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M F Threads : EXAMPLE :Editorial Intelligence: A Cash For Comments Scandal
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From: MSN Nicknametin-lizzy  (Original Message)Sent: 1/23/2008 4:44 PM

Editorial Intelligence: A Cash For Comments Scandal
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Joined: 02 Oct 2007
Posts: 1921

PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 6:14 pm    Post subject: Re: Editorial Intelligence: A Cash For Comments Scandal  

[quote="blackwatch"]waaaaaay too long perhaps this one, but for anyone prepared to look it includes info on everything from stealth marketing, buzz marketing, astroturfing, lobbying, fake blogs, chimps, sock-puppets, Public Relations companies, Media companies etc in the context of the Find Madeleine campaign and New Labour election tactics.

sorry it's so long. there was a lot of ground to cover ....


A number of weeks ago BBC News 24 announced that the 'Head of Media Monitoring and Analysis' was to review that day's papers. Her name was Julia Hobsbawm.

Now we know that the 'Head of Media Monitoring and Analysis' at that time was Clarence Mitchell - but the BBC misled the British Public by suggesting a government official was to review that day's papers.

Naturally Julia Hobsbawm embarked on a not so loquacious rant saying that the very idea of the McCanns being involved in Madeleine’s disappearance was plainly ridiculous. "It is time this country asked questions of the Portuguese police and Portugal itself, else we won’t go on there on holiday any more", she said.

But Julia Hobsbawm is not a government official. Julia Hobsbawm is an independent PR consultant with deep New Labour Links.

She was also a partner in Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications with Sarah Macaulay, now known as Sarah Brown, the wife of British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Why should this make for a conflict of interests? It is already understood that Gordon has taken a personal interest in this case, and although rumours abound that ‘Gordon knew Gerry?prior to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, we do know for certain that Gordon Brown personally ordered Gerry to ‘scale down his media campaign?shortly before the couple were made 'aguidos'. Gordon naturally sees the credibility and reputation of his office inextricably bound with the public profile of the McCanns; and indeed, there may even exist a discrete synergy between their respective media profiles.

But let’s get back to Julia Hobsbawm because this is where it gets interesting.


Julia Hobsbawm is now the founder and chief executive of media analysis and networking company Editorial Intelligence.

We, my friends, are the Commentariat and the basic shape and fabric of our universe is something they seek to control. Naturally all those who inhabit this world are not equal; they seldom are. This world fragments like most into ‘high?and ‘low?opinion, mainstream and alternative, subordinate and dominant, pedestrian and elite. Whilst a new breed of commentariat has gatecrashed the opinion stage and started to challenge the primacy of newspaper commentators some are still more ‘notable?than others. But it’s these fissures that make it such a vital and engaging issue. We ourselves might not be part of any 'special list' but we certainly feature in its dynamics, offering no small degree of resistance to attempts to formalize its power.

Here's how Julia Hobsbawm's describes her company on the Editorial Intelligence website:

"Editorial Intelligence opens a door to a vital and growing world of print and online comment and opinion. What the 'Commentariat' says affects and influences the direction of public opinion and policy alike and with it, corporate reputation ...

e.i was established to create a definitive portal to the Commentariat ?the word coined by us to describe the world of comment and opinion which has increasing influence, not only on “the debate?but the shape and direction of policy, legislation and public opinion."

Editorial Intelligence is a new-media PR company. The company's original design was to create a ‘bridge?between the two sparring worlds of public relations and journalism. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, the two have enjoyed a strangely proximate yet volatile relationship for many years and the exchange of personnel (and fluids) between the two spheres has been nothing short of incestuous. On the surface of it, Hobsbawm’s intention seems entirely noble; take two-warring factions of reasonably likeminded individuals and persuade them to enter a compromise. Persuading the PR camp was easy enough. For the PR camp it was much like gaining another right hand. One hand could prepare the press-sheets whilst the other could manhandle it into a credible, if largely derivative press report and distribute it through a readymade channel. Persuading the journalists was to prove more challenging; how could the two tribes ever be friends when they were founded on conflicting principles? Journalists uncovered the truth and PRs suppressed it. It was the job of the Public Relations executive to manipulate the media and it was the job of the media to be the media. Traditionally, at least, journalists should be fiercely independent. They go out and source their own stories. They make their own tea and tie their own shoelaces. And when the situation merits it, they even fight their own libel cases.

