Saturday 24 December 2011

Back in 2012...

Tabloid Watch is taking a short break.

Thanks to everyone who had read, commented, tweeted or offered suggestions during 2011. Everyone, that is, except the guy who keeps sending in links to stories about the Kardashians.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Sorry we stated that your dad said Holocaust victims 'lacked the initiative to get out'

On 15 December, the Ephraim Hardcastle column in the Daily Mail wrote:
Tory MP Zac Goldsmith’s insensitive comparison of tabloid newspapers to Auschwitz – ‘no one stated that Auschwitz should have been kept open because it created jobs’ – reminds me of a re-mark made by his late father, Sir James Goldsmith, about why he felt no empathy for Holocaust victims: ‘These people lacked the initiative to get out.’

Jemima Khan, daughter of James, sister of Zac, tweeted:

Khan complained to the Mail and the PCC and the article was quickly removed from the online version of the Hardcastle column.

Today, an apology:

Following my item on December 7 in which I claimed that the late Sir James Goldsmith had remarked that victims of the Holocaust ‘lacked the initiative to get out’, I would like to clarify that he said no such thing. A number of Sir James’s relatives were murdered in the Holocaust, and he counted two Holocaust survivors among his closest friends. As his family has pointed out, he would never have made these remarks. My apologies to the family for any upset caused.

Khan tweeted:

Thanks to the PCC for their help with this & to the Daily Mail for retracting and apologising for the hurtful article promptly.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Breaking news from MailOnline

According to the MailOnline, a 10-year-old boy standing on a wall might 'dwarf' his dad, who isn't standing on that wall:

Surprisingly, when the boy is not standing on that wall, he's shorter than his dad.

Monday 19 December 2011


Eye-catching headline of the day goes to the Express for the latest in a long line of 'miracle cure' health stories:

We've been used to the Express excitedly claiming a pill is the answer to a health problem. The tomato pill to beat health disease, the 'wonder pill' to add 20 years to your life, the vitamin pill to beat Alzheimer's, the daily pill to cure diabetes to name just a few. Add to those the 'wonder diet' that cures health disease, the 'miracle diet' to stop heart disease, the 'secret' of how to live longer...and on and on.

Now, today, a 'magic pill to keep you slim: drug kills hunger pangs without any side effects'.

Yes. 'Magic'.

Here's how the article, by Mark Reynolds, begins:

Millions of overweight Britons could benefit from a new wonder diet pill which switches off appetite without any side effects.

Scientists are close to developing the drug which will help combat the growing obesity epidemic with some 15 million in the UK now falling into that category.

Regular readers of the Express may feel they've been here before. On 23 April 2007, the paper asked: Is a magic pill a cure for obesity?

A week later, it was trumpeting a 'magic pill that helps you burn fat without exercise'.

Given there is, according to the article, a 'growing obesity epidemic' it appears those 'magic pills' didn't work.


Incidentally, this story, like a similar version in the Mail, was based on a report in yesterday's Sunday Times. The Express says the pill is 'without any side effects'. The Mail claims at the start there are no 'nasty side effects'. At the end of the article, however, the Mail states:

Side-effects are predicted to be limited to bouts of nausea, but OAP-189 will have to go through extensive human testing before it reaches the market, which is expected to take between five and seven years.

Ah. So there could be 'bouts of nausea' and it could be another 5 years - at least - before the product might be available. After 'extensive human testing'. In which time, the absence, or otherwise, of side effects might be rather more clear.

Mail's latest BBC 'uproar'

MailOnline reports:

As the article points out, Dickens wrote two endings for Great Expectations and this adaptation:

chooses a ‘compromise’ ending between the two that Dickens originally wrote.

So who are the 'critics' who are in 'uproar' about this 'changed' ending?

Well, only one person is actually quoted in the entire story. Here's what he says in the Telegraph's article (the 'inspiration' for the Mail's piece):

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, an Oxford don and author of the book Becoming Dickens, said it was impossible to run out of ways to interpret the writer.

He said Miss Havisham as a "cougar rather than a crone" is "absolutely right" and added that Dickens always wrote his endings so they could be interpreted in different ways.

"I think Dickens is strong enough to withstand anything we do to him," said Dr Douglas-Fairhurst. "He has a chameleon-like ability to adapt to changing circumstances."

He added that it was fine to mess with both the time structure and the endings of Dickens' novels. "Dickens is inexhaustible," he said.

Not really an 'uproar' is it?

(Hat-tip to JemStone)

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The Express, the EU and...fridges

Following the bogus claim from the Express' Chief Political Commentator that 'every criticism' his paper has levelled at the EU has been 'justified', the Head of Media at the European Commission Representation in the UK has been forced to write to the paper again to challenge a story.

On Monday, the Express ran the headline 'Barmy EU 'colder fridges' order will cost us £100m'. The story, by Cyril Dixon, began:

Britain faces a £100million bill because a bizarre new EU regulation will order supermarkets to turn down the temperature on their refrigerators.

Eurocrats are demanding that stores’ cold storage areas are chilled by a further three degrees to “improve” food safety.

An 'order'. A 'new regulation'. A 'demand'.

Or maybe not, says Mark English:

Contrary to claims in your article, “Barmy EU ‘colder fridges’ order will cost us £100m”, 12 December 2011, there are no new EU regulations ordering supermarkets to turn down fridge temperatures. The facts are less chilling.

EU member states have asked the Commission to look into the fact that supermarkets’ own meat cutting plants are not covered by the same hygiene regulations as independent plants, even though they often process more meat.

So the Commission is carrying out a fact finding exercise, to make sure consumers are properly protected.

No changes have been proposed and none could enter into force without full scrutiny by MEPs and national ministers.

Sorry we said you won the lottery

This apology was published by the Daily Mirror last week, and spotted by Regret the Error:

On December 6 under the headline Xmas dinner Is On £1m Lotto Win Coach, we wrongly reported that Mr Paul Trainor (right) had won a £1million Lottery prize. In fact the prize was won by another person.

