H/T to Roger Henry for the link.
June 16, 2014
June 15, 2014
Sharyl Attkisson has a set of questions that someone in congress or within the Justice department should be directing toward the IRS after Friday’s announcement that, oopsie, we kinda sorta lost those Lois Lerner emails you were interested in reading:
- Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.
- Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.
- Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.
- Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?
- Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?
- Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.
- Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.
- Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.
- I would also ask for those who discovered and reported the crash to testify under oath, as well as any officials who reported the materials as having been irretrievably lost.
Losing an ordinary email archive happens now and again. Losing an email archive that is the focus of some fascinating questions about the IRS being used as a partisan oppression device against political opponents? That will take a lot of explaining away, as it’s just too convenient and the timing is highly suspicious. What is even more interesting is that the IRS hinted that since they can’t find those emails, they’re thinking of abandoning the investigation. So, clearly there’s nothing to see here and we should all just move along now.
Update: This seems relevant.
NY Times goes DefCon 1 over missing WH emails, calls for Congressional action – in 2008 http://t.co/lj3PA9IRlf
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) June 14, 2014
Update, 17 June: Megan McArdle assesses whether this “innocent” explanation is plausible.
In short, yes, there is an innocent explanation: An accident combined with a really bad e-mail storage policy to wipe out critical records. There’s also a semi-innocent explanation, where really bad storage policy could have enabled Lerner to arrange a hard drive accident that destroyed incriminating e-mails before she had to respond to Camp’s initial letter. I find the innocent explanation much more plausible than a conspiracy, or even the semi-innocent explanation — even assuming that she was conspiring with the White House, why bother with the elaborate schemes when you could just send your incriminating e-mails from an outside account?
But that still leaves me really concerned about the terrible policy decisions. The timing of the data loss is incredibly suspicious, and the IRS has left itself completely unable to answer those suspicions with anything better than a shrug. It should expect — in fact, it should request — a thorough outside investigation of this incident, but even the most scrupulous audit will not be able to entirely quell the worry that the IRS enabled a rogue agent to get away with destroying evidence.
To believe the IRS requires a pretty low opinion of government competence. My friends who work in regulated sectors such as finance are outraged by the IRS’s description of how it was running its backup process, because the government subjects them to constantly ratcheting standards for document retention — specifying how long, and on what format, they have to keep every communication ever generated by their firms. How dare they demand higher standards of regulated companies than they do of the regulators?
In 2014, every government agency should be storing every e-mail that goes in or out in an easily accessible format. That they weren’t bothering suggests that the IRS does not expect to deliver the kind of accountability that it routinely demands of taxpayers. That’s potentially a much bigger problem than anything Lois Lerner stands accused of — and it should be rectified, government-wide, with all due speed.
A few minutes later, Megan sent out this Twitter update:
Okay, one crash I believe. Six crashes is starting to strain my credibility gland. http://t.co/CIBkP6xjR2
— Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) June 17, 2014
June 13, 2014
Well, that happened. As Elizabeth said to me when I got up this morning, at least it means we see the back of Tim Hudak. Aside from that, not a lot of encouraging news from the polls. We have set our acceptable political standards to a much lower notch, and we clearly don’t think it’s a bad thing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on party purposes. Noted.
Premier Kathleen Wynne didn’t win the election so much as Horwath and Hudak lost it. Horwath was cut off at the knees by her own party (and organized labour), while Hudak tried on a set of fiscal conservative policies for size … and they didn’t fit at all. Things must have been more desperate inside the Liberal war room earlier in the campaign, if they felt they had to get the Ontario Provincial Police and the media unions to both declare for Wynn (if any two organizations should stay out of politics, they’d be the ones). And yet, once the votes were counted, they clearly didn’t need to force those two organizations out of their traditional neutral stances after all.
And, to top off the sudden acceptance of a much lower standard of political conduct by the provincial government, we get to watch (and suffer financially) as the province introduces a mandatory pension scheme on the false basis that Ontarians aren’t saving enough of their own money for retirement. That’s going to be fun. I wonder what the job market is like in Alberta…
Paul Wells offers his take on the election:
Kathleen Wynne’s victory is historic, it is almost all hers, and its meaning is a little opaque, because there is a tension between her platform and her record that will be resolved only by her actions, now that she has the length of a majority mandate to show Ontarians what kind of premier she wants to be.
