Archive of previous
home page items
Probing the Media
8 – 2007.006
What is a leading
Unaccountably, I have
been asleep for the past 18 months over the deficiencies
of the media (see earlier items below). Now I have
woken up I give you this item.
The Observer 25
Christina Odone wrote
in the paper about Oxbridge interviews. I put the
following on its Comment is Free site under the
pen name Pedantissimo-
Christina says ‘It's
no wonder the interview fills middle-class parents
with dread, petrified lest the inquisitors ask leading
questions (“Did your parents go to university?”)’.
Did Christina go to uni herself? If so, does she
not know that this isn’t a leading question?
A leading question
is one that ‘leads’ a witness to the
desired response by suggesting the answer.
7 - 2005.051
We are all guilty
Among the range
of splendid characters in the gallery of Peter Simple
of the Daily Telegraph was the bleeding-heart
sociologist Dr Heinz Kiosk, whose refrain was We
are all guilty. There is nowadays much sloppy journalism
around, which Peter Simple would have disdained.
This is true even of the once respected London Times.
One aspect of this sloppiness is the habit of attacking
some regrettable feature of modern life on the basis
that every reader is guilty of it. This is obviously
false, and calculated to infuriate the innocent.
Here are some examples.
On 3 August 2005
a sentence on the Times front page read: “The
increase in drinking is such that every adult in
the country drinks more than a third of a pint of
pure alcohol a week.” It is obviously untrue
that every adult in the country drinks more than
a third of a pint of pure alcohol a week. My wife
and I are adults in this country and neither of
us drinks any alcohol at all in any week, pure or
impure. The same is true of many other adults.
The Times has
a Saturday Supplement called body&soul (note
the smart absence of spaces and capitals). On 13
August 2005 an item on page 2 of this said-
what is it about summer holidays that makes us behave
as if there wasn’t a risk in the world? .
. . The trick is to do new things while being aware
of how bad we are at assessing risk and making sure
that we take all necessary preparations and precautions’.
My wife and I
fancy we are rather good at assessing risk – we’ve
had enough practice at it in our combined 160 years.
The Times has
a daily Supplement called T2. On 16 August 2005
this had an item saying about a 15-year-old girl
giving a 13-year-old boy what used to be known as
fellatio, but is nowadays vulgarly called a blow
did it, I did it. It is what thousands of teenagers
have done, and always will do. It happens every
my wife (she assures me) nor I did it. The latter
item also transgressed by being based on a serious
mistake of law, which I described in Probing the
6 - 2005.049
The Times (T2
supplement), 16 August 2005
by The Times
As is widely
known, British sex law was updated in 2003 by the
new Sexual Offences Act. While the Bill for that
was going through Parliament I was active in proposing
amendments. I particularly opposed, without success,
the Government’s insistence that normal sexual
interchanges between teenagers who were both under
the age of consent (sixteen) should not be criminalized.
For example I said-
surely quite wrong that the police and Crown Prosecution
Service should be involved at all in such cases.
The fact that the CPS might eventually decide that
it is not in the public interest to proceed with
a prosecution even though technically a crime has
been committed is no answer. The existence of this
residual CPS discretion should never be used as
an excuse for labelling conduct as criminal when
truly it is not. The right of any citizen to bring
a private prosecution also has to be borne in mind
here. This right might be exercised for example
by a spiteful neighbour. Nor in such cases is it ‘appropriate
to pursue the matter through child protection .
. . processes’. This still brands the children’s
conduct as criminal, calling for intervention by
state services. Such intervention can do immense
harm to the children, and is uncalled for.’ [See
on Sexual Offences Act 2003']
In its T2 supplement
for 16 August 2005 The Times has fallen
into the trap set by the 2003 Act. On the front
cover there is a photograph of a boy with his head
in his hands and the caption-
at the door. On the step, two detectives. They said
to my 13-year-old son: “We are arresting you
Inside, the ‘Cover
story’ has shriek headlines: OUR SON,
A MALICIOUS GIRL AND RAPE THAT NEVER WAS.
