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Posts Tagged ‘daily express’

The headline’s meaning is pretty unequivocal. Of all the people taking our hard-earned money in some sort of disability benefits, fully three-quarters of them are a bunch of spongeing fakers who don’t deserve a penny, and are just lazily avoiding doing a proper day’s work.

There’s not really any other way it could be interpreted. And it was a front page story on one of the country’s biggest newspapers.

And it’s entirely untrue.

The Department of Work and Pensions seem to have been complicit in allowing their data to be so maliciously misinterpreted, though, and there’s been much less fanfare around a new report, which confirms that most people voluntarily ended their own Employment Support Allowance claim because their health had improved.

The data that gave rise to the scary 75% headline actually indicates that, when it came to ESA being withdrawn, 41% of cases where when someone had found permanent work, and 30% involved people still looking for work but no longer claiming sickness benefits. 12% claimed that they were unable to work, permanently or temporarily, but still had their ESA closed for whatever reason.

As far as I can tell, the 75% figure is a complete fabrication. But look at that front page and its headline again. Picture the world it describes. Imagine living in a country full of these scroungers, where anyone claiming it to be unfit to work is more likely than not to be faking it. Then contrast that with knowledge of the struggles that disabled people actually have to face, particularly by people who seem to have bought into the tabloid narrative.

Are you holding these ideas in your mind?

Holy fuck how corrosive is the attitude being perpetuated by the media here.

Seriously.

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A slight follow-up to my post from yesterday, where I rationalised how much I whine about people being wrong on the internet in a newspaper.

The Heresiarch is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking bloggers on my RSS feed, but something else he said about the Daily Mail business is still sticking in my craw.

RT @Heresy_Corner:

For so-called skeptics, the mere fact a story appears in DM is proof it must be untrue.

RT @Heresy_Corner:

I’ve had conversations with people here who’ve said, in effect, it’s in the Mail, so it’s rot. Many times.

If people are really taking the approach described here, then it sounds like their rationality is being blinded by their rage, and they’re getting carried away. Obviously the Daily Mail is not a tissue of utter lies from start to finish, and it’s not a fair assumption that absolutely everything printed in it is unquestionably false.

I’ve seen them be right about some things. Verifiable events they report as occurring often have genuinely occurred. Their main page currently has a bunch of links to stories the veracity of which I neither know nor care. Is this kid a millionaire at 16? Probably. Are there lots of sunflowers? Pictorial evidence would suggest so. Does LeAnn Rimes have legs? I have no reason to doubt it.

And I imagine they cover sport, too. They’d better get the results right on those pages, or there really would be hell to pay.

The thing is, while this extremist anti-Mail position is definitely unjust and irrational, it’s also not fair to characterise tabloid critics in general in this way, which is what it kinda seemed like the Heresiarch was doing. I’m not at all convinced that the extremist position he describes is a majority one, or even a significant one, and so declaring that this is how “skeptics” think is a disingenuous dismissal of any real points the skeptics might have. (Even with his later clarification of “some” skeptics, this isn’t much of a concession.)

And anyway, I have to wonder how likely it is that the people from whom he’s drawn this conclusion actually take the stance that bothers him.

Perhaps they were a little sweeping in the way they stated their position, as I have a tendency to be sometimes. Consider the measured care and reasonableness of “There seems to exist insufficient evidence supporting the hypothesis of any kind of creator being, and ample counter-examples such that any such hypothesis is untenable,” against the provocative, approximate, and far more succinct “There is no God”.

So, these people the Heresiarch finds so irrational. Did they really say – and would they stand by the claim – “It’s in the Daily Mail, therefore that proves it’s untrue”? Or did they say something more along the lines of: “I don’t trust anything I read in the Daily Mail”?

Because that latter point, allowing for the nuance lost to brevity, is an entirely reasonable position. I’m not sure I trust the Mail to get a single damn thing right without bringing some kind of bias or distortion into their reporting of it, and I’d want to check their facts with at least one other source before I took anything they say seriously.

Arguably, yes, this should be the approach with all news sources, but it’s not trivial to suggest that some media have been more egregious than others in promoting untruth and prejudice, and deserve to be granted even less credibility as a reliable voice.

I’ve seen tabloids grossly distort facts, so I often distrust them. It’s not impossible that they could accurately report a factual story, but the Express has lost all credibility when it comes to reporting on, say, immigration issues with compassion or respect for the truth.

