Category Archives: Terrible journalism

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

Vile Product

I genuinely didn’t think it was possible for me to have more contempt for the Mail. It turns out I was completely and utterly wrong:

20130403_073440

I think that pretty much everyone who’s heard this story of the Philpot family will have been deeply saddened and upset. It is a very bizzare tale of a couple conspiring to set alight their own home and implicate someone else. Ultimately, six children lost their lives in this fire. The Philpots will be sentenced today for manslaughter.

Of course you can trust the Mail to provide a different angle.  There is much to be said about this story but according to those wise social commentators at DM it’s emblematic of the Welfare Culture of Britain. The implication is clear, anyone on benefits may be just like them.

This leaves me with a question, which is more revolting; implying that all benefit claimants are like them or using the death of six children to further an agenda?

I am really not sure, but I am astounded, once again by the vileness of the Daily Mail.

AFZ

‘Could Spider-Man become a reality?’ asks Mail Online

For some reason the Mail Online editor has filed this article under ‘Science': ‘Could Spider-Man become a reality? Bizarre white cobweb found on nuclear waste that could have come from a ‘mutant’ spider’.

The article – remember Dacre today telling the Leveson inquiry that the Mail employs some of the finest journalists around – reports that:

In a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip, workers at a U.S nuclear waste facility discovered the growth on uranium last month.

In what way is that ‘a freakish echo of the Spider-Man comic strip’? Sadly, it gets worse. First of all, the Mail explains what has been discovered:

Experts from Savannah River National Laboratory collected a small sample of the mystery material to run tests.

A report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board – a federal oversight panel – concluded: ‘The growth, which resembles a spider web, has yet to be characterised, but may be biological in nature.’

The report said the initial sample of the growth was too small to characterise, and that ‘further evaluation still needs to be completed’.

Then the Mail steps back into childish fantasy:

he bizarre growth will stoke fears that nuclear fuel can cause Frankenstein-style mutations.

It echoes the plot of Spider-Man, where Peter Parker becomes a superhero after being bitten by a mutant spider at a nuclear waste laboratory.

Whilst a image caption claims:

Web of intrigue: The discovery means mutant spiders, like the one that bit Peter Parker, could become a reality.

And to think that Paul Dacre genuinely believes his newspaper group does serious, decent journalism and is prepared to argue his case under oath.

The MailOnline’s spinning moral compass

The MailOnline has become an increasing flesh-fest of celebrities, reality TV stars and anyone else vaguely worthy of a bikini-shot mention. However, at the same time the Daily Mail website retains the hypocrisy that has been a long-time feature of the print edition; as ever it is a case as do as we preach, not as we do when it comes to MailOnline judging the actions of other media organisations.

The Daily Mail kicked off the new year with an attack on the BBC’s much-talked-about and successful take on Sherlock Holmes daring to feature some women-back-flesh before the nudity claiming that the BBC was under-fire from viewers who thought that it had ‘gone too far with the raunchy scenes’. The MailOnline naturally took the opportunity to post the key screengrabs – on a 24-hour-no-possible-watershed-website and also decided to stick a large photo on page 9 of the print edition.

The Daily Mail has a special distaste for the Internet and the fact the entire spectrum of human depravity is available at the click of a button (providing you have entered the right key words into the search engine of course). The Internet – according to the gospel of the Daily Mail – corrupts us, keeps teenage boys locked in bedrooms with boxes of tissues, whilst teenage girls chat to pensioners in anonymous chat forums. Middle-aged people seek out suicide partners and meet in deserted industrial estates possessing nothing more than a desire to end it all with a stranger and a length of hosepipe.

But the thing is parents can install Internet filters onto their children’s laptops, middle-aged people have the free will to search instead for dinner-party inspiration and everyone makes the active choice whether to seek out the darker side of the Internet – we all know that if you wanted to watch a video of a hostage being beheaded you’d find a million websites hosting the video and so on.

What we can’t prevent is the young and innocent logging on to one of the largest news websites in the world and being able to watch a 7 minute video of an alleged rape that took place on Brazilian Big Brother. Or indeed, a video showing ‘Moment base jumper plummets 200ft and breaks both legs after botched wingsuit leap off Table Mountain’.

