Category Archives: not news

Has the Daily Mail Jumped the Shark?

The TV show Happy Days in many people’s view went in to a terminal decline when The Fonze jumped over a shark whilst water-skiing. Watching the show always involved suspending disbelief to quite a large extent as the Fonze is clearly a ridiculous character but the point when he jumped over a shark was the point at which the writers went too far. Was it hubris or over-confidence or simply desperation that led the writers to take their audience for granted? Either way it was a watershed moment. I wonder whether the Mail has similarly over-reached itself – not with its attack on Ed Miliband via his father so much, but by their attempted defence.

fonzie_jumps_the_shark

In many ways the attack on Ralph Miliband was typical of the Daily Mail – it is typical of their Modus Operandi: prejudicial, ill-conceived and misrepresentive of the subject. This response by Miliband Senior’s biographer is very telling.

The sole basis for this assertion was a diary entry at the age of 16 in autumn 1940, where Ralph Miliband wrote that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist” and, “when you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show how things are.” Such sentiments might sound shocking, but they need to be put into their real context.

A few months earlier Miliband had arrived in Britain with his father, having walked from Brussels to Ostend, where they took the last boat leaving for Britain. While working hard to improve his English, he was also spending much of his time wandering through the streets of London trying to make sense of his new environment. He was in a constant state of anxiety about the fate of his sister and mother, who had remained in Nazi occupied Belgium as stateless Jews.

Because he believed that the earlier appeasement of Hitler was largely responsible for the situation, he was occasionally exasperated by the atmosphere of complacency and superiority amongst the British upper classes, and this no doubt provoked his intemperate diary outburst.

There is nothing new in any of this: The Mail has done this to many others. What is unusual is that Daily Mail could not deny Ed Miliband a response.

 

The petulance that accompanied the printing of Ed Miliband very measured article was impressive to behold.

Ed Miliband:

Britain has always benefited from a free Press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account — none of us should be given an easy ride — and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.

<snip>

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician — any politician — in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.

There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse.

I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.

The Daily Mail Comment

Red Ed’s in a strop with the Mail. Doubtless, he’s miffed that his conference was overshadowed by the revelations of his former friend, the spin doctor Damian McBride, serialised in this paper, which exposed the poisonous heart of the Labour Party.

Nor did he see the funny side when we ridiculed the yucky, lovey-dovey photographs of him and his wife, behaving like a pair of hormonal teenagers in need of a private room.

But what has made him vent his spleen — indeed, he has stamped his feet and demanded a right of reply — is a Mail article by Geoffrey Levy on Saturday about the Labour leader’s late father, Ralph, under the arresting headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

They seem to want us to believe it was an act of great magnanimity for them to publish the response rather the act of cowardice and calculation it really was. They know how much worse it would be if it was published elsewhere under the headline What the Mail refused to print. The choice of the grave photo shows the standard dehumanising attitude of the DM to those they oppose – although to be fair to them they have at-least acknowledged that this was in poor taste. Note the choice of language – responding to a deeply personal attack on his father, Ed is characterised as behaving childishly, whilst the Mail repeat the words ‘evil’ in reference to Ralph Miliband’s views.

If the professional ethos of journalism is to speak the truth to power then the Mail is undoubtably the very antithesis of a journalistic organisation. The reaction to this particular example though is interesting. The hardcore Mailites remain loyal but their wider credibility as a newspaper has been compromised. I – and many others – have long seen through them but the Mail has always maintained this pretence of seriousness. It is interesting, and not a little ironic, to see this pretence stripped away by their own bloody-mindedness. While Stephen Glover whines about the leftist conspiracy and alleged hypocrisy, the country at-large seems to take a different view. I find myself wondering if they have perhaps over-reached themselves this time?

I for one, truly hope so.

 

AFZ

The Mail Online’s idea of a ‘New Craze’

There are lots of things that I have never heard of. The Mail Online’s latest warning is about one of them: the ‘salt and ice challenge’. The Mail Online has lifted a report from the Huffington Post (which they credit) about how some teenagers in America (one doctor in Detroit – population over 700,000 – had seen 3-4 cases in the past 6 months) have been trying this challenge and causing themselves various levels of skin burns. I can’t help but think that if the Mail had really wanted to prevent this dangerous challenge they’d probably do the responsible thing and not report on it (complete with several photos of effects and a video showing how the challenge is performed). Let’s not forget that the Mail website is now one of the most visited websites on the planet and can therefore presumably spread a ‘craze’ like few others.

