America as missionaries. Yesterday I was asked by Pastor Paula White-Cain to pray over our 45th President – what a humbling moment standing in the Oval Office – laying hands and praying for our President – Supernatural Wisdom, Guidance and Protection – who could ever even imagine – wow – we are going to see another great spiritual awakening #ovaloffice #westwing #whitehouse#washingtondc


Highlight after all these years of fighting for America – standing in the Oval Office with President Donald J.Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and Pastor Paula White and other Faith Leaders – listening to our great President talk about America – Great Job Mr President- Great Job #ovaloffice #westwing #whitehouse #washingtondc

PS thank you to Pastor Paula White for making a dream come true

Back in 2009, Howard-Browne was warning that the Obama administration was advancing “socialistic policies that could lead to religious persecution, and eventually set the stage for a one-world government and the introduction of the Antichrist”; however, he is now more optimistic, in 2016 telling the conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles (a religious counterpart to Alex Jones) that a Trump victory “will give us a stay of execution” from “a one-world government, one-world religion, one-world money system, and the rise of the Antichrist”. (1)

One Facebook user left a comment that she was able to identify Howard-Browne’s hand in the photo by his distinctive black-diamond ring; by their bling you shall know them.

Robert Jeffress, meanwhile, boasted of his photo with Trump as the “Ultimate selfie!”, adding:

Always an honor to visit with our great President Donald J. Trump! Forget#FakeNewsMedia. Donald J. Trump is energized and determined to #MAGA!

Further details about how the meeting came to take place are provided by Jim Garlow:

Okay. This hit me funny. A group of us were in meeting at the EOB – next to the White House. Unexpectedly Jared Kushner showed up. Then Vice President Mike Pence showed up. And he said President Trump wanted us to come to the Oval Office. We did. We were gathered around President Trump seated at his desk for an official photograph. VP Pence saw me take out my phone, saw the look on my face that I so wanted a pic with my phone. The VP reached out his hand (not a word was said) took my phone, took the picture, handed the phone back to me!! I could not believe it. I just had a picture taken of me/us with the President- TAKEN BY THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!!! Am I the only person in the world to experience that ??


(1) This idea that the End Times is a hazard that that can be postponed is useful political rhetoric, but theologically incoherent: the Last Days are supposed herald the return of Jesus, which one would have thought that evangelists such as Howard-Browne would want to happen as soon as possible.

Howard-Browne’s “new world order” rhetoric is also part of a wider conspiracy-theory worldview: not long after the Oval Office meeting, his wife Tweeted a promotion of veteran conspiracy theorist Jon Rappoport.