Quoted By The Daily Mail

This morning Tweetdeck pinged and alerted me to this tweet from a friend of mine.

He was right too. The article was about Reddit’s Button and about half-way though it, they quoted my tweet.

My reaction was predictable.

I was terribly embarrassed. Being quoted in the Daily Mail isn’t exactly great for your reputation. So I started wondering if there was anything I could do to to recover the situation.

Then it came to me. The Mail were following Twitter’s display guidelines and were embedding the tweets in the web page (to be honest, that surprised me slightly – I was sure they would just take a screenshot). This meant that every time someone looked at the Mail’s article, the Mail’s site would refresh its view of the tweet from Twitter’s servers.

You can’t edit the content of tweets once they had been published. But you can change some of the material that is displayed – specifically your profile picture and your display name.

So, over lunch I took a few minutes to create a new profile picture and I changed my display name to “The Mail Lies”. And now my tweet looks how you see it above. It looks the same on the Mail article.

As I see it, this can go one of two ways. Either I the Mail notice what I’ve done and remove my tweet from the article (in which case I win because I’m no longer being quoted by the Daily Mail). Or they don’t notice and my tweet is displayed on the article in its current form – well at least until I get bored and change my profile picture and display name back again.

This afternoon has been quite fun. The caper has been pretty widely shared on Twitter and Facebook and couple of people have told me that I’ve “won the internet”.

So remember boys and girls, publishing unfiltered user-generated content on your web site is always a dangerous prospect.


The Return of Winterval

One Christmas tradition in my household is marking the appearance of the first Winterval story in the British press. Some time in late November or early December, you could always guarantee that one of the tabloids would take some innocuous council memo, link it with the Winterval meme and concoct a “war on Christmas” story.

That all came to an end in November 2011 when the Mail printed a correction admitting that it was wrong about Winterval. Last year I didn’t see a single Winterval story.

But memories are short in the British tabloids. So this year it’s back. And it’s the Daily Mail that has resurrected the story. A story published on their web site yesterday has the headline “She may as well have wished us Happy Winterval!’ MP who sent out Happy Holidays card faces backlash for ‘marginalising’ Christmas“. Lib Dem MP Lorely Burt has sent out a Christmas card that commits the heinous crime of wishing her constituents “Happy Holidays”.

And the Mail wastes no time at all linking this to Winterval. The article says:

The row harks back to the Winterval furore in Birmingham in the 1990s, a season of public events over Christmas organised by the city council – a move widely considered politically correct so as not to offend non-Christians

And there’s even a sidebar – “Winterval Remembered” – which tells a (rather biased) version of the Winterval story.

I’ve tried to post a couple of comments on the story pointing out the paper’s previous correction about Winterval. But comments on the article are moderated and neither of my comments were published. I wonder why.

So, welcome back Winterval. You’ve been missed. And Happy Winterval to all my readers.

p.s. It’s worth pointing out that Kevin Arscott’s excellent debunking of the Winterval myth is now available as an Kindle book – The Winterval Myth: A Festive Tale of Bad Journalism.

Update: @bigdaddymerk has pointed out a great example of a journalist either making quotes up or (at the very least) putting quotes into people’s mouths. The story contains this:

Resident Adam Higgs complained: ‘She may as well have wished her constituents a Merry Winterval since that is the name Birmingham City Council once used to seemingly marginalise use of the word Christmas.’

Do you honestly know anyone who would give a quote like that?


Mail Misinformation

Yesterday, the Daily Mail ran a story about the London Borough where I live. It was entitled “The brightest spot in Britain: Wandsworth named brainiest place with 54% of residents having a degree“.

The story did pretty much what you’d expect from the headline. The ONS have produced study which measures the percentage of the population that has degrees. And Wandsworth came top of the list. Not really all that interesting.

What grabbed my interest was a throwaway line in the middle of the article.

For decades, Wandsworth was the only place in the country that didn’t charge council tax and now its 300,000 residents still enjoy the lowest rate.

Now, I’ve lived in Wandsworth for long time. I moved to Earlsfield in 1988, moved to Tooting a year later and then on to Balham in 1991 where I’ve lived ever since. I’ve paid my share of local taxes to Wandsworth Borough Council and I’ve paid close attention to what I’ve been paying in that time. And what “Daily Mail Reporter” writes here, just isn’t true.