Mr Trainor does not work at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, nor did he buy a turkey-dinner for work colleagues or say the he was going to buy a new car. We are happy to correct the position and apologise to Mr Trainor for any embarrassment or confusion caused as a result.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

PCC tells Mail to 'take greater care' when reporting 'BBC drops BC/AD'

The Press Complaints Commission has issued its response to complaints made about the vast number of misleading 'BBC drops BC/AD' articles that appeared in September and October, particularly in the Mail newspapers.

Its verdict? It isn't going to adjudicate:

The Commission generally only considers complaints from those directly involved in the stories about which they are complaining. This is for reasons of co-operation, information and consent: often it will not be possible to come to a view under the Code without the input of a first party. In addition, any remedial action as a result of the complaint – or any decision issued by the Commission – would require consent. In this case, the Commission had contacted the BBC following receipt of the complaints in order to establish whether it wished to complain about the accuracy of the coverage. It had made clear that it did not wish to complain.

The Commission understood the position outlined by the complainants; however, it had to decide whether it was able to pursue the matter without the consent and co-operation of the BBC. It decided that it was unable to do so: it was for the BBC to complain about the coverage. In addition, the BBC’s position had been outlined in the article (albeit not with the prominence that one complainant had wished). Again, this was an issue that the Commission considered required direct involvement. It was not able to engage with the newspaper – or arrange for any remedial action – without the organisation’s consent. Ultimately, the Commission considered that it was unable to take the matter forward without the involvement of the BBC.

There were some outstanding concerns about the follow-up coverage in the Daily Mail on 29th and 30th September. The Commission noted that the coverage in these articles sought to summarise the basic premise yet had become increasingly reductive as the BBC’s position had not been included. However, while it acknowledged the complainants’ concerns, it ultimately considered that it could not take the matter forward without the involvement of the BBC. The Commission took the opportunity of this decision to bring the matter to the newspaper’s attention; furthermore, it trusted that the newspaper would, in the event of any further coverage on the issue, take greater care to clearly present the position of the BBC, as per its public statement. Nonetheless, in the absence of a complaint from the BBC, the Commission was unable to pursue the matter formally.

In some cases, it is understandable that the PCC would decided a third-party complaint is not enough. However, in this case, given the repeated and very clear public denials from the BBC of the original claims, it seems odd, if unsurprising, that the PCC felt unable to fully consider the complaints.

It took a similar line when Suffolk Police refused to complain about the false 'Police chiefs fly gay pride flag...but are forbidden to put up the Union Jack' story. But the PCC acknowledged public denials from the police and asked that the Mail 'take heed' and 'alter the article accordingly'. This was a far-from-perfect outcome - the Mail deleted the original article without ever having to explain why or print a correction. But it was something.

This time, the PCC's line that:

it trusted that the newspaper would, in the event of any further coverage on the issue, take greater care to clearly present the position of the BBC, as per its public statement

is worthless. After all, the Mail on Sunday had the BBC's very clear position in its original article but relegated those words to the end and ignored what they said. It chose to run its misleading story in the way it did anyway.

Incidentally, Peter Wright, the Mail on Sunday's editor, sits on the PCC but we are assured editors leave the room if a complaint about their paper is up for discussion.

(See also Nothing Special)

A cucumber ban?

A few days ago, the Mail reported:

The article 'by' Daily Mail Reporter begins:

An Islamic cleric living in Europe has said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any 'sexual thoughts'.

The unnamed sheikh was quoted by el-Sawsana news saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male relative, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

The cleric said that these fruits and vegetables 'resemble the male penis' and could arouse women or 'make them think of sex,' in a story reported on Egyptian news website Bikya Masr.

And here's how the original article, published on 6 December by, begins:

An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”

The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Sawsana news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”

Very similar, isn't it? Eventhough Daily Mail Reporter has acknowledged, the article is a shameless cut-and-paste job.

Except for one key sentence, which appears in the original but has been left out of the Mail's article. It says: cannot independently verify the accuracy of the news item at time of writing.

Why would the Mail leave that out? Instead, they run a story that cannot be verified about an unnamed person in an unnamed country without expressing any apparent doubt about its accuracy.

Moreover, the Mail has also failed to update its readers on a follow-up post written by Joseph Mayton, the Editor of, on 11 December:

As Editor of, I am disappointed that I did not catch and hold this piece. The “Islamic cleric bans women from touching cucumbers, bananas for sexual resemblance,” article should not have run when it did. Arguably, it should not have been run at all. We should not have published about an “unnamed sheikh” in an unnamed European country unless we were able to garner more information on the issue, both on the sheikh himself and the news website the information was gathered from, independently.

We realize that as a growing news organization with a growing reputation and readership, we have an increased responsibility to not only verify our own material at the highest levels, but further investigate the quotes and articles of other news organizations before referencing their work.

This is our error. We apologize for the poor judgment on the matter. It is inexcusable. While the exact quote reported by may well have been exactly what it was reported to be by that website, without a name and location behind this person and comment, it is difficult to find the information credible.

We recognize our pitfalls and their repercussions. The fact that this story was quoted by a large number of news organizations across the globe shows that our error in judgment can have serious, detrimental effects. For this, we would like to apologize to our readers for the inadequate editorial judgment I, as Editor and Founder, made in this instance.

He adds:

We will continue to push for more information on this story, from and other sources, in order to interrogate the accuracy of their original article. If we cannot uncover more information, then we take it as our duty to make this clear and do everything in our power to spread that revelation to those who have sourced and quoted us this past week.

But will the Mail be listening?

Monday 12 December 2011

Mail apologises to the Mayor of Gila Bend

In November, several newspapers reported comments from Ron Henry, the Mayor of Gila Bend, Arizona who had spoken about Prince Harry's imminent arrival at a nearby airbase for a helicopter training course.

The Sun and the Mail quoted Henry saying:

"There are probably some fathers here in Gila Bend who would go to extremes to protect their daughters. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we have some very pretty girls here. Some of the dads won't take too kindly to a Prince fornicating the night away and drinking into the small hours. It is a very quiet town with a lot of good Christian people. This isn't a party town." 

