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Posts Tagged ‘bad journalism’

Here’s a tumblr you should be watching, as a regular reminder that basically everything you read in most newspapers is bollocks. I still forget every so often and go “ooh, fancy” at some entirely fabricated pointless gossip.

I mention it now, partly because I’ve spent my day at work and my evening watching The Third Man with Kirsty and struggling to persuade her not to leave me for Orson Welles so I haven’t had time to write anything more substantive, and partly because it’s just recently started updating quite consistently. Marsh seems to have found the angle for it, namely:

“Headline-grabbing but probably misleading and badly sourced soundbite!” says group with an obvious vested interest in promoting whatever bollocks they’ve got some dodgy research to support.

It’s fun. Go have a read. Don’t believe the churnalism. I’m off to bed.

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Following up from yesterday’s thing, the Daily Mail also joined in with visiting the sins of 18th century slave owners upon Richard Dawkins.

They included a charming picture of a white guy whipping some black slaves, as if this were a concept that required illustrating, so that you can understand the full impact this revelation has on the argument for non-theistic evolution.

Their caption for the picture of Dawkins himself read:

Richard Dawkins has condemned slavery despite his ancestors making their money through forced labour.

I had some fun on Twitter thinking of some other breaking news stories the paper might uncover:

“Many modern Germans decry Nazism, even though their grandparents let Hitler run the entire country for years.” #dailymailhotscoop

“Many black Americans nowadays expect equality with whites, despite their ancestors’ status as owned property.” #dailymailhotscoop

“Pope Benedict sticking with Christianity even though the founder of his church was a Jew.” #dailymailhotscoop

That sort of thing. Feel free to come up with some of your own in the comments below.

And apparently the Times also had a feature on Dawkins yesterday, though “feature” in this case appears to translate to “several paragraphs of personal insults”.

Bravo, Camilla Long. You really caught the indignancy of Richard Dawkins’s hair and the nibbliness of his voice, and in so doing made a valuable contribution to the noble field of journalism.

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Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has won the tabloid bullshit of the month award over at Five Chinese Crackers. It could not possibly be more deserved.

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In addition to the (currently) regular evening posts appearing here, I’m going to try starting an afternoonly habit of providing some very quick links to things that interested me in passing, and which I can’t be bothered writing about properly.

As you can probably tell, I gave it the first name I could think of. It’s fun to say, but may need a change. Anyway. Onward.

– Like all the magically magnetic headline-grabbers who crop up now and then, this kid’s probably just sticky.

Goldfish shoals nibbling at your toes might be a recipe for geek nostalgia, but may not be medically advisable.

– Obama’s visiting my homeland at the moment. I hope the PM’s making him feel welcome.

– The triangle you’re seeing isn’t really there. Which is just as well because it can’t possibly exist.

So, there’ll be a proper post tonight, and maybe another one of these tomorrow. That’s the plan.

Feel free to make suggestions below, of stories you think I might be too lazy to cover in more detail than a sentence or two.

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I told you yesterday I was having trouble keeping up the earnestness.

It all seems barely less terrible in that part of the world than it was yesterday, but there are other petty things worth getting annoyed about, in between just feeling sad.

Ben Goldacre has pointed to an article in the Daily Mail which is dripping with even more bullshit than you’d expect.

It suggests that a “supermoon” – basically the moon being closer to us than it usually is – could have caused the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And by describing this as “the latest natural disaster” of its kind, it seems to take it as read that the moon has already been wreaking havoc in numerous other ways.

“Astrologers” are credited with predicting that, in just over a week, the moon will be closer to Earth than it has been in years, and so its gravitational impact will be increased, causing “chaos”.

The first problem with this is fuck astrologers. Astronomers – the ones who actually do science instead of just making shit up – have kinda been on top of the moon’s perigees and apogees – that is, the times when it’s closest or farthest from Earth – for quite a while now. And yes, at the upcoming perigee it will be a smidge closer than it has been for a few years, but not by much. It’s less than half a percent closer than it was in the February perigee, and it’ll be a while before it’s that close again.