Is this ideological of me? It seems just sensible to take many tabloid stories with several large handfuls of salt, given their track record. And I’ve not seen anyone suggest anything further.

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This got me a bit worked up recently. (As I’m sure you’ll be astonished to hear, in a post about the tabloids.)

A number of the things I blog about here are to do with journalism, and I think that number’s been increasing lately. The only mainstream news stuff that caught my eye used to be mainly bad science reporting, but recently I’ve also been getting exercised about the various kinds of furious, misleading, front-page sensationalism that’s almost never hard to find, perhaps most commonly in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

So, every so often I’ll visit the Daily Mail website, read something that makes me angry, and rant angrily about it, usually while swearing quite a lot about what complete bastards they all are.

Blogs like Tabloid Watch exist for this very purpose, but with reasoned analysis and eloquent criticism in place of therapeutic swearing. (Well, in place of some of the swearing.)

Of course, one commonly proposed solution to all the bitching and swearing that ensues tends to run along the lines of: “Just stop reading their shitty newspapers then, you prick”.

And this is certainly well worth considering.

It’s not usually phrased quite so bluntly, but it’s an argument I hear a lot. Some people on Twitter are really fed up with how much some other people bang on about the latest drivel from the Mail, and wish they’d stop giving the vile rag even more attention.

Sometimes they say that opposing them like this even helps them, by adding to their hit count and contributing to their ad revenue, but they’re getting nearly a million hits a day – or were this time last year – and most of that’s not from visitors being ironic or outraged. They don’t need our help; a whole lot of people read this stuff and take it seriously.

Millions of people read newspapers like the Mail and the Express, and have their opinions shaped by untruths and cruelty as a result. Day in, day out, a sizeable chunk of the population sees front-page ravings about how immigrants and gays and Muslims are stealing the country away from proper decent British people, and consider this to be The News. The narrative is repeated constantly over time, and the effect is often visible in the comments appearing below the latest callous, racist tirade. The papers seem trustworthy, stick to a narrative, and confirm in people the prejudices that they themselves have worked to instil. It’s no surprise that their readers are so often lacking in any visible compassion or perspective.

And when this sort of unkindness is so big a part of the political mindset of millions of people, it’s not just a matter of taste any more. There is actual harm occurring. Sometimes “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” isn’t enough, if the conversation is becoming dominated by prejudice and hate. It’s not just petty and cynical sniping to point out that what they’re saying is prejudiced and hateful, and to offer an alternative.

That last point is important, I’ll admit. The people who set me off on this tirade with their complaints seemed mostly to be annoyed by people who simply keep linking straight to Daily Mail articles, with no purpose beyond self-indulgent outrage. And yes, I can see how link after link of “GRRRR TABLOID SCUM” might get tiresome, and I’m sure some people have been very boring in this manner.

But based solely on my own experiences, this seems like almost a complete straw man. Yes, some people spend time reading the papers deliberately to get angry. But the ones I follow do this so that they can provide a positive, constructive counterpoint. Or at the very least a vocal and articulate voice of opposition.

And without an active and determined voice in opposition to the constant barrage of loud and well-funded lies, there’s only one way for the overall cultural mindset to slide.

There’s a comparison here with the Atheist Bus Campaign. Sure, we could have just ignored all the posters containing Bible quotes and calling for all non-Christians to burn in Hell. We could have chosen not to concern ourselves with things that just aren’t to our taste, but which other people are perfectly entitled to promote, after all. We could have let religious people be the only ones anywhere with any billboards or banners or posters or adverts or evidence that they exist.

But I’m glad we didn’t.

There are certainly plenty of tedious people on Twitter. If I’m honest, I know I’m not immune from banging on about some pet peeve of mine beyond the extent of anybody’s interest. (Oh god, I just glanced back at the length of this very post as I typed that.) And yes, the amount of bilge that turns up on the Daily Mail website can be agonising to have to be told about every few minutes, and it can be unproductive to drone on and on about how the right-wing fearmongers are still, unsurprisingly, spewing new right-wing fear.

But that’s not all we’re doing. Some of these tabloids really seem eager to disparage, demean, or hate a lot of people. And those people deserve some voices standing up for them.

See also Anton Vowl’s thoughts.

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