Historic: She is Ontario’s first elected woman premier. Almost all hers: People who make a living proclaiming their knowledge of strategy said she was crazy to put herself at the centre of her party’s messaging and communication to the extent she did. She voiced her own attack ads. To voters upset about the mess McGuinty left behind, she offered her person as sufficient guarantee that the past would stay past. It’s what Paul Martin attempted in 2002-2006, but Wynne offered none of Martin’s creepy intramural fratricide and never benefited from the fast-burning personal popularity that seemed, at first, to be Martin’s greatest asset until he ran out of it. The funny thing about a cult of personality is, sometimes it works better if you don’t have quite as much personality. Rule One in Bill Davis’s Ontario is, don’t get on people’s nerves.
But there are a lot of Conservatives in Ontario who have forgotten the province was ever Bill Davis’s. There are a lot of people who accreted around Mike Harris in 1990 like barnacles — the Little Shits, Frank magazine used to call them — and they’ve never really grown up. They were at Trinity College or Upper Canada College or Hillfield Strathallan or some other dreary Anglo-Saxon dumping ground in the early ’80s when Ronald Reagan came on TV and fired the air traffic controllers, and they’ve spent the rest of their lives looking for an excuse to play Ayn Rand Home Edition. It even worked in 1995, when Mike Harris came back from his 1990 drubbing and years of the worst recession, combined with the worst government, Ontario had seen in ages. Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution” worked because by 1995, thanks to Bob Rae, common sense seemed revolutionary.
But back to Wynne. She ran on activist government, and celebrated victory by congratulating those who want to “build up Ontario.” But Ontario can’t afford the Ontario it’s got. Wynne’s own platform quietly acknowledges this. Hard public-sector wage freezes and a new program-review exercise won’t feel much like building up. If she abandons them for more spending, she simply postpones harder choices. She has proven herself a redoubtable politician; now she had better be a very good premier, because she’s put herself in a fix to get the mandate she just won.
But that’s a high-class problem, one she would not trade for the simpler life Hudak can now look forward to. (A word on the NDP’s Andrea Horwath: she is in trouble with some New Democrats for forcing this election and losing the bargaining power she had in a minority-government legislature. But the balance of power is not a comfortable place to be after a while, and Horwath was well into the zone where, every time she propped Wynne up, voters would wonder why. The NDP should cut her some slack.)
May 23, 2014
April 12, 2014
As I’ve said before, I don’t follow US college football — which is why the pre-draft churn of names and teams in NFL coverage moves me very little — so my knowledge of how the NCAA organizes and manages team sports is pretty low. I do know that a lot of university student athletes are given scholarships with many nasty strings attached which force them into emphasizing the sport over their education. The scholarships are tied to team performance, so that what should be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a degree that otherwise would be out-of-reach effectively turns into four years of indentured servitude, followed by non-graduation. The students are also forbidden to earn money from activities related to their sport (signing autographs for a fee or selling an old game jersey can get you thrown out of school). Gregg Easterbrook regularly points out that some “powerhouse” football schools have terrible graduation rates for their students: the players are used up and discarded and nobody cares that they leave college no better off — and in many cases much worse-off — than when they started.
That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with the drive to introduce unions at the college level: even if the students don’t end up with a salary, they should at least be able to count on their scholarship to keep them attending class regardless of the whims of their coaches.
However, if the allegations in this story are true, the situation is even murkier than I’d been lead to believe:
The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.
“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school's town]. Cost of business.”
Technically, this conversation never happened, because I won’t reveal this man’s name or the player’s, or even the town I visited. Accordingly, all the other conversations I had with different bag men representing different SEC programs over a two-month span surrounding National Signing Day didn’t happen either.
Even when I asked for and received proof — in this case a phone call I watched him make to a number I independently verified, then a meeting in which I witnessed cash handed to an active SEC football player — it’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.
This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.
“Last week I got a call. We’ve got this JUCO transfer that had just got here. And he’s country poor. The [graduate assistant] calls me and tells me he’s watching the AFC Championship Game alone in the lobby of the Union because he doesn’t have a TV. Says he never owned one. Now, you can buy a Walmart TV for $50. What kid in college doesn’t have a TV? So I don’t give him any money. I just go dig out in my garage and find one of those old Vizios from five years back and leave it for him at the desk. I don’t view what I do as a crime, and I don’t give a shit if someone else does, honestly.”