The rather obvious and indeed laboured point is that the Daily Mail likes to lecture us on morality and decency yet they will publish anything to gain a few extra hits, to draw in a few more curious rubber-neckers who just can’t resist a click on something illicit. The Internet has a million websites dedicated to people who want to watch dubious videos, but the point is that you have to actively seek them out and most filtering software can block them from younger viewers.

What shouldn’t happen is one of the world’s largest ‘news’ sites publishing them in amongst content that is supposed to be suitable for all.

Freedom for what? To kill young women?

As regular readers of this blog know, the Daily Mail believe that the vital importance of a free press is an excuse for anything they want to do. The confluence of reporting and commentary is so insidious and malevolent. Many newspapers are guilty but the Mail is the biggest culprit.

For me, one of the best examples of this is in the reporting of vaccine stories. I have written about this before. I wonder if I should apologise for covering old ground, but then as long as the Mail puts real lives are risk by cynically exploiting people’s fears in order to push an agenda and sell newspapers, I think I will feel compelled to respond.

So the current Mail  campaign is against the HPV vaccine: Girl, 13, Left in ‘Waking Coma’ and Sleeps For 23 Hours a Day After Severe Reaction to Cervical Cancer Jabs. Now, you don’t have to be a doctor to begin to doubt the veracity of the headline, simply reading the article itself is a good start;

“But just weeks after she received the third dose of Cervarix in May this year she began to feel exhausted.”

Let’s just cover some facts:

  1. Cevical cancer is caused by a virus (Human Papilloma Virus).
  2. The current vaccine protects against 70% of the strains that cause cancer
  3. By preventing the virus infection, the vaccine prevents the cancer
  4. If you look at the data (also in the article) the vaccine is very safe.

The subject of this article has been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. This remains a controversial issue for lots of reasons, not least because despite a lot of research, a cause has not been clearly identified. Therefore to ascribe her symptoms to the vaccine that was given weeks before is a very speculative statement at best.

Lets have a look at the little information panel they’ve included:

Now I assume that they’ve got this data from the MRHA (The medicines and healthcare products regulations agency). On their website I couldn’t find the up to date figures because they don’t publish them routinely but they are available on request. However the initial figures from the first two years are here. The importance of this is how closely vaccine reactions are tracked and recorded. So lets look at the side-effects; 4445 out of over four million vaccines is around one in a thousand reported side-effects. Of those the vast majority were local reactions and rashes. Now I don’t want to underestimate the significance of a sore arm, but I think cancer can be quite nasty too. Allergic reactions are important, because a severe reaction can be very dangerous, but the figures for anaphylaxis are extremely low. The final comment about Guillan-Barre syndrome is also very disingenuous. GBS is a nasty condition but it occurs sporadically and rarely in the population all the time. The important point is that people notice when they occur after a vaccine. If the two really were linked then the rate in the vaccinated population would be higher than the background rate. It is not.

Please remember people, coincidence is not the same thing as causation. It seems that if something occurs around the time of the vaccination, then the vaccine must be to blame.

I firmly believe that the press has an important role to play in keeping the powerful accountable. However, making stuff up and stoking up fear is something very different. I wouldn’t mind but the HPV vaccine will save many young women from a horrible and early death. If the vaccine really is dangerous then we shouldn’t use it. But it’s not. The ever-increasing evidence is that the vaccine is very safe.

I wonder, if in 15 years time someone did a study which showed that cervical cancer was massively more common amongst the daughters of Daily Mail readers, would they publish an apology? No, I thought not.

Here’s a headline for you:

Reading the Daily Mail can cause cancer in your children!

 

AFZ

Here lies Winterval: 1998-2011?

So, after a lot of resistance – distorted, truth-bending resistance – the Daily Mail have published a correction after Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

Tabloid Watch has charted the great effort the complainant – regular Tabloid Watch reader James – went to in order for the Daily Mail to admit to the simple truth that Winterval was simply a tabloid fiction. As usual the Mail took a month to respond to the complaint – remember the PCC’s slogan is ‘Free, fast, fair’ and that Daily mail editor Paul Dacre keeps defending the PCC as effective – and when they did they argued that:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term “Christmas” refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day.

Much wrangling later they finally issued in print and online the following apology:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Amazingly – in what appears to be a first – the Daily Mail website has also added the same clarification to the bottom of the original article as well. The Daily Mail is to be commended for this – they have done the right thing.