When I first moved to Wandsworth, local taxes were paid in rates. And they didn’t really bother me as they were part of the rent I was paying. I started paying rather closer attention in the financial year 1990/91 when the community charge (aka the poll tax) was introduced. That was a tax on people rather than a tax on property, so it was no longer part of my rent (my rent didn’t go down though – funny that!) and I had to pay it myself.

For the first year my poll tax bill was about £140. In the second and third years it was nothing. Wandsworth manage to balance the books without asking their residents to pay anything. I think that is what the Daily Mail is incorrectly referring to. It wasn’t the council tax and it went on for two years, not decades.

The year 1992/93 was the last year of the poll tax. It was replaced with council tax. I still have most of my council tax bills and I’m happy to show them to the Mail. Most years I have paid something around £900. The second half of the Mail’s claim is certainly true – our council tax is definitely one of the lowest in the land. In the twenty years of the council tax there has never been a year that the residents of Wandsworth haven’t been asked to pay something.

But because of some half-remembered story about the 91/92 and 92/93 poll tax, the Mail reporter has fabricated this fact. And, because it has now been published in the Mail, it effectively becomes true for a lot of the population. “I read it in the paper” is a slightly better attribution than “I heard it from a bloke down the pub”.

I’ve emailed the Mail’s “Corrections and Clarifications” column giving them the details of this error. I’ll let you know if I hear anything from them.

Update: I’ve dug out the stack of council tax bills from my filing cabinet. I have bills going back over ten years. These are for a property in valuation band F. The early ones are actually a little cheaper than I remembered.

  • 2002/03 – £575.43
  • 2003/04 – £837.44
  • 2004/05 – £861.69
  • 2005/06 – £880.34
  • 2006/07 – £929.37
  • 2007/08 – £976.68
  • 2008/09 – £985.05
  • 2009/10 – £984.84
  • 2010/11 – £984.84
  • 2011/12 – £984.59
  • 2012/13 – £980.11
  • 2013/14 – £990.56

Remarkably cheap, I agree, but no sign of decades without being charged council tax.

Update 2: I got an reply to my email this afternoon. It came from an anonymous person at the Daily Mail. It said:

Thank you for your email and for bringing this unfortunate error to our attention. We will amend the article in the way you suggest.

And, indeed, the article has changed. The sentence in question now reads:

For two years in the early 1990s, Wandsworth was the only place in the country that didn’t charge “poll tax” and now its 300,000 residents still enjoy the lowest rate.

Which is better, as it makes it clear that we only had a couple of years of free poll tax. But it’s also still slightly confusing as it implies we currently pay a low rate of poll tax. Which is nonsense, as no-one in Britain has paid poll tax for twenty years.

There’s a “updated” timestamp on the article which has been changed to show that it has been changed today. But, disappointingly,  there’s no indication of the changes that have been made.

Also, my anonymous correspondent was silent on whether or not they would be mentioning this in their “corrections and clarifications” column. I’ve asked for clarification.


Amanda Palmer vs The Daily Mail

I’ve obviously been slacking in my Daily Mail watching duties as this completely passed me by.

Two weeks ago, the Mail published a write-up of Amanda Palmer’s appearance at Glastonbury (don’t bother following that link – it’s really not worth reading). I say “write-up” rather than “review” because they didn’t mention her songs or the performance at all. No, they just fixated on one aspect of the show.

At some point during the show, Amanda’s bra rode up and for a while you could see her left nipple.

That’s what “Daily Mail Reporter” thought was the most interesting part of her set. That’s what he chose to write a whole article around. Oh, and a little bit at the end pointing out that her fans were annoyed that the BBC didn’t broadcast her set.

Of course they had a photo too. Which they published so that their readers knew exactly what they should be getting enraged about. The comments soon filled up with Mail readers who felt it was important to tell us that they had never heard of her. And others who were impelled to share their disgust at the fact that she doesn’t shave her armpits. It was all deeply depressing.

But this was all two weeks ago. Why am I telling you now?

Well, last night Amanda Palmer played a gig in London. And she got her revenge. As she came on for her encore, she sang this (warning: probably not safe for most workplaces).

She specifically asked us to film it and share it as far and wide as possible. So this is me doing my bit.

