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Dishonest journalism matters

I know I don’t blog much these days and I rarely read the Daily Mail, but I used to do both of these things. A lot. During this period I experienced a lot of eye-rolling if I attempted to talk to people about what the Mail (or other terrible newspapers) had written, and why it was a lie and what it was trying to do. Most people just didn’t care or they implied that they did care, but that in the great scheme of things it didn’t really matter because most people take what they read with a pinch of salt anyway.

This is the great paradox of a lot of people in Britain, and perhaps worldwide: we often profess to not trust journalists or newspapers, yet we seem to be entirely convinced by the media narratives that they create. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do blame all of our woes on the welfare state, benefit scroungers and immigrants. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do believe that obscene inequality is only right and natural and that the immensely wealthy are innately better people than us and they not only deserve to be that wealthy, but they have also earned the right to dodge as much tax as they can as well.

We don’t trust newspapers, but we’re pretty sure that climate change is a scam dreamed up by hippies and governments to tax us more. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do know that having human rights is definitely a bad thing. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do know that Christianity is under attack by the PC brigade and that they’re banning Christmas because it offends Muslims’.

For a people distrustful of the mainstream media, we sure do take on board a lot of their narratives. This brings me to this year’s Christmas card sent out by the BNP. Naturally, the card unsubtly wishes the receiver a ‘white Christmas’. Equally as expected, the BNP have edited the stock photo of the girl on the front – changing her eyes from hazel (brown) to blue (Aryan). Also par for the course is a short and cheery Enoch Powell quotation on the back (“It’s never too late to save your country!”), who is introduced as ‘The legendary Enoch Powell’.

I can live with all of those things, after all, what else would you expect to get from the BNP? What annoys me – in my position of being the world’s foremost expert on the Winterval myth – is that they only go and bloody repeat it! Under the banner ‘Protecting our Christmas’ they warn the reader:

Our Christian values underpin our British Identity. It’s why they’re under attack, not just from Islamification, but also from the Politically Correct authorities who put immigrants before us, the British people.

Christmas is being stealthily and ruthlessly dismantled and replaced. We’ve all heard of Winterval, it’s the Politically Correct replacement of our traditional Christmas – an engineered replacement complete with polar bears, penguins, and snowflakes to eradicate our traditional nativity scenes, with baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the Three Wise Kings all to be airbrushed out.

Firstly, it does seem ironic that the xenophobic BNP miss the traditional ‘British’ Christmas – the celebration of a virgin birth in Jerusalem, which is a bit, well, foreign, is it not? Secondly, could it not be argued that we’re increasingly a less Christian country because people are finding it hard to believe that a white couple, with Western names, gave birth in the Middle East to a baby conceived as a result of angelic intervention? It might be less the result of ‘Politically Correct authorities’ and more a case of ‘it is quite clearly bollocks, and I object by child being subjected to it’.

Secondly, the idea that Neo-Nazi skinheads marching drunkenly through a city centre are motivated by the marginalisation of baby Jesus seems somewhat incongruous. After all, if they were good Christians they’d surely either turn the other cheek, forgive them or love thy new neighbours. I don’t think Jesus’ teachings would quite gel with the BNP worldview.

And finally, I love the idea that Christmas is being ‘stealthily’ replaced. Presumably, it’s stealthy in the sense that you cannot perceive it happening… because it is not happening. Those stealthy PC authorities, they might be putting up Christmas trees and sending out cards, but they’re ‘ruthlessly dismantling’ Christmas behind the scenes.

Which brings me, in a rambling, verbose way (I am out of practise), to my main point: when newspapers lie to pursue a media narrative it does matter, it does have consequences. Here we are, 16 years after the Winterval myth was initially spread by tabloid and broadsheet alike and it is still acting as an enabler for extremist right-wing views. As I demonstrated in my ebook, the longevity and popularity of the Winterval myth was largely because of its power as the seed from which other myths of Christian marginalisation could grow. Increasingly it formed the cornerstone of a rampant media narrative that authorities – out of fear – were actively pandering to the sensitivities of Muslims.

It is easy to ignore the direct output of the Daily Mail – and all newspapers which pursue a similar worldview and agenda – but it is impossible to ignore the consequences. When the upcoming election is dominated by the ‘problem’ of immigration or the ‘reality’ of austerity and continued cuts to the welfare state, remember: this is because a lot of people buy into these media narratives. Politicians spend huge amounts of time and energy responding to the media agenda, irrespective of whether that agenda has any basis in reality or whether it best represents the interests of the majority.

We will never have be able to improve our society for as long as our media is owned by vested interests. They have sold us the lie that there is no alternative to inequality, injustice and unfairness – and, like Winterval, enough of us have fallen for it to make their lie, our truth.