The second problem is that this upcoming perigee is due on March 19th. Saying the extra gravity could have caused disasters on Earth in the past few days is like saying “Hey, better watch out for werewolves, it’s only a week and a half till the full moon!” It was at its apogee – the furthest point – less than a week ago. That means the moon was further away from us than usual when the earthquake hit.

All credit to Phil Plait for explaining all this to me so that I can re-explain it all to you. As well as for putting up some repetitive and monumental stupid in his comments thread.

But what’s even more hilarious and/or murderously infuriating is that the Daily Mail posted another article, TWO DAYS previously, which describes “bizarre rumours” about a supermoon triggering “tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and even earthquakes” being put about by “conspiracy theorists” and “lunar-tics” (which, by the way, isn’t even a pun, because that’s where the word ‘lunatic’ fucking comes from).

They actually apply some moderately competent skepticism further down that article, quoting actual scientists who do much to debunk the exact same bullshit that the same newspaper is quite happy to regurgitate barely 48 hours later once something scary happened.

Never mind that the moon isn’t at the perigee for more than a week, meaning it’s currently further away than usual, and so the earthquake in the pacific isn’t what the astrologers predicted at all. Come yesterday’s scare-mongering, all the science gets relegated to way down the page, below the picture, where they know most people probably won’t look. And the last word goes to the “small and vocal minority” who are daring to defy the stodgy old scientists by believing whatever fantasies they want.

Donations are still needed and appreciated at the Red Cross and Save The Children.

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Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News is currently in the process of rendering me more cynical and disillusioned about the global business of news reporting and journalism than I’d thought possible. It’s incredibly depressing and utterly brilliant.

Of course, I’ve been following sites like the Angry Mob and Enemies Of Reason and Five Chinese Crackers and Tabloid Watch long enough to find the whole subject fairly depressing anyway. But don’t worry. It gets worse.

One thing that drove home the dismal state of journalism today in particular was this guest post on No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands, by someone to whom and about whom the Daily Mail (it had to be the Mail (actually, it really didn’t have to be the Mail, but it’s not surprising that it was)) told repeated, deliberate, unkind lies. They knew the story they wanted to tell, and completely made up a series of alleged direct quotes from someone who never said any such thing.

It’s a dishearteningly gripping read, even if you tend to support a “bollocks to the lot of it” opinion to begin with. Nobody involved is obliged to give much of a fuck if they completely misrepresent reality, and when that reality is “a person they’ve lied about” there’s little recourse for anything to be done to redress it.

It’s been too quiet here lately. I’ll have something happier to talk about soon, with luck. Tweet me a link to anything else going on that you think I should be talking about.

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After the recent tabloid-driven kerfuffle of hysteria, Stephen Fry has written about the silliness of it all in his usual wonderful way, and reinforced my inclination not to trust any news I haven’t learned through Twitter these days.

Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Twitter is a wonderful venue for very quickly sharing ideas and spreading news, but it’s still liable to various traps of misinformation – the substantial unquestioning backlash against Stephen’s own entirely misconstrued comments are a prime example, in fact, of just how far out of hand things can get.

But it’s a vast improvement on the current state of British tabloids.

Anton Vowl and Minority Thought have both highlighted a not-remotely-isolated incident of the Daily Express yelling about MUSLIMS! MUSLIMS and the terrible things THEY have been doing to US good, decent BRITISH folks.

We’re all in this together, lads. Against all of them.

Roshonara Choudhry is a Muslim extremist who was sentenced to life imprisonment this week, for the attempted murder of a government minister who’d supported the Iraq war. At the sentencing, some people in the public gallery shouted their disapproval. Outside, three guys stood around with messages printed out on sheets of A4 paper looking like something out of Chris Morris’s Four Lions.

And what the Express take from these shouts of impotent fury and flimsy signs from extremist sympathisers of a would-be murderer is that THEY are all out to get US.

Where “they” means Muslims. All of them, the entire homogeneous mass. The ones who keep blowing themselves up out in those foreign places with lots of sand, the two million or so who live in the UK who all come from different denominations and practise with differing strictness of observation, all of ’em.