The headline is wrong. In law (though not in common
sense) there was a rape, and their son committed
The report says: ‘But this supposed rape victim was a 15-year-old girl
who had given an ill-advised blow job to a 13-year-old boy . . .’ It
is the 2003 Act that is ill-advised. It says this was rape because the girl
was too young to give effective consent. In allowing his penis to be enclosed
by her mouth the boy committed rape because he intentionally penetrated the
mouth of another person with his penis when she did not consent (because her
actual consent was ineffective). Section 1 says so.
1 says it is only rape if the defendant does not
reasonably believe that the ‘victim’ consents,
but that does not save the boy. He may have believed
that the girl consented, but his belief was not
reasonable because he is taken to have known she
was under age so that her consent was ineffective.
This is absurd of course, but under our system ignorance
of the law is no excuse.
For two pages The
Times mistakenly rampages on about ‘the
rape that never was’, thus gravely misleading
its readers.. Obviously it should have got a lawyer
to vet this sensational story about the criminal
law. Oddly enough the T2 supplement contained
the weekly Law section, but this story was not
5 - 2005.038
2 July 2005
Hilly Janes edits
the Times Saturday supplement they call Body&Soul
(removing the spaces is thought by these shallow
minds to make the title snappier). On 2 July Hilly
gave us an editorial setting out all the goodies
she has planned for eager readers. She asks for
what she fashionably calls ‘feedback’ so
I sent in the following.
Hilly may be
a good editor but she strikes me as a very poor
writer. What she is editing is ephemeral journalism:
tomorrow’s chip wrapping. Her exaggerated
style makes it appear she rates it slightly above
the level of the Rubáiyát of Omar
Fear not, she
says about the absence of a regular writer. Fear
is a serious matter, and doesn’t enter into
that sort of thing. Her bit of the paper “is
now one of the best-loved sections”. Best-loved?
Hilly reminds me of those silly advertisements which
talk about loving your car. Again Hilly, love is
a serious matter. We don’t bestow it on things
like tomorrow’s chip wrapping.
Then we have
what she calls “food coverage”. I cover
my food with things like butter and jam, but not
so Hilly. The one who does the covering for her,
Jane Clarke, is “brilliant”. This puts
Clarke in the same league as Brillat-Savarin, the
noted gourmet chef. Well I wonder about that.
Hilly can’t quite master the grammar. She writes-
“ If you’d
like a greener lifestyle [covered with mould perhaps?]
but can’t quite get your act together, our
new Eco-Worrier column, by Body&Soul writer
Anna Shepard, will point the way.”
The fact is that
Anna Shepard will point the way anyway, whether
or not I’d like a greener lifestyle. The stated
condition preceded by “if” simply doesn’t
apply. That’s grammar Hilly.
Finally, I feel
a little bit captious about the idea that a mere
newspaper column will accomplish the considerable
feat of “helping me to get out more”.
If dire threats from my GP won’t do it I doubt
if Hilly’s newspaper feature Breathing Space
will impart the necessary propulsion. Over-stated
again. Bad writing.
To sum up, I
think, Hilly, that a little more realism is called
for. Let’s come down to earth, shall we? Then
your precious section might become a bit more worthy
of spending a little bit of our precious time on.
4 - 2005.034
26 May 2005
Ever since James
Naughtie said on the BBC Radio Four Today programme
just before the 2005 general election that he hoped ‘we’ (meaning
the Blairites) would win the election I have thought
of the BBC as the Blairite Broadcasting Corporation.
I first exposed Blair and the Blairites in my book THE
BLIGHT OF BLAIRISM, and shall go on doing so
whenever I can.
