Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

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The data that gave rise to the scary 75% headline actually indicates that, when it came to ESA being withdrawn, 41% of cases where when someone had found permanent work, and 30% involved people still looking for work but no longer claiming sickness benefits. 12%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



Read Full Post »

Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury recently entered the Thunderdome of Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, and had a rather nice chat. I livetweeted most of it, and there was pleasantly little to get agitated about. There was nothing particularly groundbreaking in it either, and it reminded me that I do like Rowan Williams a good deal.

What’s been most dreary about the whole thing, though, is the aspects that the press have chosen to pick up on. The Telegraph and the Mail, among others, ran headlines with the staggering revelation that Dawkins confessed to feeling – horror of horrors – uncertainty about the non-existence of God.

On the one hand, I suppose it’s understandable why they’d make such a fuss over such an inconsequential restatement of a position he’s been very clear about holding for many years. According to the standard narrative, these militant atheists are dogmatically certain that there’s no God. If they weren’t, they’d call themselves agnostics. They think that they’ve scoured every inch of the universe in which God might be hiding and somehow proved that he’s nowhere to be found.

The fact that this is entirely at odds with mainstream atheism is neither here nor there; ditto the fact that no other truth claims about the world seem to be imbued with the same ideological certainty. If you make the claim that “matter is made of atoms”, for instance, you’re unlikely to meet much resistance from people demanding to know whether you’ve really checked every atom in existence as closely as you possibly can, to make sure they’re definitely not comprised of the classical elements of the Aristotelian tradition.

When I say there’s no such thing as unicorns, this doesn’t cause much controversy; even if uncharted parts of the planet remain where they could exist, they’re generally agreed to be made-up creatures. But if someone showed me a unicorn, and their true existence was determined to a reasonable level of scientific certainty – if it definitely wasn’t an obvious prank, and so forth – then I’d change my mind about them, once the evidence was there.

Why do so many people assume we mean something else when we say there’s no God?

It’s disheartening that the implication “I’m not absolutely certain about this, and I could be wrong” is so alien and bewildering to so many people, and an admission of doubt could cause such a stir. Or perhaps it’s just journalists who are having trouble with it.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins, but the only people who think his role in the atheist movement is a messianic one are those who don’t pay any attention to the atheist movement. I’m not always on his side, and I feel no obligation to be.

But some of his critics are scraping the bottom of the barrel for reasons to bash him, until they run out of barrel. Then they find another barrel underneath, full of the dregs and mud that have sloughed off the first barrel, and are busily scraping down to the bottom of that as well.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins described a phone call he’d had from a journalist for The Telegraph. This journalist had some frankly bizarre things to say, beginning with:

We’ve been researching the history of the Dawkins family, and have discovered that your ancestors owned slaves in Jamaica in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. What have you got to say about that?

From there, Dawkins was asked about the guilt he felt for his ancestors’ actions, the origins of the “estate” partly owned by his family, and whether or not he might have “inherited a gene for supporting slavery” from his several-greats grandfather.

And sure enough, the next day the Telegraph runs an article about how Dawkins’s family “built their fortune using slaves”, using what seems like exactly the same thread of arguments as had been decided upon before Adam Lusher even contacted Dawkins, but with a few quotes from their conversation thrown in there to give the impression of balance and well rounded reporting.

The “estate” that remains of this “fortune,” as Dawkins describes it, is a small working farm, which has nothing to do with the personal wealth he’s amassed through substantial book sales, among other things. And quite why the horrifying truth that people centuries ago made a living through practices we now find abhorrent is supposed to surprise us, or reflect badly on Richard Dawkins in particular, is unexplained.

Nothing Dawkins has ever said or done has suggested that he has any sympathies toward the concept of slave-ownership. It seems odd to even ask him to clarify his position on the matter. Is this a line of questioning that Thomas Jefferson’s descendants still have to face? He owned slaves more recently than Henry Dawkins. How do we know what his great-great-great-great-grandchildren are up to?

But, even if Dawkins isn’t a special case and doesn’t deserve to be picked on specifically, maybe there’s something to the reparations argument anyway. Perhaps he and others like him, whose families are known to have profited from slavery in the past, do owe some sort of apology or remuneration to those whose families have suffered from this barbarism.

Of course, you don’t need to look any further than The Telegraph to find a rebuttal to this “intolerant side of the anti-racism movement”, and an explanation of why there is no reason for people today to feel personally responsible for the injustices of the past.