This video just surpassed Martin Robbins’ Fuck You Daily Mail talk as my favourite anti-Mail video.

Update: Found a higher quality version of the video.



We’re in the middle of one of the biggest paedophile scandals that this country has ever seen. And yet, the Daily Mail still thinks that it’s appropriate to report on Elle Fanning‘s Halloween costume with the headline

Lady Liberty! Teenager Elle Fanning shows off her womanly curves as she pays homage to New York Statue

The article continued the theme:

Elle was a posing professional as she wore a metallic maxi dress which looked rather demure at first glance.

Although it covered up her chest area and thighs, the design featured a high split which allowed her to pop her leg out of the side.

When she turned around, flesh was on show as the cut-out material scooped to just above her derriere and featured clasps which fastened at the centre of her neck.

Elle Fanning is 14.

This creepiness didn’t go unnoticed. There was soon plenty of criticism of the headline both on Twitter and in the article’s comments. Later on the headline was updated to the simpler

Lady Liberty! Teenager Elle Fanning pays homage to New York Statue

And the article was edited to remove the worst of the content. Although the author still insisted that Fanning “was eager to show the lady she is becoming”.

The Fanning family must be getting used to this. The Mail were similarly creepy about Elle’s older sister Dakota when she was 14.

The Mail has been very vocal in its coverage of the Savile affair. But, of course, they seem to see it more as yet another stick to beat the BBC with rather than actually understanding what the real problem is here. If they really understood the problem, would they publish so many stories containing the creepy phrases “older than her years” and “all grown up“?

Two weeks ago Melanie Phillips wrote an article where she blames the “liberal left” for making paedophilia acceptable. In her survey of organisations that promote the sexualisation of underage girls she somehow omits the Mail and its “sidebar of shame”. Alan White has written an open letter to Phillips inviting her to comment on the Mail providing this useful service for paedophiles. I await her response with interest.

Finally, I highly recommend that you take twenty minutes to watch Martin Robbins‘ brilliant talk on this subject from the Pod Delusion‘s third birthday bash.


Thick As A Brick

But your new shoes are worn at the heels and
Your suntan does rapidly peel and
Your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.
[Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick]

Yesterday was a fun day on the internet. It was one of those days where a Daily Mail writer writes something spectacularly stupid and the internet (or, at least, the small part of it that follows the UK media) spends a few pleasant hours taking the piss.

Yesterday it was the turn of Samantha Brick. She wrote an article called ‘There are downsides to looking this pretty’: Why women hate me for being beautiful. You’ve probably read it, but if you haven’t the summary is that she thinks she is really attractive and this means that random men often do nice things for her, but random woman often take an instant dislike to her.

There are so many holes in her theory that it’s hard to know where to start. I’d guess that a lot of women don’t warm to her not because they are jealous of her irresistible beauty, but rather because she comes across as a bit of a shallow airhead who defines herself by her level of attractiveness to men. Oh, and about that irresistible beauty. I don’t want to sound rude, but I think she’s slightly deluded there.

If that article wasn’t enough for you to form an opinion of her, I invite you to peruse the list of previous articles she has written for the Mail. Just reading the titles should be enough. No need to wade into the content unless you have a particularly strong stomach.

So the internet had its day of fun laughing at Ms Brick and her nonsense. And it would have probably ended there, but the Mail just wouldn’t let it lie. Today they bounced back with two follow-up articles. One was reporting on how Ms Brick had become an “internet sensation” (where the Mail sees a sensation, the rest of us see a laughing stock) and the other was by Ms Brick herself. In it she claims that yesterday’s reaction just proves that her original theory was right.

Once again she shows that logical thinking is not her forté. Let’s bring the argument down to the simplest level and see if we can spot any flaws.

Ms Brick: Most women hate me because I’m so beautiful.
The Internet: You’re wrong and here’s about a billion reasons why.
Ms Brick: See! Everyone hates me. My original theory was right.

I really don’t think that stands up to the slightest amount of scrutiny, do you?

The article includes a photo of Ms Brick standing next to her husband. She’s wearing the same purple dress that she wears in a lot of the photos from  the last couple of days. But he’s wearing combat fatigues and carrying a rifle. Which takes on a slightly worrying meaning when you read what she wrote a few paragraphs below the photo when talking about her husband’s reaction to the furore.

