Bad News - problems with journalism

Miscellaneous stories about screw-ups by mainstream news media - some more important than others.

The US president manipulates the press as the press turn to trivia

The Scotsman and The New Zealand Dominion, May 16 1988

Don Regan had a whole lot of fun in his acerbic new memoir, poking Nancy Reagan in the eye with his shock horoscope stories about star-gazing in the White House, but the President's former chief of staff was trying to land an altogether heavier blow and one which missed its target in all the hullabaloo.

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Tiny Rowland - portrait of the bastard as a rebel

The Guardian, August 1 1990

(Note: For readers in 1990, this story had a significant context, that Rowland's company, Lonrho, owned The Observer and that Rowland was brazenly abusing his position to pressurise the paper into backing his obsessive quest to buy the Harrods department store in central London.)

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Pap news from a new ITV company

The Guardian, January 1 1993
Marking the launch of Meridian, the new ITV company for SE England

We're dealing with a mystery here. Look, first of all, at Meridian's big PR plug for itself, broadcast on New Year's Day, in which the South East's new ITV company celebrated its plans for the future. It was great.

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How Rupert Murdoch killed off blackmail

The Mail on Sunday, October 17 1993

When Basil Tozer - historian of crime and caddish behaviour -produced his study of Confidence Crooks and Blackmailers in 1929, he was in no doubt about the importance of his work. "This book," he wrote, "will, if read carefully, enable even simpletons to avoid being duped by rogues." To help the simpletons, he spelled out the suffering of the unwary in cautionary tales of terrible significance....

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The big thing about the Big Issue

The Guardian, May 1 1994

The Big Issue is famous for rescuing homeless people. Two thousand men, women and runaway adolescents now sell the magazine on the streets where they sleep and earn themselves enough money to survive. But it ought to be famous for something else: the Big Issue is just about the last refuge of honest, angry, investigative journalism. And there's a lesson in that.

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The newspapers which hounded the Taylor sisters

The Guardian, November 1 1994

When Michelle and Lisa Taylor walked free from the High Court one Friday morning in June last year, they left behind them a life sentence which had been torn up by the judges, and a delicate problem which remained to be handled by the Attorney General.

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The scoop monger

The Guardian, December 4 1997

When politicians in different corners of the world wonder out loud whether Rupert Murdoch is becoming too powerful, they are thinking normally on a grand scale, about his potential to manipulate governments or to subvert national cultures. However, the same question can arise on a much more human scale, if any ordinary individuals find themselves challenging Rupert's rule.

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Bob Hoskins and the rebel story which the media missed

The Guardian, May 14 1998

He was obviously an idiot. In the summer of 1991, most national newspapers carried a short story about a man they called 'Yorkshire's answer to Captain Haddock' who lived in Whitby and owned an ancient boat and, for some bizarre reason, had decided to sail all the way to the Arctic with a bunch of friends, thus threatening chaos, confusion and the imminent loss of life.

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The decline of the court reporter

The Guardian, January 11 1999

A couple of years ago, I was in Nottingham researching a story that collapsed so quickly that by nine o'clock in the morning, I had run out of work. For want of anything else to do, I decided to look in on a court case that had been reported briefly in the Nottingham Evening Post the previous day.

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Saving the skills of reporting

The Guardian, January 10 2000

Some of the best-known journalists in the country are joining forces to teach a 48-hour crash course in investigative reporting. We plan to turn our own stories inside out to expose the techniques we use. David Leigh is going to unpack the saga of Jonathan Aitken; Paul Foot is going to look back at notorious miscarriages of justice; John Ware will talk about his work on the secret state in...

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The Guardian, March 19 2001

It's all a question of necrophilia. When a group of veteran journalists gathered one weekend last year to teach the skills of investigative reporting to an audience of working journalists and students, it was certainly exciting. The news editor of the Guardian said it was "fantastic - really, really interesting, thought-provoking, useful and inspiring", and so we are doing it again - in Sheffield,...

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Introducing Flat Earth News

The Guardian, February 5 2008

Here's a little example of what I call Flat Earth News. In June 2005, Fleet Street told its readers about a gang of feral child bullies who had attempted to murder a five-year-old boy by hanging him from a tree; the boy had managed to free himself. This story was not true. Indeed, it was obviously not true from the moment it started running.

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Concocting a horror story

The Guardian, May 5 2008

Anybody who has been plugged into the news over the past few months could be forgiven for believing that police searching a former care home in Jersey have already found evidence of children being murdered.

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The people who may save newspapers

The Guardian, May 30 2008
Blog from the Hay Literary Festival, where Nick Davies and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger were speaking.

Two things happened today. First, Media Guardian published a poll showing that, over the last five years, trust in broadsheet journalists has fallen by 22%; in local journalists by 20%; and in mid-market journalists by 18%. The only journalists whose trust rating has not plummeted are those working for the red-tops - their standing was already so low, it could hardly sink further.

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The truth about a concocted story

The Guardian, November 5 2008

When the Jersey police this week confessed that - contrary to so many ghoulish news stories - they have, in truth, no evidence of children being murdered and buried in an old children's home on the island, they laid the blame at their own door. That tells only part of the story.

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How police killed a man - and then killed the story

The Guardian, April 27 2009

The family of Ian Tomlinson, who died earlier this month at the G20 protest in London, are planning to file a new complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, IPCC. This will deal not with the events that led to his death but with the fog of media misinformation which followed it.

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The sex trafficking trawl which failed to net any traffickers

The Guardian, October 20 2009

The UK's biggest ever investigation of sex trafficking failed to find a single person who had forced anybody into prostitution in spite of hundreds of raids on sex workers in a six-month campaign by government ministries, specialist agencies and every police force in the country.

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How misinformation flooded the sex trafficking story

The Guardian, October 20 2009

There is something familiar about the tide of misinformation which has swept through the subject of sex trafficking in the UK: it flows through exactly the same channels as the now notorious torrent of falsehood about Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes.

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Vanessa Perroncel and Fleet Street's fantasies

The Guardian, April 10 2010

On Friday January 29th, in a courtroom in London, Vanessa Perroncel's life changed. She wasn't in court. She had nobody there to speak for her. But when Mr Justice Tugendhat decided that the England football captain, John Terry, had no right to suppress a story about his alleged sex life, Perroncel found herself being hurled out into the public domain alongside him.

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Murdoch's man quits over Wall Street Journal scam

The Guardian, October 13 2011

One of Rupert Murdoch's most senior European executives has resigned following Guardian inquiries about a circulation scam at News Corporation's flagship newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.

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Defending The Guardian over Edward Snowden

The Guardian, October 13 2013

In the last few days, two national newspapers – the Times and The Mail – have suggested that the Guardian has been wrong to publish material leaked by Edward Snowden on the specific grounds that journalists cannot be trusted to judge what may damage national security.

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Chains that bind the 'free' press

The New Internationalist, January 1 2015

The British press was born free but it is everywhere in chains.

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