Rebecca Leighton innocent, who will the press smear next?

Recently 8 newspapers agreed to apologise to Chris Jefferies and pay him damages for libel after they destroyed his reputation because he happened – unluckily – to be the landlord of murder victim Joanna Yeates. After having his character completely destroyed on the front page the newspapers only deemed an apology worthy of page 2.

Whilst the Jefferies legal case was ongoing another person found their photo on the front page of many newspapers – and discovered that the press would happily trawl Facebook to take any comments, photos or behaviours wildly out of context to paint them as some kind of monster. This time it was Rebecca Leighton, suspected of poisoning pensioners in hospital. The Daily Mail – the single most unashamedly aggressive newspaper when it comes to front page character assassination – led with these two front pages:


The Daily Mail – of course – are far from alone here in demonising Leighton; in the same way that that the tabloids attacked Jefferies as a rabid pack. Other bloggers have taken the time to go through just what smears other newspapers came up with – including the Daily Star labelling Leighton as the ‘Angel of death’. Of course, Rebecca Leighton has now been cleared of all charges and hopefully she’ll sue all the newspapers involved for libel, but I’m pretty sure she would have rather been left alone in the first place, to be treated as if she were innocent until proven guilty.

Anyone with a Facebook account, a blog or indeed family, friends or acquaintances is just one moment away from having the tabloid press pack descend on them. Who knows what you may have once innocently or jokingly posted on Facebook or Twitter that will be taken out of context as evidence to sully your character or to demonstrate your guilt. All you need to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time and you could find your every past moment turned over, speculated about and used to create whatever demon the press would like you to be. How much longer are we going to accept that this is simply an accepted risk when living in the UK? How much longer will spineless politicians acquiesce to this?

The Daily Mail is now covering the ‘hell’ that the nurse went through with no mention of their lead role in creating the very hell that Leighton complains of:

My life has been turned upside down. All I ever wanted to do was pursue a profession in nursing and care for my patients.

And her parents state that the whole experience has been a ‘nightmare’ and that:

We just want to be left in peace now so we can get on with our lives.

These are not complaints levelled at the police – who were just doing their jobs – but at the tabloid press, and chief amongst the guilty is the Daily Mail who happily and brazenly print this follow-up story as if this ‘nightmare’ or ‘hell’ had nothing to do with them. I think this is exactly what Jonathan Ross means when he refers to Daily Mail writers as ‘noxious human beings’ and ‘insincere hypocrites’.

Press reform: the challenge of addiction

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a substantial section of our press is no longer serving to report the news, but rather functions as a full-blown arm of the entertainment industry. Accuracy, journalistic integrity and moral decency have been replaced by the overwhelming desire to sell as many newspapers and as much advertising space in those newspapers as possible. Whilst it could be argued that printing and selling newspapers has always been about the bottom line, Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News makes a convincing argument that the bottom line used to go hand in hand (at least most of the time) with the basic tenets of journalism.

Perhaps the main driver for moving away from the traditional concept of what a newspaper is (you could easily argue that the name no longer accurately describes what is still known as a ‘newspaper’) is the slow decline in sales caused in part by the Internet, but also by Television and in particular the notion of 24-hour rolling news channels. People can dip in and out of news at their own convenience on their smartphones – with the freedom to choose from any supplier (except, perhaps, The Times which has moved behind a paywall). People don’t need to subscribe to newspapers anymore and the freedom to pick articles from different newspaper websites destroys the idea of traditional brand loyalty, or the expectation that we have to choose the one newspaper that best matches our own outlook.

In Flat Earth News Davies charts the downfall of real journalism as newspaper owners dealt with declining revenues by cutting staff and reducing money spent on investigative journalism. All of this could be easily replaced by making the remaining journalists produce more copy – gleaned largely from Wire services or simply re-written from other news sources. As the numbers of journalists declined so the the workload of those remaining increased until very often bylines indicated little more than who had copy-and-pasted a Press Release or straight copy from a wire service – without checks with regards to accuracy. Thus the notion of churnalism was born.