I can’t help but think that for the sake of a few more web hits the Mail website has just given more people a dangerous activity that they’d probably never have heard about otherwise. The Internet is full of crazy stuff and I have no objections to this, but what annoys me is organisations like Mail Online – which pretend to be above the trivialities of the Internet – producing such content and dressing it up as journalism and labeling the writer a ‘reporter’. One of the aspects that Leveson didn’t address what was does the label ‘newspaper’ or ‘journalism’ actually mean? Should it only refer to an organisation that seeks to deliver news in a reliable, factual and unbiased way; or is it fine for anyone to write anything with any bias or factual inaccuracies and label it journalism just as long as they work for one of the established newspapers or their various online spin-offs?

The problem with real journalism is that no-one wants it, or at least that no-one wants to pay for it. We therefore end up with newspapers that only ever chase readers, rather than actual news. What we end up with is the exact thing that socially conservative newspapers like the Daily Mail – on the surface at least – supposedly rail against: the systematic dumbing-down of ‘news’ until newspapers become little more than vehicles for celebrity PR men to create exposure and wealth for those who have some tenuous relationship with fame. We get Mail Online, one of the most soul-destroyingly popular websites on earth.

The Mail website is a cesspit of celebrity drivel, freakshow exposures of anything deemed outside the narrow norms of conservative Western culture and stories taken from across the website which are not news in any traditional sense. Again, I don’t mind that such websites exist – I love the randomness of the Internet – but for the sake of convincing me that humanity has some hope, please stop calling this journalism.

Kendall Jenner / Kardashian: Mailbait extraordinaire

Following on from my post on how the Mail hypocritically cashes in on publishing vast quantities of semi-nude photos of celebrities, all the while wagging their fingers and shaking their heads in disgust it is even more disturbing when the girl featured is only 14 years old. One of their favourite female celebrities is Kim Kardashian – who the Mail once put down with the observation that she: ‘has made a bit of a name for herself from turning up to the opening of an envelope’, which must make the Mail even more pathetic given that they feel the need to cover each non-event in huge depth with a flurry of articles.

Kendall Jenner (Kardashian is always used nearby to get maximum traffic) is famous for two reasons:

  1. She is the half-sister of Kim Kardashian.
  2. Aged 14 she posed in a bikini on a beach. The Daily Mail now insists on always referring to it as ‘THAT bikini shoot’ whenever Kim or Kendall are mentioned, along with an obligatory photo.

To make the point really sink in about just how utterly pathetic the Mail website is let’s get down to some figures. First off, the Daily Mail is so disturbed by ‘racy’ photos of a 14 year old in a bikini they publish them in at least 6 separate articles:

  1. After THAT bikini shoot, Kim Kardashian’s little sister Kendall lands a role in a pop video.
  2. ‘I never intended to be racy': Kim Kardashian’s 14-year-old sister Kendall defends bikini photo shoot.
  3. Now that’s more age appropriate! Kim Kardashian’s little sister Kendall is back to being a regular teenager.
  4. Kendall’s the rebel Kardashian as she hits the red carpet in biker boots NOT high heels.
  5. That’s better! Kardashian sister Kendall, 14, dresses her age after bikini row.
  6. Keeping up with the Kardashian’s careers: Now youngest sister Kylie’s a model. [This article features photos of 12 year old Kylie, photos which are more ‘age appropriate’ than the bikini shot of Kendall they print immediately below.]

You can kind of spot the logic behind how they print the bikini shots; basically if Kendall wears anything other than a bikini the Mail can write a story about how she is finally dressing ‘appropriate to her age’ whilst at the same time they can publish once more the bikini shoot photos. Even for the Daily Mail website this is really scraping the barrel of what can be considered newsworthy.

Next up, a simple search of the Mail website for ‘Kardashian’ returns 427 articles. I don’t even know what this person does. After flicking through a few articles it appears she is some kind of ‘reality TV star’ who is famous for being famous, if that makes any sense. The Daily Mail love her because she takes a good photo and being on reality TV they can publish screen prints of her doing something completely innocuous and pass it off as news.