Soon after, Henry issued a statement, accusing the Mail of 'a rogue and fabricated story':

“On behalf of the Town of Gila Bend, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Prince Harry and his fellow pilots as they conduct training at the Barry Goldwater Air Force Base...

I am deeply saddened that comments written by the Daily Mail were not only taken out of context but also, total fabrications. In fact, the negative comments were the words of the reporter, who chose to sensationalize and fabricate a story, rather than report the truth. I would never make such outlandish comments. We have tremendous respect and adoration for Prince Harry and the Royal Family. We are excited, proud and honored to have him in our community, and we would like extend every courtesy to make his stay as comfortable as possible.”

Yesterday, the Mail published the following clarification:

In an article of 8 November we carried in good faith a news agency report that said Mayor of Gila Bend, Ron Henry, had warned Prince Harry not to ‘fornicate the night away’ whilst on an army posting to the Arizona town.

We would like to make clear that Mr Henry did not make this statement and apologise to him for this error.

The Sun's article still carries the 'fornicate' line, however. It also claims:

options in Gila Bend are somewhat more limited — the town boasts just one bar and no hard liquor licence. 

According to International Business Times:

Several British tabloid reports claimed that the town boasts just one bar, one restaurant, and one hotel (themed to look like a space rocket). These reports are simply not true.

Gila Bend boasts five hotels, an assortment of restaurants and bars and is an epicenter for renewable energy, particularly solar.

A representative for the town of Gila Bend laughed hysterically when she heard the tabloid descriptions of her town, but said Tuesday morning that they are "no longer commenting on the incident."

Sunday 11 December 2011

'May have left the impression'

An apology from the 'Corrections and clarifications' column in today's Mail on Sunday:

Last Sunday's article 'Kate's crimpers go to war' may have left the impression that Richard Ward, proprietor of the Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa salon in Chelsea, was jealous of James Pryce, a former employee, who styled the Duchess of Cambridge's hair on the day of the Royal Wedding. The article might also have suggested that Mr Ward was trying to capitalise on the salon's Royal links. We accept that Mr Ward has always given full credit to Mr Pryce for his work and that Mr Ward behaved in a totally proper manner with regard to any publicity before the Royal Wedding. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.

It says the story 'may have left the impression' the proprietor was 'jealous' of a former employee.

How is it that the article 'may' have given that 'impression'?

Perhaps the full headline from the original (now deleted) article can explain:

Kate's crimpers go to war: It's curling tongs at dawn as Royal hairdesser cuts and runs from 'jealous' salon boss.

Friday 9 December 2011

PCC upholds complaint about MailOnline's 'Knox guilty' article

The Press Complaints Commission has ruled against MailOnline for their 'Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected' article, which included invented details about an event that didn't happen.

To recap:

In addition to the overarching complaint that the article had reported the wrong verdict, the complainants also drew the Commission's attention to: the inclusion of quotes attributed to prosecutors, apparently reacting to the guilty verdict ("justice has been done" although "it was sad two young people would be spending time in jail"); a description of the reaction in the court room to the supposed verdict ("Knox...sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears"; Meredith Kercher's family "remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family"); and the claims that Ms Knox was "taken out of court escorted by prison guards and into a waiting van which took her back to her cell" and would be "put on a suicide watch".

The Mail's response was:

The newspaper apologised that the wrong verdict had been published on its website for around 90 seconds. It explained that - in high-profile cases such as this - it was standard practice for newspapers to prepare two stories in advance. There had been confusion in the court as the judge had initially found Ms Knox guilty of slander; he had then found her not guilty of murder. As a result, several news sources had initially published the wrong verdict. The quotations had been obtained from the prosecution in advance of the trial, to be published in the event that the appeal was rejected. In addition, the Italian authorities had advised the reporter that all those found guilty of murder were placed on suicide watch as a matter of course.

The newspaper said that the individual responsible for the error had been disciplined. Moreover, it had published an explanation online apologising to its readers for the error. The correct verdict had been reported in its print edition the following day. The newspaper also made clear that it had launched an immediate internal inquiry to examine its procedures in the light of the complaint. As a result, ‘set and hold' stories would now be commissioned to include only the basic verdict and factual background material: there would be no colour and no quotes based on possible outcomes.

The PCC - rightly - upheld the complaints and said:

the Commission was particularly concerned about other aspects of the report, especially the account of the reaction by those in the courtroom to the apparent verdict, and to the subsequent actions of Ms Knox. In the Commission's view, the article had sought to present contemporaneous reporting of events (describing, in colourful terms, how individuals had physically behaved) which simply had not taken place. This was clearly not acceptable.

The Commission did not see any difficulty in newspapers writing ‘set and hold' articles. It understood that there were, at times, pressures to ensure that readers were informed of current affairs at the earliest opportunity. However, it is also vitally important that descriptions of events, especially trials, are published in a manner which complies with the Editors' Code. Describing reactions and behaviour that have not taken place, in a factual manner as if they had, must always raise a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

The punishment for MailOnline? They have to publish the full adjudication on their website:

Mo Farah responds to Sun article

Today's Sun claimed that Mo Farah had 'told' sportswomen who hadn't made the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year that they are 'wasting their time moaning':

The quotes they then attribute to Farah have him explaining how he felt when he was left off the list last year:

"It's one thing feeling like you should be nominated but actually getting nominated is another. I was disappointed last year. I had a great year and felt I should have been nominated. But I wasn't. I just said to myself 'I'll keep training and next year I'll make sure I'm there'."

On his official Facebook page, Farah has responded to the Sun's presentation of the article:

I would like to correct what was written in The Sun newspaper today. When asked about the people who missed out a SPOTY nomination I tried to explain that it is disappointing not to be nominated when you had a good year, as was the case with me last year. At no point did I say or imply anything negative towards the men or women who missed out. 

The phrases “…a dig at women….and wasting their time moaning….” are completely made up by the journalist. There were some excellent female sporting performances this year, some of which deserved to be in the top 10.