But this wasn’t the only consequence of declining revenues. Another significant consequence was the change in the product itself. News was no longer the exclusive domain of the newspaper. People could get it quicker, brighter and louder through their TV, radio or picked up on their PCs or smartphones via a social networking site or via the newspaper websites themselves. By the time the newspaper is printed it is already old: it is telling people very little they don’t already know. This meant that the newspaper had to change the nature of the what they did. They became not the breakers or news, but the masters of news commentary (or spin, as it is better known).

Newspapers became concerned far more with opinion – rather than tell us the news they thought they would tell what to think of the news that we had already heard about. Newspapers have abandoned any subtle pretence of neutrality in favour of essentially becoming one giant editorial. People choose newspapers as a filter, they pick the one that bests skewers the news around them to fit their own prejudices. It is, essentially, a slightly more adult way of putting your fingers in your eyes and screaming ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you’ to the rest of the news world.

The final consequence of the new business model is that any money spent by a given newspaper / editor must generate tangible profits for the newspaper. This means that given the choice between spending £3,000 on sending a journalist to a location for what could possibly be an important, newsworthy story (the kind of journalism the press always like to talk about when they tell us how important it is for them to have absolute freedom because they are out there, being journalists to act as a check and balance to the rich and powerful etc) and spending £3,000 buying a photo of Hugh Grant broken down in his car the editor will spend the £3,000 on the Hugh Grant picture every time. Celebrity drivel sells.

It’s expensive, but cheap at the same time. Whilst it might cost a fair bit for paparazzi photos of celebrity-x frolicking on the beach, the price is fixed and clear – all the time, equipment, plane tickets and incidental expenses etc have already been dealt with by the individual pap – the pap takes on the risk and the newspaper gets a guaranteed story for a fixed price.

This is where the addiction begins.

The evidence suggests that reporting on celebrities doing even the most inane things (going to the gym, washing hair, putting out bins, leaving home, arriving home, eating out, looking fat, looking thin, wearing clothes, wearing clothes they have worn before, walking their dogs, leaving a night club and generally doing anything at all that can be photographed) is big business. Sadly, there is a market for this drivel and it is growing. You only have to look at the massive growth the Daily Mail website has enjoyed – which is largely driven by celebrity stories and American web traffic. The Mail have even set up offices in LA to maximise the celebrity crap they can churn out.

Celebrity drivel is the new business plan for a lot of newspapers (like the Daily Star trying to shoehorn Jordan onto the front page of every edition with ever more elaborate inventions or their amazing run of front pages about Ryan Giggs) and it is becoming an addiction for both editors and readers alike. The editors need the sales that celebrity drivel can generate, and it seems enough of the public need celebrity to drivel to fill some kind of vacuum in their obviously meaningless and shallow existences.

Call me a snob if you want, but I kind of find it pretty depressing that the Mail website is currently running this story: ‘Kate Middleton: We’ve seen that dress before, Kate…on Sarah Jessica Parker in 2006!’. It is depressing thinking that a lot of people will probably be quite excited by this news story, or at least interested enough to click and have a look. It is even more depressing to think that at some point in the construction of this story someone who had perhaps wanted to be a journalist had somehow found themselves going through reams of images to find this obscure match and then having to write an article around these two pictures.

But all of this is irrelevant. All that matters is that this stuff does generate page views and shifts newspapers. Editors generally don’t print want no-one wants to read.

So here we are, trapped in a mutual addiction. The drive of newspapers to out-dig and out-titillate TV news led to phone-hacking becoming a standard technique and although it may have originally intended to be used for good it was soon being used to track the relationships of celebrities and eventually to eavesdrop on the grief of families (allegedly) and even to obstruct the Police in their investigations.

Bad journalism isn’t neatly isolated into pockets that we can cut out, it is rather a systematic product of an addictive pattern of selling us what isn’t actually any good for us. The press have become no better than a drug dealer, selling us cheap highs, quick fixes, dishonest scares and above all celebrity gossip. We know it’s bad for us, we know we should be doing something more worthwhile with our lives, but like any addiction it is hard to tear ourselves away from turning the same old pages for the same old content.