You can buy my ebook from Amazon or Kobo.

Daily Mail aligns with American Right

‘Rightminds’ – which was always going to be a cesspit of ideologically driven drivel – has surpassed even my expectations today with what must go down as one of the worst pieces of ‘journalism’ I have ever read on the Mail website. The article – ‘Death is a fitting punishment for grown-up societies‘ – is about Troy Davies and is written by Charlie Wolf (‘an American broadcaster currently living in the UK’) and it seems he wants to make a name for himself – he appears to be trying to be Glenn Beck. His article lambasts the UK for not having a death penalty – but allowing abortion – and tries to imply that executing Troy Davies was an act of charity:

Last night, after a three hour delay while the Supreme Court reviewed –and rejected– his appeal, Troy Davis was strapped to a gurney and brought into the death chamber at a jail in Jackson, Georgia.

A needle running harmless saline solution through a tube was inserted into his arm; he then lifted his head to speak to those witnessing his death through the glass; still to the end pleading his innocence.

Minutes later a combination of chemicals was passed through his veins and in 15 minutes time, after shutting his eyes one last time and falling asleep, he stopped breathing, his heart stopped pumping and he died, pretty peacefully.

Putting down the family dog would have been a lot worse.

Far from an execution, this was more like state-ordered euthanasia.

Troy Davies deserved to die, you see, because ‘he did it and was guilty as hell’. All of the people suggesting that justice was not in fact being done, and that Troy Davies was innocent, were easily dismissed by Wolf:

There has been a firestorm on Twitter; as if a bunch of people can decide a case better in 140 characters than can the American justice system.

In Davis’s case that included 34 state witnesses (not the 9 the press keep referring to), the jury of his peers including seven blacks and five whites who took less than two hours to convict him, or the many retrials, appeals, calls for clemency and protestations of innocence over the last two decades.

The Troy Davies case is troubling, as Amnesty International point out:

The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.

Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

But you won’t read about this in ‘Rightminds’ because it is just the latest attempt by the Daily Mail to tap into the significant American Right market – where truth is an irrelevance to be replaced by spitting, ignorant and paranoid ranting. The Daily Mail may pretend to rail against ‘dumbing down’ in any form, but the truth is that the Daily Mail has become the ultimate product for a dumb audience. Rightminds is just the latest shiny packaging for a product aimed entirely at the frothing masses of confused, bovine idiots who cannot attempt to think for themselves. The appeal to an American audience is the clearest sign yet that the Daily Mail understands its product is becoming more palatable to the sizeable minority of idiot Americans than it is to a largely tolerant and questioning British public.

You only have to see the kicking this article is getting in the comments to see that this might be a step to far for many.


The excellent No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands does a far better job of covering this here.

Will the Daily Star dig up dirt on Richard Peppiatt?

I am sure by now that you have heard about and probably read the letter of resignation written by Richard Peppiatt explaining his decision to leave the Daily Star. In many ways the letter is merely stating the obvious – describing the stories he made up and the ‘cascade of shit’ that poured from the offices of the newspaper. We all knew that the Daily Star made up a huge amount of its stories – not just the filler content, but front page after front page of pure fiction usually concerning Muslims or Jordan. Still, it is somewhat a valediction to have it confirmed by a journalist who didn’t just work for the newspaper, but one who also claims responsibility for some of the worst examples of front page lies – such as the  ‘Muslim only toilets’ story [which was debunked almost immediately by Jamie Thunder].

The response to the letter was absolutely laughable, with the Star claiming that he worked ‘purely as a casual reporter at the Daily Star for almost two years’ and was only angry because the newspaper passed him over for promotions. It also counters one specific claim, trying to sound as if the newspaper had the real facts and Peppiatt was lying. This would be more convincing if the Star didn’t claim dishonestly during the statement that ‘For the record, the Daily Star editorial policy does not hold any negativity towards Islam and the paper has never, and does not endorse, the EDL’. Once again, the Star cannot stop lying – as even a cursory glance at a few front pages demonstrates the agenda the newspaper has against Muslims – and they cannot sweep their endorsement of the EDL under the carpet either.

The Independent updated the story somewhat today by revealing that it seems that the EDL is now in discussions to become a political party – even claiming that they have “been sitting down with a couple of lads who are posh-speaking, public school boys, who have been in politics before, and we’re discussing with them where it can go.” It also has a brief paragraph on the fallout experienced by Peppiatt since sending the letter:

Since making his resignation letter public, Mr Peppiatt has received numerous emails, phone calls and text messages from unknown sources. One such message says: ‘We r (sic) doing a KISS AND TELL on u.’ Whilst an email reads, ‘I’m one of your FB [Facebook] friends and it’s about time you were honest with people. Stop the bullshit Pepps. We all know everything about you. Meet me at 8pm outside GH.’

