Monthly Archives: September 2011

Melanie Phillips and libel

Melanie Phillips’ second email to me is really quite interesting for such a short piece of writing.

She claims that my blog post is:

highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action.

OK, fair enough, so immediately it leads you to think: she is going to sue. However, she doesn’t because:

you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission.

How is that a good reason not to sue me? Surely this is a further offence that she is clearly annoyed by and would make her more likely to sue me, not less? Anyway, the real crux of the matter is that she felt my blog post concerning her article on Rory Weal contained:

gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions

Because my blog post most certainly does not misrepresent what she said, it certainly isn’t selective in a misleading way (i.e. I only selected her words regarding Rory Weal, but they were most definitely not taken out of context and were quoted in full) and there are no twisted distortions. The reason why I am not guilty of these things is because you just don’t have to do any of these things to make Melanie Phillips look a fool, in fact most of the time you can get that reaction by just quoting her entire column in full or simply linking to it.

My post on Rory Weal was simple, Melanie decided to attack Rory Weal on the premise that Rory Weal’s family had lived off the state – which even she acknowledged was based on an unfounded assumption – she uses an ‘(if true)’ interjection immediately before starting her attack:

what that means (if true) is that his entire life has been spent as a kind of state serf, that he and his family are wholly lacking in independence, that their entire subsistence has been funded by the state. [emphasis is mine]

You do not need ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’ to demonstrate that Melanie Phillips was guilty of attacking a 16-year-old boy on an assumption that was completely wrong. Rory Weal actually had a very priviledged up-bringing, which Melanie Phillips would have known if instead of writing ‘(if true)’ before starting her rant she actually did even the most basic research.

So, given that Melanie refused to inform me (even though she says she could: ‘There are many things I could say to point out…’) of quite how I was guilty of ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’ am I now entitled to sue her for libel, given that she would have to then prove that her accusations about my writing were correct?

The trouble with libel law in the UK is that it is requires the person who is accused of libel to prove that they did not in fact write anything libellious. The burden of proof lies with the person being sued and you can never be certain which way the judge will turn in often complex matters where truth itself can be a matter of controversy. Many people have therefore argued that the libel laws in the UK hamper free speech, because people are afraid to challenge powerful organisations for fear of being sued – even if the truth is fundamentally on their side, it doesn’t mean expensive lawyers can’t alter that when it comes to court, or that the truth can’t be deleted or censored by the very threat of legal action.

Indeed I am reminded of some sage words on a famous, fairly recent libel case:

Simon Singh, a science writer, is being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for describing some of its treatments as ‘bogus’.

And Peter Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist, is being sued by a U.S. company, NMT Medical, after he questioned the effectiveness of a new heart implant device…

after raising such matters, serious scientists are being hounded to retract their claims.

Yet science depends upon scientists making such critical observations. Trying to gag them surely amounts to an abuse of the libel law and threatens the very integrity of science itself.

The idea that libel can be used like this to stifle discussion of the possible dangers of medical treatments will strike many as utterly intolerable.

The reason it is happening is that, unlike equivalent laws in other countries against defamation, English libel law is the most draconian in the world.

It doesn’t just hurt the open discussion of scientists either, but anyone who wishes to engage in free debate or exchange of new ideas:

The law of libel has long been the bane of journalists’ lives. But now it has become something altogether more sinister and frightening.

Rather than a form of legal redress for unjustly sullying someone’s reputation, it is increasingly being used by wealthy individuals or organisations as a weapon to stifle politically or commercially unwelcome views.

It is easy for a powerful organisation – the Daily Mail for example – to crush dissent by sending out letters threatening libel action, knowing full well that they will get an immediate retraction most of the time from people who could not afford to fight, let alone lose a libel case. In particular – as I found out – in the UK websites are very vulnerable given that the host is deemed to be the publisher of content so they can therefore be easily threatened and have no interest in defending customers against powerful organisations and will just simply take down a website to be on the safe side.

As the sage person writes:

Because of the difficulty of proving what may be unprovable, those who express such views are intimidated by the prospect of losing such a case – and then having to pay astronomical legal costs to multinationals or wealthy individuals who can afford to keep racking up the final bill.

So scientists, academics, authors, journalists and others are effectively censoring themselves for fear of becoming trapped in a ruinous libel suit – or are being forced to back down and apologise for statements they still believe to be true.

Quite. You’ve probably already guessed the punchline: this sage writer was, of course, Melanie Phillips writing back in 2009 – ‘Death of free speech: Is Britain becoming the censorship capital of the world?‘.