“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ‘em 40 extra on the side.”
This is how you become a college football bag man.
April 10, 2014
As always with polls, take a big pinch of salt before you take them too seriously:
A new poll suggests Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have taken the lead in popular support over the Liberals in the wake of the gas plant scandal, according to a published report.
A Forum Research poll conducted for the Toronto Star suggests Tim Hudak’s Tories have 38 per cent of support, versus 31 per cent for the Liberals. Andrea Howarth’s New Democrats are at 23 per cent.
Two weeks ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals led with 35 per cent of support, while the Tories were at 32 per cent and the NDP at 25 per cent.
The surge is attributed mainly to the simmering gas plants scandal.
“It’s almost all due to the scandal over the deletion of those emails concerning the gas plants,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told 680News.
The poll also reveals that 45 per cent of those surveyed believe Wynne knew about the alleged deleting of emails related to the gas plants.
It also found that 47 per cent believe she ordered deletions.
“We did ask was the premier aware — a lot of people believe the premier was aware,” Bozinoff said.
“We also asked if people think a crime has been committed and a lot of people also think a crime has been committed.”
Of course, as long as Horwath’s NDP continue to prop up the Liberals, there won’t be a provincial election … and I doubt Horwath sees much chance of improvement over the current poll numbers. The only way the Ontario NDP will topple the government is if the scandal gets worse: the NDP can get more of their agenda passed by the Liberals than they could in a Conservative legislature, but the NDP can’t afford to look as though they’re in any way complicit in covering up wrongdoing — that would offend their base even more than it would offend undecided voters.
Update: This is one of the reasons you need to take poll numbers with a degree of skepticism:
— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) April 10, 2014
April 2, 2014
David Harsanyi offers this comparison and says it’s another reason governments shouldn’t own businesses:
In February 2010, the Obama Administration’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told America, without a shred of evidence, that Toyota automobiles were dangerous to drive. LaHood offered the remarks in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee that was investigating reports of unintended-acceleration crashes. “My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it,” he said, sending the company’s stock into a nosedive.
Even at the time, LaHood’s comments were reckless at best. Assailing the competition reeks of political opportunism and cronyism. It also illustrates one of the unavoidable predicaments of the state owning a corporation in a competitive marketplace. And when we put LaHood’s comment into perspective today, it’s actually a lot worse. Not only did the Obama administration have the power and ideological motive to damage the largely non-unionized competition, it was busy propping up a company that was causing preventable deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting chief David Friedman testified that GM never told them that faulty switches were at the root of the airbag problem. Fine. Before plowing billions of tax dollars into saving the United Automobile Workers, did the Car Czar or any other Obama officials take extra care to review DOT records to insure that taxpayers would not be funding the preventable deaths of American citizens? Would DOT or Holder exhibit the same zealousness for safety when it came to GM as they did when it came to Toyota? In the midst of the bailout debate and subsequent “turnaround,” news of a coverup and major recall would have been a political disaster.
So it’s difficult to understand why this isn’t a huge scandal. If every obtuse utterance by an obscure Republican congressman gets the media juices flowing, surely the possibility of this kind of negligence is worth a look. Can anyone with access to the administration ask some of these questions? Because if you take credit for “saving” a company (actually, an “industry,” as no one would ever driven again if Obama hadn’t saved the day) you also get credit for “saving” the real-life unscrupulous version of the company. “I placed my bet on American workers,” Obama told union workers in 2012. “And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. And now, three years later that bet is paying off.” Betting $80 billion of someone else’s money to prop up sympathetic labor unions isn’t exactly fraught with political risk. Unless it turns out that your administration was less concerned about the safety defects of the company you owned than the company you disliked. That would be corruption.
March 31, 2014
Paul Wells exhausted his supply of italics and exclamation marks in this breathless tale of inside
baseball the federal Tory party:
“Today I am writing to direct your full attention to the Confidential Memo I received today from Dimitri Soudas, the dynamic new Executive Director of the Conservative Party hand-picked by Prime Minister Harper,” Sen. Irving Gerstein wrote in a letter to Conservative donors dated 16 days ago.
