Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

97% of reporters fabricate some part of their stories (probably)

December 21, 2018

Claas Relotius at Der Spiegel, Jayson Blair at The New York Times, Johann Hari at The Guardian and Jim Avila at ABC News are only the tip of the iceberg. They are not exceptions but merely examples of the malaise. They are all a part of the general erosion of journalistic ethics. But what was just a decline of ethical standards has now degenerated to the point where every news story has an agenda. The use of fabrication, lying, cherry picking, and omission are standard. A journalistic report which is not skewed and which is not trying to promote a particular viewpoint has become a very rare exception. Journalists today find it perfectly acceptable to be lobbyists and activists and propagandists while purporting to be objective reporters.

The line between advertising and reporting has virtually disappeared. It is not difficult to get media desperate for copy to print pure advertising material as objective reports. It is virtually impossible for some media to report any story which does not reinforce their own biases.


“Journalists” caught lying include Mel Judson, Juan Thompson and Brian Williams among others. Journalists who fabricated include Louis Sebold, Stephen Glass, Jant Cooke, Patricia Smith and  Carl Cameron among many others. Cheating is the norm not the exception.

The Media Still Hasn’t Figured Out Why They’re Losing Credibility

The outlook is bad for media credibility. Poll after poll finds public confidence in the press is at historic lows. The AP cites a Pew Research Center report that two-thirds of Americans believe “fabricated news” is causing a “great deal of confusion” about basic facts, and a poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago found the percentage of Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the press has fallen from 28 percent in 1976 to just 8 percent in 2016.

The American Press Institute put the percentage at an even lower 6 percent in an April 2016 survey, which also found 85 percent of Americans rate getting the facts right as extremely or very important, and prioritize that metric most highly when deciding which news outlets to trust. “Accuracy is the paramount principle of trust,” the survey noted.

The simple truth is that it is more likely that 97% of all journalists now fabricate some part of their stories, rather than that 97% of journalists are honest reporters.


Science journalism by press release -“New ligament found in the knee” – Yes back in 1879!

November 10, 2013

Last week every Science section in every major newspaper reported the discovery of a new ligament in the knee! Every science site carried the astonishing news in breathless tones of wonder! I almost wrote about it since my son had had his knee ligament reconstructed a few years ago after a volleyball accident. But I couldn’t get access to one of the references and I didn’t – thank goodness!

To put it mildly the “newness” of the discovery was all a load of bulls**t.

The body part in question had been discovered in 1879! A new paper had been written about this ligament and published on 1st August. But their University had only issued a press release last week. And not one of the very many science “journalists” looked beyond the press release and had bothered to read the very first line of the paper abstract which stated “In 1879, the French surgeon Segond described the existence of a ‘pearly, resistant, fibrous band’ at the anterolateral aspect of the human knee…” . Instead they went to town with their headlines as this simple Google search shows (About 29,200,000 results in 0.32 seconds) 

Science journalism by infectious press release!

Paul Raeburn’s take-down is as comprehensive as needed and is reproduced here:

 It was startling news, but an easy story to write: Scientists have discovered a new body part! Amazing, isn’t it, that something could have eluded us since the time of Hippocrates?

Well, it would be amazing, except for one little detail, a detail so trivial I’m embarrassed to bring it up: It isn’t true.

But, hey, it’s an unusually warm Thursday in New York, I’m feeling good about life, so let’s give the journalists who bungled this story a break.

Why? Because in order to discover that the story wasn’t true, they would have had to dig down all the way to the very first line of the study’s abstract, which says, “In 1879, the French surgeon Segond described the existence of a ‘pearly, resistant, fibrous band’ at the anterolateral aspect of the human knee…”

That’s the body part in question, as journalists who even glanced at the abstract would have known. The darn thing was discovered 134 years ago.

USA Today‘s story, headlined, “New body part discovered,” reports that the new study confirmed the existence of the thing, called the anterolateral ligament, or ALL. The story then says that in Segond had “speculated” about the ligament, when the abstract clearly says that he “described” it. (Please excuse the annoying overuse of italics, but it’s hard to write normally when you’re grinding your teeth.)