I do live with a certain fear of being sued, not because I set out to libel or defame people, but because people can threaten to sue me to get me to remove / censor my content and even though I endeavour to always write truthfully and to be as accurate as any part-time, tired, limited-time evening writer can be: anyone can make mistakes. However, in this country you don’t even need to be mistaken, you can write what you and many others might consider to be an absolute truth, but truth is a fluid notion that changes from person to person, and perhaps judge to judge so you can still be threatened with libel and have to remove the content to be on the safe side. Would anyone in my position risk everything to fight for a few words that they hold to be true?

As before, I put my words on here to be challenged, argued over, corrected or dismissed. I stand by what I hold to be true, I amend – openly – anything that happens to be wrong. I link to my sources and I quote fairly from the columnists I write about. I do not know if Melanie Phillips will ever read this, but if she does I would really appreciate her pointing out exactly where I was guilty of being ‘defamatory’, what ‘false allegations’ I had made and what parts of my writing were ‘gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions’.

I will happily strike them through and I will issue a grovelling apology if she can demonstrate my guilt.

If, however, Melanie simply threw down the libel card because she couldn’t actually point out anything of the sort then she is indeed a far worse person than I had ever imagined – and a far bigger hypocrite.

And that really is saying something, given my extremely low opinion of her in the first place.

Publishing emails…

I have had some criticism on Twitter and in the comments on site – not to mention from Melanie Phillips herself – for publishing contents of the emails that she sent to me. I can understand the criticism, and it is something I have never done before and I doubt I will ever need to do again. I do receive a lot of email correspondence through this site and I do treat it all in absolute confidence as anyone who has contacted me will know (hence why this has never been an issue in the years I have published this blog). The emails from Melanie Phillips I published today and yesterday will not change that.

I initiated contact with Melanie Phillips not really expecting any response – other journalists I have contacted regarding my Winterval essay haven’t even acknowledged me – so I think I was a little surprised to hear back from her so quickly. Her response was aggressive, condescending and contained only fallacious or irrelevant arguments and clearly demonstrated she had no intention of reading any of the essay to verify whether she had indeed mislead her readers.

I had started politely, but given Melanie’s past history of bile-filled attacks on all manner of subjects and her dishonest, underhand and disdainful attack on a 16-year-old boy yesterday I felt publishing her email was in the public interest. I say this because Melanie – whilst you may say that she is a columnist – can still be labelled a journalist and as such she is an example of the kind of writer that is happily accepted and handsomely paid during these heady times of press ‘self-regulation’. Her attitude towards a member of the public who had politely pointed out that she was guilty – I didn’t even say intentionally – of misleading her readers over the Winterval claim she made just demonstrated how utterly untouchable journalists / columnists believe themselves to be.

I published her words because I wanted to demonstrate why occasionally this blog descends into unhelpful, despairing swearing aimed at a certain journalist or columnist; it is the frustration of knowing that irrespective of fact, evidence or truth the people I write about will never engage with me or any other media blogger, no matter how extensively you may have researched a given topic or how clear the error is. Winterval is a myth. It is as simple as that.  It was coined in one city (Birmingham), for two years (1997 and 1998) and yet Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’

That is factually incorrect in every possible way:

  1. Christmas was never ‘renamed’ Winterval, Christmas in Birmingham in 1997/8 was Christmas as usual (see poster and you’ll see that Winterval is the small logo, bottom right, not replacing the much bigger ‘Christmas in Birmingham’)
  2. This non-renaming only took place in one city: Birmingham.

It cannot be any clearer that Melanie Phillips has mislead her readers by making a factually incorrect claim, and worse than that, she is repeating (indeed embellishing by making it ‘various places’ rather than just ‘Birmingham council’) a claim that has been debunked numerous times before and should never have been repeated again given that any Google search quickly reveals the truth.

All it needed from Melanie was an admission – one tiny admission in a career full of misleading or factually incorrect claims (she how she lost a libel case along with The Spectator after refusing to back down over untrue claims she made – rather than apologise she just repeated them) that she had got it wrong. However, she didn’t, she just responded in the same way as she always does, writing as if the truth inhabits a completely different realm to that occupied by Phllips. Even when provided with clear, irrefutable evidence that she was wrong, she couldn’t even admit it, let alone apologise to her readers or make any attempt to correct them.