At first, he shrugged it off, saying they were just the spiteful remarks of a few jealous women. But as the storm brewed . . . well, I’ve had to hide the worst of it from him; the tame few I’ve read out have riled him enough to want to take his own form of action.

Have you got that? Be nicer to her or her husband will come after you with his rifle.

Of course, Ms Brick and her delusions of superiority aren’t the real issue here. The real issue is the way that the Mail (and, in particular, Mail Online) have become so good at drawing in visitors who wouldn’t normally go anywhere near the paper. The Mail’s core audience obviously don’t spend as much time on the internet as the readers of some other papers. So the Mail have come up with a couple of strategies for getting readership from outside their core audience.

The first of these is the “sidebar of shame” so brilliantly reviewed by Steven Baxter recently. And the second is the liberal outrage strategy that we all fell for yesterday. I guess this was a lesson they picked up from the Jan Moir/Stephen Gately sage a couple of years ago. If you print things that annoy the (still largely liberal) Twitterati, then they will tweet and retweet their outrage. And every tweet brings more clicks. And every click brings more advertising revenue. As long as you don’t go too far (as Jan Moir did) and end up having to remove adverts from the page everything is wonderful. This morning I read an estimate that Samantha Brick’s article could have made the Mail £100,000 in advertising revenue.

This is what istyosty was about. Allowing people to read Mail stories without giving the clicks. And that’s, of course, why the Mail had it closed down. It hit them in the bottom line and they really didn’t like that.

I don’t have any solutions. I’m as guilty as anyone of passing round Mail links in order to spread the outrage. I wish I could just ignore them, but they’ve got under my skin. I even run a site which exists purely to link to Mail stories. I’m addicted to the outrage.

[Note: I wasn’t planning to blog on this topic. But a friend pointed out the Jethro Tull link and I knew I just couldn’t resist. Thanks Gareth.]

Update: Chris shares some thoughts about reading (and sharing) Mail content without giving them the clicks.


Parking in Balham

You’ll often hear people saying that Mail writers live in a different world to the rest of us. Actually, I think that they live in the same world as us, they just like to think that they live in a different one. The fun and games start when they discover they are wrong and that the real world doesn’t appreciate their over-developed sense of entitlement.

Here’s a good case in point. Melissa Kite lives somewhere near me in Balham. Melissa is a serial parking offender. Of course, Melissa doesn’t see it quite like that. Melissa describes herself as being a victim of “bear traps” laid by councils to trick motorists who dare to park on their patch. When she parked up at Balham tube station “at 8pm for ten seconds in order to pick up a friend who was coming to stay with me and who was weighed down with luggage” she was appalled to be given an £80 fine.

And there’s that sense of entitlement. This is what really annoys me about people like Melissa. There are parking restrictions around Balham station. They have been there for as long as I can remember and they are clearly marked. But because they are inconvenient for her, she feels she is perfectly justified in ignoring them. Balham station is at junction where two busy roads cross. The parking restrictions are there for a good reason (and, no, not to make money for the council – to prevent congestion). They aren’t there to trick people like Melissa.

But we can find out more about Melissa’s parking problems with Wandsworth council. She wrote about a very similar incident in the Evening Standard a year ago. This gives more details of the offence. She was parking in a taxi rank. The taxi rank is a relatively new innovation. It’s been there three or four years. But, once again, it’s clearly marked. And, once again, Melissa chose to ignore that because it was inconvenient for her. She also mentions four other offences where she was picking someone up or dropping them off at the station and chose to park in a restricted area.

Amusingly, she even describes a telephone conversation she had with someone from Wandsworth council.

I rang Wandsworth council to tell them this but their spokesman sounded distinctly unimpressed. “Well, I don’t know what you were doing there,” he said.

“But I’ve just told you,” I said. “I was picking up a friend.”

He sighed: “People come up with all sorts of stories.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re asking me to assume that everything you’re saying is the truth.”

At which point I confess I raised my voice a little: “Yes I am!”

“Right,” he harrumphed, “you’re shouting, I’m ending the call.” And he slammed the phone down.

So I rang the parking department, where someone called Angelo explained that when running errands I should always stop on single yellow lines

There’s that sense of entitlement again. She honestly seems to believe that “I was picking up a friend” is a reasonable excuse for ignoring the parking restrictions. Balham Station Road would be in chaos for most of the day if everyone chose to ignore the rules because they were “just picking up a friend”.