Anyway, there’s someone else I can think of whose ancestor was responsible for even more atrocities than Henry Dawkins. Murder, destruction of property, germ warfare, famine, and yes, slavery, were among his legacy. He was responsible for the deaths of millions as his bloodthirsty regime sought endless conquest.

And by “someone else”, I mean 0.5% of the population of the planet.

Hop to it, Mr Lusher. You’ve got a lot more historical injustice to right.

Read Full Post »

The New York Times faces an ethical quandary. When they’re writing about stuff people have said, should they bother to report on whether that stuff’s true or not? Is that an important or useful part of their role as a news organisation? They’re “looking for reader input” on this. Because they’re not sure.

Dear Dr Phil, if you want to actually help people as you claim to do, you have a responsibility to do better than this.

– A new addition to add to the list of Mother Teresa’s crimes against moral decency: she campaigned to protect a child-abusing Catholic priest, stressing “how careful we must be to guard the purity and reputation of that priesthood”.

Here’s a video which very neatly and briefly explains the distinction between a trend and a variation in data – for example, between the constantly changing weather, and the gradually shifting climate.

Read Full Post »

About fourteen years ago, a Birmingham councillor was trying to find a way to market the various Christmas events going on in the city centre over the holiday period, and came up with the word “Winterval”.

Since then, certain tabloids haven’t shut up about the idea that Winterval was an attempt by the politically correct lefty brigade to ban Christmas.

By “certain tabloids”, I mean above all the Daily Mail, which has averaged more than three repetitions of this falsehood every single year since 1998 – but many other papers, including respectable broadsheets, have racked up comparable frequencies of reprinting the same rubbish.

Now, though, the Mail has printed three sentences in their Clarifications and corrections section, so everything’s been sorted out.

Except, even if the subject of Winterval is now as unambiguously settled and resolved as anyone could hope it to be, this still isn’t the most satisfying way to draw the saga to a close. Dozens of misleading and hyperbolic articles, over the course of more than a decade, have been offset by a couple of column inches. I find it unlikely that the cumulative effect they’ve had will be significantly reversed by this latest development.

Of course, I don’t want to be too harsh on the Mail for acknowledging and correcting a mistake, even if it was overdue and under-emphasised. But it’s evident how little the problem has been solved when you look at the bulk of their side of the general media conversation.

A couple of months ago, blogger Kevin Arscott pointed out to Melanie Phillips that she was repeating a long-debunked myth in her Daily Mail column. She wrote back, describing his message as being “as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive”, and reasserted her baseless claim that the use of the seasonal marketing term Winterval was part of an effort to avoid referring to Christmas at all (even though the official descriptions of Winterval always directly referred to Christmas several times).

“Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind”, she wrote, which of course explains why you’ve barely heard mention of Christmas this century, outside the columns of a few intrepid tabloid journalists fighting to bring you the truth, amidst all the politically right-on Winterval talk going around.

In Melanie’s next email to Kevin, she made vague and entirely inane threats of suing him for libel.

Previous attempts to complain to the PCC about the repeated untruths being printed in this popular national paper had been unsuccessful. But the Mail’s recent decision to clarify and correct their position implies that they’re now siding with Kevin, at least on his basic point – the claim that Christmas was “renamed in various places” was, in fact, misleading and incorrect, despite Melanie’s initial objections. He’s waiting for an apology.

Oh, and the headline of the Melanie Phillips article from September, which now carries a correction as to the nature of Winterval, was: Our language is being hijacked by the Left to muzzle rational debate.

This is how successfully the tabloid media’s ability to self-regulate is currently working.

So yeah, it still kinda sticks in my craw.

Read Full Post »

So, stuff’s been happening. The news seems to be falling apart.

I could do some sort of write-up about the ever-increasing flurry of scandals that began with the News of the World’s collapse, but it’s not like pointing out the horribleness of some of the horrible things some people did will really bring anything new to the discussion. I am utterly devoid of unique insight, and if you’re relying on me for providing basic news-gathering services on something this big, you’ve got problems.

The one thing I will say is that John Finnemore’s editorial on Radio 4’s The Now Show was an absolute blinder:

There’s also an extended transcript here. He knows how to say words good.

I know that’s not much to leave you with, given my relative silence this past week, but I’ve only gone and been and done and gone and got myself a girlfriend, who’s become something of a focus of mine, and at this particular moment is rather more interesting than you lot. No offense. You’re still great. She’s just better. Her name’s Kirsty and she’s a nurse and she has a cat with no teeth.

So, how’s your week been? (I don’t actually care. A girl likes me.)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: