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May 02, 2013



I agree with Mr. Aaronovitch on the tendency of the media to promote scare stories and escape accountability. Who can forget the Star's claim that "Mad Saddam [was] Ready to Attack", or the Sun's insistence that Britons were “45mins FROM DOOM”. Even in the more respectable organs of the press, people like David Rose insisted that “Iraq’s support for terror” made regime change “integral”, only to lament, five years on, that a U.S. official had “told [him] time and again that Saddam really did have operational links with al-Qaeda”. Such occasions - in which, as Mr. Aaronovitch notes on Twitter, "people died" - demand humility and a commitment to change.


Without wishing to excuse the media, the choice made to feed the MMR scare reflects specific societal fears, not just a press agenda. In contrast, phone-hacking reflects universal prurience, which always sells.

There was more just human interest in the sense of a health threat to children (the measles outbreak has produced far fewer "I fear for my kids" stories). The scare obviously hit a nerve among middle-class parents (hence the prominence of the Mail et al), possibly reflecting anxiety about educational attainment (and hence perhaps the compensating myth that many autism sufferers are savants).

I wonder if there is a statistically significant correlation between an aversion to MMR jabs and temporary attendance at church to secure a school place?

Jacques René Giguère

Or as the Soviets said:"There is no Pravda in the Izvestia and no Izvestia in the Pravda".


Not all journalism has this distinction, between a good stroy and truth. I think a traditional value of journalism is to aspire to objectivity and truth (whilst accepting the difficult in that), and I see journalism that doesn't have that aspiration as 'bad', if you like.

Likewise 'good' journalism is not always about an isolated story about someone's son getting the MMR jab. Human interest is a part of good journalism, but that doesn't have to be individual stories, but can be something broader. The think the story of why the Mail took up the MMR cause is a better one, not as simple, not as conspiratorial as the Mail presented MMR/autism, but truer and of ultimately more human interest and value.

You're making the mistake that good journalism is that which sells, a very market-ideology based view.

@ FromArseToElbow - I think you're mistaking cause and effect. Middle England wasn't pouring over the anecdotal evidence linking MMR and autism, and as a consequence the Mail reflected it. We live in a somewhat fearful age, people are more prone to this type of moral panic, and the Mail reflects that, but that's a different issue.

The Thought Gang

Science/Health journalism in the mainstream media (including both the BBC and the Mail) is awful. I don't know if it's as bad as their financial journalism because I'm not enough of a scientist.. but it's definitely awful.

The question re MMR is why did that particular dodgy scare-story become such a giant, when these things are usually forgotten after a couple of days and we're back to updating our giant lists of the things that cause/cure cancer.


I hope 'deformation professionelle' includes the blurring of the distinctions between reporting clear, factual news, opinion pieces and investigating a story.
With particular regard to TV news and the BBC: I think I’d prefer if the pretence at impartiality and balance was dropped: it really insults our intelligence, don’t you think, when the interviewer swallows overt dissemblance or equivocation; when he lets the interviewee babble tripe or answer self-rephrased questions. I’m tired of such bespoke rhetoric: “If you’re asking me, blah, blah, blah…”. I don’t know if they seriously believe they’re doing a good job but I’m sick of being served mostly gruel when they have access to a Smörgåsbord of vital contexts and perspectives. Anyway, it makes the interviewer look like either a shady sympathiser or a sad sop. What I’d prefer to see is discipline: the clean reporting of the facts by the presenter, followed by a clear and plain explanation when appropriate and then the analysis and discussion.

When it comes to interviews with politicians, journalists and other influencers to whom this medium gives a platform, I want the interviewer to ask intelligent questions and listen to the answers instead of thinking about the next banal cheap shot on a silly tabloid list. I don’t want populism and I don’t want personal, petty point scoring (stop wasting my time and take it outside). I want the interviewer to employ professional rigor to expose motive and challenge the claims of guests from an informed position. I want the interviewer to give these duplicitous narrators and makers of policy a bit more rope…

Churm Rincewind

@ Chris: I disagree with you completely. I think you're a rather good journalist. So maybe you don't have quite the same number of readers as, say, Richard Littlejohn, but never mind the width, feel the quality...


Come now, New Scientist magazine doesn't do dry statistical analysis. It hasn't for years, as it has drifted downmarket with simplistic uncritical fantastic headline stories. I'm sure it is more readable than it used to be, but I also think it is worse at communicating the actual science.

Also I think your definition of 'good journalism' is a bit limited, should it not include telling the truth?


I'm with Churm. V glad that Chris acknowledges that
mass market should not be sneered at, but that doesn't mean that idiosyncratic observer has no value,even with low readership.

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