And it was at this particular crossroads that they met.

For the price of a single-malt and unfettered access to key-figures, a good number of journalists exchanged their ‘fierce independence?for a more placid and tractable alliance. But we can't lay the blame squarely at Hobsbawm's feet. Hobsbawm simply exploited an already sizeable crack in the market: putting the man or woman who had something to report in direct contact with the man or woman who could report it. Hobsbawm compared the service to a GPS navigation system. Editorial Intelligence afforded journalists a way of following their noses, finding their facts and chasing their sources without even leaving their armchair. The days of the investigative journalist pouring over phone records, address books, tax records, rifling through panty draws and placing one's t*sticles in engagingly volatile situations were to surrender to labour saving exchanges like Editorial Intelligence.

Whistleblowing had given way to an altogether different kind of blowing skill.

Within weeks Editorial Intelligence had attracted a number of distinguished journalists to its advisory board. Six of them have now resigned. Matthew D'Ancona, the new editor of The Spectator, and John Kampfner, his counterpart at the New Statesman, John Lloyd and the BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston. Whether journalism and PR exist in the same moral sphere or not, they’re now certainly more committed bedfellows. And whilst Hobsbawm has been keen to distance herself from her PR past, there’s little doubting that the fundamental appeal of her services is comprised of little more than conventional lobbying. Like some discreet and engaging 18th Century Madam, Hobsbawm has a prodigious knack for pairing her shy roster of clients with the boys and girls who make up her ‘special?list.

What’s in it for the rest of us? Well it all depends on whether you are a chief executive, a strategist or planner, politician, broadcaster, Public Relations executive or researcher ?the good majority of which comprise the main bulk of e.i clients (clients which include, incidentally, Sky News, BBC Media Centre, the Electoral Commission, the General Medical Council, ITV and the Metropolitan Police).

On the face of it at least, Madam Hobs has something to satisfy even the most ‘unconventional?of kinks and needs.


As any good Madam knows, variety and choice should constitute the basis of a well-stacked household and to this end, Hobsbawm and her team have compiled over 800 detailed profiles of the UK’s key print and blog commentators - what they write and when they write it. For a £4,000 annual membership fee Hobsbawm smoothes the awkward and occasionally inhospitable terrain between the two spheres. Should a sexy and fun-loving organisation of nefarious intent seek likeminded commentator for caring and loving relationship, then Hobsbawm’s house of dolls can make it happen.

Time for a quick recap. Julia Hobsbawm goes on BBC television and is immediately mistaken for someone else. She also has a company that matches people with something to sell and issues to raise to people with people who can sell and raise them. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, all companies employ sales execs in one way or another. The difference here is that most sales execs don’t wear false noses and moustaches when carrying out their duties. Whether we are stupid or just naïve most of us assume that what we read in a newspaper or a blog is the independent and neutral opinion of the author. Hobsbawm, on the otherhand, offers her clients a candy painted gingerbread world where predatory PR execs, Hansel and Gretel can follow a trail of breadcrumbs to a friendly and accommodating woodcutter of their choice. And should this woodcutter (or 'wordcutter') be persuaded to endorse their product or agenda ?then it can only have a fairytale ending.

None of this is new of course. Buying off hacks or sock-puppets to pose as impartial voices has been going on for years. Viral marketing, guerilla marketing, buzz marketing, stealth marketing, undercover marketing, roach baiting, astroturfing ?it’s all the same deal. A marketing company might plant someone in a location where target consumers are likely to gather. Whilst there, the plant will hype-up their product to whoever they encounter, even to the extent of handing out samples. The consumers won't even be aware they are being marketed to.