(Hat-tip to Sheri)

Thursday 8 December 2011

Mail exaggerates 'church fury' over McDonald's

Here's a classic Mail headline:

Christmas. Muslim. Church fury.

The article begins:

Church leaders have hit out at a branch of McDonald's which is to open on Christmas Day.

Which 'church leaders' are in a 'church fury' according to the article? 

Parish Rvd Wayne Stillwell said the decision to open the branch showed 'the continuing decline of Christendom in this country' and his reaction was 'one of great sadness'.

So he's 'sad' rather than in a 'fury'. Who else?

Well, the only other 'church' leader quoted in the story is the Dean of Derby, who says:

"Families and friends should come together at Christmas, and if they want to do that in McDonald’s then who is the Church to object?"

So one 'church leader' is a bit sad about McDonald's opening on Christmas Day, a rather more senior church leader says he has no objection. The Mail spins that as 'church fury' by 'church leaders'.

At the end of the article, a McDonald's spokesman reveals:

"We expect there to be about 60 stores in the UK that remain open this year."

That begs the question: why has the Mail decided to highlight this one store where a 'Muslim manager' has been 'drafted in'?

The 'gangsta salute' that wasn't

When reporting on Mark Duggan's funeral on 9 September, the MailOnline's initial splash headline said: 'Gangsta salute for 'a fallen soldier'' (hat-tip to The Media Blog). This appeared to be based solely on photos that emerged of mourners reaching out towards Duggan's coffin.

However, as the Guardian reported on the day:

As mourners prepared to set off from the house, the bishop called them to stand on the pavement beside the wooden carriage... He urged the mourners to stretch their arms towards the carriage as he prayed.

The next day, the Express - never shy of echoing what has been reported by the Mail - repeated the claim, adding that the 'gangsta salute' (that wasn't) was 'chilling':

The Media Blog commented on this at the time and noted that the Mail did eventually 'tone down' its headline.

Yet according to the PCC, it was only yesterday - three months later - that a clarification appeared on the Mail's website:

An earlier version of this article suggested that mourners lining the streets as Mark Duggan’s body was carried to his funeral made “gang-style” salutes. We have been informed that the salute pictured above referred to a call by Bishop Kwaku Frimpong-Manson at an earlier service for mourners to “stretch [their] hands towards the casket and thank God for Mark’s life as he begins his heavenly journey”. We are happy to clarify this and regret any confusion or distress caused.

As usual, the clarification tries to turn a definite statement into a mere suggestion, and tries to turn 'gangsta salute' into '"gang-style" salutes'. 

But as the Mail did 'tone down' their headline within a day or so, why has it take them so long to admit their error?

And will the Express - which has withdrawn from the PCC - follow the Mail's lead, or will they continue to mislead about the 'gangsta salute'.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Mail reports on 'backlash' from 'outraged' BBC viewers

The Mail's fondness for making a 'news story' out of a few critical comments on Twitter or the BBC Messageboards remains undiminished.

Yesterday, the Mail reported on this 'outrage':

Yes, apparently viewers were 'outraged' that the presenter of a documentary filmed over more than one day was not wearing the same clothes every time she was on screen.

It is questionable whether such a question would have even arisen had the presenter been a man.

The Mail's John Stevens states:

many viewers appeared to have found it hard to concentrate on the show as several lingering shots showed Miss Maitlis striding through the sunny streets of California and Facebook’s headquarters.

Found it hard to concentrate? Really?

So what do these 'outraged viewers' have to say?

‘Think I learned more about Emily Maitlis’ wardrobe than about fb or Zuckerberg,’ one poster wrote on Twitter.

Another wrote: ‘I thought it was a docu about Emily Maitlis wandering about looking hot and occasionally stopping to chat to folk.’

While another viewer posted: ‘Did you catch the Facebook prog on BBC2 last night? More shots of Emily Maitlis in sunglasses than interview time with Mark Zuckerberg.’

It's not the most convincing display of 'outrage' ever. And at the end (of course) the BBC spokesman explains why:

The Corporation has received four official complaints about the documentary, but none have been out Miss Maitlis’ wardrobe.

A similar non-story emerged in the Mail after a da Vinci documentary presented by Fiona Bruce aired at the end of October. Once again, it was made up of what a few people had tweeted.

Today, Paul Revoir, the Mail's chief BBC-basher, reveals a new viewer 'backlash' - this time regarding audience cheering on Strictly Come Dancing:

Revoir says:

Strictly Come Dancing has been attacked by fans over the ‘cheering’ and ‘screaming’ from spectators during its broadcasts, which critics claim seem ‘stage-managed’.

A prime-time light entertainment show with 'stage-managed' cheering? Surely not...

He goes on:

After fans vented their frustrations on the BBC’s online discussion pages, the Corporation admitted it had received more than 30 complaints about the issue.

So once again we see Mail hacks scouring the BBC's own messageboards for any criticism it can blow up out of all proportion.

Still, 'more than 30 complaints'. How many more than 30? The BBC spokesman says (at the end of the article):

‘There have only been a total of 31 complaints since the series began three months ago, which is a very small amount given the show has been achieving peak audiences of more than 11million each week.’

31 complaints, over three months, out of 11 million viewers each week.

What was it Richard Littlejohn said yesterday about a 'phoney furore'?

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Quote of the day

Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote about the Jeremy Clarkson controversy today:

I can’t believe the phoney furore over Jeremy Clarkson is still rumbling on, just because he joked that public sector strikers should be shot. The plot has well and truly been lost. Where does all this puerile hair-trigger outrage come from?

Complaining about 'phoney furore' and 'puerile hair-trigger outrage'?

In the Mail?

Churnalism to sell pomegranate-extract capsules

When former Daily Star reporter Rich Peppiatt gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry last week, he referred to the 'huge influence' of PR on tabloid 'stories':

There are more PRs than there are journalists. You get into your inbox every day dozens upon dozens upon dozens of press releases from various companies all trying to get in the paper, get their brand mentioned.

