The Daily Mail: even worse than flat earth journalism

On July 22nd I wrote a small blog entry on my website regarding a dodgy article written in the Daily Mail about children with special educational needs.

In my entry I asked: “[a]t what point do we suppose the Daily Mail not only dislikes the inclusion of young people with special educational needs in schools, but doesn’t think special educational needs exist outside of the 2% once designated before the Warnock report of 1978.”

Of course the article in the Mail doesn’t explicitly say THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SPECIAL NEEDS because in doing this, not only would they be wrong (this shouldn’t phase them too much), they’d open up the grounds for a whole campaign and would alienate a large amount of people (even if those people are Mail readers).

The question of whether the Mail editorial staff or some of its staff writers deny the need for the category special educational needs or whether they feel too many children belong to this category is still worth asking even if we can’t reach a definitive answer, which is exactly what I did.

In my entry I say:

in an unsourced paragraph, the article suggests:

it has also been claimed that doctors, teachers and parents are too keen to pin medical labels – such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – on what might previously have been branded poor discipline

Before using a quote by Dr Gwynedd Lloyd, an education researcher at the University of Edinburgh, who said:

You can’t do a blood test to check whether you’ve got ADHD – it’s diagnosed through a behavioural checklist.

Getting out of your seat and running about is an example – half the kids in a school could qualify under that criterion.

My charge is obviously against the unsourced article where the Mail, instead of making a claim themselves, have claimed that “doctors, teachers and parents” attest to children being overbranded.

The quote of interest, unknown to me at the time, is the second one by Dr Gwynedd Lloyd.

Last week a comment appeared below my entry by Dr Lloyd herself telling me that:

The daily mail used a quote from me, without my permission, from another article that took a different approach. My argument is not that ADHD doesn’t exist, it is that we are clustering together lots of difficult and challenging behaviour under one rather simple diagnosis and then using stimulant medication. Of course such children need additional support in school and should get it. The daily mail used my quote out of context to support their argument against inclusion. I disagree completely with their conclusions!

Of course! The Mail don’t make claims themselves, they use claims by other people in order to hide what they really think, but even better than that, they use quotes from people who don’t even agree with the charge they are hiding behind.

I contacted Dr Lloyd through her work email to verify whether it was really her who had left the comment. After confirming this she told me that she was “really fed up with the Daily Mail using this bit of a quote. The original was in the Guardian and has since appeared without context (and to support opinions I dislike) twice in the Mail and one in the Telegraph. So not just the tabloids!”

So let it be known, the Mail (and the Telegraph) will use quotes out of turn, without permission, to write ill-thought commentary on subjects they find contentious. Why people continue using this rag for information is well beyond me.

The Rushdie affair and responsibility

Kenan Malik has been on my mind lately. I recently read his book From Fatwa to Jihad and I have learnt that he will be speaking at Westminster Skeptics early next year.

Today I thought I’d search his name on YouTube and was thrown up a video of a Newsnight episode on which he appeared with Tariq Modood, Ekow Eshun and Germaine Greer.

The latter guest, Germaine Greer, is often thought to be one of those annoying feminist, liberal, middle class bastards!

She once stood accused of asking Salman Rushdie to apologise for writing his book The Satanic Verses and offending. Though on Newsnight, she denied having done this, before explaining what she meant when she used “apology”, “Rushdie” and “The Satanic Verses” in the same sentence.

Below is the video of that episode of Newsnight where Greer says:

I don’t care if people burn books, my books have been burnt, as long as they pay for them they can do whatever they like with them, but I do think that nobody should die for a book, and that if you think you can prevent anymore people dying for the book – we all know how the book was manipulated – and all you have to do is apologise, go on your knees to Mashhad or whoever, then do it to save your life, you shouldn’t die for your book either

(09.56 – 10.29)

If you have had your head buried under rocks you may also have upset Iran, the most important part of the Rushdie affair occurred on February 14, 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to execute all those involved in the publication of the novel.

At the time, an Iranian religious foundation called the 15 Khordad Foundation offered a reward of $US1 million or 200 million rials for the murder of Rushdie.

Greer in the above video, recognises some necessity in Rushdie apologising to Mashhad, a very holy city in Iran, but adds an important clause: to save his life and the lives of other publishers and people involved in the publication of the book in other countries.

The question becomes harder I feel at this point: should Rushdie have apologised to people who feel it justified to kill people on the grounds that they have offended them, or, since he knows these people will stop at nothing, should he have apologised to save the lives others?

Even more tricky: because to apologise, or not to, is a choice that Rushdie had to make, at what point would he have been responsible in the event of a death (Greer notes later in the programme that “the thing was Salman was the safest person around. It was everybody else who was at risk, and nothing was done about them”).

For me the answer is simple: Rushdie should not have apologised because to do so would be to give credibility to the idea that when someone is offended by something, the obvious reaction should be to kill that person – that is all it comes down to.

But not everyone agreed at the time. Tory tabloids pictured Rushdie as someone who purposely put national security in jeopardy; mainstream politicians talked about at what stage something should no longer be protected under the banner free speech.

I think when people believe Rushdie should have apologised because other people were in danger, they themselves are in danger of not recognising that those who call for the murder, or those whose desire it is to carry out the murder, are not making a choice, and that they are acting on some uninterruptible compulsion over which we can have no intervention.

Also I often wonder what motivates this view. Many people once felt that there was a causal link between poverty and terrorism, but this does two things: first, it doesn’t take note of the facts; people who have had otherwise stable backgrounds, university educations and decent jobs have committed terror acts (such as the 7/7 bombers), while not every person who experiences poverty commits terror, so it doesn’t follow ipso facto that terrorism is a determinant of poverty. Second, it assumes people of a certain class, or I dare say race or nationality, are simply automaton not able to think for themselves and act upon the sort of compulsion that Greer assumed those who wanted to kill Rushdie did.

Drawing this back to Rushdie, by blaming him for not apologising gives credibility to the murderous bastards that wanted to kill him or anyone involved with the book he had written on the grounds that they did not like what he’d written (or they’d heard from someone else that they wouldn’t like what had been written – Malik in his aforementioned book made note that Khomeini had definitely not read the book before forming an opinion on it).

By pretending certain people cannot form opinions or carry out actions without their being some obvious symptom is to allow the opinion that people are stupid. Since Muslims were involved in the Rushdie affair, I’ve little doubt that to blame Rushdie for the desire of certain Muslims to kill Rushdie is to assume Muslims are stupid.

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