Naturally this technique came into its own with the advent of the Internet.

In Internet chat rooms and forums its only natural for people to perceive everyone else in the forum as peers, the semi-anonymity reduces the risk of being exposed, and one single marketer can profoundly influence thousands of prospective customers. During the ‘dot com?boom of the late nineties, stock promoters frequently used chat rooms to create a buzz and drive up the price of a stock, but the goal of any undercover campaign is to generate a buzz. Unlike other conventional media, consumers tend to trust forums, blogs and columns more than any other. They’re perceived as more transparent, more neutral.

And for anyone who thinks this is the stuff of fantasy, then perhaps now is the time to remind you of Sony’s disastrous ‘fake blog?scandal.

In late 2006, Zipatoni produced an online buzz marketing campaign known as ‘All I Want For Christmas is a PSP? for Sony Computer Entertainment America, the makers of the Playstation platforms. The campaign combined what were alleged to be amateur videos with a blog supposedly written by an impartial gaming enthusiast. And to lend a certain amount of authenticity, the blog was even written using faux hip-hop and Internet lingo. But after suspicions had been raised, some readers conducted a WHOIS search and Zipatoni were ceremonially unmasked as the site’s registrars.

In this instance, the gingerbread trail led straight back to the witch.

When both the videos and the blog were discovered to been created by the company as part of an advertising campaign, there was extensive criticism of the campaign on the Internet. The campaign was poorly received by the gaming community, and sufferd a barrage of criticism in the press. An in-house post-mortem concluded the campaign had been being counter-productive.

But for every scam uncovered there’s a thousand that remain anonymous.


In the old days companies used what is known as a ‘boiler room?full of telephones and computers where advocates and campaigners sympathetic to the issue or movement would petition likeminded individuals in an effort to create enthusiasm and support for the specified cause: influential groups, important dignitaries, celebrities, elected officials, financial backers, high-ranking members of the skills-based Professions ?no one was without use. And sadly, little has changed. But what should we call this crisis? A Cash For Columns Scandal? A Cash For Comments Scandal? In typical graffiti fashion it certainly has New Labour written all over it. It has Blair's signature if nothing else.

So pervasive is the problem that the EU is preparing legislature to tackle the problem of fake bloggers.

Under laws due to come into force at the beginning of next year, companies posing as consumers on fake blogs, providing fake testimonies on consumer rating websites such as TripAdvisor, or producing fake book reviews on Amazon risk criminal or civil liability. As The Observer has already reported, 'whether a commercial practice is unfair will be assessed in light of the effect it has, or is likely to have, on the average consumer's decision to buy'. The directive is anticipated to ensnare commercial organisations - big or small - meaning companies will no longer be able to pay private bloggers or professional agencies to post false or misleading blogs or reviews online.

Nor will they be able to do it themselves.

So do all PR companies employ people to write press releases, sit in forums, write letters, post comments - all with the expressed purpose of directing public opinion and safe-guarding the interests and reputations of companies or people in the public eye? Well only those that are worth their salt do, that’s for sure.

And it’s not only Hawbaum’s Editorial Intelligence agency that are likely to support such covert tactics, Jon Corner’s River Media Ltd and Esther McVey’s Making It Ltd similarly appreciate the necessary tussle over public opinion and the sheer force of the Commentariat. And yes, both these companies are at the very heart of McCann’s PR engine, both inextricably wound up in that increasingly vague, indeterminate area that comes somewhere between ‘media representative' and ‘family friend?

Ever wondered why there are so many thoroughly intractable pro-McCann forum members on sites like the Mirror forum and the Sky-News forum? PR and Media companies like Editorial Intelligence and Esther McVey’s Making It Ltd.

Ever wondered whom the phrase 'sock-puppets', ‘chimps?and 'keyboard monkeys' really refer to in news-forums and comments areas? PR and Media companies like Editorial Intelligence and Esther McVey’s Making It Ltd.