And many of them do get into the paper. Every day there are numerous 'stories' in the papers based on surveys of 2,000 people (so we're told). But, said Peppiatt:

the veracity of where that survey has come from -- is it representative, how many people were asked -- are simply not questions you're encouraged to ask. You know, you just take it at face value: "Yeah, I'm sure that will do for us." Because as I say, it's not about necessarily finding the truth of something; it's simply sort of filling the hole.

If it's not based on a survey, it's based on academic or scientific research. For example, a few weeks ago, this press release was repeated by the Express:

The paper's Nathan Rao stated:

Now a study shows an extract of it taken regularly could slow down the deterioration of the body’s DNA cells, which in turn can delay the ageing process.

Later in the article, he reported that it was an 'industry-funded study'.

The press release was designed to sell pomegranate-extract capsules PomeGreat PurePlus. The Express mentioned the product:

Commercial versions of the extract are already available in the UK from the Pomegreat PurePlus company in a capsule form or as a juice drink.

They also mentioned that the 'study' had been untaken by Dr Sergio Streitenberger at 'Spain’s Probeltebio laboratories'.

What the paper didn't say was that Streitenberger is: 

head of research

at ProbelteBio - and ProbelteBio just happens to be

the manufacturer of PomeGreat® PurePlus.

The Mail's Tamara Cohen also wrote up the press release uncriticially.

Friday 2 December 2011

'A bit cheeky'

In the wake of Jeremy Clarkson's comments about strikers on The One Show, the Mirror asked:

'No' said Mirror columnist Tony Parsons. The 'yes' argument was outlined by Dave Gorman. But Gorman was a little surprised to see his remarks in the paper:

Gorman elaborated on his blog:

I was surprised because I hadn't written anything for the Mirror....If the words are familiar to you, that'll be because you read my last blog.

As did someone at The Mirror. Who then cut and pasted it into the paper. Odd.

Apparently someone on the Radio 2 breakfast show was talking about how I'd written a piece for The Mirror on the whole Clarkson thing too. I don't imagine many of those who read it thought that it wasn't written specifically for the paper.

Which is a bit cheeky of them to say the least.

(Hat-tip to Laura)

Tuesday 29 November 2011

The People apologises to Charlotte Church

Three weeks after the event but, coincidentally, one day before she appeared at the Leveson Inquiry, the People published an apology to Charlotte Church over the false claim that she had drunkenly proposed to her boyfriend:

On November 6, 2011, we said Charlotte Church had proposed marriage to Jonathan Powell at a boozy karaoke night at the Robin Hood pub in Cardiff. We were misinformed.

On the night in question Ms Church and Mr Powell were performing a gig at studios in Pentyrch, Cardiff and Ms Church did not propose that night or at all.

We are happy to set the record straight and we apologise for our mistake.

However, in her evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Church and her lawyer made clear this wasn't necessarily the end of the story. Church said:

we didn't just want a normal run-of-the-mill apology because it's just not good enough

David Sherborne added:

What Ms Church was saying, though, was that with the apology -- and it was a unilateral one, and that's obviously a matter that's of wider interest to the Inquiry in terms of what the appropriate form of redress is -- the apology she was seeking in agreed terms was also the answers to a number of questions which are rather similar to those questions Ms Patry Hoskins had put about how it was this story was written and how there are quotes from Ms Church and her partner, given that this is all entirely fabricated.

Church also raised the issue of how her statement denying the story was treated by the media:

I gave a statement saying that it was a complete fabrication and that this was a case -- you know, this was an exact reason why this Leveson Inquiry is happening and how it's out of control and it simply shouldn't be allowed to happen, and part of my statement which was basically the denial was printed in a few publications. 

Most of -- most of the rest of it, the stronger parts of the statement, were just totally ignored and in one instance -- I think it might have been the Press Association who basically wrote back when we'd given the statement, saying, "We can't print this whole statement because our consumers don't like to hear anything negative about us or our conduct."

Desmond gets his figures wrong

As Richard Desmond unveiled his new printing plant in Luton yesterday, he was asked by the Press Gazette:

why he was making the investment at a time when print newspaper circulations in general are declining.

He replied:

“My newspapers haven’t declined over the last 11 years. The Daily Star was selling 400,000 when we bought it, it now sells around 800,000. Eleven years ago there wasn’t a Daily Star Sunday, it now sells more than 800,000 every Sunday. The Daily Express and Sunday Express are in line with the market.”

He is right that sales of the Star haven't declined overall. But only just - and his figures are completely wrong.

The Daily Star was actually selling 627,317 in November 2000, when he bought it.

Not 400,000.

Based on the October 2011 ABCs, it now sells 658,690 copies per day.

Not 800,000.

The Daily Star Sunday doesn't sell 800,000 every Sunday either.

The figure, from the October ABCs is 688,058. It has benefitted a lot from the closure of the News of the World as back in June it was selling only 305,978 copies every Sunday. 

And the Daily Express? When Desmond acquired it, it had a daily circulation of 985,523.

The October 2011 ABCs show a daily circulation of 614,534.

A decline of 370,989 copies per day.

So he wasn't correct to say there has been no decline over the last 11 years. But at least he didn't repeat the claim he made in June when he said sales of the Express had 'increased dramatically'.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Express: 'every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified'

On Wednesday 23 November, Patrick O'Flynn of the Daily Express penned an article that ran under the optimistic headline 'A year in and our EU crusade is on course for victory'.

Flynn told his readers how wonderful the Express' campaign to withdraw from the EU has been so far and he said:

Over the course of the past year every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...

Every criticism justified.

Five days before, the Express front page carried the lead headline 'EU says water is not healthy'.

In fact, the ruling by the European Food Standards Agency was about water and dehydration and not about whether water is 'healthy' or not. Indeed, the word 'healthy' doesn't appear anywhere in the EFSA's 7-page ruling. But the Express knew that because at the end they included this:

EU spokesman David D’Arcy said last night: “Of course drinking water is essential for health and the commission is not stopping anyone from saying so."