Gizmodo‘s story: “It may sound impossible but scientists have discovered a new body part.”

Vanity Fair: “Newly Discovered Body Part Means New Sections of WebMD to Memorize!” Funny, right?

TIME: “Your Knee Bone’s Connected to Your…What? Scientists Discover New Body Part.” This story has the virtue of consistency. Unlike some of the others, it’s wrong all the way through. Congrats, people! Segond, TIME writes, “theorized” that the knee might have another ligament. “Surgeons Discover New Ligament in Human Knee.” The story reports that the study’s authors “looked into a theory made by a French surgeon in 1879, which claimed that an unknown ligament existed on the anterior of the human knee.” Well, what was it–a theory, or a claim? Prospectors can theorize about the location of gold deposits, but that falls far short of staking a claim. “Doctors find totally new, undiscovered part of the human body.” MsnNow also reports that the Anatomical Society found this discovery “very refreshing.”

I’ll spare you any further examples, but here’s the catch: This study was published online on Aug 1, 2013. Why the sudden pickup now?

Apparently because the University of Leuven in Belgium, where the study’s authors work, put out a press release this week. The release sadly lacks TIME’s sparkling consistency. Its headline reports that surgeons described the ligament, which is–gasp!–correct. (The release still wrongly calls it a “new” ligament, as Ed Yong pointed out to me.) But the release’s author can’t help but go further in the text. The French surgeon “postulated” the existence of the ligament, it says. Wrong again; he described it.

That release was picked up by ScienceDaily, a press-release aggregator that masquerades as a news site, and which mangled the news further. “New ligament discovered in the human knee,” the headline reports. “Two knee surgeons at University Hospitals Leuven have discovered a previously unknown ligament in the human knee…” the story begins. ScienceDaily parrots the release’s “postulated.” And just for fun, ScienceDaily describes the new study as something “that could signal a breakthrough” in treatment of ACL injuries in the knee.

Only a single ray of hope penetrated my day, which had started out hopeful and turned so depressingly dark. The website io9 (“We come from the future”) got it right. “No,” its headline read, “science has not discovered a new body part.” The stories, it writes with admirable clarity, are “all crap.” It even links to the original French paper, where, if you’re so inclined, you can read about des ligaments dans le genou.

Moi, I’m heading to yoga; I don’t know how else to unclench my jaw.

-Paul Raeburn

Observer’s political correspondent caught plagiarising

August 14, 2013

Picture of Andrew Rawnsley

Andrew Nicholas James Rawnsley (born 5 January 1962, Leeds), according to his Guardian profileis the Observer’s award-winning chief political commentator. He is also a critically acclaimed broadcaster and author.

But – and in the best tradition of Johann Hari’s  techniques and ethics – he is not above lifting a few paragraphs of text from others when it suits his purpose.

The revelations about Rawnsley came 2 weeks ago from Guido Fawkes on his blog (run by Paul Staines and is probably the most read right-of-centre political blog in the UK):

Catching up with Andrew Rawnsley’s “award winning” column yesterday, Guido could not help think he had read the same points being made, with all the same examples and the same anecdotes, somewhere before. Rawnsley tackles the great North/South divide debate with a remarkable similarity to Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist’s UK politics correspondent, who wrote extensively on the issue in April. Cliffe’s two pieces are online here and here.

Guido first smelt a rat at the mention of Alastair Campbell, who Rawnsley writes “secured his two, even more whopping landslides in 1997 and 2001 by winning for Labour in places that had been previously thought unreachable. On the night of his first victory, he thought his staff were pulling his leg when they reported that Labour had won St Albans.”Something Economist readers would know from April, minus the insider anecdote.

“Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor, recalls the party’s astonishment at the results: “seats were falling that we would never have imagined standing a hope in hell of winning.” The greatest swing was in the south-east and eastern regions, where Labour won 44 constituencies, including such leafy, middle-class suburbs as St Albans (now comfortably Tory once more).”