Ever wondered why all the comments, letters and opinion pieces in newspapers like the Daily Mail are so unaccountably Pro-McCann? PR and Media companies like Editorial Intelligence and Esther McVey’s Making It Ltd.

The brief has been to give the impression that the weight of public opinion favours sympathy toward the McCanns: to shape the heart and minds of the Commentariat and apply peer pressure on public opinion.

Neither will it any surprise to learn that the media-savvy Tony Blair said: " The new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than, the news itself".

Whether forums and message boards have contributed directly or in part to the shape and scope of these investigations remains to be seen, but there's certainly no doubting that forum members have seized control of a substantial area of hostile territory and vital strategic ground from the more mainstream Commentariat.

Words are indeed like hooks to be tossed over battlement walls. It is no longer simply a case of breaking news, but breaking opinion.


I think we can safely assume that under the professional guidance of companies like Editorial Intelligence, the McCann’s current media advisor, Clarence Mitchell, will have lobbied key journalistic and non-journalistic personnel in an effort to manage the crisis. And when he failed in lobbying these people he would probably have had to make do with the following: GMTV Presenter and Daily Mirror columnist, Fiona Phillips, distraught father Michael Chamberlain, the Guardian's Peter Wilby, Reuters' Stuart McDill, the Daily Telegraph's Liz Hunt, Andrew Pierce, Jan Moir, The Times' David James Smith, LBC's Nick Ferrari and James Whale ?all offering (on the surface, at least) spontaneous support of the McCanns and their current crisis.

In politics and PR such behaviour is known as Astroturfing - endeavouring to create the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behaviour. Individuals are recruited to simulate the impression of a popular movement using a variety of media which is likely to include letters to newspapers from so-called ‘concerned citizens? paid opinion pieces, favourable reports and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are commonly funded by the PR company in charge. In the McCann’s case, the impression of popular opinion has been supported by a range of popular merchandise that first identifies the contributor as 'subject' and later foments their loyalty. The Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser called such a process ‘interpellation? Ideology circulates and propagates itself using a variety of non-repressive state apparatuses: the Church, the School, the Family, the Workplace, Television, Chucklevision ?and now the Commentariat - message boards and forums. In the first instance, however, the individual must first recognise himself or herself as part of the collective process. This will usually take the form of an appeal to latent fears, guilt or common anxieties, culminating in you or me interacting voluntarily with the movement at hand. In terms of the campaign launched by the McCanns, Find Madeleine merchandise offers such a process; the wristbands, the T-Shirts, the posters all offering us a means of announcing and cementing our loyalty to the McCanns and ?as a natural conclusion of that - the couple's innocence. And Astroturfing provides the support. Popular opinion must be seen to self-replicate again and again and again ?spontaneously, without coercion - until the community of spectatorship operates at full capacity.

Remember joining in with Paul and Barry Chuckle in all manner of 'to me, to you'' horseplay? Well it's a little like that. It's just something you fall in with, whether you find it funny or not.

New Labour themselves used Astroturfing techniques in the run up to the 2005 Election. The Political Editor of The Observer, Gaby Hinsliff even ran the following story: “How Labour used its election troops to fake popular support? Hinsliff’s report was based on a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches?programme that showed activists writing letters to newspapers and posing as 'local people' to greet Blair on campaign trail. That’s right, a tactic invented by US pharmaceutical firms to promote drugs, and adopted by the Republicans to prop up George Bush after 9/11, was imported to Britain to help get Tony Blair re-elected. Hinisliff reports:

“Model letters were drafted for them to 'write' to local papers, as if they had been spontaneously roused to complain about Michael Howard's tactics - while party staff were drafted in to represent 'local people' whom Tony Blair could meet on campaign visits. 'Spontaneous' demonstrations against rival politicians were also organised, with activists instructed to use handwritten homemade-looking placards.?