(More on this story from Richard Laming, Martin Robbins and Tim Fenton)

Also at the end of Giles Sheldrick's article on water was this 'criticism':

The EU has a long history of passing bizarre regulations...last year attempts to regulate the use of root vegetables in Cornish pasties sparked chaos.

But this claim isn't 'justified' either. It was the Cornish Pasty Association that had applied for:

Protected Geographical Indication to request that only Cornish pasties made in Cornwall and to the traditional recipe and manner are called Cornish pasties.

As the Association pointed out in response to inaccurate media reports at the time:

the European Commission (EC) does not dictate ingredients or names of ingredients

It's also not clear what 'chaos' was sparked by this.

In October, the Express joined other newspapers in claiming 'Now Euro killjoys ban children's party toys' which forced the EC Representative in the UK to explain the story was 'nonsense':

"Brussels" has not banned balloons or any of the other things mentioned.

Was the Express 'justified' in claiming the University of Northampton had been fined £56,000 for not flying the EU flag?

No. The response from EC regional spokesman Tom van Lierop:

"you don't have to wave a big flag above a project: that's nonsense...We're not fining anyone...We don't want to be flying the EU flag above any kind of project...these stories are total lunacy."

This wasn't the only 'EU flag' story that the paper got wrong. In May the Express front page said 'Now we must fly EU flag on our public buildings'. The article added that there was:

a swingeing fine from Brussels threatened for those that disobey

Jonathan Scheele, Head of European Commission Representation in the UK and Michael Shackleton, Head of European Parliament Information Office in the UK wrote to the Express:

only 2 buildings in the UK are expected to fly the European flag for Europe Day and the Commission would not fine countries that did not do so...No other public building has to fly the flag on 9 May.

The Express' decided not to publish this letter but chose instead to publish three readers' letters that repeated the original claims, despite the paper being aware they were false.

But remember:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified.

A few days before that one, another front page headline claimed: 'EU wants to merge UK with France'. The Arc Manche network was set up in 1995 for co-operation between southern British and northern French regions. But this is clearly not the same as 'merging the UK with France'. 'Absurd' and 'untrue' said the EC in the UK.

Also in May, an Express front page stated: 'Ban shopping bags says EU'. As with the healthy water headline, the Express used 'says' when they meant 'haven't said'.

The European Commission had launched a public consultation:

asking the public how best to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags

There was a question about whether a ban was needed, as there were questions about charging for bags and other possible options. The EU has not said 'ban plastic bags'.

Is the EU 'employing 33 people to help boost the EU’s profile in Fiji'? No. Although based in Fiji, the delegation:

covers the entire South Pacific region. It carries out countless development projects on behalf of the EU as well as foreign relations and political work.

Do 'Cars face ban from all cities' as part of 'another plan forced on us by crazy EU'? No:

the European Commission is not considering an EU level ban on cars in city centres by 2050. Cities are of course best placed to decide their own transport mix.

As O'Flynn specified 'the past year' it would, of course, be unfair to mention earlier stories such as 'EU says: hammer British drivers' (once again, they hadn't said this) or 'EU’s plan to liquify corpses and pour them down the drain' ("The EU has no competence in this matter and to suggest otherwise is wide of the mark").

It would be wrong to mention their July 2010 front page headline 'France votes to ban burkha' which came a month after their front page headline 'You can't ban burkha, says Eurocrats' (again, they hadn't said this).

It would not be 'justified' to mention the Sunday Express' claim that the EU was spending '£670million on making explicit films' was overblown. But it was, perhaps, understandable - after all, Richard 'pornographer' Desmond doesn't want too many rivals in the 'explicit film' business, does he?

And it would be best to forget the Express story 'Euro meddlers rule we can't have milk jugs'/'EU spouts off...about our milk jugs'. This took research from a Spanish university and claimed it was evidence that the EU wanted to ban 'our milk jugs'.

Similarly, in October 2011, the Express labelled 'scientists from the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)' as 'Eurocrats'.

These are just some of the Express' anti-EU stories covered by this blog and others over the last couple of years and which have been inaccurate, misleading and wrong.

With the Express newspapers being outside any form of regulation, there is no way to challenge these stories. As shown on the flag issue, when the EU tries to deal with the paper, the Express ignores them and carries on repeating untruths.

Yet to O'Flynn, the paper's Chief Political Commentator:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

'There is absolutely nothing in our study to support these kinds of conclusions'

'Looking at Page 3 makes you brainy' claimed the Sun on Monday:

The article by Emily Fairbairn - which includes one picture and two videos - begins:

Admiring The Sun's Page 3 lovelies can speed up your mental reactions, scientists say.

So Page 3 can make you 'brainy' and 'speed up your mental reactions'? Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

In fact, the scientists didn't look at Page 3 or whether looking at naked people made people brainier:

Recent event-related potential studies have shown that the occipitotemporal N170 component - best known for its sensitivity to faces - is also sensitive to perception of human bodies...

In two experiments, we measured N170 responses to nude bodies, bodies wearing swimsuits, clothed bodies, faces, and control stimuli (cars). We found that the N170 amplitude was larger to opposite and same-sex nude vs. clothed bodies...

We conclude that the early visual processing of human bodies is sensitive to the visibility of the sex-related features of human bodies and that the visual processing of other people's nude bodies is enhanced in the brain.

This blog emailed one of the researchers, Jari Hietanen from the University of Tampere, to ask for his response to the Sun's article (he said: "thanks for your e-mail. Nice to see that there are people who read what we really reported").

The paper wrote:

"And their results showed that it takes less than 0.2 seconds to process the image of a naked body — much less than when models are fully clothed or wearing swimsuits."

Jari says:

No, we didn't say this. All these stimulus categories produced a certain brain response roughly at the same latency...The important finding was that this brain response was larger for nude vs. swimsuit vs. clothed bodies.

So what about the Sun's claim that:

"The team's findings are good news for advertisers who use scantily-clad stunners to boost sales."

Jari replies:

I find it difficult to make this conclusion. If we had shown that nude bodies attract visual attention more efficiently than clothed bodies, then perhaps this sort of interpretation would have been justified. By the way, there are studies by other research groups which have shown this.