A worldwide Google search for ‘Kim Kardashian’ reveals a Daily Mail article on page 2, which is not a bad result. However, search for UK pages only and the Mail website dominates results – getting 3 out of 3 ‘news results’. Again, this kind of gutter journalism is all about driving traffic to the website. The Daily Mail might pretend to have moral objections to a 14 year old posing in what they label as a ‘racy’ photo shoot. However, these objections still don’t stop them publishing said photos over and over again in complete non-stories.

Once again, please forgive me for publishing this statement from Mail Online editor Martin Clarke:

News is far more important to us that showbiz. News is what drives our site.

‘Outrage’

A favourite tabloid word, and rarely used in its proper context – for example, when over 24,000 people complained to the PCC about Jan Moir’s Gately article the word was not used by the Mail or any of the tabloid press. However, if the BBC has 7 complaints out of an audience of over 6 million for an episode of Top Gear then ‘outrage’ is inevitably used: ‘Jeremy Clarkson outrages viewers by announcing on Top Gear he’d seen saucy underwear beneath Muslim woman’s burka‘ – interestingly the URL shows that originally the over favourite word ‘fury’ was used originally.

Viewers is rightly plural, but rather than the hundreds or perhaps thousands that you would assume would make the story newsworthy it turns out that it was in fact just 7 complaints. The article soon turns towards the issue of the Burka, retreading old ground with the ‘debate’ about whether it should be banned or not – a debate that increasingly seems to be taking place only amongst the tabloid press and a few right-wing MPs. It is almost as if the Daily Mail are testing the waters, getting a feel as to whether they should launch a ‘Daily Mail campaign’ to ban the Burka.

Top Gear wasn’t the only show sparking ‘outrage’ today, ITV is also having to field the fury of a handful of puritanical viewers: ‘Emmerdale causes outrage over crude and offensive shopping list in the Dingles’ kitchen’. Not just ‘outrage’ but also ‘offensive’, which is a bit strange because when the tabloid press invents something that has been banned or criticised because it could ‘offend Muslims’ it is PC gone mad and ‘them’ taking over, yet here we have an offensive shopping list which causes people to be rightly ‘outraged’.

The offending items are: ‘jam rags’ and ‘piles cream’, they appeared on a black chalkboard in the background of a shot. Only a few people would have noticed it, most sane adults would have perhaps allowed themselves a wry smile. Sadly a few adults – assuming they haven’t simply been made up by the reporter, which is not unlikely – feel the need to complain (the only reason I can see why anyone could complain about this is that they lack the intelligence to distinguish between what will or will not harm them / their children or society and therefore complain about anything). One ‘outraged’ parent claimed:

‘I couldn’t believe my eyes when it appeared on screen – it’s not the kind of language you expect to appear in one of our oldest soaps.

‘I had to cover my young son’s eyes because I didn’t want to have to explain that kind of crass language to him at such a young age.

The whole story is really silly, and the irony is that hardly anyone knew about this supposedly offensive shopping list until the Mail published a story on it. What about the young children who read the article, who will cover their eyes? Those watching the show would have been unlikely to have seen the shopping list, now it has been screen-grabbed and repeated for them. It is utterly pathetic that the Daily Mail will give news space to any puritanical idiot just because they like using the word ‘outrage’ and pretending that every form of media is amoral apart from the Daily Mail.

This explains the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail writing about Jon Venables and his ‘1200 upskirt photos’, whilst featuring an upskirt photo of Alesha Dixon right next to the article. As the brilliant Charlie Brooker pointed out, TV – even the worst kind of reality / Victorian freak show exploitation TV – is a million times more sanitary than the tabloid press:

if TV broadcast the kind of material you see in the press – if it paid women in lingerie to recount graphic celebrity fuck’n’tell stories, or shoved its cameras up the skirts of girls exiting taxis so viewers could wank to the sight of their knickers, or routinely broadcast grossly misleading and openly one-sided news reports designed to perpetuate fear and bigotry – if the box in the corner smeared that shit on its screen for 10 seconds a night, it’d generate a pile of complaints high enough to scrape the crust from the underside of Mars.

But as we witnessed with Jan Moir and her Gately article, a record-breaking 24,000 complaints against a tabloid newspaper merits a wall of silence across all of the tabloids. Whereas 7 complaints about a presenter who purposely courts controversy (for which the Daily Mail loves him) just because he happens to be on TV generates an article; as does the words ‘jam rag’ and ‘piles cream’ when shown on TV. If the tabloid press wasn’t such a influential, toxic mess it would be funny.