However I am
writing now on another aspect of the Today programme,
namely its propensity suddenly to abandon serious
news and treat us to current affairs snippets, often
boring and sometimes very noisy. I am in a sensitive
state in the early morning and do not like sudden
On 26 May 2005
I sent Today the following rude message-
The Today programme,
at around 7.45 after discussing the newspapers,
always has some silly item that makes me switch
off. Today it was the voices of South American tribes
speaking their barbarous tongue. It’s not
what we want to hear as we struggle to start the
day. Please give us sensible news items about things
that actually matter to us (not OUGHT to matter).
I was rather
surprised to get a civilised reply from a named
individual. This led to an interchange in which
I learnt something. Today is not, as I had thought,
a news programme. It is a news and current affairs
The BBC also
put this another way, distinguishing ‘hard’ news
and ‘soft’ news. This translates as
Hard news =
Soft news =
current affairs items that are not real news.
Today is both
a hard news and a soft news programme. I wish it
This is developed at greater length in Blog
3 - 2005.031
The editor Richard Ingrams said (page 3)
that ‘as usual a star-studded galaxy’ had
attended one of the paper’s functions.
This has two
faults of style, as the OED calls them:-
(1) It is tainted
by pleonasm, or use of superfluous words. A galaxy
consists of stars; that’s what the word means.
So it has to be star-studded or it wouldn’t
be a galaxy.
(2) It is magniloquent,
described by the OED as ‘talking big’ or ‘boastful’.
editor should set an example.
De’Ath wrote (page 21) ‘a club
committee comprised of several golf-playing, white-moustached
old colonels . . .’
This confuses ‘comprise’ and
compose’. The committee was either composed
of several colonels or comprised (that is included)
is a common error, which no professional writer
Someone calling himself Diarmaid Ó Muirithe,
who writes a column on English words, said (page
35) that he had never in his life heard the expression ‘He
wouldn’t set the Thames on fire’ (some
A glance at
the familiar Brewer would have enlightened
this man with the peculiar name.
us that the expression probably originated with
a Latin saw (no surprise there).
spend nearly half your column on far-fetched musings
when, as usual, Mr Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (1810-1897)
has the answer?
Cecil wrote (page 54) ‘As I think Max
Beerbohm said, “If you like that kind of
thing, then that’s the kind of thing you
was Abraham Lincoln, and what he said was: ‘People
who like this sort of thing will find this is the
sort of thing they like’ (G. W. E. Russell, Collections
and Recollections (1898) ch.30).
you’re not sure, why not look it up – especially
when you’re being paid for your efforts?
2 - 2005.030
Telegraph, 1 May 2005
House says that the ST article ‘Camilla
hurt by a thousand poison pens’ is untrue.
Only 4 per cent of over 25,000 letters were unsupportive.
Blair says the ST statement that Luciana
Berger is his girlfriend is untrue. ‘Luciana
Berger is not, and never has been, my girlfriend’,
Horrocks, BBC Head of Current affairs, contradicts
the ST report ‘Tory fury as BBC sends hecklers
to bait Howard’. He says: ‘the slogans
you attribute to the hecklers . . . are entirely
Woolwich says last week’s ST report
that he quit Channel Four’s Hard News after
producers wanted it to be less confrontational
1 - 2005.020
25 Apr 2005
Owen carelessly said the new Pope Benedict
XVI was installed in a ‘centuries-old ceremony’.
In fact the ceremony has been altered greatly
in recent years so as to delete the coronation
with the triple crown and in other ways emphasise
that the Holy Father is the humble ‘servant
of the servants of God’.
Benedict is not ‘smug’
Ruth Gledhill spitefully
said Pope Benedict had a ‘smug’ smile
when he showed himself on the balcony for the first
time. On the contrary his smile displayed humility
mingled with incredulity that he had been chosen
by the cardinals, coupled with a remarkable friendliness
and compassion for all.
27 Apr 2005
Laura Peek ignorantly
described the Dean of Ripon as a clerk in Holy Order
(instead of Holy Orders – there are several