The Make-Believe World of Tabloid Journalism

Another day, another story twisted out of all recognition by a tabloid press dissatisfied with merely reporting facts. Today’s story is covered by the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror; the Daily Mail goes with: ‘Pub regular banned from drinking Stella died after downing six pints of water in protest‘; whilst the Daily Mirror decides on: ‘Boozer banned from drinking Stella downs six pints of water and dies‘. From those two headlines you’d imagine that a person has directly protested a drinking ban by consuming 6 pints of water consecutively – after all, that is what we understand the word ‘downing’ means.

However, brace yourself not to be shocked, the truth is something entirely different. The BBC and Teletext confirm the important detail that the water was consumed over a 3 hour period – not ‘downed’ as stated by the Tabloids – and they do not mention it being in any sort of protest. The implication that it was ‘downing’ 6 pints of water in protest that killed Tony Holtam is also shown by the local press to be only a contributory factor in his death:

An inquest in Aberdare today heard he suffered from cirrhosis and hyponatraemia – or low blood sodium levels – as a result of years of heavy drinking.

Pathologist Alun Rees said it was “highly likely” this – combined with excess water consumption – had caused Mr Holtam’s death, although he admitted he could not prove his theory.

The article contains detailed comments from the Landlady who states that she refused to serve him strong lager because of his behaviour after consuming large amounts of it, he was not banned from drinking lager, merely the stronger lagers – like Stella. The Landlady makes no mention of any sort of protest. Furthermore it is claimed by the Daily Mail that he was able to ‘down’ 5 pints of strong lager an hour, which puts the 6 pints of water over 3 hours slightly into perspective – he certainly didn’t need to ‘down’ the water to get through it in that time.

I am unable to find any other news report apart from those in the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror that supports the idea that he was drinking water ‘in protest’ at the strong lager ban. Furthermore, I cannot see any other newspapers making reference to Tony Holtam ‘downing’ any of the pints of water that he consumed over the 6 hour period. It almost seems that the tabloid press has invented those two things just to make the story a bit more newsworthy or palatable for readers.

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