Sunday 30 December 2012

Littlejohn and 'callous indifference'

In March 2011, this blog noted:

You know that when Richard Littlejohn begins one of his columns sounding as if he's being sincere and caring, it won't last long.

In that case, he was writing about the Japanese tsunami. He started by saying that no one could fail to be moved by the scenes of destruction, before labelling the Japanese 'militantly racist' and recounting his dead grandfather's experiences during the Second World War.

On 27 December, Littlejohn decided to write about the death of three people - including two children - in an accident on the M6 on Christmas Day:

Saddest story of the week was the death of two young brothers, aged four and ten, in a crash on the northbound M6 in Staffordshire on Christmas morning. Their mother, who was driving the car, survived, but another woman passenger was also killed.

They were on their way to a family wedding when their Ford Focus came off the road and struck a tree.

Police immediately closed the motorway in both directions as rescuers and an air ambulance raced to the scene.

And when he begins sounding sincere, you know it won't last long...

We all appreciate that in the event of a fatal accident the emergency services must be given room to do their job. But patience begins to wear gossamer thin when the road remains closed for hours on end for no good reason...

There is no visible debris, so why couldn’t one or two lanes have been opened at the earliest opportunity?

Most of these people will have been on their way to spend Christmas Day with friends and family.

With no public transport available they had no choice but to take the car.

There can be no justification for forcing them to spend a moment longer than absolutely necessary stuck on the M6.

This, of course, fits into the Littlejohn narrative about over-the-top policing and 'health and safety Nazis'. But it's hard to imagine how this tragedy could lead someone into a rant about the inconvenience of road closures.

Littlejohn says:

There will probably be those who will accuse me of using these tragic deaths as a stick to beat the police. I can’t help that...

But ruining the Christmas Day of thousands of other people by forcing them to spend hours stranded in their cars unnecessarily was an act of callous indifference on the part of the police.

'Callous indifference' indeed.

Littlejohn appears not to have spoken to the police or the Highways Agency, nor does he seem to have been anywhere near the scene of the accident.

Photographer Michael Rawlins was there, and he has blogged about how many of Littlejohn's assumptions are as ill-informed as you might expect.

For example, Littlejohn says:

The accident on the M6 happened at 11.25am. Though the southbound carriage-way was reopened in the afternoon, the northbound carriageway stayed shut for several hours until early evening.

Rawlins points out that the soutbound carriage only re-opened around 2:30pm because:

the 3 bodies had only just been removed from the scene some 10 minutes earlier...It stands to reason that the southbound carriageway would also remain closed until this had happened, the last thing you need is an accident on the opposite carriageway because someone was rubbernecking.

Littlejohn also refers to a:

three-lane tailback of stationary cars and lorries stretching goodness knows how many miles into the distance.

A photo taken by Rawlins (at 2pm) one mile south of the accident shows:

vehicles are travelling south on the north bound carriageway... escorted by a Highways Agency vehicle not shown in this picture. If the blue sign is about a mile from the accident and other than the truck on the inside lane there is no stationary traffic then this debunks Littlejohn’s statement somewhat.

Rawlins adds:

I’m sure there were some tailbacks at Jct14 to the south but I drove from there up to the crash site along the diversion route and it wasn’t any busier than a normal weekday evening.

The real tragedy is that 3 people lost their lives on Christmas Day, families have lost 3 very loved people. The bigger tragedy is Littlejohn gets away with spouting this rubbish.

The anonymous police blogger Nathan Constable has also written about Littlejohn's article, labelling it 'horrible' and a 'poor-taste cheap shot'. He writes:

it’s not “just one vehicle involved” – the witnesses and other motorists have just watched this horror story unfold in front of their eyes and most will not have the desensitisation that the emergency service people have.

It is quite likely that the first few cars in the now huge queue will have witnesses on board. They will quite possibly be traumatised as well as having important information to share. You don’t just wave people on and hope they think to call in later.