A coincidence, surely? So Guido started compare the rest of Rawnsley’s column to the Economist pieces, and it does not look good. See if you can spot the differences here:


“Of the 158 seats that make up the three northern English regions, only 43 are Conservative […] Of the 197 MPs representing the English south beyond the capital, just ten are now Labour. The Tories hold only two seats in the north-east and one in Scotland.”


“Of the 158 seats in the three northern English regions, only 43 have a Conservative MP. The Tories hold just two seats in the north-east and have only one MP in the whole of Scotland. […] Under a line drawn from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, there are 197 seats outside London. Just 10 of those seats are represented by a Labour MP.”

Lifting statistics from the Economist is one thing, but what about whole chunks of analysis?


“well-off people in the north are more likely to vote Labour than the poor are in the south […] northerners from the highest social class are more likely to vote Labour than are southerners from the lowest social class.”


“Well-heeled parts of the north are these days much more likely to vote Labour than their counterparts in the south. […] Affluent northerners (the As and Bs of pollsters’ jargon) are more likely to vote Labour than poorer southerners (the Ds and the Es).” 

The Guide Fawkes post contains many more examples of the filching of text/ideas

Somebody else filled in for Rawnsley last week and Guido reports that he is still away and may be replaced for next week’s column as well.

Perhaps he is on extended gardening leave!

Guradian to hold Masterclass in hacking?

August 9, 2011

I just noticed that the Guardian is holding – for a £500 per person feea two-day course in September ostensibly on “investigative journalism”.

In this intensive, weekend course, two of the UK’s leading investigative journalists will give students the skills needed to reach the next step. Paul Lewis and Heather Brooke will teach the secrets of their trade in a series of interactive workshops and skill-based sessions.

The course will cover among other things “convincing people to talk” and “advice on data journalism” and “the course will reveal how new technology and recent innovations have revolutionised investigative journalism”.

I note – but without much surprise – that there is no mention of ethics anywhere in the course description.

Presumably David Leigh will be the guest lecturer and will explain the techniques of phone hacking  and the importance of always having noble objectives. He could also explain the finer points of utilising the public interest defence under the Data Protection Act to justify non-compliance with the Act. To cover ethics they could invite Rebekah Brooks who is probably available except that she is apparently still on the payroll of News International.

Paid news: The cancer in the Indian media

February 5, 2011

The Hindu stands out as one of the few main-stream media prepared to discuss the insidious and increasing trend towards “paid news” in Indian newspapers and on the multiplicity of Indian TV channels fighting for advertising revenue. The TV “news” channels abandoned the rigour of traditional journalism some time ago and are mainly in the business of manufacturing or sensationalising news or of presenting “paid news”. TV anchors are chosen on their ability to rant and programmes are dominated by

  • instant “breaking” news – much of it manufactured – or
  • revelations of scams filmed by “secret” cameras – but usually provoked, or
  • so-called chat shows and panel discussions where  only antagonistic participation is permitted (and the more one can screech over the other the more likely it is to be re-invited to participate – paid of course).

The Hindu writes:

In newspapers and TV channels, choking with stories on corruption, this is the one story you are the least likely to see. The media are their own worst censors when it comes to reporting on ‘Paid News.’

Just before the 2009 Assembly elections in Maharashtra, a large newspaper group in the State brought its editors together for a meeting in Pune. Generally, it was agreed, winning a seat in the State legislature would cost Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 5 crore. ($700,000 to $1.1 million). ….. If there’s that kind of money being spent, said the cash-box boys, we should get a decent share of it. What, after all, is election expenditure but campaign and propaganda expenses? Detailed plans for ‘pay-to-print’ were soon under way in one of the biggest media groups in the State. ……

Paid news comes in many packages: pre-paid, post-paid and yet-to-be-paid, for instance. There are also deluxe tariffs and aam aadmi tariffs, the former in crores (10s of millions), the latter in lakhs (100,000’s). Sadly, these media groups met, even exceeded, their targets.