There are a few remaining questions:

  1. Will Melanie Phillips acknowledge the correction in her next column with any sort of apology?
  2. Will Melanie Phillips apologise to me for responding to my polite email pointing her in the direction of my essay on the Winterval myth by claiming that my message was ‘as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive’?
  3. Will she also admit that her claim that my blog post about her was ‘highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action’ was complete rubbish – given that her own newspaper has now had to issue a correction on her behalf?
  4. Will Winterval still be repeated by politicians / journalists and so forth in the same way that it always has done following various previous debunkings?

I will always be tempted to refer back to my initial point on the Winterval myth: the most depressing thing about it isn’t neccesarily its longevity, but the fact that the original story was so clearly completely untrue and contained clear statements from the council that demonstrated this. It should never have been born, let alone be fed until it was big enough for politicians and far right groups alike to befriend.

Anyway, if you’re in the spirit for more on this please feel free to read my piece on Comment is Free. Or, you could settle down and read my lengthy essay on the matter.

Heading, Heading, Heading

A classic example of the perils of for-maximum-profit local journalism from the This Is Plymouth website yesterday:

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Click to enlarge

This article belongs to the Plymouth Herald, a Northcliffe title, and even though the story was posted yesterday it has yet to be amended. As one commenter concludes:

Just about sums up the state of this local rag……..shaking my head!


Thanks to Plymouth Buzz for tweeting me this story.

Theresa May’s Littlejohn moment

So Theresa May repeated the 2009 myth that an immigrant was allowed to stay in the UK because they owned a cat. Worryingly, her speech had – according to Left Foot Forward – been checked by no less than David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Danny Alexander. Oh dear. For the record (in case you somehow missed this)  this is what she claimed in her speech:

“We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

To be fair to her, she wasn’t making this story up – that is the job of our wonderful press which can do so safe in the knowledge that it faces no sanctions for doing so. The story originated in the Sunday Telegraph and, even though it was clearly rubbish, it was copied by the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Star.

As I’ve written so many times before: dishonest journalism has consequences.

It has only been a few days since David Cameron attacked the Human Rights Act based on nothing more than an incident he read about in the Daily Mail. Needless to say, that Daily Mail article was utterly dishonest and was discredited here long before Cameron repeated it. It seems to me that the main problem with democracy in the UK is that all politicians can ever focus on is the next election and therefore they feel they are always at the mercy of public opinion. They therefore discuss what they think the country cares about, which largely means that they (having no knowledge of the country as a whole) simply look at what the newspapers are writing about and base political discourse around the same few tired narratives – most of which are extremely distorted.

Thus every time a politician wants to appeal to the electorate they feel as if they must go for the short-term topic of the day and that they can only connect with the public by repeating some crap they read in the newspaper – as if newspapers are some magical conduit to our souls. This is why in a time of a world financial crisis politicians think our main concerns are the 100 or so illegal immigrants who we fail to legally deport each year due to the Human Rights Act, or weekly bin collections, or immigration or council tax or people on benefits or whatever else is easy to attack, say or promise. We are treated as if we were selfish children, unable to see past our own immediate wants.

I don’t think we are, and I think – increasingly – we are becoming more and more conscious of just how poisoned political discourse has become in this country thanks to the distorted media narratives created by a largely amoral and unregulated press. It might at first seem pretty funny that the home secretary should make such an obvious gaffe during a big speech. But it isn’t funny, at all, because it happens far too often and on most occasions it is rarely challenged.


In case you are wondering, yes, Richard Littlejohn did cover this story.

Did this happen?

The Daily Mail have picked up on a story that has been doing the rounds since the 16th September this year: ‘Axe murderer who hacked three people to death is allowed out of prison… for a course on chopping down trees’. The article is fairly standard fare for the Mail website, it is basically copied and pasted from what appears to be the source article in the Daily Record. However, whilst the record makes the same claim, the article isn’t exactly big on details:

Axe murderer Thomas McCulloch has been let loose in public – to chop down trees.

But the next paragraph clarifies this somewhat:

He completed a course at a nature reserve where he helped create a pathway by clearing trees and shrubs.

The killer also helped carry out a lizard survey.

Prison chiefs even paraded him getting a certificate for the gardening course in a magazine.

So, he cleared some ‘trees and shrubs’, helped carry out a survey of lizards and was awarded a certificate for a gardening course. Does this mean he was given an axe? I’m not saying he wasn’t given an axe to chop down some trees, but it seems to be a claim that doesn’t have any supporting evidence, apart from the ‘anonymous source':

A source said: “He may be old now but there is evidence he is still a very dangerous man.