He goes on:

So it’s not “just one vehicle involved” is it Mr Littlejohn? Emergency service personnel don’t just pack up and go home for tea and medals. In the incident I dealt with six months ago I went home and cried and I am about as cynical as they come.

And even if it was “just one vehicle involved” we still need to find out how and why this happened.

Was another driver driving dangerously?
Did they perform a manoeuvre so dangerous it was criminal?
Is someone else responsible?
Have the mechanics of the car been tampered with?
Is it murder?
Is it suicide?

You see – its not as simple as saying that “everything points to it being a tragic accident” within an hour of getting there. 

He adds:

The arrogance and ignorance it must take to write something like this simply staggers me.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Desmond papers disagree over Brucie's future

The headline on the front of today's Daily Star Sunday is 'Brucie: I'm Off! - No new contract for Strictly star':

The online version of the article carries the headline: Bruce to leave Strictly. It explains:

Strictly legend Sir Bruce Forsyth may be set to leave the show.

Brucie, 84, told us he has not signed a new contract for next year’s series.

The Star's sister paper, the Sunday Express, has a slightly different take on what Bruce has said in the same interview. Their front page says 'Brucie: I'm not going to retire' and the story makes clear no decision has been made about Strictly:

The online version, which runs under the headline 'Nice to carry on, to carry on nice Bruce Forsyth' says:

Sir Bruce Forsyth has again ruled out retirement.

Despite suggestions that he may bow out of Strictly Come Dancing this year, the showbusiness legend, 84, says he isn’t planning to leave the stage just yet...

Forsyth, who took a week off from Strictly this year, will decide whether to present the next series when he returns in April from a winter in Puerto Rico, his wife Wilnelia’s home country.

He said: “Who knows how long I will go on for? I could turn around tomorrow and say, ‘I’ve had enough’. It could be in a couple of weeks’ time.

“But at the moment, and with what we’ve been doing, which is to assess each year before we start, I’m certainly not going to retire.

“That’s the last thing on my mind, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this show at the Albert Hall next year. Retiring is completely out of my mind.”

Saturday 22 December 2012

MailOnline's 'photoshop fail'

Over the last twelve months or so, MailOnline has been quick to jump on 'photoshop fails' by others.

Despite that, they published this picture in an article yesterday:

(Hat-tip to Squeaker)

Thursday 20 December 2012

The eagle has crash landed

The day after the 'eagle snatches kid' video was revealed as a hoax - the Telegraph published confirmation of this at 8:12pm on Wednesday - several of the tabloids ran the story in their print editions.

The Express headline read 'Terror in the skies as eagle snatches tot':

Although the article admitted a 'fierce online debate was raging' about whether it was a hoax, the paper calls it a 'terrifying incident' in the third sentence.

The Sun's headline was 'Child's prey':

Like the Express, it reports on the fact that 'some' had 'questioned whether the incident...was real or a CGI fake.' But at the top of the story, the Sun says:

Dad's horror as golden eagle swoops on his toddler son in park and tries to carry him away

The Star went with 'The eagle has landed a tot!':

It does include the truth that 'the clip turned out to be fake' but this appears to be a late addition, as the rest of the story is written as if it is genuine - including, on the right of the page:

'What do you think? Check out the video at'

(Pictures from Jonathan Haynes, posted on Twitter)

Wednesday 19 December 2012

'Incredible footage'

The top story on the MailOnline homepage this morning:

The update, placed half-way down the MailOnline homepage tonight:

ASA upholds complaint against 'irresponsible' Health Lottery ad

The Advertising Standards Agency has upheld a complaint against an advert for Richard Desmond's Health Lottery that appeared in Richard Desmond's Express.

The ad carried the slogan "Mortgage? What mortgage?" and was criticised by the Gambling Reform & Society Perception Group (GRASP) who:

challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because they believed the ad implied that participating in a lottery was a solution to financial concerns or a way to achieve financial security.

The Health Lottery Ltd claimed that the ad:

in no way depicted participation in a lottery as a solution to financial concerns.


The Daily Express...said they believed the ad was suitable for publication and re-iterated the points made by The Health Lottery.