And how does Jari respond to the overall thrust of the Sun's piece - that his study suggests looking at Page 3 makes you 'brainy' and 'can speed up your mental reactions'?

This is the worst...There is absolutely nothing in our study to support these kinds of conclusions. We recorded brain responses (not mental reactions) which reflect how the visual system of the brain works.

These results showed that, at certain pretty early levels of processing (the visual processing is considered to form a "hierarchy" of different processing levels) nude bodies are processed more efficiently than clothed bodies. 

(Many thanks to Jari for his reply.)

Sunday 20 November 2011

'Dismissing on-pitch racism'

The back page of Thursday's Daily Mail ran the headline 'Blatter's blunder as Suarez charged' above a report about comments made by FIFA President Sepp Blatter on racism in football:

Asked directly by a CNN reporter if racism exists on the pitch, Blatter denied it and said such incidents should simply be settled by a handshake at the end of the match.

The Mail called this a 'blunder' and said Blatter was:

dismissing on-pitch racism with an astonishing response.

But the Mail seemed less concerned about 'dismissing on-pitch racism' last month, when Steve Doughty, the Mail's 'Social Affairs Correspondent', wrote:

Things may not be perfect but, at the end of the day, Gary, there are worse things to complain about.

So, Mr Evra and Mr Ferdinand, I know you feel insulted. But perhaps in this case you could just put up with it and get on with the game.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Sorry we said you had criminal record

Today's Daily Star published the following apology to Garry (brother of Cheryl) Tweedy:

In Court yesterday the Daily Star apologised to Garry Tweedy for an article published on 13 April in which we incorrectly reported that Mr Tweedy had admitted on his Facebook profile that he had been to prison a few times.

We accepted that Mr Tweedy did not post this comment nor has he ever been charged or convicted of a criminal offence nor been sent to prison. We apologised to Mr Tweedy for this error.

Not only has the Star apologised, but they have agreed to pay damages and legal costs to Mr Tweedy. It adds to a long line of recent libel payouts by Richard Desmond's Express Newspapers.

Heat magazine will also pay damages and apologise, after they first published the false claims. The Guardian explains:

Heat's front page article on 12 April, headlined "Cheryl's family from hell", featured a photograph of Tweedy with the caption "[Garry Tweedy] reveals prison past on Facebook".

An article inside that edition of the weekly was headed "US dream in peril thanks to Cheryl's family misfortunes" and made a number of false statements about Tweedy, his solicitor Steven Tregear said in a statement read out at the high court on Tuesday.

The Daily Star falsely claimed in an article published on 13 April, headlined "Cheryl in peril", that Tweedy had admitted on Facebook that he had been in prison a few times. "The Facebook profile [the Daily Star] relied upon was a fake," Tregear said. "[Tweedy] did not post the comment and he has never been charged or convicted of any criminal offence or sent to prison."

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Express and the weather

Daily Express, 8 October 2011:

By Nathan Rao:

Britain is braced for an Arctic blast which will bring record low temperatures within weeks, forecasters said last night...

Britain is likely to be hit by temperatures as low as minus 20C – perhaps even lower – and widespread heavy snow as early as the start of next month.

Daily Express, 2 November 2011:

By Nathan Rao:

Britain faces a sudden shivering end to the exceptionally warm late autumn with temperatures plunging towards Siberian levels.

Winter weather will arrive with a vengeance with temperatures well below zero within the next fortnight.

Daily Express, 14 November 2011:

Monday 14 November 2011

'NOT Matt Willis from Busted'

Yesterday's Sunday Mirror reported that ex-Busted singer Matt Willis was suing 'trip-hop star' Tricky over unpaid management fees:

The Guardian and NME soon repeated the story but they have now deleted their articles. Why? Because the Matt Willis involved in the case is not the one who used to be in Busted.

Willis tweeted:

And this was posted on Tricky's Facebook Wall:

(Hat-tip to James McLaren)

UPDATE: James has now covered the story for BBC Wales Music.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Mail on Sunday clarifies 'green tax' claim

In the 'Clarifications and corrections' column in today's Mail on Sunday, the paper admits:

Last week we incorrectly referred to The Queen as the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother-in-law. Her Majesty is, of course, the Duchess’s grandmother-in-law.

Oops. They have also published this:

On September 18 and on October 29 we said the Government’s 'green stealth taxes’ are costing families an average of £200 a year – an increase of 15 – 20 per cent on typical domestic power bills. In fact Ofgem estimates that environmental costs account for 7 per cent, or £100, of the average domestic power bill.

The dates of the original articles is noteworthy because the Daily Mail had corrected the same figures - which it had repeated several times - on 7 September.

The Sun's 'exclusive' on a new Rooney baby

Following on from speculation about whether Princess Kate is pregnant or not, the Sun published this story on page three last Tuesday:

The 'exclusive' by Jen Blackburn stated:

Glowing Coleen Rooney has sparked rumours that she and hubby Wayne are expecting their second child.

The TV star and designer, 25, has stopped drinking alcohol and pals believe she will have a sister or brother for son Kai around May next year.

A source close to Coleen told The Sun: "Coleen has always wanted more children and she is absolutely glowing at the moment.

"No one has seen her touch a drop of booze for weeks and she is really looking after herself."

There doesn't appear to have been much effort to contact Coleen, who took to Twitter to say:

But what of the source - who the Sun described as 'close to Coleen' - and the claim she hasn't been seen drinking for weeks?

Friday 11 November 2011

Today's corrections

The Sun has published the following correction on page two of today's paper:

We reported on October 18 that 'more than 40 per cent' of all knife crime involves juveniles. In fact, this was an estimate by local police for the London borough of Enfield. The most recent Ministry of Justice figures show the proportion is just under 20 per cent in England and Wales.

This comes after Full Fact looked into the original article and complained to the PCC that the figures were inaccurate. They say:

The correction - within a month of the original article - is welcome, even if it does come after the claim was used by elected representatives when pressing particular policies from the Government.