And “us” means a particular subset of British people. It’s not entirely clear who “we” are. We’re not Muslims, that’s for sure. We live in the UK, or spent a while doing so at least. We’re probably not all white. And I suppose some of us might not be Christian, so long as we don’t look too foreign. But we know who is and isn’t welcome in our country, that’s for sure.

They’re callously driving home of what they know is a winning narrative, and it’s thoroughly unkind.

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Nobody’s cancelling Christmas.

Nobody. Let’s get that straight from the start.

Winterval was a thing that happened twice, around the Christmas periods in 1997 and 1998, in Birmingham’s town centre. It’s regularly cited by ridiculous tabloid fantasists as a dastardly secularist attempt to stifle Christian expression and abolish all the religious traditions of Christmas.

This notion has been described by Birmingham City Council as “bollocks”.

Their official statement describing this supposedly atheist-driven, Christian-bashing frenzy of political correctness went on to say:

[T]here was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

That’s Winterval, folks.

The war on Christmas is another of those things, like the imminent destruction of the world by the Large Hadron Collider, that’s only really believed by twats.

Ooh, that pesky war on Christmas, forcing supermarkets to put their own Christmas stuff on sale from the start of September, surely as part of some dastardly plot to make sure it’s all sold out or spoilt by the time any sane person would actually want to start buying advent calendars and mince pies.

(I don’t really have a way to integrate that line coherently into the rest of the piece, but I wanted to use it somewhere. It’s true, as well. There’s been Christmas stuff up in my local Sainsbury’s for about a month now, with expiration dates in November.)

There’s also a really terrible-looking movie coming out, to inspire Christians to be brave, stick to their guns, and hope that one day they’ll find wider acceptance, at a time of year when everything becomes all about them and their festival anyway. PZ’s description of it as “pandering to the Christian persecution complex” is spot on.

Ed Brayton‘s observation about this hideous movie trailer is also worth noting:

It begins with one character saying, “This is the only time of the year the entire world has this shared experience of peace and hope for the future.” Entire world? … That’s a very telling statement, don’t you think? They define the “entire world” as being populated solely by people that think like them. No one else exists for them. At the very least, no one else even needs to be taken into consideration.

This is the essence of the tribalistic “Us vs. Them” stance some people seem to find it necessary to take about Christmas. Anyone not joining them in celebrating it, in their way, must be against it and seeking its downfall. The idea of other people having their own traditions but not wanting to interfere with yours is alien to some people. Even the possibility that other people might be tolerant doesn’t occur to them.

I love Christmas. Always have. I’ll be listening to carols and spending time with my family and going along with all the standard festive traditions, except some of the more churchy stuff. But some people aren’t into that. And my suggestion, if you don’t want to look like petulant dicks, is that you leave those people alone and be happy with the substantial chunk of world domination you’ve already got. Stop looking for lies and made-up stories that let you feel like the oppressed underdog. You guys are winning.

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Some things in brief, easing myself back into this slowly after a few more days of uselessness:

– Bill Donohue believes that the Catholic Church has “less of a problem with the issue of sexual abuse” than any other institution in existence. Can we please stop acting as if the Catholic League isn’t just this one loon in his basement?

This is a link to a news website article about a scientific finding. This is a pithy remark summarising my feelings about it. This is a weary sigh about how it will be inevitably misunderstood and widely misrepresented.

– If you trust in watchdogs of honesty to keep tabloid newspapers in check – to enforce some kind of repercussions when, say, the Daily Mail spreads misinformation about dangerous substances, potentially putting people in harm’s way by giving them reassurances of safety, which are explicitly contradicted by the science and have been directly rebutted by experts – then apparently your optimism is foolish and must be crushed. The facts were always there in plain view, but it was months before the Mail were obliged to print a retraction acknowledging that asbestos is in fact quite nasty stuff.

– It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes the quacks go down.