However, the ASA ruled:

We considered that because the ad suggested that someone who had won the lottery could pay off their debts, the implication was that participation in the lottery was a way of solving financial concerns or achieving financial security. We noted that the CAP Code stated "Marketing communications must not suggest that participating in a lottery can be a solution to financial concerns ... or a way to achieve financial security. Advertisers may, however, refer to other benefits of winning a prize". We considered that other benefits of a winning a prize included purchasing new goods or experiences, rather than paying off existing debts.

For these reasons, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible because it implied that participating in a lottery was a solution to financial concerns or a way to achieve financial security.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

MailOnline calls Megan Fox a 'strumpet'

An article about a Jay Leno interview with actress Megan Fox appeared on MailOnline in the early hours of this morning.

Under the byline Monty Archibald, the article referred to Fox as a 'Christmas cracker' and then said this:

The chat show king certainly seemed to be enjoying himself as he had a chinwag with the Transformers star.

Perhaps he was just enjoying the hilarious tales of new motherhood from his irrepressible guest.

However the funnyman also surely enjoying the view after the canny strumpet twinned a Roland Mouret dress with Christian Louboutin shoes.

Making her figure all the more impressive is the fact she only gave birth two months ago.

The 26-year-old also revealed how much she is enjoying being a mother for the first time to her son Noel, whose father is her husband Brian Austin Green.

'Canny strumpet'.

Ben Fenton tweeted:

Does the author of this piece know that the word "strumpet" has only one meaning: prostitute?

This comes a couple of weeks after the Leveson report talked of the tendency of some sections of the tabloid press to 'sexualise and demean women'.

At 14:39, the article was edited. The byline was changed to 'Daily Mail Reporter' and Fox was now a:

canny actress

Despite the update, the Mail hasn't corrected the name of her son - it's Noah, not Noel.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Express and its 'unmatched, accurate weather updates'

In today's Express, the paper pats itself on the back for its weather coverage. The paper says it has:

a firm reputation for leading the way when it comes to the weather.


we are unmatched on our faithful and accurate weather updates.

And that they are:

oracles of the British weather.

This article was written by Nathan Rao. Many of the Express' weather articles, which often predict apocalyptic spells of cold or heat (usually, one appears days after the other), are also written by Nathan Rao.

For example, on 5 September he wrote about a:

tropical burst of summer could last late into October

It didn't last until late October - it didn't even last five days, as on 10 September Rao was reporting 80mph gales that would 'end [the] heatwave.'

On 7 July, the paper (not Rao this time) claimed: Sorry, there's no might about it...IT WILL RAIN 'TIL SEPTEMBER. Just two weeks later, Rao claimed that Britain would see 'temperatures soaring to 95F next week.'

On 15 June, Rao's story claiming that forecasters did 'not anticipate any significant hot spell until well into September' was splashed on the front page. Ten days later, Rao's story claiming that a 'scorching blast of summer will at last roar in from the Continent this week – sending temperatures to 93F (34C)' was splashed on the front page.

On 22 May, the Express said it would be the 'hottest summer for almost a decade'. On 9 June, this changed to 'worst storms for a decade' and a 'year without summer'.

On 19 April, Rao reported claims that it would be the 'coldest May for 100 years'. In fact, the Met Office revealed at the end of May:

temperature, rainfall and even sunshine are very close to normal....

And that there was:

a run of dry and fine weather, with some remarkably high temperatures. This included a new maximum May temperature for Scotland...

In all, it has been the longest warm spell in May since 1992.

A year ago, on 17 December 2011, the Express' front page headline screamed: 'It's a white Christmas!'. But just four days later, bookies were 'slashing the odds on this Christmas being the warmest on record' and two days after that, the paper admitted: 'It won't be a white Christmas anywhere in the UK'.

In early October 2011, Rao reported that temperatures were to hit -20C 'within weeks'. A month later, he reported a 'big Siberian freeze' will arrive 'with a vengeance...within the next fortnight'. Twelve days later, Rao was reporting that Britain was: 'on track for the warmest November since records began 353 years ago.'