That’s not abiding by the common etiquette that should come naturally to any writer, any writer irrespective of salary, audience or purpose. It is certainly entirely against the spirit of press self-regulation and the personal journalistic responsibility and basic integrity that should go hand-in-hand with such a system. This is why I – hypocritically if you like – also shunned any etiquette and printed her response. She has no rules when it comes to publishing words, so why should I? Let’s not pretend taking the higher ground is going to achieve anything when she can’t even admit to the tiniest of mistakes – and none of the Mail writers seem to care one bit about facts or truth.

It’s not as if the Press Complaints Commission are an option either.

So, I was left with an email from Melanie, and I took the opportunity to publish it, to hopefully destroy any fleeting belief that Melanie Phillips has any journalistic standards whatsoever, or even the vaguest interest in not misleading her readers.

So, sorry Melanie, for publishing your emails – but please clearly understand this: you were not damned by me, but by your own words.

Melanie Phillips on Winterval

About half an hour ago I sent Melanie Phillips an email regarding her repetition of the famous ‘Winterval’ myth on which I happen to think myself quite the expert – having traced the myth back to its origins in 1997 and written extensively on its development over the years since. Amusingly Melanie Phillips has been kind enough to get back to me already, and here is what she wrote:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

It’s a great answer, essentially stating that I am wrong because I couldn’t possibly have a better understanding than people such as ‘bishops’ and presumably all of the journalists happy to repeat the myth over the years. It’s a wonderful defence: the majority must be right. Although it must be said that such a defence hasn’t proved terribly reliable down the years given that at some point majority correctness (the Mail can feel free to use this) dictated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it until a few individuals pointed out that this wasn’t true. Truth is dictated by fact, Melanie, not sheer weight of believers.

No, I just miss the point and Birmingham council’s explanations were ‘disingenuous and [also] missed the point’ – even though such explanations were actually completely transparent (indeed they were baffled, a year after the first successful Winterval period, that anybody could possibly believe that they had done away with Christmas, given that they so clearly and unequivocally hadn’t). The council merely explained (repeatedly) that Winterval was a cynical marketing ploy to extend Christmas beyond the traditional Christmas season. Christmas, in all of its glory, was celebrated in Birmingham as normal which is why in 1997 and beyond not one person complained about it being ‘banned’ or marginalised in any way – as Melanie would know were she humble enough to read my essay which clearly explains this point.

Such a response would be amusing, were it not written by a supposedly ‘professional’ journalist.


In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I originally sent to her website:

Melanie, I noticed in your recent Daily Mail article that you again repeated the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils have attempted to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’. This myth has been debunked many times, indeed I have written an extensive essay on the subject which was covered by BBC Radio 4. As it appears you have somehow missed this can I point you in the direction of this essay so you can apologise to your readers for misleading them: http://www.thedisinformed.co.uk/2010/12/12/the-winterval-myth/

And I have now replied to her reply:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [ http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

UPDATE:

Melanie Phillips has responded to me this morning:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

I politely tried to engage with Melanie Phillips over a factual matter and she responded with arrogant abuse. I published her response to me because I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing. If she writes in public, she should stand by it in public, if she emails a reader prepared to engage with her she should not say anything she wouldn’t be happy for others to read. It is that simple as far as I am concerned.

As for her claims that I would have to pay her ‘significant damages in a libel action’ should she wish to pursue it, I invite any lawyers who read this blog to post an honest appraisal of my article on Rory Weal and Melanie Phillips to see if I am indeed guilty of libel or defamation – or indeed ‘false allegations’ or ‘twisted distortions’. Her article is free for anyone to read, as is mine so people can make their own minds up.

Just remember this little email exchange the next time Melanie Phillips complains that the ‘liberal elite’ are guilty of shutting down debate or existing in their own little bubble.

EU does not plan to enforce 20mph speed limit

The Mail wesbite today printed the following headline: ‘EU plans to enforce 20mph speed limits in residential zones and replace Highway Code with European laws sparks outrage’. Then, in their article – which is full of the normal enraged quotes from the standard frothing Tory rent-a-gobs – they clearly state that:

today’s proposal is only an ‘own initiative’ report and unlikely to see the light of legislative day

There are only two comments so far, but both are very interesting:

There are no “plans to enforce a mandatory 20mph speed limit”. What this non-legislative resolution said was that “Parliament strongly recommends a 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit in residential areas and on all single-lane roads without cycle tracks.” And clearly this would be set at 20mph and not 18.64mph. Since when has a strong recomendation constituted “dictatorship”? This recomendation copies what the DfT recommended in December 2009, so is hardly revolutionary stuff. Already local authorities in the UK with a combined population of 6.8m have adopted a policy of a 20mph limit for all residential streets with appropriate exceptions. A sensible rcommendation for a sensible way to share the public space between our houses that we call “streets”. Rod King – Campaign Director 20s’s Plenty for Us

And:

I wonder, if a single MP (as opposed to MEP) would suggest a silly law to limit speed to 20 mph, would your article’s title be “Britain plans to enforce 20 mph”? Silly laws get tabled in every parliament (including our own). Your anti-EU bias is making you do things which are beyond the realm of fair reporting.