It’s just like the food industry packing everything with sugar, making us crave more and more of it as we encounter it in more and more products. If a food company now tried to market a healthy alternative to this they’re stuffed because everyone is addicted to products stuffed with sugar. We know such products are bad for us, but we buy them all the same. To rid ourselves of any addiction takes a lot of willpower, and it also takes a brave producer to try to sell us a product that they can only sell to those of us who want to go cold turkey.

Sadly, the reality of business dicates that an alternative product will only be offered once the original product is abandoned by the consumer. So, the question is, therefore: are we ready to give up the newspapers we currently happily consume?

What kind of person buys the Daily Star?

I tweeted the other day that anyone who reads the Daily Star must have the intelligence of a slug. I received quite a few responses, the majority informing me that I was being offensive to slugs, but one person who wanted to point out that his dad was an intelligent chap and read the Daily Star. I replied to this person probably dismissively- although I cannot be bothered to find the tweet – and thought no more about it.

Until now. So ‘pissed off’ was this individual that they felt the need to blog about it a while later and they pointed me in the direction of the post this morning. Essentially, his argument is this: after listening to Jim Davidson being interviewed on BBC 5Live he realised that not everyone is the two-dimensional caricature we suppose them to be, ergo it would be wrong to pre-judge people based on what they read.

A fair point, I’ll concede that not everyone who buys a tabloid newspaper is a unintelligent slug. However, my exasperated insult aimed at Daily Star readers was based on yet another front page headline that was completely fictional – not distorted, not inaccurate, but purposefully and completely invented. If that is the standard being set by the front page, what does that suggest about the standard of journalism enclosed within?

As you may be aware, the Daily Star recently appeared to throw its support behind the English Defence League, with a glowing write-up about how they were going to become a political party. For the record, the EDL did not have any firm plans to become a political party, but after the Daily Star article – and the massive phone poll support they received – they are now looking into it.

Once again, bad journalism has real consequences.

Which brings me back to any individual who buys a tabloid newspaper. As Richard Peppiatt wrote in his resignation letter to the Daily Star: news article invented in an office in London can get someone’s head caved in in Bradford. Now, as a reader of the Daily Star you might claim to not be an ignorant, hateful individual and you might instead argue that you’re a rational, intelligent human being. You might be able to rationalise why you buy it, how you see past the constant, hateful anti-Muslim (and fictional) propaganda and just enjoy the ‘fun’ articles inside or that you only read it for the sport.

But I’m not convinced by any of these arguments. I look at the average Daily Star front page and see only three consistant themes: racism, anti-Muslim propaganda and Jordan. Now, call me narrow-minded if you want, but I think that if you can still buy the newspaper in spite of this you must either be a racist, Muslim-hating Jordan fan or a complete simpleton. In either case, I can excuse you buying the Daily Star: you know not what you do.

Now, if a third type of reader does exist – in this case, the intelligent dad – then I can only point out that in purchasing the Daily Star they are funding, supporting and legitimising its agenda. I just have to wonder out loud what kind of intelligent person wants to do this. I can only think that maybe its that newspapers are like banks: we tend to stick with the one we’ve always used. Perhaps the Daily Star wasn’t always such a terrible newspaper – enlighten me in the comments if you wish – and some people are only buying it because it’s difficult to break out of an old habit.

As I pondered the other day, if the average Daily Star read Richard Peppiatt’s letter of resignation and realised that much of what they read was simply made-up by journalists at the newspaper – and in particular a lot of these stories were made up to stir-up hatred of Muslims – would they stop buying the newspaper?

Well perhaps the person who I ‘pissed off’ with my blanket accusation that all Daily Star readers were dribbling morons should make his dad read Peppiatt’s letter and see what impact his has on him. If he still intends to buy the Daily Star then I guess the most polite thing I can write about him is that he is extremely loyal.

More classic back page headlines

From the ever-excellent Football365’s Mediawatch section:

When Mediawatch saw Pep Guardiola’s comments about Jack Wilshere, we sighed and knew, just knew, that the tabs would run around screaming and wettting their pants like little boys who’d had too much Capri Sun.