There are many more examples like these. After all, Scott Bryan revealed on 23 August 2012 that since September 2011, the Express had weather stories on the front page 111 times - 52 of them as the main story.

So while the Express may indeed 'lead the way' in the amount of column-inches it devotes to the weather, to claim it is of 'unmatched accuracy' or that they are 'oracles of the British weather' is simply laughable.

* Nathan Rao has his own blog. It reveals he's been a journalist for nine years and includes a section called 'Some of my front pages'. It includes just six examples, all from the Express, one of which is the disgraceful, completely untrue 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope' article which labelled six innocent men as Islamic terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda.

Monday 10 December 2012

'I didn’t find the card'

On 7 December, @Cheesyhel tweeted a photo of a birthday card for 13-year-old girls that she found in a local newsagents:

The card says:

If you had a rich boyfriend he'd give you diamonds and rubies. Well, maybe next year you will - when you've bigger boobies!

The Mail reported on the outrage that followed:

The article says:

American novelist Maureen Johnson was travelling though [sic] the UK when she came across the card. She took a picture and posted it to Twitter with the message: 'Dear @HallmarkPR, SERIOUSLY???? #letsmessgirlsupearlywithcards'.

The card sparked outrage across the social media service and by Saturday evening, her message had been re-tweeted more than 1,000 times.

It is not known which shop the author was in when she came across the card, but Hallmark UK claimed to be surprised that it was still on sale.

But this isn't true. American author Maureen Johnson had sent a tweet that included @Cheesyhel's pic - the latter's Twitter handle is revealed on opening the photo in Johnson's tweet.  

Today, Johnson tweeted what happened:

She then revealed the contact she'd had with Mail reporter Niamh O'Doherty:

On Saturday, December 8, 2012, Niamh O’Doherty wrote:

Hi Maureen,

My name is Niamh O’Doherty and I’m a reporter from The Daily Mail. We’re just writing a story about the Hallmark Card you found yesterday, and were wondering if you’d like to comment on it. Would you also be able to tell us in which shop you picked up the card?

Thanks so much,


From: Maureen Johnson
Sent: 09 December 2012 04:26
To: Niamh O’Doherty
Subject: Re: Query from the Daily Mail

I didn’t find the card. It was found in the uk by someone else. I had surgery this week and was not traipsing about! I think HuffPo reported it that way, but I have no idea why.


Niamh O’Doherty
Dec 9 (1 day ago)
to me
Thanks Maureen, appreciate it. Here’s to a speedy recovery!

Update: Given the Mail article was published online on 8 December, and Maureen's reply was not sent until the 9th, it seems the Mail ran the article without waiting for her reply, based on a misunderstanding of her original tweet. However, at time of writing, two days on from being told the truth by Maureen, the Mail has not corrected the story.

Friday 7 December 2012

Express article 'could potentially cause harm to people with cancer'

Today's Express asks:

Inspired by recent news events, the article by Jane Warren gets the view of an 'expert' on a variety of 'alternative cancer treatments'. The 'expert' in question is billed as:

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD, a hormone and holistic health specialist with clinics in Harley Street and Jersey.

It adds:

So just what are the alternatives that Dr Burns-Hill believes can assist in the treatment of cancer?

A quick look at the 'about' page of Burns-Hill's website reveals a telling phrase, printed in bold:

For absolute clarity – I am not a medical doctor.

The website also makes clear:

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD has provided this website for information purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for advice from your registered physician or healthcare professional.

Last month, a complaint about Burns-Hill and her website was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority, who ruled:

We told DBH to ensure that she held adequate substantiation for her claims in future, and to ensure she stated that she was not a medically qualified doctor in a clear and prominent qualification positioned close to the first reference to the title Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD.

Given the background of their 'expert', it is perhaps unsurprising that the Express' article has been criticised by both Sense About Science and Cancer Research UK. A response by Kat Arney for the latter said:

This piece contains factual and scientific inaccuracies, as well as misleading information that could potentially cause harm to people with cancer.