This isn’t, I imagine, the response the Mail Online editor was hoping for.

Melanie Phillips’ dishonest attack on Rory Weal

One of the main criticisms of the welfare state I seem to hear about is that it rewards the idle, whilst punishing the hard-working who ultimately have to fund the system through direct and indeed indirect taxation. It is a point made by Ed Miliband in his speech today, in which he wants his new society in general to reward hard work and social responsibility whilst punishing the workshy and feckless. What most people do agree on is that the welfare state is a vital safety net for those that fall on hard times, in particular those that have contributed for years into that system.

Step forward the 16-year-old Rory Weal who gave a speech at the Labour Conference today. The Telegraph reports that:

the son of a company director, [Rory] had enjoyed a privileged upbringing before his parents split up following financial trouble in 2008.

He was a pupil at the independent Colfe’s School in Lee, south east London, but had to leave after his father’s City-based employment agency, Jonathan Weal Associates, went bust…

His family lived in a £500,000 home in Chislehurst, Kent, until it was repossessed and his mother Elaine, 43, an administrator at a cleaning company, separated from 53-year-old Mr Weal.

Rory Weal spoke of this experience today in his speech:

two and a half years ago the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed. We had nothing, no money, no savings. I owe my entire well-being and that of my family’s to the welfare state, that is why I joined the Labour party but that very same welfare state is being ruthlessly ripped apart by a vicious and right-wing Tory-led government.

I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that system, that safety net.

It is very clear, Rory Weal was living the life of a privileged young man, but he then experienced – along with the rest of his family – what it was like to lose everything, but to be saved by the safety net offered by the welfare state – a system his parents had obviously paid much into over the years. He has now realised the importance of such a system because he realises that any family, no matter how successful one minute, can find themselves at the mercy of what the government has (or indeed hasn’t)  in place for them in tough times. All very reasonable, irrespective of what your personal political view may be.

You might think.

Then in steps Melanie Phillips to tackle the temerity of this 16-year-old boy for daring to voice his opinion: ‘The Labour mantra of hate finds a new star in 16-year-old Weal’. Leaving aside Melanie’s need to tar anyone with an opposing view as a ‘zealot’ or full of ‘hate’, she goes on to take wildly out of context his words in order to make her case against him.

Let’s just repeat that, a seasoned journalist writing for the Daily Mail (which does have a genuine ‘mantra of hate’) not only feels the need to aggressively shout down a 16-year-old boy, but also has to use completely dishonest tactics to do so. Yet according to Phillips he is the posterboy of the ‘Labour mantra of hate’! Phillips’ writes:

Rory Weal was hailed as a hero for saying something that should have chilled the marrow. For he said:

‘I owe my entire well-being and that of my family to the welfare state.’

In the real world, what that means (if true) is that his entire life has been spent as a kind of state serf, that he and his family are wholly lacking in independence, that their entire subsistence has been funded by the state.

Worse still, it would appear that in the mind of 16 year-old Rory Weal he has never gained any benefit to himself from anything other than the state. [Emphasis is mine]

How can a highly-paid journalist dare to write in brackets ‘if true’ when a quick Google search would show her that it wasn’t true in the slightest and that before needing to turn to the salvation of the state his parents were independent, wealthy and paid an awful lot of money into the system which would eventually save them.

It’s just unbelievable that Melanie Phillips is paid to be so lazy, so underhanded, so utterly wrong on every count. She is one of the elite few national journalists still happy to repeat the ‘Winterval’ myth even though it was debunked years ago and today she demonstrates that even when arguing with kids she’s happy to lie to defend her own warped worldview.

Melanie Phillips continues to remove any shred of context regarding what Rory Weal actually said:

No mention, note, of what he owes to his parents’ own efforts for his well-being.

Indeed, to him they appear to have made no such contribution since he told us that he owes his ‘entire well-being’ to the welfare state.

