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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Easy Smears of Political Opponents: An Example

A funny thing happened on the way to Facebook.

A month ago I posted on my Facebook page Save the West a photo by the US Anti-Fur Society of a white fox about to be anally electrocuted for his fur. The fox had overgrown nails for lack of walking on solid grounds, having lived his life on wire cages.

Animals farm-raised for fur are killed by gassing, neck-breaking, injection with poisons and anal electrocution so as not to damage their pelts. Wild fur-bearing animals are killed by clubbing and trapping, suffering agonising deaths.

An otherwise sensible visitor of Save the West, Davy Goossens, was shocked not so much by the atrocity portrayed by the picture - taken from a video - as from what he must have considered a greater crime: that, he claimed, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had staged a different video of an animal skinned alive for his fur.

That PETA video was not the one I had posted, about the abysmal cruelty of which he had no comment to make.

Nevertheless, I investigated and found this.

From the beginning, I had very strong doubts that PETA, an organisation devoted to the protection of animals, would pay someone to skin animals alive in order to make a video - as was claimed -, and sure enough I found no evidence for that accusation.

I found no mention of this story in any respectable publication. The only link Goossens provided is to a blog, Top Cats Roar, which says: 'PETA ADMITS “SKINNED ALIVE IS A MYTH”', whereas in reality PETA has done no such thing. On PETA's website you still find the same video (that you can see above this article - warning: it's a suffering even to watch it, let alone to be the victim). That blog is clearly not telling the truth about PETA's position, so it is not reliable.

The only source that blog provides to support this alleged, extraordinary PETA's retraction is a link to a non-existing, probably removed, page on a website called Shanghaiist.

Top Cats Roar links to a page in Bradford Telegraph and Argus, a local paper. On this page is an article about a circus and a not-clearly-identified item claiming that "The German High Court found PeTA guilty of paying people to skin animals alive." There is no byline, no link or reference to the source of the news, not even a headline. Not a picture in sight. It does not look like an article but a comment from the public. In fact it's titled "Report this comment". I'm a professional journalist, and I don't recognise this as a proper story. It's very easy, these days, to fabricate a false piece of news online to smear an enemy - even easier than to forge a video -, and PETA has made many enemies in its battles for animal rights.

That's it. All the sources end in this pseudo-article.

Listen to the alleged key "witness" in the case:
The witness who committed this act for PeTA, a videographer, told the court that he didn't understand why they wanted it done that way, but he needed the money. This video was made in a third world country and the prosecutor found the man in the video who skinned the animal.
Let's be charitable and put aside for a moment the style of reporting, which betrays that this cannot be the product of serious journalism. Could this man be a worker for the fur industry just claiming that he's done his job on the request of PETA? Of course he could. What evidence is that? If people could be so easily found guilty on such kind of evidence, we would all be in prison.

Maybe this chap is as reliable as the Chinese farmer who claimed he had electrocuted an alien and kept it in his freezer.

Germany doesn't even have a High Court, it is called Federal Constitutional Court. It's sloppy reporting when dealing with a subject of this kind.

Other links in Top Cats Roar are to pages that have been removed too, like the supposedly original document in German of the German court order against PETA.

There is nothing about PETA on the Court's website.

You find nothing if you google "The German High Court found PeTA guilty of paying people to skin animals alive" except in obscure little sources replicating each other's content.

Nothing in PETA's very long Wikipedia entry.

In fact, PETA didn't need to fake anything because skinning animals alive for their fur is practised.

But Davy Goossens hasn't dropped this subject. Even when I post something not related to it, he occasionally repeats his same comments. Not exactly modestly and politely, he commented on Save the West:
you don't understand how fur trade works... If you want to sell it, you want to get the most money. if you want the most money, you want to sell the best fur. does it really make for too much intellect above your ability to grasp if you skin an animal alive you will ruin the fur?
In fact, he does't really know how these terrible operations work:
Many fur farms skin animals alive to keep the pelts intact from damage that could occur while killing them. To avoid bullet holes, tears or slits from a knife, fur farmers can use methods such as beating the animal, electrocuting them, using poison to paralyse them, or breaking their necks.[16] Although these methods ensure an undamaged pelt, they are sometimes not enough to confirm the death of the animal, leaving the creature to be skinned alive.
Or does he think that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is faking it too when it reports that Raccoon Dogs are Skinned Alive in China? Isn't this a more trustworthy source than the sorry, scruffy ones he referred to?

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