Soudas had written to Gerstein — Confidentially! — to make a “new, urgent and pressing request” to raise $1.23 million within 90 days, a “critical need” that was “essential in keeping our Conservative Majority in power — and keeping Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister.” Well, like you, I’m sure Gerstein dropped everything upon receiving this Confidential Memo from dynamic hand-picked Dimitri — or DHPD as he’s known in tippy-top Conservative circles — so he could rush that memo out to donors. Nancy! Cancel lunch at the wading pool. We’ve got a red-ball from Hand-Picked Dimitri! Start licking the envelopes — this one’s a Code Seven!
And barely two weeks later it has all turned to ashes, because three days after Hand-Picked Dimitri sent his Confidential Memo to Irv describing the urgent, pressing, critical, essential crisis menacing Stephen Harper’s very future and — as if this even needed saying! — the Commonwealth’s along with it, Hand-Picked Dimitri reportedly drove his life partner Eve Adams to a riding-association meeting in Oakville-North Burlington, where Adams is not the incumbent MP, and waited outside in the hall while she made enough of a scene to get herself kicked out. Then he fired the guy who wrote to the party complaining about her behaviour. What a coincidence.
This latest uproar is more of a sensation in the Queensway bubble than in the real world, where most people had the luxury of not knowing who Soudas is. It contributes to the feeling that Harper’s majority mandate has been snakebit. Lately when the PM sticks in his thumb he has not managed to handpick many plums: Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Marc Nadon, Soudas. Tonight it emerged that Justin Trudeau swore at a charity boxing match. The PM’s spokesman said the incident spoke poorly of Trudeau’s judgment.
March 28, 2014
I’m sure there’s a perfectly simple, non-suspicious reason for the outgoing chief of staff of a provincial premier to arrange a non-government employee having access to key computers at a change of administration… because otherwise this would look particularly bad:
The Kathleen Wynne minority government went into serious damage control mode after the release of an OPP warrant which alleges criminal behaviour in the office of the premier.
The explosive document, made public by a judge Thursday but not proven in court, alleges a former chief of staff for ex-premier Dalton McGuinty committed a criminal breach of trust by arranging for another staffer’s techie boyfriend to access 24 desktop computers in the premier’s office as Wynne took over the reins in 2013.
A committee investigating the Ontario Liberals’ cancellation of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, at a loss of up to $1.1 billion, had already ordered the government to turn over all records related to that decision.
Wynne said the allegations, if true, are “disturbing” but she was not aware of and would not have condoned such activity.
“I was not in charge of the former chief of staff, I did not direct the former chief of staff, I did not direct anyone in my office to destroy information, nor would I ever do that,” Wynne said. “And, in fact, we have changed the rules about the retention of information.”
OPP investigators probing the alleged illegal deletion of e-mails executed a search warrant last month on a Mississauga data storage facility used by the Ontario government.
March 26, 2014
BBC News reports that — once again — some of the US Secret Service agents tasked with protecting the President have come to the attention of the press for reasons other than their assigned mission:
Three US Secret Service agents tasked with protecting President Barack Obama in the Netherlands have been sent home for “disciplinary reasons”.
The Washington Post reported that one was found drunk and passed out in the hallway of an Amsterdam hotel.
A Secret Service spokesman declined to give details but said the three had been put on administrative leave pending an investigation.
The service has been trying to rebuild its reputation after previous scandals.
In 2013 two agents were removed from President Obama’s security detail amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
And in 2012 several agents were dismissed following allegations that they hired prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia.
Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the latest incident happened before President Obama’s arrival in the Netherlands on Monday for a nuclear security summit.
He said the three had been sent home for “disciplinary reasons” but declined to elaborate.
Mr Donovan added that the president’s security had not been compromised in any way.
March 20, 2014
Colby Cosh on the resignation of Alberta’s Alison Redford:
It was a tearful surrender for Alison Redford Wednesday night as she gave a curiously backward resignation speech, grocery-listing the accomplishments of her government’s two years in power before announcing that she will step aside as Premier of Alberta on Sunday. Among these accomplishments, Redford trumpeted a “fully balanced” 2014 budget, which is “balanced” in an unusual sense of that term meaning “expenditures far exceed revenues, but in a nice way.”