For the record, Pep said (in his second or third language, note): “Wilshere is a top player. He is an excellent player, not just Arsenal, but also for the national team. [But] he is lucky because we have many players in the second team like him but he plays because there is no pressure at his club to win titles.”

This was said – as the papers well know – in the context of the pressure being so great at Barca to compete with Real Madrid that it’s not as easy to blood players as young as Wilshere in their first team.

But, even after Pep praised Wilshere’s qualities no less than four times even in that short passage, the coverage in the tabs ranges from the given, with The Daily Star opting for the headline ‘JACK BOOT: WE’VE GOT BETTER PLAYERS IN OUR RESERVES’, the expected, as The Daily Mail go with the headline ‘SECOND RATE: GUARDIOLA TELLS WILSHERE HE’D ONLY MAKE THE BARCA RESERVES’ to the hilarious, with The Sun’s self-appointed European Football Correspondent Antony Kastrinakis claiming Pep offered a ‘jibe’ at Wilshere and ‘taunted’ the young man.


The extent of Daily Star research

From the good folks at F365’s Mediawatch:

Maybe Mediawatch is being snobbish, but we don’t imagine those at the The Daily Star to be the spiciest chillies in the pot.

Therefore, their exciting news story, trailed on their back page, that David James was apparently ‘DRUNK when he agreed to join Bristol City’, was hardly a surprise.

We’ll gloss over the fact that he said nothing of the sort, simply that he was a little tipsy when he took the initial call, rather than rolling into the City offices with his pants on his head, bottle of Spar gin in hand and singing ‘Delilah’.

Instead, we prefer to note that the quotes on which they base their story are not really quotes at all, merely an extract lifted entirely from James’s column in The Observer two days ago.

The Star: turning mildly amusing asides into news since 1978.


From Football 365’s MediaWatch section today (a must read for fans of this blog):

Those newspapers who do not have Harry Redknapp on their payroll had to scratch around for an angle on Tottenham’s Champions League draw. And scratch around they did…

Opening paragraph in the Daily Star: ‘Peter Crouch’s wish was granted last night when he was handed the chance to take revenge on Rafa Benitez.’

Opening paragraph in the Daily Express: ‘Peter Crouch received his wish last night – and the chance to take revenge on Rafa Benitez.’

Headline in the Daily Mail: ‘I’ll make you pay, Rafa! Tottenham striker Peter Crouch on revenge mission to knock out old boss Benitez in Champions League.’

So will that be the same revenge-filled Peter Crouch who said on leaving Liverpool two years ago: “I have no grudge against the manager [Rafa Benitez]. When he started playing one up front he was always going to play Torres and it was not something that I had any qualms about. But when he played two up front I felt myself and Torres were a good combination. He didn’t seem to want to do that but I bear no grudges – it was his decision. And obviously my memories of my time at Liverpool are fantastic. What a great club to have played for. I have got only fond memories of my time there.”

My word, he’ll be fired up…

Good to see that the Daily Mail seems to be the worst out of a line-up including the Daily Star and Express and the only one to go with an utterly invented headline.

It is not a question of taste

This is the last time I will be writing a post on this subject so I hope it is definitive enough for some visitors to this site to understand. The visitors I am referring to – or people on Twitter or message boards or wherever – who shrug their shoulders and tell me that if I don’t like the Daily Mail I should stop reading it and just ignore it. I’ve tried to respond to this several times in the past, but the latest comment on this site has made me determined to write this post on the topic:

Stop reading the Mail then! Presumably you don’t go to gigs by bands you hate just so you can whinge about them afterwards, so why subject yourself to news media that you fundamentally disagree with *because it isn’t aimed at you*. Personally, I don’t like the Mail either – that’s why I don’t read it.

Firstly, the analogy of going to gigs is simply wrong because this website is not about my taste in something, I do not rant simply about something I do not like, rather I try to point out when the tabloid media (read by millions) is lying to its readers or being racist, homophobic or otherwise unpleasant. It is not a question of disagreeing with their worldview per see, it is the fact that this worldview is built out of a series of dishonest media narratives. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I want an opinion to be based on facts, not a series of lies and distortions created by the tabloid media and neatly packaged for the consumption of confused readers who sadly do not see that they are being lied to.

