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Posts Tagged ‘tabloids’

The response to the recent fashion for “poverty porn” says a lot about the strange ideas many of us seem to have, regarding how we’d deal with real poverty if we were ever in serious financial trouble.

We seem to think that, if times were tight, we’d be able to tighten our belts for a while, live sensible and sparsely, and ride it out. It’d just take a bit of budgeting and deliberate frugality, which it feels we’d be able to handle if we had to, if we were really tested. We’d knuckle down, we’d scrimp, we’d save. We wouldn’t waste our time and valuable resources on fripperies like a “flatscreen TV” – a fancy gadget modern enough to bewilder many tabloid journalists with its exoticism, but known to the rest of us as “a TV” and which can retail new for like £70 nowadays. But even that seems needlessly lavish, if you’re so poor that it’s a matter of survival. We’d cut back on anything so frivolous as entertainment then, and only spend money on what we truly needed.

We may not all be as deluded on this score as Iain Duncan Smith, but it’s still a prevalent attitude.

After all, we all have money problems to some degree or another. Which means it’s all too easy to sorta kinda picture ourselves in that kind of situation, and imagine how motivated we’d be to find some way out of it. The looming dread of poverty would surely be a powerful motivator that we – not being feckless scroungers and layabouts – would be inspired to leap into action, and work hard and diligently, and make our own independent way in the world. Naturally we’d respond that way, just as naturally as the world would inevitably reward our hard work by making sure we regained our financial security if we just kept at it for long enough.

Good lord it’s such obvious bollocks though. I mean, if you pay any attention to the amount of money people with bills to pay throw away on stuff that’s not strictly necessary but provides them with some kind of happiness or comfort, or if you learn anything about the psychological effects of being in constantly dire financial straits, or if you’ve spent any time actually living in that kind of world, not just on a two-week sight-seeing trip there with a paid-off house and a career in politics and/or media to come home to at the end of it all.

I’ve never lived in the kind of world where the demands and threats of destitution are constantly grinding you down, and anyone in an even slightly higher income bracket or social class can be safely assumed to be looking down on you and holding you at least partly responsible for your predicaments, and Channel 4 are making documentaries to show millions of people what scum you are, and where a nation will turn against you simply for wanting to enjoy an easy, accessible, low-cost way to distract yourself from worrying if the gas is going to be cut off this week and watch some moving picture of a world that doesn’t suck for a while. And I feel fortunate that I haven’t. The idea that the financial situation of the least well-off benefits claimants in this country is enviable is completely alien to me.

How shit does someone’s life have to be before you stop resenting them getting any help from anyone? Christ, let people have their flatscreen TVs. What the hell do you want from them?

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– How much can you tell about Fox News by the people who comment on their site? Probably not much, if we’re being fair. But holy shit their commenters are awful.

– Recession for the majority, boom time for those at the top.

– An open letter to Channel 4 about its Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, from someone who ought to know.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the tabloids…

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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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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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First, a quick reminder: I’m hosting the next Carnival of the Godless blog carnival on 1st August. If you’ve got a blog post you’d like featured, submit it here before the end of the month – or tweet at me, comment here, or email cubiksrube @t hotmail d0t co d0t uk. Any efforts to spread the word and round up a few more good godless posts will be much appreciated.


And now onto our main feature: another example of people on the internet doing actual journalism, people who write for newspapers just spewing whatever bullshit suits them and fits their already-decided-upon view of the world, and entirely the wrong one of these two getting paid handsomely for their work.

For instance, Punch and Judy shows are not currently under fire from some imaginary “PC brigade” of moral do-gooders trampling on every last traditional remnant of this once great nation of ours. Despite inspecific outcries from the Mail and the Telegraph about what “officials” have “warned”, there’s no evidence at all that the imagined horde of rampaging bureaucrats have done any kind of clamping down on people performing the standard wife-beating puppet show.

The PR firm behind the announcement admit to a complete lack of concern about the accuracy of the stories they’re responsible for, and are openly thrilled by the coverage their clients are getting. And the papers get a great Broken Britain story to flog to their customers, who can enjoy getting all blustery and outraged over this latest affront to British values, which is probably all about appeasing foreigners and Muslims, somehow.

Everybody wins.

Occasionally there are significant consequences when the papers claim things that are completely untrue, but this seems to be a rarity. So the schadenfreude I got from reading this story was mildly therapeutic.

After the recent Raoul Moat killings, someone somewhere mocked up a cover for a fictitious game called Grand Theft Auto: Rothbury, designed to look like an installment in the GTA series and including a picture of Moat on the front. To anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes on the internet recently, this should obviously stand out as the kind of distasteful joke that certain message boards are very good at providing within minutes of some horrible tragedy.

But somebody at the Daily Star apparently has no concept of the fact that people on the internet often like to make things up about topical news events to be funny. The “game” was reported by the Daily Star as a real thing which everyone ought to hurry up and be outraged by.

I really can’t imagine how they can have got something so fundamentally wrong, except by noticing the mocked-up cover graphic and simply making the rest of the story up from there. If they’d done any research – even just typing the name of the thing they’re writing about into Google, to see whether they could find any evidence for its existence – then even someone with the cognitive capacity of a Daily Star reporter might have started to suspect that something was amiss. But no, they just went ahead and accused a video game company of insensitively exploiting a series of very recent murders.

In the apology it looks like they were obliged to provide, they essentially acknowledge as much:

We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story. We also did not question why a best selling and critically acclaimed fictional games series would choose to base one of their most popular games on this horrifying real crime event.

I wonder if this means they’ve decided that checking the accuracy of their stories before misleading millions of people would make good practice in future, and that they’d rather not carry on being dishonest hacks.

I’m sure Tabloid Watch will continue to let us know.

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I wonder if I should pay more attention to how my interests are shifting.

Something I’ve been reading and writing about lately, more than I thought I would when I started this blog, is general tabloid and journalistic shiteness. Some of the blogs I’m most consistently impressed by these days are based entirely around highlighting the hypocrisy and malice behind a lot of the print media’s news stories and editorial pieces – specifically Tabloid Watch, the Angry Mob, and Enemies of Reason.

If you’ve been paying attention for long, you’ll have noticed me rail against the Daily Mail on here more than once, and I’m certainly able to embark on a full-on diatribe if a particular piece of abysmal reporting sufficiently pisses me off.

But those guys mentioned above are consistently finding absolute gems of newspaper bullshit, and dismantling the illogic behind them with masterful precision. I have much to learn.

So here’s another foray into the minor leagues.

I’m often fascinated by the weird stories that the MSN news page throws at me. I know it’d be silly to expect too much from a service that might as well have the tagline “The news source you only ever see for about a second after logging out of Hotmail”, but still.

For instance, there’s this story, which takes a quote from someone being generically supportive about his friend’s career, and makes it sound like Tom Cruise is some sort of psychic prognosticator gazing into a crystal ball to make mystical predictions about future World Cup line-ups.

Or this one, which reports and analyses at length why Kristen Stewart wishes the media wouldn’t keep reporting and analysing everything she says – with particular focus on a poorly chosen remark comparing having her photograph taken to being raped.

And I just went to see if I might be able to find a third one to round things off, and I swear the top story on their “Celebrity news” page right now has the headline: “Amy Winehouse ‘dates normal bloke'”. Genius.

Well, it’s a start.

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