That sort of cynical language was, it must be said, part of her problem with voters. The Alberta budget became more cryptic under Redford, and the usual accounting fictions have been stressed to the breaking point, with revenues assigned hugger-mugger to “operating” and “capital” purposes with no very clear line of demarcation between. If you think Albertans don’t pay attention to that sort of thing, you don’t know us too well.
There will be a temptation to sum up Redford’s ouster by citing her clownishly expensive December trip to South Africa to attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Redford, in truth, had almost literally every kind of problem you can imagine a Westminsterian political leader having, all of them chronically. Her relationship with her caucus was dire, as became obvious to the news-reading public in the last fortnight. Any defenders she might have had were keeping pretty quiet, and no one seemed to expend much effort reading from an orchestral score of talking points. Few MLAs ventured beyond muttering “She needs to make some changes.” From some of these, it was pretty obvious that the change they had in mind was the one that happened tonight.
Redford’s resignation completes the transition of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party from unstoppable electoral force to the Sick Man of Canadian Politics. Sick men have risen from their deathbeds before, and the opposition Wildrose Party may not be ready to complete a journey to power that is following the Reform Party model. (You will recall that this involved negotiating quite a few twists and turns and a couple of avalanches and volcanos.)
March 7, 2014
After an embarrassing leak, Prime Minister Erdogan has threatened to ban the services that carried the leaked voice recordings:
Turkey’s prime minister has threatened drastic steps to censor the Internet, including shutting down Facebook and YouTube, where audio recordings of his alleged conversations suggesting corruption have been leaked in the past weeks, dealing him a major blow ahead of this month’s local elections.
In a late-night interview Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told ATV station that his government is determined to stem the leaks he insists are being instigated by followers of an influential U.S.-based Muslim cleric. He has accused supporters of Fethullah Gulen of infiltrating police and the judiciary and of engaging in “espionage,” saying that the group even listened in on his encrypted telephone lines. The Gulen movement denies involvement.
“We are determined on the issue, regardless of what the world may say,” Erdogan said. “We won’t allow the people to be devoured by YouTube, Facebook or others. Whatever steps need to be taken we will take them without wavering.”
February 22, 2014
The greatest crisis facing the American people today is apparently the nefarious doings of New Jersey Governor Chris “Bridgegate” Christie. If you, like all right-thinking Americans want to know where Christie is and what he’s up to at any given moment, there’s a website you need to follow:
Carla is bemused by my obsession with the New Jersey Governor Christie Christie Bridgegate scandal. I can’t really explain it myself, other than to say it is interesting to watch public servants who can’t keep their psychopathy under control and shut down the world’s busiest bridge traffic out of spite. (I’m not saying Christie shut the traffic down, I’m saying the bad apples he surrounded himself did).
Until now, I’ve had to keep myself satisfied with Rachel Maddow’s excellent, unrelenting, obsessive coverage of the scandal on her nightly show, but now I can get mini-fixes throughout the day, thanks to The Christie Tracker, a website created by Matt Katz of WNYC. I’m so excited!
I’m sure there must be dedicated fans of Rob Ford’s antics who are already trying to put together a similar tracking website for Toronto’s newsworthy mayor…
January 13, 2014
L. Neil Smith thinks that the national media have abandoned New Jersey governor Chris Christie as the political equivalent of the Washington Generals (that is, the preferred token Republican to lose against the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate):
By now, I’m confident you’ve all heard, seen, or smelled the story about New Jersey’s RINO Governor Chris Christie, whose administration allegedly closed down several lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution of some kind against Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich.
“RINO” stands for “Republican In Name Only”. Before the bridge incident, Rush Limbaugh was predicting that Christie would go over to the Democrats day after tomorrow. Now I doubt they’d let him in the clubhouse.
Of all Christie’s dubious accomplishments, and they are many, the one he’s most proud of and famous for is his moderation. In practice, this means that he has absolutely no discernable philosophy. Those are his principles, by God, and if you don’t like them … he’ll change them. Which enables him, he would tell you, to reach out to the “other side of the aisle”, and make compromises with them, so stuff can get done.
Even when it shouldn’t.