This is why your analogy does not work. Bands are very much a question of taste, they have little or nothing to do with basic humanity, honesty or truth. I can accept that there are thousands of manufactured pop bands out there that I dislike intensely (and you could rationalise some of this dislike if you talked about the commercialisation of music and the replacement of genuine creativity and art with music written, sung and packaged to a predictable corporate formula) but I can see that there is no real harm in it. I can ignore it because, on the whole, it is not hurting anyone.

The tabloid media on the other hand are inciting racial hatred against Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers. They are distorting reality to scare their readership into docile submission. People are becoming increasingly disconnected from reality and are unable to see that they are being repeatedly lied to. A comment on the Daily Star headline: ‘MUSLIM-ONLY PUBLIC LOOS, council wastes YOUR money on hole-in-ground toilets‘ the other day hit the nail on the head – and much as I try to avoid invoking Nazi Germany I will repeat it here:

I can’t believe these headlines are published and nothing can be done about them. Change Muslim to Jewish and the context of demonising a religious or racial group suddenly seems a little clearer.

The reason blogs like this exist is that currently nothing can be done to challenge dishonest headlines because in 2005 the Press Complaints Comission ruled that: ‘a headline should be regarded as a comment and so not subject to the Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code’. How can an effective regulatory body argue that headlines have no need to be accurate? As a result of this ruling the Express frontpage headline: ‘Bombers are all spongeing asylum-seekers’, was ruled as being perfectly acceptable and the complete lies about Muslims go unchallenged in any formal capacity.

I do not disagree with the Daily Mail because ‘it is not aimed at me’, I disagree with the Daily Mail because they lie to their readers, as proven on this site over and over again. If the Daily Mail stopped lying then I would not have anything to write about, nor would any of the other bloggers who expose media dishonesty on a daily basis.

Ignoring the tabloid press is not going to change anything. Pretending that it doesn’t exist will not make the world a better place. I do not write about bands I do not like because not many bands spend their time inciting racial hatred, inventing stories about health and safety or political correctness (to the detriment of us all) or trying to pretend that everyone under 30 in the UK is a knife-wielding killer-in-waiting.

It is not a question of taste, it is a question of truth. I write this blog because – as utterly naive as this sounds – I’m a dreamer and I want to make a difference to the world. I want people to spend more time focusing on the beauty of being alive; the realisation that we have infinitely more common desires than cultural differences. Fundamentally we are all human beings, following our instincts, needing to love and be loved, to have shelter, food, freedom and the chance to raise a family.

I know I quoted Bill Bryson recently, but I think it is worth quoting again here:

Every living thing is an elaboration of a single original plan. As humans we are mere increments – each of us a musty archive of adjustments, adaptations, modifications and providential tinkerings stretching back to 3,8 billion years. Remarkably we are even quite closely related to fruit and vegetables. About half the chemical functions that take place in a banana are fundamentally the same as the chemical functions that place in you. It cannot be said too often: all life is one. That is, and I suspect will ever prove to be, the most profound true statement there is.”
– Bill Bryson in “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (2003)

Sure, I could stop reading the Daily Mail and I could ignore the casual racism I encounter everyday from Mail readers, students who have been brought up in tabloid households and so on. But, although doing this might make my life a little more beautiful, it would not make the world a better place. I am not saying this blog is making any difference, but it is at least trying and I’m not simply sticking my fingers in my ears and prentending that this awful manifestation of personal insecurity, jealousy and impotent rage doesn’t exist.

As I wrote during the election: whether you read a tabloid newspaper or not, you cannot avoid being exposed to the poisonous narratives that they create.

Think of a tabloid reader as if they were a smoker and the tabloid newspaper is a cigarette. A lit cigarette is hard to ignore, is has a fiery tip and billows smoke, the smoker inhales the poisonous smoke and then exhales it, often in the vicinity of others. You don’t have to be a smoker to inhale this second-hand smoke, nor do you have to be a smoker to see and smell the lit cigarette. The tabloid press acts in the same way: the headlines scream at you from newstands, whilst any tabloid reader who inhales the message exhales it – frequently – in your company. We are all passive tabloid newspaper readers. The poisonous stench is unavoidable.