“All prisoners going on courses are vetted but I don’t think its a good idea to let a murderer like McCulloch near sharp implements such as axes and secateurs – that could be a disaster waiting to happen.”

Hardly compelling evidence. We are told that:

McCulloch was paraded by prison bosses in the pages internal magazine The Gallery, which is distributed to inmates and staff in the Scottish Prison Service.

He features in an article about the course at St Cyrus nature reserve in Aberdeenshire.

There is a photo of him with course leaders and fellow lags.

Again, no mention of an axe – and presumably if the prison magazine contained any damning evidence it would have been leaked and published – the source must have had a copy (if they exist).

Now, all the newspapers that have covered this story (and it has done the rounds as a quick online search will confirm) may have got it right, this might have happened. But the reader doesn’t know whether it did or not because no evidence at all is given to confirm the headline claim. It could be complete rubbish, but because it does make a great headline we’ll never know; it’ll just be shared around as fact and before the truth is established it’ll be another day and something else will have taken its place.

Mail on Sunday becomes Daily Star

This has already been covered by Tabloid Watch, but it’s worth covering here just so you don’t miss out on the full splendour of the Mail on Sunday’s front page today:

Mail on Sunday

The article is also currently the leading story on the Mail website as well:

The article starts with some common claims:

The BBC has been accused of ‘absurd political correctness’ after dropping the terms BC and AD in case they offend non-Christians.

The Corporation has replaced the familiar Anno Domini (the year of Our Lord) and Before Christ with the obscure terms Common Era and Before Common Era.

That indiscriminate group of ‘non-Christians’ that secretly rule the world are at it again, and the BBC are clearly nothing more than an anti-Christian propaganda machine.

The truth in this matter, as Tabloid Watch points out, is very clear and contained within the article:

The BBC said last night: ‘The BBC has not issued editorial guidance on the date systems.

‘Both AD and BC, and CE and BCE are widely accepted date systems and the decision on which term to use lies with individual production and editorial teams.’

Indeed, the Mail complains that some presenters / programmes switch between the two – clearly evidencing that the BBC has made no attempt to banish AD / BC. It’s very depressing even writing about this subject given how utterly insignificant it is. It’s just pathetic that a national newspaper has nothing better to concern itself with than an embarrassing accusation about the irrelevant change in language that the BBC is merely reflecting in its programming.

But of course, this isn’t just harmless fluff because it is just part of the agenda to create an atmosphere of victimisation in which good old white Christians can’t even use AD/BC anymore because it offends ‘non-Christians’ – a term which is never going to be taken to mean atheists, but rather foreign people. Or, more specifically, as can be seen in the Mail comments section (530 and counting): Muslims.


UPDATE: James ‘wrong about everything, ever’ Delingpole has found himself part of the ‘Rightminds’ team and has come up with this: ‘How the BBC fell for a Marxist plot to destroy civilisation from within’. Seriously:

When you mention to a Muslim or Hindu that the year is 2011, do you ever feel a twinge of guilt about your closet religious chauvinism? When you watch the old Raquel Welch film One Million Years BC, do you blushingly avert your gaze from the title sequence? When you catch your children reading 2000AD, do you furiously insist that they read something less offensive, such as The Beano or The Dandy, instead?

Well, the BBC thinks you should and it is taking action on your behalf. No longer will its website refer to those bigoted, Christian-centric concepts AD (as in Anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord) and BC (Before Christ). From now on, it will use initials which strip our traditional Gregorian calendar of its offensive religious context. All reference to Christ has been expunged, replaced by the terms CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era).

He continues:

And so yet another small part of our tradition, language and culture takes a step closer to extinction. We didn’t ask for it; we didn’t want it; yet still it’s happening because a tiny minority of politically correct busybodies have wormed their way into institutions such as the BBC and taken control.

This then leads him to this nugget:

Their goal is to create a world where Left-wing thinking – on ‘fairness’, on race, on sexual equality, on the role of government – becomes the norm. So far, they are doing brilliantly.

Rightminds, again, demonstrating that it will happily publish any old rubbish, even when the basis of the entire dribbling, foam-mouthed rant is a complete fiction.

HT @LissyNumber