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Dunblane – the author speaks

Ambulance chasing IT journalism: The record set straight

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Investigative journalist Pete Warren responds to
Computer mags -- or ambulance chasers?

The characters mentioned in the letter:
Tony Collins - Computer Weakly's investigative journalist (big on Chinook helicopters and Wessex health authority)
Bill Boyle - former news editor of Computing, former editor of PC Week and PC Dealer, now in PR
Jerry 'Colonel' Sanders - former editor of Computing (let us know what you're upto now Jerry)
Douglas Hayward - current editor of Computing and a former editor at Techweb where he wrote a story about radio frequency (or Herf) weapons. He responds to Pete' letter here.

As the author of this much maligned article on Dunblane I must admit that I am getting pretty sick of the cretinous whinging that passes for informed comment in the technology press.

Seeing as no-one has bothered to contact either Tony Collins or myself you have evidently embarked on a new school of fact free journalism particularly suited to your web-site.

On the morning of Dunblane I attended a police technology conference just off Parliament Square. On my way back I spoke from a call box opposite the House of Commons to Bill Boyle, then news editor of Computing, I mentioned Dunblane and said there would be an inevitable back-lash coupled with an attempt to build a database and that this would be a terrible attack on civil liberties and that we should not do anything.

When I next spoke to Bill Boyle I discovered he had mentioned this to Jerry Sanders and that Jerry wanted to do a large piece on the theme of Big Brother, Little Brother - I agreed to do this but on the proviso it was tempered by debate.

The point was, for those who know little about news values, not to tie a computing title into a disaster story but to open a debate about the appropriateness of databases built from a knee jerk reaction.

It may have also bypassed the brains of many of those who find it so fashionable to sneer, but databases would not be possible without computers and without computers there would be little threat to civil liberties, something that the IT press bang on about ad nauseam. I think there is something even now called the RIP Bill which is exciting the news powerhouses of the IT world.

Unfortunately for me my copy was taken on the Friday and processed over the weekend by a secret taskforce headed up by Jerry Sanders, Bill Boyle and a graphic artist friend of Bill's from the Daily Mirror, hence the Millennium Dome sized graphic and to my chagrin a mutilated piece calling for Martial Law appeared that had been hacked beyond all recognition

A piece which that embodiment of journalistic rectitude Douglas 'IBM fingerprints' Hayward has enjoyed listing ever since as an example of just what technology journalism should not be about. It is a position Hayward seems to feel is particularly relevant to stories I have been involved in.

Another story I wrote about gangs using High Emission Radio Frequency guns was rubbished by the technology press's answer to Harold Evans, who quoting a Defence Research Agency officer called Corcoran, stated in an article that Herf guns did not exist.

I suppose that it must have been a little embarrassing for both Corcoran and Douglas then, that at a public meeting of the US Senate's Investigative Committee on Directed Energy Weapons some two weeks after the article, the US Navy revealed it had been testing Herf guns for a number of years, indeed it also emerged from other sources that the DRA had been involved in their development for over 20 years.

With regard to Mr Collins it seems to me to be an entirely justifiable journalistic exercise to attempt to vindicate the reputations of two dead men by removing any suggestion of poor flying and identifying the real culprit as a malfunctioning computer component.

Tony Collins is doing what he does well, he is pursuing a story, that is what investigation is about. The upshot of his story is that there is a cover-up going on and that is the sort of thing journalists are meant to expose.

Perhaps there is degree of envy in all of this as Tony keeps winning awards. Even dare I say it with you Mr Bland - for in your contradictory piece which claims both computer titles are worthy and dull you then lampoon them for writing about issues you seem to consider beyond their remit - methinks you do protest too much -

Best wishes
Pete Warren

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