In my opinion I cannot see the Star retaliating in public against Peppiatt, to do so would essentially confirm that Peppiatt had really struck a chord with the Star – which would strongly imply that he was being entirely truthful. It would also draw far more attention to Peppiatt and far more people- perhaps even readers of the paper – would search for his letter and read it. Tabloid newspapers – in spite of incessant cost-cutting when it comes to real journalism – can always be very resourceful and powerful when it comes to muck-raking and I would imagine almost everyone has made mistakes in the past that they are not proud of (it is the essence of being human) but no mud-slinging can obscure the verifiable truth of what Peppiatt wrote (thanks to media bloggers such as Tabloid Watch we know just how much Star output is complete fiction). A personal attack on him – irrespective of what was dug up – would only increase the wider support for him – and increase him fame.

I know a lot of media bloggers like to remain anonymous for fear of getting the tabloid treatment (something akin to what happened to the entirely innocent Chris Jefferies) but I think that it would be counter-productive for them – I write for a very limited audience and 99% of tabloid readers probably don’t know I exist, so why would any tabloid want to give me the oxygen of publicity – even if it was intended to ruin my life? Perhaps the sad realisation is that the press don’t need to crush their opposition because their readership is happy to not step outside of the tabloid bubble that surrounds them. I even wonder if any Star reader would stop buying the Star if they read Peppiatt’s letter. I’m not sure they would.

Bad Journalism

As has been highlighted before on this blog the Daily Mail is particularly adept at exploiting the PCC’s ruling that ‘headlines are not actually part of a story’ and hence do not have to be accurate.

I was browsing through the brilliant Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog this morning and found an excellent article highlighting another way that the Mail seeks to mislead and yet stay within the ‘constraints’ of the PCC codes.

In essense, Dr Goldacre explains how the Daily Mail – continuing it’s bizzare oncological-ontology project* – ran a story claiming that a certain diet could reduce breast cancer risk by 40%. As Ben explains, there is no basis at all for this claim within the research. This study doesn’t assess cancer risk at all. It simply shows that certain dietary pattern can have effects on hormone levels. It is speculative in the extreme to make the link from the diet to breast cancer risk.

The Daily Mail know this. I know that they know this because they admit as much – all the way down in paragraph 19.  Ben explains very well in his blog the research that shows how people read newspapers and how this caveat is very likely to be missed by many (if not most) readers. However the Daily Mail can still claim accuracy for their article because it’s in there somewhere.

I do not think this is accidental. I think they know exactly what they are doing – they are using this technique to deliberately misinform.

That is journalism of the worst kind.

AFZ

*Daily Mail’s on-going oncological-ontology project: to categorise all objects in the world as either ‘those that cause cancer’ or ‘those that cure cancer. Recent entries include Facebook as both a cause and a cure.

Daily Mail Reporter gutted at lack of nipple

The Daily Mail was terribly disappointed today when it missed a chance to write a pointless story about a celeb… with a bit of nipple or lady-lips on display. Ashley Cole was inconsiderate enough to hide his wife’s underwear much to the disgust of crouched paparazzi who couldn’t wait to sell some flesh to the Daily Mail. Thankfully, because the Daily Mail exists to write pointless stories about celebrities they were still able to sell their photos to them, but probably didn’t get as much: ‘Ashley Cole protects his wife Cheryl’s modesty as they put on a public show of affection at Girls Aloud birthday bash‘. Naturally it is written by the Daily Mail Reporter which is why they can get away with staggering hypocrisy like: ‘The England footballer came to his wife’s rescue at the weekend as he protected her modesty from the paparazzi.’ That’ll be the paparazzi that your paper has just paid for a nearly up-skirt shot… So really he’s protecting her modesty from shitty tabloids like yours.

As if this wasn’t bad enough the Daily Mail had another near miss, this time with Kate Hudson: ‘Kate Hudson narrowly escapes a wardrobe malfunction with her incredibly low-cut dress‘. The Daily Mail Reporter (who else?) points out on numerous occasions that her chest is ‘modest’ and gets into the topic of whether she should have a boob job – you know, to better meet the high standards that the Daily Mail have imposed on women. You can sense the sexual frustration of the Daily Mail Reporter at not getting a glimpse of nipple (they could just watch Almost Famous):

the 30-year-old narrowly escaped exposing her breasts at the audience as her loose-fitting neckline hung off her chest.

Clearly aware of the lack of coverage the shimmering gown gave her modest cleavage, the How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days actress fiddled nervously with her top as she talked on stage.

Still, another nice celebrity filler story for the Daily Mail which seems to be rapidly giving up even pretending to be a newspaper.