To Rory Weal, all good things appear to come from the state – and so anyone who dares suggest otherwise is vicious and right-wing. Is that not terrifying?

Words fail me. He owes his ‘entire well-being’ right now because the safety net saved him from destitution when his family lost everything – not because he and his family have spent their entire life suckling from the teet of welfare dependency you insane woman. Rory Weal did not imply that ‘all good things appear to come from the state’, what he implies in his speech is that if it should all go wrong and you find your life suddenly reduced to nothing, who else can possibly help you – and who will help people in future if the welfare state is destroyed?

What is terrifying is that Melanie Phillips isn’t some kind of Brass Eye parody, but an actual human being that genuinely believes these things.

And still she continues:

He also complained that, after his parents divorced,‘ two and-a-half years ago, the home I had lived in since birth was repossessed’.

But two and a half years ago it was of course Labour that was in power.

So Rory Weal was blaming the Tories for a series of actions which were in fact taken by Labour governments! This boy will indeed go far.

MELANIE! For the love of truth! He wasn’t blaming the Tories for repossessing his house, he wasn’t blaming anyone for repossessing his house. Rory simply pointed out that after it was repossessed he and his family were saved by the welfare state and it is this that he is now worried the Tories will destroy.

Someone needs to have a word with Mad Mel. She is supposedly a seasoned professional and here she is smugly and triumphantly finishing an article attacking a 16-year-old boy with a put down that is complete fiction and only serves to highlight how incredibly blinkered and stupid she is. The Daily Mail seems to be abandoning any semblance of editorial standards with this attack. It’s just a pathetic, dishonest, embarrassing mess from start to finish.

‘Infantile’

Richard Littlejohn has dedicated most of today’s column to the Human Rights Act and why it should be scrapped by David Cameron. Of course, being a Richard Littlejohn he constantly refers to the Human Rights Act as ‘yuman rites act’ and David Cameron as ‘Call Me Dave’. Before then having the cheek to declare that Nick Clegg defended the Human Rights Act in front of ‘infantile conference delegates’.

Richard further demonstrates his superior maturity by following up his hilarious phonetic spellings and invented names by publishing the contact details of a council worker who he encourages people to contact about something in his column last week. No doubt the Daily Mail will want to cover the obvious waste of taxpayers’ money that will result in this individual being swamped by untold amounts of emails, phone calls and letters because Richard thinks this kind of thing is amusing and appropriate.

Richard Littlejohn, champion of the little man against the big powerful institutions throws his considerable weight around by publishing the details of one individual working for Cornwall Council.

Slow clap time.

Human Rights wrongly blamed, again

Another day, another chance to blame Human Rights for something: ‘Prison van driven 96 miles to take defendant 60 YARDS to court as “walking will infringe his human rights”‘. The Mail claims:

A prison van travelled 96 miles to transfer a defendant just 60 yards from a police station to a court because walking would ‘infringe his human rights’.

Despite it being just a 30-second walk from Banbury Police Station to the dock, custody chiefs ordered a prison van for defendant Oliver Thomas, 27, which was sent from 96 miles away…

Judge Tom Corrie was told that to have taken the prisoner on foot from police cells to the dock would have ‘infringed his human rights’.

The transport was provided by GEOAmey which is contracted to ‘take defendants between custody and courts’. According to the Daily Mail the contract is worth £90m and they quote a GEOAmey spokesman to defend the decision to send a van:

He said: ‘Police wouldn’t expect us to turn up at Banbury and handcuff a prisoner and take him down the street and to the court. Generally speaking we don’t see that in this country.

‘It strays into the area of human rights. They have a right to have their identity protected. We normally cover Banbury from our Buckinghamshire vehicle base.

‘However, in this particular instance, the request to move this prisoner came late, by which time all our available Buckinghamshire-based vehicles and crews had been allocated to other routes and schedules.

‘As a contingency measure, in order to deliver the standard of service we are committed to provide, a vehicle and officers were deployed from our Eastleigh base.

‘This was not a ‘one-off’ run just to deliver this prisoner.

‘Our staff collected Mr Thomas from Banbury in the morning and assisted with duties at the court until mid-afternoon then delivered prisoners to HMP Bullingdon, Bicester, and on to other prisons.

He added: ‘The decision has nothing to do with Thames Valley Police officers based in the station.’

