Tabloid lies


Q: When does a tabloid become crude propaganda? A: When it starts printing it.
The Daily Star patronises its readers by repeatedly publishing lies.

Tory chairman Baroness Warsi recently complained that Islamophobic chatter had become acceptable at dinner parties. I hate to break it to you, Baroness, but if they’re saying anti-Islamic stuff while you’re sitting at the table, imagine what they come out with when you nip off to the loo.

A few weeks later, David Cameron delivered his speech on multiculturalism, and Warsi’s notional dinner-mates doubtless nodded in agreement, even though the very word “multiculturalism” has so many definitions it almost requires translation. It’s not black and white. Which is ironic.

As a result it was possible to draw almost any conclusion from Cameron’s speech, from “segregation is unhelpful” to “send ’em back”. Cameron is many things – including an android, probably – but a racist he is not.

So he was doubtless dismayed that his speech went down well with the BNP’s Nick Griffin, who interpreted it as a “huge leap for our ideas into the political mainstream”. When I read that, my sense of hope took a huge leap into a shit-filled dustbin.

The speech was also welcomed by Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League – and Stephen Lennon of the English Defence League. Who are both the same person, Robinson being Lennon’s pseudonym. Mr Robinson-Lennon claims he’s opposed only to extremist Muslims, not moderate ones, although how he hopes to tell them apart when he seems unsure of his own name is anyone’s guess.

But then certain elements of the EDL seem confused by names in general. Several of them have been heard chanting “Allah, Allah, who the fuck is Allah?” If they don’t know who he is, perhaps they ought to read that book they want to ban.

Robinson-Lennon recently appeared on Newsnight, up against Paxman. Not a classic battle of wits, but nonetheless the EDL’s man came out on top: while middle-class viewers may have chortled at Robinson-Lennon’s relative inarticulacy, others may have seen a member of the establishment sneering at a working-class white guy. Admittedly, Paxman sneers at everybody; he can’t catch sight of his own reflection in the back of a spoon without asking who the fuck he thinks he is. But it reinforces the view that the white working classes are marginalised and looked down on by the media.

Not the entire media, mind. Some tabloids do little more but speak up for the white working classes – the Daily Star in particular. Which would be great, if the Daily Star didn’t patronise its readers by repeatedly publishing lies.

Sometimes they’re daft lies. Take the lie about the company behind Grand Theft Auto planning a game called Grand Theft Rothbury, inspired by the Raoul Moat saga. “We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication . . . We apologise for publishing a mock-up of the game cover, our own comments on the matter and soliciting critical comments from a grieving family member,” read part of the paper’s subsequent grovelling apology.

Sometimes they’re visual lies. Take the time it Photoshopped a bald scalp and headscarf on to an image of Jade Goody in a wedding dress, to make it look as though she’d posed for the picture during chemotherapy.

Sometimes the lies appear on its front page, in a way that might alter a reader’s view of Muslims. When not furiously recounting whichever grotesquely offensive stunt professional button-pushing irritant Anjem Choudary’s come up with this week – stories which are not lies – it gets worked up over other “Muslim outrages” with little or no basis in fact. Take the story “MUSLIM-ONLY PUBLIC LOOS: Council wastes YOUR money on hole-in-the-ground toilets”. Weeks after that appeared, the Star admitted that “the loos may be used by non-Muslims and were paid for by the developer”.

And sometimes it doesn’t quite lie, but misrepresents by omission. Take the story on 8 February “WE’LL STAND UP AND FIGHT FOR BRITAIN’S BRAVE WAR HEROES”, in which it is reported that “The English Defence League is planning a huge march after two Muslim councillors snubbed a British war hero given the George Cross”. It refers to an incident in Birmingham where two Respect party councillors remained seated while more than 100 other politicians gave a soldier a standing ovation. Nowhere in the article does the Star mention that there were many other Muslim councillors (Tory, LibDem and Labour) present at the same event – all of whom did stand and applaud.

In other words, the Daily Star is either grossly irresponsible in its sloppy representation of the facts, or engaging in overt anti-Muslim propaganda.

Who can blame a reader who, after reading such a skewed version of events, is gripped with anti- Muslim fervour?

On the same page was a phone poll: DO YOU AGREE WITH THE EDL POLICIES? 98% of the respondents did. If I read the Star every day, and believed it, I’d join the EDL too.

Not that you have to be a dedicated reader to be exposed to its influence. Just pop into WH Smith’s. There they are, those headlines, the steady drip-drip-drip: MUSLIM-ONLY LOOS and BBC PUTS MUSLIMS BEFORE YOU and MUSLIM SICKOS’ MADDIE KIDNAP SHOCK (No, I haven’t made that one up). Drip drip drip. Bullshit or exaggeration masquerading as fact. And to what aim?

On 9 February the Star ran a front-page headline claiming ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE TO BECOME POLITICAL PARTY. Even that turned out to be dubious – their leader had merely said “we aren’t ruling it out”. Inside, another phone poll asked whether readers would vote for the EDL. 99% said yes.

Do they believe what they read in the Daily Star?

I believe this is a wonderful country. All of it. The people are inherently decent and fair-minded. All of them. We should resist crude attempts at division, wherever they come from. Because we deserve better. All of us.

This article was originally published in The Guardian

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