Then there’s this lovely paragraph from the end of her article.

Very soon, Westminster council will abolish free parking on a single yellow line in the evenings. And when they do so, I will stop going up West on a Tuesday night as I have done for the past six years to meet a group of friends with whom I have dinner in a Lebanese restaurant.That restaurant will lose us as regular customers forever, and goodness knows how many others.

If only she lived in a city where there was a quick and efficient public transport system. Perhaps something that whisked passengers to their destination through underground tubes. I know travelling on the tube can be a bit of a nightmare in rush hour. But on a Tuesday night, it should be fine. Or perhaps people like Melissa are too self-important to mix with the rest of us in a confined space like that.

There may, of course, be a serious point to her objections. Perhaps the parking restrictions are too draconian. Never let it be said that I object to a nice bit of civil disobedience to protest against bad laws. But you need to be prepared to take the punishment. You can’t expect to have the fine waived just because it’s inconvenient to you.

Actually, this is all academic to me. Like the vast majority of sane Londoners we don’t have a car. Most weekends I walk to the supermarket and carry the shopping home. If it’s going to be a huge shop then we’ll order on the internet and get it delivered. And if friends arrive at Balham station overburdened with luggage then we’ll offer to meet them there and help them carry it home. If we’re feeling particularly lazy we might offer to pay for them to get a taxi. From the rank right outside the station. Assuming it’s not full of idiots with 4x4s and an over-developed sense of entitlement.


Winterval on the Pod Delusion

I’m on this week’s Pod Delusion talking about Winterval and the Mail’s admission that it was never a replacement for Christmas.



From today’s Daily Mail corrections column:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval.

Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998.

We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

This is amazing stuff. The Mail has been one of the main papers pushing the “Winterval” myth for many years. At the recent media bloggers meet-up someone said that our constant debunking of this myth was beginning to have some traction, but I didn’t expect to get a correction from the Daily Mail quite so soon.

On the Mail Corrections site I like to link back to the original story. And in this case it seems to be a column by Melanie Phillips where she claimed that “Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval'”. This, as the Mail now admits, didn’t happen. She ties this non-event in with the recent furore about the BBC banning the terms BC and AD (something else that didn’t happen). Phillips strongly defended her view in an email discussion with Kevin Arscott, so it’s nice to see even the Mail admitting that she was wrong.

Of course, it’ll be interesting to watch what happens next. Will all Mail writers get a memo telling them to stop repeating the lie? It’s approaching prime Winterval season, surely Richard Littlejohn or Peter Hitchens will want to write about it soon.

As always when discussing this myth, I need to link to Kevin Arscott’s forensic investigation of the evidence which is the most thorough debunking of a tabloid lie that I’ve ever seen.

Update: The Mail has updated Phillips’ original column to remove the reference to Winterval and to add the following note at the bottom:

A previous version of this article stated that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

That’s the first time I’ve seen them explicitly update a corrected article like that. I hope it’s the start of a trend. This has been a good date for tabloid accuracy in Britain.

Update 2: Tabloid Watch has a fascinating article about how this correction was negotiated


Daily Mail Corrections

The Daily Mail, along with its sister paper The Mail on Sunday, has recently started to print a corrections and clarifications page.

It’s a pretty half-arsed affair for many reasons. The only way to find it is by searching for it by title. There’s no link for it anywhere on the site and it doesn’t seem to have been given its own section. Most bizarrely, the corrections don’t appear in the main web feed for the paper.

None of the corrections link back to the original story and in many cases you only get a vague description to help you work out which story they are talking about. And even if you work out which story they’re talking about, it’s often impossible to find the story on the web site as it has been removed.

I thought I could probably do better than that. So today I’ve built the Corrections and Clarifications site. It has a list of all of the corrections and clarifications that both papers have published and (where I’ve been able to find it) a link to the original story on the Mail site. I’ve also tagged the corrections so we can hopefully start to build up a picture of the kinds of corrections the Mail is printing.

I’m assuming that the Mail’s approach is so sub-standard because their content management system is prehistoric or because the people who worked on the project didn’t really think it through. If that’s the case then I’m more than happy to try to help them to fix this problem.