So, the spokesman mentioned it could ‘stray’ into human rights territory but it seems to me that he spoke as a contractor who is being paid to drive people between ‘custody and courts’, how would it look if the contractor made the accused walk? Would the Mail then complain that the contractor was on a government gravy train and providing a bad service? Is the contract charged individually, or as a whole? Was this a specific ‘waste’ of taxpayers money or did it inconvenience the contractor who is getting paid for the service provided as a whole, rather than individually invoicing for each journey?

We don’t know, the Daily Mail probably doesn’t know and definitely doesn’t care as long as they get a cheap headline, a good photo op and some easy copy attacking a favourite target.

Put it another way: if we bother going through the expense of hiring vans with blacked-out windows to transport the accused from custody to court anonymously, how can it ever be right to strip the accused of public anonymity by walking them under guard and in handcuffs to court just because it means moving a van around at short notice? As the spokesman said: ‘Generally speaking we don’t see that in this country… They have a right to have their identity protected’. It is, after all, innocent until proven guilty and everyone is equal regardless of whether they might rack up a larger van bill on the day.

Which is the final point, the Mail makes a big fuss trying to work out just how much this trip cost, completely ignoring the fact that the contractor worked the journey into the schedule of the van so that it was well used by more than just this one person. Funnily enough the Mail ignores this rather less catchy headline: ‘contractor paid for by YOUR MONEY rearranges court van at short notice as efficiently as possible’.

I wonder if Richard Littlejohn will find room for this in his column tomorrow…

The trouble with dishonest headlines…

According to a Daily Mail website headline today: ‘Goodbye Mr Chips: Doritos creator dies at 97… and his family wants to sprinkle them over his body before he is buried’.

So, in a kind of weird tribute to Arch West (creator of addictive TV snack Doritos) his family are supposedly going to ‘sprinkle them [Doritos] over his body before he is buried’. Sounds clear enough, but the trouble is this just is not true, not even vaguely true. You know it’s not true when the Daily Mail doesn’t even pretend in the article – not even in the first paragraph that this is actually going to happen:

The family of the man who created Doritos are to bury dozens of the chips next to his ashes, they have revealed.

Relatives of Arch West said that they would scatter Doritos in the grave before placing the urn containing his remains inside and covering it over with dirt.

So, immediately we’ve gone from ‘sprinkle them over his body before he is buried’ to ‘bury dozens of the chips next to his ashes’ and ‘they would scatter Doritos in the grave before placing the urn inside and covering it in dirt’. This isn’t buried (excuse the pun) at the bottom of the article, this is the opening two paragraphs.

It gets worse if you look at the Mail Online homepage:

Doritos

Even the trail doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that the headline is a complete lie. It’s embarrassing that this is the media we have accepted – not all of us, but enough to make the Mail website one of the most visited ‘news’ websites on earth. Collectively, as a planet, we endorse this meaningless drivel.

It gets even worse. Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday lead story online and in print was a complete lie about the BBC. Anybody with a reading age of 10+ could have determined from the article that it was a complete lie – anyone with a shred of journalistic integrity would have listened to the response of the BBC or the searched out the evidence put together by bloggers and the Guardian demonstrating that is was absolutely untrue.

But we live in an age when myths can be created out of nothing – even when the article that starts it all contains glaring contradictions it is still accepted as the truth by bovine readers and insidious journalists. Tabloid Watch has posted a follow-up on how the story is spreading and it makes sobering reading.

Winterval 2011

Well, it has started: Winterval season is upon us. In fact, it has been with us all year round thanks to the trusty ramblings of right-wing columnists only to happy to trot out the same lies. As you may know last year I spent a bit of time researching the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils around the UK had renamed or abandoned Christmas celebrations in favour of Winterval for fear of offending Muslims or other ‘ethnic minorities’. Turns out it is one of the most successful myths I’ve ever come across and it has being going strong since 1998 and shows no sign of being abandoned.

This year I will be covering the usage of Winterval in 2011 and adding it to my existing essay in early December. A few well known writers will feature – including such luminaries as James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips. It was the ever reliable Melanie Phillips who reminded me today to start getting this new chapter ready for December when she wrote:

The pressure on Christians, however, is merely part of a far wider onslaught on Western culture through the hijacking or censorship of language.

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

No, Melanie, it has never been renamed Winterval. It didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen in one solitary council in Birmingham in 1997.

Whilst you eagerly await 2011’s roll call of terrible hacks, feel free to re-read (or read for the first time) and share my essay on Winterval. It lives on my other website (which is still waiting for some new content) thedisinformed.co.uk.