For example, the Express mentions the Gerson Treatment and their 'expert' says:

“I was on a 21st-century version of Gerson called Plaskett Therapy. It is a very hard regime to follow and is controversial because it is alternative, not complementary. Success is difficult to quantify as many people turn to Gerson as a last resort."

But Arney points out:

Although the article states that Gerson therapy is controversial, it fails to mention that there is absolutely no solid scientific evidence to show that Gerson therapy can treat cancer, and that it can be very harmful to a patient’s health. Coffee enemas have been linked to serious infections, dehydration, constipation, colitis (inflammation of the colon), and dangerous electrolyte imbalances or even death. The information on Gerson therapy in the article is misleading, inaccurate and potentially harmful for cancer patients.

The Express also discusses homeopathy:

THE THEORY: A natural system for the treatment of disease by highly dilute doses of substances. It works by treating like with like.

OUR EXPERT SAYS: “This is often disregarded because it works in a different way to conventional medicine. It looks past the symptoms to consider the whole person.”

Arney replies:

The reality is that there is no solid medical evidence to prove that homeopathy can treat cancer. 

Arney also tackles other 'treatments' the Express raises, including diet:

there is no good evidence to suggest that any particular foodstuff can really treat cancer.


The article claims that eating a lot of sugar is “feeding any cancer cells”. This is an unhelpful oversimplification of a highly complex area that researchers are only just starting to understand.

And stress:

The article claims that “stress is a factor in cancer” that has been “scientifically substantiated”. This is a bold overstatement of the current state of research in this area. Many people believe that stress can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. But the evidence for this is lacking.

Cancer Research sent a letter to the Express challenging the article:

Dear Sir,
The Daily Express article “Do cancer alternatives really work?” (Friday December 7th) contains misleading information and several inaccuracies that could cause harm to cancer patients.

We understand that people want to try everything after a cancer diagnosis, but strongly urge anyone considering complementary or alternative therapy to talk to their medical team about their safety.  We go to a lot of trouble to make sure we find out what treatments really work though our research, and cancer patients deserve the best information we have, not dangerous speculation.

There is absolutely no solid evidence that Gerson therapy can treat cancer. In fact this treatment can cause very serious side effects.

Cancer patients searching for accurate, reliable information about alternative and complementary therapies can find it on our CancerHelp UK website or by calling our Cancer Information Nurses on 0808 800 4040 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday).

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK Chief Clinician.

The paper has refused to print it. Arney concludes:

In his recent report, Lord Leveson highlighted the harms to the public from inaccurate and misleading science and health reporting by the press.  We are disappointed that the Express has chosen to print this article about a serious health issue without checking the scientific validity of the claims within it. By failing to do this, they have done a disservice to their readers, cancer patients and their families.

UPDATE (10 Dec): Sense About Science has edited the Express article (pdf).

Saturday 1 December 2012

Leveson on the 'clear evidence of misreporting on European issues'

Last month, the Mail claimed the EU was planning to ban Famous Five books from schools. The story was fiction and described as 'nonsense' by the EC in the UK. But when an MEP sent a letter to the readers' editor at the paper, he refused to publish it on the grounds that the original report:

may not have suggested in so many words banning books (that might make it look very unpopular) but it has criticised them

In fact, it didn't suggest banning books in any words - the report didn't include the word 'book' at all.

This is the latest thing the EU has been accused - wrongly - of wanting to ban. See also jam jars, selling a dozen eggs, cars from town centres, milk jugs, classic cars, shopping bags, Britain, kids from blowing up balloons and so on. It's not just non-existent bans - it's also half-truths about flying flags and pouring dead bodies down the drain.

When Express editor Hugh Whittow gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry, he stated firmly:

we don't twist anything. We just present the news of the day.

When asked about a front page story '75% say: 'Quit the EU now'', Whittow accepted they did twist things. Robert Jay QC asked if the headline was misleading given that the 75% who apparently say 'Quit the EU now' included 47% saying renegotiate membership. Whittow replied:

I accept that from what you say.

