Really Bad Journalism

Newspapers copy other newspapers, running the same stories in a frantic attempt of appearing on the ball, irrespective of the fact that this process involves no journalism at all. What is worse is that journalists copying these stories don’t even take the time to perform even the most basic fact checks, not even a quick Google check to find out whether those involved have issued a statement for example.

Today’s example is a story that has been picked up and repeated without question by the following newspapers:

The Daily Mail: ‘Teachers leave boy, 5, stranded in tree because of health and safety (then report passer-by who helped him down to police)
The Telegraph: ‘Woman reported to police after coming to aid of boy left in tree

I don’t know who started it, and I really don’t care. There is no excuse for copying and pasting without even basic fact checking. I saw this story and just immediately thought it looked like absolute rubbish, so I googled the school and found not one clear letter containing the truth, but two. Yet our wonderful press have preferred the horseshit version so they can whinge about ‘elf n safety’ going mad and sensible things being ‘banned’.

Let’s have a look at the Daily Mail version of the story (complete with 617 comments) – largely because it’s an average version of the story, but the other papers above are no less guilty:

A boy of five was left stranded in a tree at school because of a bizarre health and safety policy – which banned teachers from helping him down.

The mischievous pupil climbed the 20ft tree at the end of morning break and refused to come down.

But instead of helping him, staff followed guidelines and retreated inside the school building to ‘observe from a distance’ so the child would not get ‘distracted and fall’.

A boy of five was left stranded in a tree at school because of a bizarre health and safety policy – which banned teachers from helping him down.

The mischievous pupil climbed the 20ft tree at the end of morning break and refused to come down.

But instead of helping him, staff followed guidelines and retreated inside the school building to ‘observe from a distance’ so the child would not get ‘distracted and fall’.

The Daily Mail story was last updated on the 25th March, here is a letter [pdf] – available on the Manor School website since the 24th of March:

Sadly, some of you may have become aware of a tabloid newspaper story being run about the school.

The headline in one paper is: Banned – for rescuing boy stuck in a tree. The story appertains to an incident that happened over three weeks ago when a member of the public came on to school property, approached a child and was intercepted by staff. When she was challenged as to how she had entered the school grounds, she became aggressive and promptly left, climbing over the same padlocked gate in the middle of school grounds that she had climbed to gain access.

What I can tell you is, at no point was any child ever stuck in a tree and that when the woman approached the child who was standing on the pathway next to Miss Tristram’s classroom, he responded that he didn’t want to talk to a stranger. Staff intercepted the woman immediately and Mr Hester challenged her regarding her actions. The child was in no danger at any time and there was no chance that the woman would have been able to remove the child from the school premises. The child’s mother is fully aware of the incident and is fully supportive of the school. She has herself referred the woman’s actions to the police.

The woman is objecting to our actions following the incidents, namely to ban her from ever entering the premises again without my permission. To attempt to access school premises through a locked gateway is trespass and her actions were highly inappropriate in the light of child safeguarding.

The police have been informed about all three incidents involving the woman concerned and many of you will have noticed the additional police presence lately and the presence of staff on the school boundary. Following the police involvement, the woman concerned has not returned to the school boundary, other than to have her photograph taken outside the school gate.

So, quite how the Daily Mail managed to repeat the completely untrue story is beyond me. They’re certainly not alone, all of the newspapers should be ashamed of themselves for running such a stupid story. So many tabloids picked up the original, rubbish story, that the school has today been forced to issue another letter [pdf]:

Firstly, may I thank you all for your many messages of support and your very obvious disbelief of the story printed in the newspaper yesterday. Unfortunately, the untrue story has been picked up by other tabloids and newspapers throughout the day, but all were based on the initial inaccurate copy. Like me, many of you have watched the story become more and more sensationalised on line. It was disappointing to watch timescales become inflated and the reported reactions of the child, the size of his climb in the tree and the location of the tree change throughout the day.

Some of you have asked if I can share the facts with you, so that you can put people straight. I have also been asked by the child’s mother to include a statement from her, and then you can make up your own minds.