But it’s not just during elections that paid news or its Euclidian variants occur. The crazy saturation coverage of Davos in some channels was not caused by breathless public interest or media curiosity. It had a lot to do with ‘partnerships’ and corporate subsidies the public can’t see, and won’t be allowed to see. Some channels sent out ‘rules’ to their journalists of things that just had to be done. Rules with no particular journalistic rationale at all. …..

It is a scam worth more millions than anyone can accurately estimate. Most other institutions of Indian democracy and regulatory structures have tried doing something about it. But in the free media, there was a costly silence…..

So the ECI, Parliament, SEBI and top political leaders have all contributed to the fight against the slaughter of honest journalism. Even the spineless PCI did so, before deserting ship. But in the media there is near-total silence. True, there are the exceptions. And the fact that all those journalists went public at those meetings shows how deep their resentment runs. But institutionally, the media’s failure is huge and, if not reversed, will extract a terrible price. The corporate media have censored the Paid News story, browbeaten their own journalists and cheated the public of information it has every right and need to know.

Read the entire article.

Related: India’s Election Commission To Address It’s Paid News Problem

Paid news syndrome is a full blown cancer in Indian Media

Circular Arguments and Speculation masquerading as Science

June 18, 2010

It is still fashionable – and probably profitable – to connect whatever you are working with to Global Warming.

Artist's impression of mammoths in North America

“The inception of a strong carbon dioxide–greenhouse gas feedback and amplification of orbital forcing at ~2.7 million years ago connected the fate of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets with global ocean temperatures since that time.” So says Timothy Herbert of Brown University in a new paper in Science.

His speculations are less than convincing but no doubt he brings in CO2 forcing either to get funding or to facilitate publication.

Completely circular arguments !!

1. Start by assuming that CO2 induced forcing mechanisms cause global temperature change.

2. Analyse the composition of mud cores from 4 regions in the tropics laid down millions of years ago.

3. Find a temperature “fingerprint” ({delta}18O) in the tropical samples showing an increase of temperature of 1° to 3°C some 2.7 Million years ago. Assume that this is unique and exclusive to temperature.

4.Since the “patterns are similar”  the common mechanism must be via the atmosphere.

5. Voila !! This proves that a forcing mechanism induced by CO2 must have been the common cause of the temperature pattern !!!!!

A so-called science reporter  – a Victoria Gill – at the BBC then proclaims “Ancient climate change ‘link’ to CO2”.

Journalists: The Purveyors of Doom

June 15, 2010

Why do journalists always feel it necessary to report science in alarmist terms?

Solar storms and the geomagnetic consequences are serious and the subject of serious study but such study is devalued when sensationalised by intrepid reporters from the outback.

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph informed us that “Nasa warns solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation”. The reporter Andrew Hough goes on breathlessly  to explain that the “Daily Telegraph can disclose” that

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years. Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013. In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken. “We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” said Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division. Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years. Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

We should head for the hills !!!!

The 22 year Solar Cycle – the Babcock cycle was discovered by HW Babcock in 1961.

In 2007 NASA was predicting the Cycle 24 maximum for 2011 as a strong maximum or in 2012 as a weak maximum. By March 2009 the maximum was being forecast for May 2013 with the admission that “It turns out that none of our models were totally correct,” says Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA’s lead representative on the panel. “The sun is behaving in an unexpected and very interesting way.”

The great 1859 storm– the “Carrington Event” – electrified transmission cables, set some papers on fire in a few telegraph offices, and produced exceptionally  bright Northern Lights. Some electrical disruption also occurred during storms in 1921, 1937, 1941 and 1958. On August 4, 1972 a solar flare knocked out long-distance telephone communication across Illinois. That event, in fact, caused AT&T to redesign its power system for transatlantic cables. A similar flare on March 13, 1989, provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission from the Hydro Québec generating station in Canada. In  2005, a solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about 10 minutes.

There is a long way in nature from notable to  disruption to devastation and to catastrophe; but in journalism the distance seems exceedingly short.

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