The goal of such a campaign is to disguise the efforts of a political or commercial entity as a spontaneous and independent public reaction to any number of political issues, commercial products, services, crises or events. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anyone from an individual pushing their own private agenda to highly organized consortiums with sound financial backing from large corporations or activist groups.

Naturally, the tactic has a long and ignoble history. In the period leading up to Nixon’s 1972 election, the Committee to Re-Elect the President orchestrated several campaigns of ‘public support?for decisions made by President Nixon during his previous four years in office. This ‘campaign?consisted largely of sending telegrams to the White House and placing an apparently independent advertisement in The New York Times.

The practice is now specifically prohibited by the Code of Ethics of the Public Relations in America ?but not so in the EU.

Should we have any further reason to worry? I would say so, given that the Press Gazette is co-owned by one of the slickest PR in the business, Matthew Freud.


With the rise of new-media it has been increasingly apparent that the so-called Commentariat play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and public policy. If you can control the Commentariat either by gentle persuasion or intelligent argument then you can control policy and its impact. The treachery occurs when interested parties pose as members of the Commentariat and use their invisible arsenal to dictate the course of argument and ultimately, its outcome. It's identity-theft on an editorial and political level. In cyberspace, nobody can hear your screams. We similarly can't see your face or be offered any assurance of your agenda. It's one thing to offer surveillance, it's quite another to offer deep-cover and although Hobsbawm doesn't make this explicit, I'm sure both she and her team are able to source qualified 'field-ops' should the job demand it.

Hobsbawn and co. cheerfully announce that they have have compiled over '800 profiles of the UK’s key print and blog commentators'. They have 'detailed records of publicly available information about their publishing, broadcasting and speaking histories'. Clients are trained in gathering and processing information.

If truth were told, the only thing they don't appear to offer their clients is training in the use of firearms and explosives and the discipline of hand-to-hand combat.

And I'm sure that with the right kind of persuasion - even this can be arranged.


I have occasionally been asked if I think the whole Madeleine McCann thing has been an elborately staged hoax. Let's put it this way - if Pope Benedict XVI was to produce Madeleine from a frozen Plexiglas case suspended 30 feet above Times Square on Christmas morning with a pair of shackles in one hand and a handful of sand in the other, I wouldn't be at all surprised.


Sarah Brown ?PM’s wife and Hobsbawm’s Partner's_wife)

Ester McVey ?Madeleine Fund Director, GMTV Presenter, founder of ‘Making It PR Ltd?and ‘A List?Conservative MP for Wirral West

Jon Corner - Godparent to the twins, family spokesman and owner of Online Media, PR and Marketing Company, River Media in Liverpool ?who have some rather exclusive, blue-chip clients and some surprisingly well-connected staff members.

Articles on Editorial Intelligence
Editorial Intelligence - Bringing You the World of Comment and Opinion

Ex-BBC man joins Editorial Intelligence - Guardian

Editorial Intelligence: Hobsbawm learns the lesson of trying to play matchmaker - Independent

Editorial Intelligence - Where the Truth Lies: trust and morality in PR and journalism - New Statesman

Relevant articles:
EU gets Tough With Fake Bloggers

How Labour used its election troops to fake popular support,00.html

WHAT DO YOU CALL A phony blog that's actually a front for a huge corporation? A "flog"?

Sony owns up to deceptive marketing blog


edit: thought I should emphasise the division/tension that exists between the 'high and 'low' end of the so-called 'Commentariat' - the mainstream and the alternative - but it's a thread in itself really. The skuffle that has broken out between the two has at least been highlighted by the online coverage of the McCann case.

edit: Yesterday's report in The Times provides an interesting backdrop to this debate, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that mainstream opinion forums and networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are used routinely in disseminating propaganda (black or otherwise). Identity theft? Disinformation? You decide:

Bogus Facebook entry 'is smear on son by regime'
Jeremy Page in Larkana

Bilawal Zardari’s two worlds collided after false statements appeared on a Facebook profile in his name and his father’s aides suggested that the Pakistani Government was using them to undermine the 19-year-old’s image.[/quote]

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