On the 1st March, Key Stage 1 playtime ended at 11.05am. At the end of the playtime, the child concerned wanted to stay out and ran up to one of the trees on the pathway adjacent to Miss Tristram’s classroom and outdoor area whilst some of the teaching assistants on duty took the classes of children in off the playground. At 11.15am more than 130 children and seven more teaching assistants came out to the playground. In the ten minutes between the two break times, the woman was observed by one of our Key Stage 2 teaching assistants entering the vehicular gate and turning across the private staff car park rather than walking to reception. The child concerned had been sitting and then swinging on the bottom branch of the tree and was in no way stuck and was not distressed. The woman then climbed the padlocked gate that separates the car park and the playground, walked past Miss Tristram and Mrs Lee’s classrooms and approached the child who was standing on the path, having exited the tree. The child was reluctant to talk to her and walk with her. The woman was then intercepted by a teaching assistant who took her to see Mr Hester. Mr Hester took the woman back on to the playground during Key Stage 2 playtime and asked her to identify the tree and then challenged her regarding her entrance to the school via a locked gateway. At this point the woman became more verbally aggressive and exited by climbing back over the locked gateway. The whole incident including the discussion with Mr Hester was over in less than fifteen minutes.

The child’s mother has asked me to communicate this to you:

“I am amazed at the gullibility of the press and some of the general public. My child was never stuck in a tree and was very unhappy about a stranger approaching him in his school. I appreciate that the woman may have thought that she was doing the right thing, but there are proper procedures to follow and she shouldn’t walk past classrooms and staff to get at a child. The staff were doing their job and were fully aware that my son was there. They were also aware that a stranger was approaching him. They intercepted her to ensure there was no possibility of my son being removed from the premises. All I can say is thank God the staff behaved in the manner they did. I don’t know what the lady’s intentions were but I am really glad that I didn’t have to wait to find out. I fully support the actions of the school both before the incident and since.”

Are the press really gullible? Or are they simply pursuing their normal agenda irrespective of truth, fully aware that the PCC will not lift a finger to punish them for lazy and baseless journalism? I suggest the second rhetorical question is closer to the truth here.

No doubt the school can complain to the PCC about these articles, and no doubt the PCC will ‘resolve’ such a complaint by getting newspapers to delete online articles without so much as a whisper as if the whole sorry mess have never happened.

The result of these stories is that the whole Internet becomes full of another myth, repeated on blogs, forums and news collecting websites. People all over the world froth about how crazy us Brits are and how we’ve all gone mad. Take just one example: the ‘All American Blogger’ who has drooled out a post titled: ‘The Late Great Britain: Teacher Leaves Five Year Old 20Ft Up A Tree… for His Own Good‘:

Imagine if somehow, the government school teachers responsible for watching your child while they are being indoctrinated let your kid climb a tree. Not only climb it, but get 20 feet up into the branches.

What would you have them do?

In the late Great Britain, teachers are to retreat and observe, for the kid’s own safety.

He then goes onto parrot the various ‘facts’ in exactly the same way that the tabloid press did. The story has gone global and once again our tabloid press have made us a laughing stock.

Who would bet against this story making an appearance in Richard Littlejohn’s column tomorrow? If it does, then he is officially the laziest and worst columnist in the world.


Richard Littlejohn did not cover this myth, although he did repeat the myh that foreigners are eating swans (visit Tabloidwatch for the debunking of this myth).

Five Chinese Crackers has now posted on this story, pointing out that the left-wing media are also happy to cover this rubbish:

Passerby reported to police after trying to help schoolboy from tree – The Guardian
Teachers call police on mum who rescued 5-year-old boy from school tree‘ – The Mirror

As well as The Sun: ‘Tree-ly stupid safety measures‘.

Sadly, no media outlet seems to be retracting the story apart from All American Blogger, who, to his credit, has crossed out the text on his post, explained it was all made up and linked to this post. A big thanks to those of you that posted comments on that site and linked to here. Also a big thanks to those that have tweeted this story around the web, every little helps. You can follow me on Twitter here for all the latest.

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