Almost exactly one year before Leveson's report was published, Patrick O'Flynn, the Express' chief political commentator, claimed:

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

Lord Justice Leveson says in his report (p.687):

Articles relating to the European Union, and Britain’s role within it, accounted for a further category of story where parts of the press appeared to prioritise the title’s agenda over factual accuracy.

He concluded:

there is certainly clear evidence of misreporting on European issues...

The factual errors in the examples above are, in certain respects, trivial. But the cumulative impact can have serious consequences...

there can be no objection to agenda journalism (which necessarily involves the fusion of fact and comment), but that cannot trump a requirement to report stories accurately. Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code explicitly, and in my view rightly, recognises the right of a free press to be partisan; strong, even very strong, opinions can legitimately influence the choice of story, placement of story and angle from which a story is reported. But that must not lead to fabrication, or deliberate or careless misrepresentation of facts. Particularly in the context of reporting on issues of political interest, the press have a responsibility to ensure that the public are accurately informed so that they can engage in the democratic process. The evidence of inaccurate and misleading reporting on political issues is therefore of concern. The previous approach of the PCC to entertaining complaints only where they came from an affected individual may have allowed a degree of impunity in this area.

(Hat-tip to Gareth)

Star's latest example of an 'embellished and inaccurate' headline

The front page of Saturday's Daily Star boasts an 'exclusive':

'Ash and Dec's Secret Jungle Date'. It's yet another story from I'm A Celebrity which has been on the front page of the Star almost every day since the series started.

Just below the 'Exclusive' banner we're told:

Sex-starved TV babe Ashley Roberts wants a date with I'm A Celebrity host Declan Donnelly after leaving the jungle, we can reveal.  

So the 'secret date' hasn't actually happened.

This comes two days after the Leveson Report said, in a section on 'deliberately misleading headlines' in which the Star gets several mentions (p.682):

What seems clear is that, faced with a fiercely competitive market, some titles have found themselves on the wrong side of the line between an attention-grabbing but accurate headline and an embellished and inaccurate headline.

Leveson on the 'tendency to sexualise and demean women'

One phrase that unexpectedly appears in the Leveson Report is (p.664):

massive pervy eyeful

It is a quote from a 'story' published by the Daily Star on 15 November 2011:

The 'story' says:

Sam's a bit of a ski bum

We assume you're not even reading this because you're still getting a massive pervy eyeful of that pert ass going up a fake ski slope.

But if you have managed to tear your bum-filled eyeballs away, you will realise the owner of those tight buns is TOWIE babe Sam Faiers, 20.

She showed off her impressive, er, snow plough on a family day out at Brentwood Ski Centre in her Essex hood.

This was submitted to Leveson by the organisation OBJECT as one example (among many) of the objectification of women in the media.

Referring to the Star, Sun and Sport, Lord Justice Leveson pointed out (p.664):

all three titles contained what can only be described as objectifying material. All three included numerous articles with no other purpose except to show an image of a scantily clad or topless woman...

All three titles included articles with no purpose other than to attach a photograph of, and describe in derogatory language, a woman’s breasts or bottom...

All three contained large scale advertisements for pornography and/or escort services. And all three included articles which appeared to eroticise violence against women.

He concluded (p.664):

The evidence as a whole suggested that there is force in the trenchant views expressed by the groups and organisations who testified to the Inquiry that the Page 3 tabloid press often failed to show consistent respect for the dignity and equality of women generally, and that there was a tendency to sexualise and demean women. That failure is particularly clear in the pages of the Sport, which is, in my view, hardly distinguishable from the admittedly ‘softer’ end of top-shelf pornography. But it exists to a lesser degree in the Daily Star and The Sun. For The Sun, at least, it is a failure of consistency, rather than a general failure to show respect for women. The Sun has campaigned admirably against domestic violence, rape, and size zero models.[373] But it is clear that those campaigns have, perhaps uncomfortably, sat alongside demeaning and sexualising representations of women.