– Two out of three political party leaders in the UK don’t believe in a god. Which I guess is nice. The Deputy Prime Minster has been an open non-believer for a while, and now the new Labour leader has followed suit. The way he qualifies it seems entirely reasonable to me, too; it’s a shame that some people probably do still need to be dissuaded from making the link between “atheist” and “baby-eating monster”, but it sounds like he’s doing a bare minimum of pandering on the subject. And hey, I’m with him on the thing about respecting people with different views. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about a backlash if I want to be more vocal about the active disrespect I have for some things those people believe.

More tomorrow.

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An attempt to change the damn record already is edging into sight. To that end, I’m just linking to a few things tonight, some of which will continue the Popey protesty theme, but with strictly limited accompanying ranting from me:

– It’s annoying when the Guardian gets stuff really wrong. It has many excellent regular columnists, a political stance largely not far from my own, and a clearer interest in at least making an effort at things like impartial fact-checking than I’ve come to expect from most tabloids.

It doesn’t render the whole paper worthless or deplorable whenever they simply print something I profoundly disagree with, but it is frustrating. This column by Andrew Brown especially so, for the reasons Greg Laden explains.

You don’t have to like or agree with Richard Dawkins about everything, or about anything much – I’m not going to link to that Neil deGrasse Tyson clip again, but it can certainly be done. But to think that he was really “comparing every Catholic in Britain to Adolf Hitler” is just bafflingly wrong-headed. It makes me wonder how badly someone would have to want to hear Dawkins expressing unadulterated contempt for all religious people (because it’s such a convenient narrative to suppose that that’s what he always does) for them to so completely misconstrue his point. It’s almost like something you get from creationists who’ve taken half a fact about evolution out of context to make it sound ridiculous.

I said something about limiting the ranting, didn’t I? Sorry.

I’m with Jerry Coyne. There, much pithier.

– Also, when the Pope was here, you may have recalled the terrifying conspiracy that was bravely foiled, in which foreigners had been scheming a devilish plot to explode the Pope to bits.

Except none of it was ever really happening. There was a massive furore, with incredibly blatant speculation about “Islamic terrorists” with “links to Al Qaeda” that seem to have been entirely fictionalised by the tabloids. And then, depending on what papers you’re reading, you get a tiny paragraph on page nine later on, explaining that no charges were ever made against anyone.

Mark Steel’s summary of events is excellent.

– Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is the latest prankster comedian to hit the headlines with her wacky in-character antics. Forget Borat and Joaquin Phoenix – she’s been doing this full-time for years. And the results are hilarious.

– There already was a Mosque at Ground Zero (neither of which was true about the “Ground Zero” “Mosque”, remember). It was there before it got that name, though, back when the site was called the World Trade Centre.

– Apparently it’s offensive to suggest that some Muslims aren’t terrorists. A newspaper recently apologised to its readers for printing a photo which implied that sometimes Muslims are just pretty ordinary people who pray – on September 11th, of all days – without even bringing up all the mass murder they’re probably thinking about. This was clearly a grave error of judgment. Muslims aren’t a diverse, complicated demographic encompassing much of the variety to be found in humankind as a whole; 9/11 is the only thing that there is about them, and it’s important that we never ever forget that. Or let them forget it.

– Finally, there’s one point I’ve seen raised by detractors of the Protest The Pope campaign which deserves highlighting. It was still couched in “stop banging on about the Pope and his pedophile army” whining, but aside from that it’s worth considering.

Not everyone who’s been tormented or abused as a child was suffering at the hands of a religious authority figure. Without looking up any actual numbers, I believe sexual and other kinds of abuse are likely more prevalent among families than churches.

So, while highlighting the crimes of the Catholic church, don’t let’s end up inadvertently marginalising victims of abuse from other directions, whose needs aren’t served by waving signs at a man in a dress. I’m not saying this has been happening, but it’s worth being careful about. And I wanted to give the protest-bashers partial credit for getting something nearly right.

That’ll do for today. Comment with your thoughts on any of this. Or say something about the protests to piss me off again, if you prefer the way things used to be.

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