It highlights how important it is for newspapers to take as much care as possible not to publish inaccurate figures, particularly on crucial matters of policy.

The Mirror has also published a correction today thanks to an investigation by Full Fact:

In our article “Cheating up 30% in 3yrs” we stated the figure for benefit fraud had reached £22billion a year. In fact this figure is an estimate for the total of all fraud and error, and includes mistakes made by the Government and claimants, and fraud which is unrelated to benefits.

Today's Mail corrections are:

Two commentary articles about psychic Sally Morgan in September stated that it is 'illegal in this country to claim to be a medium'. It has been pointed out to us that mediums are in fact legal in this country, although like other businesses they are subject to  consumer protection legislation.


In our coverage of Joe Frazier's death on Wednesday, we said that Muhammad Ali had had only one  comeback fight before facing Frazier in 1971. He had in fact fought twice before that bout, facing both Jerry Quarry, as we stated, and Oscar Bonavena.

Earlier this week, the the Mirror published this apology and correction:

On August 3 this year the Daily Mirror published an article regarding the death of Miss Catherine Zaks, aged 21, in Krakow, Poland.

The article contained claims that Miss Zaks, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex, abused drugs and had engaged in casual sex following the break-up of a long-term relationship.

Miss Zaks’ parents have pointed out that these claims are entirely false and that their daughter was much loved, and of good character.

We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for any distress caused.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Mail admits 'Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas'

On Monday 26 September, Melanie Phillips wrote a column in the Daily Mail that appeared under the headline 'Our language is being hijacked by the Left to muzzle rational debate'.

In it, she repeated false claims about the BBC's position on BC/AD. And she also said:

The pressure on Christians, however, is merely part of a far wider onslaught on Western culture through the hijacking or censorship of language.

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval'.

The Winterval myth has been repeated every year for over a decade as revealed in Kevin Arscott's excellent 2010 essay on the use and abuse of the term Winterval.

As Steve Baxter writes:

Winterval was the politically correct way of referring to Christmas; it was taking Christ out of Christmas; it was part of the PC killjoys' attempts to de-Christianise Britain and bring us all into an Iron Curtain world of secularist misery. The myth kept on coming back -- every year, at Christmas time, or before.

James, a regular reader of this blog, decided to contact the PCC about Phillips' claim. He had tried to make a complaint last year when the term appeared in the Express, but when Richard Desmond withdrew his newspapers from the PCC, they decided to drop the complaint.

Winterval had been used by couple of people in 2011 prior to Phillips, including fellow Mail writer Nigel Jones who said 'Christmas becomes Winterval'. But his column only appeared online. James wanted the Mail to admit in print that Winterval was not what the Mail and other papers had been claiming for years.

So he emailed the PCC on 25 September after Phillips' article was posted online. Once again the Mail took over a month to respond, but a letter signed by Executive Managing Editor Robin Esser finally arrived on 27 October. It began with an apology for the delayed reply and then said:

I am unsure what the complainant has to do with the piece about which he is complaining.

Does the PCC consider it is a matter of accuracy, as he does?

And that tone continued for much of the rest of the letter:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term "Christmas" refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day. 

This is a bizarre statement, given that it is denying an accusation that wasn't made. It's true that Phillips never said the 'term was intended to replace Christmas Day' - but James never said she did.

Then, on the substance of the complaint, the Mail said:

there is plenty of evidence to show that the term "Winterval” has been bandied about as a replacement for Christmas, as Ms Phillips says, in various places...

There were complaints at the time from Christian leaders that this was a politically correct attempt to avoid talking about Christmas and thus to destroy the Christian association with the season.

Subsequently, lt became commonplace in the media to refer to the replacement of Christmas by 'Winterval'. 

The Mail was trying to argue that references to Winterval in the media backed up Phillips' claim that Christmas had been renamed in 'various places'. They enclosed a clippings file of such stories, none of which provided evidence for what Phillips had said.

The letter concluded:

I would urge the Commission to take a rational view of this complaint and reject it.

In response to a complaint pointing out Christmas has never been renamed Winterval, the Mail dismissed James' interest in the story, and strongly implied he was nit-picking, lacking in common sense and irrational. In his reply, he made very clear that he objected to the Mail's 'unhelpful' attitude. He also spent some time pointing out what Winterval was and how the myth had been debunked by people such as Mike Chubb, who actually coined the phrase.

The next reply from the Mail was markedly different. They repeated that when Phillips referred to 'various places' she wasn't talking about actual places, such as Birmingham, but 'various places' in the media. This seemed a stretch, especially in the context of her column, which was about the meaning of words. But even if you accept she did mean 'various places' in the media, that still isn't true. But this time Esser said:

we have no wish to fall out with the complainant and I would be sorry to see the temperature rising on this matter.

May I suggest the complainant  offers us a succinct letter setting out his view of “ Winterval” and, subject to the Editor accepting that, we will also attach it to the cuttings to warn about the future use of the term.

James said he hoped the Mail would mark the cuttings anyway, but declined to write a letter. He argued that it would carry no weight and that the Mail should admit its error in the new 'Clarifications and corrections' column. That is what it is there for, after all.

A few days later, the Mail offered to publish this:

We suggested in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham over the Christmas period in 1997 and 1998.

James argued it was a good start, but didn't go far enough. He wanted 'suggested' (the trick they always try in corrections) replaced with 'stated'. He wanted 'over the Christmas period' removed. And he wanted a clear statement from the Mail that would show they were admitting their mistake and, hopefully, ending the Winterval myth once and for all. So he asked for this to be added at the end:

We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Somewhat surprisingly, especially given their original response, the Mail agreed to this wording and so, today, the Mail's 'Clarifications and corrections' column published this:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

This is excellent news and long overdue. It means that any future repetition of the Winterval myth by the media can now be easily challenged. If the Mail - the Mail - admits Winterval wasn't about replacing or renaming Christmas, there's no good reason other media should claim otherwise.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Winterval myth?

(For more, see Winterval: the unpalatable making of a modern myth by Kevin Arscott)