Beware the ‘Fluffy’ Story

When you read a newspaper it is important to remember not just to be cynical about the scaremongering, or disgusted at the lies on immigration, but also to question the fluffy stories. Take, for example, the lovely story of Cinders the pig, which – according to the Daily Mail – is ‘The world’s only porker who is afraid of mud‘. It is a charming story complete with a picture of a sweet little piggy in four small green wellies:

You can’t get much happier than a pig in muck, or so we are told.

But when this little piggy arrived in the farmyard she showed a marked reluctance to get her trotters dirty.

While her six brothers and sisters messed around in the mire, she stayed on the edge shaking. It is thought she might have mysophobia – a fear of dirt.

Owners Debbie and Andrew Keeble were at a loss, until they remembered the four miniature wellies used as pen and pencil holders in their office. They slipped them on the piglet’s feet – and into the mud she happily ploughed.

Now she runs over to Mr Keeble so he can put them on for her in the morning.

What a heartwarming story of how a pig overcame their fear of mud – not just a fear but a suspected phobia as if pigs have all the same everyday problems that humans do, look, it’s even wearing boots, made for humans. The whole story is silly, this pig (like all others I suspect) does not have a phobia about mud and its owners do not put wellies on it. The whole story – including the quotes from the pigs owners – is a complete lie, it is completely made up.

How do I know this?

Well, I simply consulted the PR agency that created the story, because said agency is now proudly using this story as a testimonial to advertise its services:

Emma Cantrill from Intelligent Profile says: “We asked Ross Parry Agency to help raise the profile of Debbie and Andrew Keeble’s sausage manufacturing business and to highlight their ongoing lobbying work to pay a fairer price for British Pork. While we knew that that it would create interest within the local media, we wanted a national story to really kick the campaign off.

“We approached Ross Parry Agency, a photographic agency in Leeds with a successful track record of syndicating stories. Ross Parry Agency provided brainstorming ideas and a number of angles.

“Debbie and Andrew had suggested that we use one of their pedigree pigs for the campaign, as she had a distinct personality and was slightly more fastidious than her colleagues. Ross Parry Agency took this one step further and created the ‘pig in boots’ shot.

“The story took us all by surprise and achieved worldwide coverage including:

  • 25 UK radio stations (Including 5 Live and Radio 1)
  • National and global TV (Including GMTV, C5 The Wright Stuff, Reuters, CNN, BBC The One Show)
  • Every national newspaper and various magazines
  • All international news and entertainment web feeds (including BBC Online, ITN, Yahoo)
  • “For an investment of £250 we gained £250,000 worth of coverage.

    “Debbie and Andrew recorded a 30% sausage sales uplift in Asda after Pig in Boots story.

    “The advertising equivalent for Pig in Boots would have cost £451,630 in coverage.”

To be fair to the Daily Mail they were clearly not alone in running this story – all news outlets are guilty of printing PR-created story as ‘news’ or ‘light relief’. The truth is this manufactured story is neither news or light entertainment, but a cynical ploy to secure advertising at minimal cost. As the testimonial clearly demonstrates, the pig was selected for being slightly cleaner than the rest, the agency then decided to shove some wellies on it because they knew the press love a cute photo.

That any media outlet seriously printed this as real news – just look at that Daily Mail article, they really think they have uncovered a spectacularly unusual pig, and even suggest it might have a phobia of mud – is laughable. It also brings into sharp focus that journalists and editors just don’t care what is news, anymore than they care about misleading headlines or the dividing line between comment and news, or the accurate reporting of risk – the recent scaremongering of pregnant women over absolutely minimal or in some cases non-existent risk is hypocritically matched by another Littlejohn column today criticising health and safety for focusing on providing solutions to what he considers absolutely minimal or non-existent risks.

The only thing an editor does care about is circulation and advertising revenue, sadly the only newspaper an editor would consider laughable in this instance would be the one that didn’t publish the cute photo of the pig. It’s a sad reflection of the majority of the UK press.

And remember, this ‘fluffy’ little story about the cute little pig we’d all love to cuddle ended up with a 30% increase in the sales of sausages…