Every Time you hear someone fearfully talk about the population hitting ’70million’; every time you hear that immigrants / illegal immigrants / asylum seekers are ‘showered in benefits’ whilst ‘hard working taxpayers / pensioners’ are left without; every time people say that there aren’t enough jobs because of immigrants; every time you hear that local schools / hospitals are ‘full / stretched / overrun’; every time you hear people moan about ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ or the ‘PC brigade’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’; every time you hear someone talk about ‘open borders / no border controls / unlimited immigration’.

Every Time you hear these things you are the passive victim of a tabloid newspaper.

Think back to an election in which immigration was a central topic as the three potential leaders competed to be toughest on the subject and consider whether immigration deserved this coverage, given that it has been a net contributor to the economy and studies have shown – all over the world – that immigration does not impact on wages or the number of jobs available. Immigration became the number one topic – and the only one talked about at length during all three of the televised debates and when prospective and current PMs went on Radio 1 it was the main issue that young voters brought up. The whole election was fought around immigration because the tabloid press has set up immigrants as the bogeymen behind all the problems (real or otherwise) that they editorialise about.

All the while the tabloid press still claimed that you could not even talk about immigration, an argument so fallacious that it staggers me how people fall for it.

My point is, as it always is, that tabloid journalism has real consequences for all of us – whether we read a tabloid newspaper or not. We are all passive tabloid readers, unavoidably inhaling the hatred, the outrage and the distorted media narratives on a range of topics that impact on our lives. You cannot stop inhaling tabloid messages by turning your head any more than you can stop inhaling a rank smoke that engulfs us all. In the end we all have a choice, we either quietly gulp it down and pretend it does not exist, or we do everything in our power to challenge it and stop it at its source.

I’ll write this blog and perhaps even work up the courage to start openly challenging people; what you do is up to you.

The Daily Star: Capable of blocking toilets

A dose of Youtube can sometimes be just as nauseating as browsing the Daily Mail website; and in many ways it is actually worse because Youtube is the place where all the tabloid reading dullards pick up a video camera and film themselves regurgitating their confused interpretation of the world around them. They are the sort of people who buy the Daily Star because they think it is a newspaper. They probably believed that councils were building hole-in-the-ground toilets WITH THEIR MONEY just for EVIL MUSLIMS to use, even though as pointed out by Jamie over at exclarotive the entire story was a complete lie: firstly, it was a privately run shopping centre and nothing to do with the council and secondly the toilets were not just for Muslims.

The trouble is with these stories is that although they are complete rubbish they have already been committed to paper and imprinted on the minds of the absolute simpletons who stare vacantly into a camera and claim that Britain is losing a war against immigrants imposing their culture and laws on us. The sad thing is almost their entire evidence base for these assertions is the absolute drivel printed by tabloid newspapers. People will now seriously believe that local councils are so scared of Muslims that they are using TAXPAYERS’ money to build them special toilets that only they are allowed to use.

Naturally the council responded and pointed out that ‘the installation of a particular type of toilet at the Rochdale Exchange shopping centre has had nothing whatsoever to do with the council’. But of course this will not ever be reported in the Daily Star, so the original front page will still be true:

And the Daily Star can then follow it up with another lie that makes it seem as if the original story was genuine:

The amount of excrement printed by the Daily Star is enough to block any toilet, although in this case the ‘blockage’ is rather uncertain as Jamie points out:

There never were going to be Muslim-only toilets, so they can’t be ‘blocked’. Even if you ignore the ‘Muslim-only’ bit, the article only says the toilets are being reconsidered – and that’s from an anonymous source who’s in neither the Manchester nor Rochdale local papers.

All in all, another Daily Star front page that is a complete lie and the PCC have never so much as raised an eyebrow, let alone got the brush out and forced this vile shit firmly around the u-bend.