Palin is not Obama’s biggest threat, she’s his greatest asset

According to recent polling, Sarah Palin is the only GOP front-runner who would not unseat the presi

For all of the the left leaning people who are panicking at the prospect of former half-term governor of Alaska and full-time Facebooker Sarah Palin being elected president of the United States in 2012, I have a simple message for you: relax.

Admittedly, Obama's poll numbers are not exactly stellar. One recent poll being touted by the American conservative media puts his job approval rating at 39 per cent, whereas the real number is probably closer to 45 per cent. There is, however, a small ray of hope. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that, in Missouri at least, Palin is the one candidate Obama does not have to worry about.

Missouri was carried by John McCain in 2008 with a one per cent margin, after remaining undeclared for several days. (Interestingly, it was also the first time Missouri had voted for a losing Presidential candidate since 1956). As a result it is considered a swing state in Presidential elections. Although it appears to be leaning more towards the GOP recently, it is by no measure a forgone conclusion come election time.

The PPP poll had the sitting president trailing the former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The only Republican candidate Obama beat was Palin. Of course, this is only in one state, two years before the election and polls have never been a concrete predictor of results. Even with that in mind there are a few things that progressives need to consider.

Firstly, a Sarah Palin presidential candidacy would actually end up being a good thing. As was shown in the 2008 campaign and in the years following, the more the American public gets to know Sarah Palin, the less popular she becomes (her unfavourable ratings are now at 52 per cent, the highest they have been since she was announced as McCain's VP candidate). She does have some impassioned and very vocal supporters but those people comprise a tiny minority of the electorate. If Palin managed to win the Republican nomination in 2012 it would be a gift for Obama.

The second consideration is that, should this poll be indicative of the national opinion (and with the recent shift back towards the GOP at the 2010 midterm elections one could make that argument), there is a very real possibility that Obama will be a one-term president. Should that happen Republicans will trumpet their victory as a repudiation of liberal (or Marxist, if they're feeling particularly strident) policies in America.

This would be bad for all kinds of reasons: the principal reason being that it's frankly not true. When asked about individual issues, a large percentage of Americans are actually further left politically than most Republican politicians or European pundits will admit. The American public overwhelmingly supports openly gay people serving in the US military, more than half say that abortion is OK in certain circumstances, a large portion say that gun laws should be stricter, and the majority support stem-cell research. The Republican Party is on record as being against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", against abortion, want gun control rules to be more lax, and a lot of them oppose stem cell research full stop, never mind federal funding for it. Despite all this, the GOP appears to have the political advantage. Why?

The Republican machine does an excellent job of getting their message to the American public, and right now, that message is one of anger. The American people cannot see things getting better instantly and are starting to become disenchanted with Obama. This is a crying shame due to the fact that literally hundreds of bills are stuck in the Senate where the Republican minority has a filibuster on just about every piece of Democratic legislation.

American anger is misdirected, and the Republicans are exploiting this to great advantage. It is for this reason that anyone who wishes for a more progressive America should be concerned about a Republican president being elected in 2012. If current polling is correct it is an increasingly likely scenario – unless the GOP nominate Palin.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.