Now you would think, when their moderate Republican buddy came under attack, that some of these Democrats he’s been reaching out to all these years might have something to say in his defense: “Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt,” or something. But listen to the crickets.
Instead, they’re already calling for a Congressional investigation which, translated into Russian and translated back again, means “show trial”.
Also, there are other Republican moderates who share whatever serves Christie for values. You might expect them to stand up with him.
Nope … more crickets.
Finally, there are the media (plural noun again) who have been pimping Christie for so long, not only as an ideal politician, but the very fellow who ought to get the Grand Old Party’s next available nomination for President. They were the first to start snapping at his heels. They never really wanted him as President, They wanted him to be a losing Republican candidate for President, the GOP equivalent of Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis.
But now he’s no longer useful to them, even for that.
November 23, 2013
The current issue of History Today includes an interesting article by Adrian Bingham on the British newspapers (especially the Daily Mail and the Times) during WW1:
When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 the widespread feelings of fear, uncertainty and patriotic determination were matched at the offices of the Daily Mail by a sense of vindication. The newspaper had been warning about the German threat for years, perhaps most notoriously when it serialised in 1909 a series of inflammatory articles by the journalist Robert Blatchford, which, when reprinted as a penny pamphlet, sold some 1.6 million copies. The Mail had, moreover, consistently demanded that the Royal Navy be reinforced. It was soon styling itself ‘the paper that foretold the war’. For its critics, the Mail’s irresponsible stoking of anti-German sentiment, driven above all by the paper’s owner, Lord Northcliffe, actually helped to create the conditions that enabled conflict to break out. ‘Next to the Kaiser’, wrote the esteemed editor and journalist A.G. Gardiner, ‘Lord Northcliffe has done more than any other living man to bring about the war.’
It was not long, however, before Northcliffe became frustrated with the strict censorship imposed on the British press when reporting events in Europe. ‘What the newspapers feel very strongly’, wrote Northcliffe to Lord Murray of Elibank, ‘is that, against their will, they are made to be part and parcel of a foolish conspiracy to hide bad news. English people do not mind bad news.’ Such censorship was particularly worrying when it risked hiding failures in the prosecution and management of the war. Drawing both on the experiences of his visits to the front and on private sources of information from his many correspondents, Northcliffe became increasingly convinced that several men in leading positions were not up to the job, including the prime minister, Asquith, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener.
The episode that crystallised this concern, over which Northcliffe put both his and the Mail’s reputation on the line, was the Shell Crisis of May 1915. Northcliffe had received letters from the front claiming that British military operations were being undermined by the lack of the right kind of shell and, after the Allies failed to capitalise on an initial breakthrough at Neuve Chapelle due to a lack of munitions, these criticisms began to be publicly aired. On May 15th, 1915 The Times (also owned by Northcliffe at the time) published a telegram from its respected military correspondent, Lieutenant-Colonel Repington, highlighting the problem and Northcliffe decided to go on the offensive. After some critical editorials, on May 21st the Mail published an incendiary piece written by Northcliffe himself and headlined ‘The Tragedy of the Shells: Lord Kitchener’s Grave Error’. Northcliffe pinned the blame for the shells scandal directly on Kitchener:
Lord Kitchener has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells. The admitted fact is that Lord Kitchener ordered the wrong kind of shell … He persisted in sending shrapnel – a useless weapon in trench warfare … The kind of shell our poor soldiers have had has caused the death of thousands of them.
This direct public attack on such an esteemed figure at a time of national crisis was shocking and generated fury among many of Northcliffe’s critics. Members of the London Stock Exchange burned copies of both The Times and the Mail and anxious advertisers cancelled contracts. Thousands of readers stopped buying the papers. Northcliffe, though, was undaunted: at this point he was concerned not with circulation but with what he perceived as his national duty. ‘I mean to tell the people the truth and I don’t care what it costs’, he told his chauffeur. It was clear even to Northcliffe’s opponents, moreover, that there were indeed problems with Britain’s munitions supply. Northcliffe was soon vindicated. Although Kitchener survived in the short term, the Liberal government fell at the end of May 1915, to be replaced by a coalition administration: Asquith remained as prime minister, but Lloyd George was appointed as minister of munitions to address the supply problems.