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Wednesday, September 16

Daily Mail has joined the American lunatic fringe

It's Wednesday and the Daily Mail is still carrying a factually inaccurate story published the previous Sunday morning.

And it's not like they haven't been told it's inaccurate, comment after comment in the 279 thus far point out exactly why they are wrong.

What's interesting is exactly how come they are wrong.

Inaccuracies often come about because one newspaper is mugged or fed a line, believes it and then, like lemmings, everyone else falls off the cliff. This is often the case with crowd numbers, someone will carry an organisers claim and that gets reproduced.

Respected statistician Nate Silver (the one who got the US presidential election most right) found this out when he tried to estimate the numbers at the US right's 'tea-bagger' parties in April from mainstream media reports.

Often they were wrong, sometimes laughably so - but there are limits. Silver found that "exaggerations were contained within some reasonable bounds". Doubling for example.

The Mail's headline is out by a factor of 33.

Media Matters has been tracking the circulation of this meme. Here's the origins:

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, took to the rally stage and unfurled a massive lie. He told the crowd ABC News had reported that between 1 million to 1.5 million people had gathered to protest Obama's policies.
[FreedomWorks, by the way, are the healthcare industry funding lobbyists 'astroturfing' the protests.]

This flat-out lie was then tweeted, exaggerated upwards to 'two million' and then carried by prominent right-wing blogs who, much later, published a correction as ABC hadn't said it and the actual 'official' estimate by the DC Fire Department was 70,000. It was also very obviously wrong because two million was the official estimate for the numbers at the Obama inauguration and that shut down the city for several days. Saturday's 'tea bagger' rally had no associated reports of a DC shutdown.

As Media Matters notes, despite the corrections, on the lunatic fringe the meme continues to circulate.

What this leads me to ask with the Mail's story is exactly where was it sourced from? The story itself gives no source but, as has been tracked, it could only have come from a right-wing blog, most likely Michelle Malkin. Not even Fox News mentioned 'two million'.

So why is the Daily Mail reproducing stories hot from the American right-wing blogosphere?

Surely the reason why is money? Specifically, the American traffic to which they can sell ads that such stories generate is huge. Plus there's reason to think it's money because they have form.

In January another unsourced Mail story which said that Obama's inauguration had cost $110m was linked to from the King of the right-wing online, Matt Drudge. That story is also still live and still inaccurate.

The Daily Mail is seen by Americans not as we see it but as a British newspaper which behaves like a normal, mainstream newspaper. It may slant stories or omit facts but make them up? Source them from a blog? Fail to correct inaccuracy? Not do a basic fact-check? 'Respectable' newspapers don't do that.

Referring to a story in the Mail on the right in America is back-up for lies: if they're saying it there must be some truth to it?

As they make their money from joining the US right-wing blogosphere what is the Mail buying into?

Many commentators have noticed that the anger of the far-right has a strongly racist streak, which is almost daily becoming less 'readable' and more self-evident.

A couple of days ago there was one of those made-for-repetition-on-cable-TV stories generated from CCTV footage, this time of a bullying incident on a school bus in Illinois.

Yesterday the leader of the far-right lunatic fringe, radio host Rush Limbaugh said of the incident:
In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering, 'Yay, right on, right on, right on, right on.

I wonder if Obama's going to come to come to the defense of the assailants the way he did his friend Skip Gates up there at Harvard.

Somehow I doubt it.
This is classic race-baiting and goes further than even he has gone so far.

Andrew Sullivan said of Limbaugh's comments in a post titled 'They Don't Even Disguise The Race-Baiting Any More':

I'm sorry but this is outrageous. The story was a classic schoolbus bully incident; it could happen anywhere any time and has happened everywhere at all times with kids of all races, backgrounds and religions. To infer both that it was racially motivated and that this is somehow connected to having a black president is repulsive. I know that is almost de trop with Limbaugh, but sometimes you have to regain a little shock. This man is spewing incendiary racial hatred. He is conjuring up images of lonely whites being besieged by angry violent blacks ... based on an incident that had nothing to do with race at all. And why, by the way, does someone immediately go to the racial angle when looking at such a tape?

These people are going off the deep end entirely: open panic at a black president is morphing into the conscious fanning of racial polarization, via Gates or ACORN or Van Jones or a schoolbus in Saint Louis. What we're seeing is the Jeremiah Wright moment repeated and repeated. The far right is seizing any racial story to fan white fears of black power in order to destroy Obama. And the far right now controls the entire right.

Do they understand how irresponsible this is? How recklessly dangerous to a society's cohesion and calm? Or is that what they need and thrive on?

Since I first published this post the comments by President Jimmy Carter have put the issue of race at the centre of debate about the protests. This is how the Mail covered Carter - and again it repeats 'up to a million'.

Which beggars the question: does the Daily Mail have any conscience about the monster it is feeding on - and off?

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  1. Seems like the comments section has been taken over by the lunatic fringe too.

    I guess this is no different to what the Guardian are doing, the Mail are brand building (albeit in a slightly clumsy way) to make themselves a worldwide news source for idiotic right wing knee jerk stories. They've been submitting a lot of stories to Digg for a while now, so I guess this is all part of the process.

    Going worldwide is the route a lot of newspapers are having to go down now to stay afloat, although personally I wouldn't like to see this particular paper survive.

  2. The big difference between the Mail's undisclosed US reader push + The Guardian's (Guardian America) is not just of openness about what they are up to but ethics.

    The Guardian immediately corrects errors. It also has a Reader's Editor.

  3. It's a shame that things like this happen really, because it also damages the arguments that people like myself can make against Obamas healthcare plan.

    I get chucked in the the 'loonies'

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  8. The 279 thus far point out exactly why they are wrong.

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