Sorry, not sorry

by SJ Griffin

The BBC have managed to splutter an apology, like a mouthful of burnt toast crumbs, for the coverage of the peaceful vigil against the bombing of Syria on the Today programme in December 2015. It reminds me of that time I ate a whole multi-packet of someone else’s Wagon Wheels while watching Murder She Wrote dubbed in Hindi. I wasn’t very sorry then and I don’t think they are now.

Still, it is a big milestone and a massive achievement all thanks to the efforts of local heroes Sue Wheat and Dominic Mandrell who have spent seven months trying to set the record straight.

Think back, back to happier times when we had a Prime Minister almost a quarter of people living in the country had voted for, back to when the pound was worth more than a handful of half melted malteasers and some pocket fluff, and you might remember the Little Hard Left Hate Mob That Wasn’t.

Think back to that evening on the 1st of December when a group of local people walked from Queens Town Road Mosque to the constituency office of our MP and lit some candles while small children wrote messages of support for Syria on post it notes and stuck them on the dark windows of that empty office.

Think back to the morning of the 2nd of December and the few days after when the Guardian, New Statesman, The Sun, The Independent, The Evening Standard, The Mirror, The Daily Mail (‘Hard Left Hate Mob’) The Northern Echo (‘War-like and cruel’) BBC Radio 4 Today programme and World At One, LBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC Breakfast News and Newsnight all covered a story that never happened. Tom Watson even went so far as to claim ‘I have seen those TV images of what went on’. He’d been at the Wagon Wheels I suspect.

Then think back to our MP leaping immediately to our defence and demanding that the story be set straight.

Ha! I got you there, didn’t I?

That was never happened either. In the real world, she left an important debate she would have clearly benefitted from listening to and claimed on Twitter her staff were being harassed, and then unleashed La Mensch who went on to spend the weekend verbally abusing a local artist on Twitter who she’d assumed was a man. She was a woman.

Life can be hard when your MP is one Hello Kitty pencil case short of a pre-teen girl gang but let’s save that peculiar hilarity for another time. I’m thinking of calling that piece When Champagne Socialists become Molotov Moderates.

Yesterday, in one of those coincidences the universe likes to throw up to compensate for the burnt toast always landing rancid butter side down, Katharine Viner – the editor-in-chief of the Guardian – wrote a piece on how social media has made life terribly difficult for journalists to work out what’s true and what isn’t. “In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true”.

I did double check to see if Alan Rusbridger was editor-in-chief when they ran with the vigil story but unfortunately Katharine Viner became editor in June 2015. So she was at the helm of a paper that ran with a story that the BBC has admitted “originated from a single Facebook posting which later proved to be misleading (the demonstration’s destination was Ms Creasy’s constituency office, which was unoccupied at the time, not her home, and it was peaceful)”. I think “misleading” might be the new word for “a lie”.  Much in the same way literally now means figuratively because that’s how people use the word.

Viner goes on to say “sometimes rumours like these spread out of panic, sometimes out of malice, and sometimes deliberate manipulation” but doesn’t elaborate on what happened in our case. If you want to hazard a guess you can still read articles about the vigil on the Guardian website.

It’s not true, but it’s still online. There’s something odd about that. Perhaps it is still there because Viner is correct in her suggestion that “publications curated by editors have in many cases been replaced by a stream of information chosen by friends, contacts and family, processed by secret algorithms.”

Is she a robot? Is the article really a cry for help? Skynet, is that you?

Or perhaps it’s still there because no one in the media actually cares. The truth is perhaps like a private life, only available to people who have enough money to win court cases where they’re refered to by three initials and only Scottish or American papers can use their full names. Oh, if only we coud all marry a pop singer or get paid millions to kick a ball round a field at the weekend.

Still, we’ve got an apology. I should be happy, right?

Nope.

Big lie, tiny apology. For example, Glastonbury festival’s very own Tom Watson MP bombasts that he’s seen TV images of a Hard Left Hate Mob on a BBC programme and is heard by millions worldwide, then mutters his apology on Facebook where this is the coverage he got:

TW stats

Of the Guardian, New Statesman, The Sun, The Independent, The Evening Standard, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Northern Echo, BBC Radio 4 Today programme and World At One, LBC, Channel 4, Channel 5, BBC Breakfast News and Newsnight only the BBC have admitted they were reporting something that never happened and only on the Today programme. Good luck finding that apology without the link. If it’s less than four clicks from the home page, do let me know – I’ll buy you a Wagon Wheel. All this when one of the Leveson Inquiry recommendations was that the apologies and corrections should match the profile the story was given.

Ah, Leveson. Again, let’s think back. There were so many recommendations, they went up like emergency flares then disappeared before anyone could launch a single life boat to rescue the truth, and democracy.

Poor democracy, what of her?

As I’ve said before, quoting the mighty and much-missed Terry Pratchett, ‘a lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on’. It turns out that the lie, unlike doping Russian athletes, can win that race, keep the medals and the world records. Still, that’s no reason for us, or the good folk at The Canary, to stop polishing the boots of truth to make sure that they aren’t quite as shit-speckled as everything else is becoming.

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