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British journalists not running corrections and talking about putting people in the freezer

I happened to be reading an old issue of Private Eye (a friend subscribes and occasionally gives me some old copies) and came across this, discussing various misinformation regarding a recent crime that had been reported by a London tabloid columnist named Rod Liddle (no relation to the famous statistician, I assume):

Here is “what REALLY happened”, Liddle informed readers: “A drunken Polish bloke gets into an argument with a 15-year-old black kid. He pushes him and calls him ‘n*****’. The kid responds with a single punch. The Polish man, Arek Jozwik, is floored and killed.”

Not so: the youth who killed Jozwik with a single punch was white. But why worry about a fact? Almost a fortnight later, Liddle and the Sun website have yet to correct it.

I did a quick search on the Sun website and did not find the article (I searched for *Jozwik Liddle* and found nothing, then I searched for Jozwik alone and found a bunch of articles, but nothing by Liddle), which suggests that they removed it rather than correcting it. But maybe it’s been corrected and I just don’t know where to look. In the meantime, I found an old link to Liddle’s article here, and here it is on the Internet archive.

This interested me because we’ve been hearing a lot about problems with trust in the news in the U.S., so it’s good to remember that other countries have it a lot worse. I get annoyed when David Brooks pushes fake statistics at New York Times readers and then never runs a correction, but that’s nothing compared to what they do across the pond.

P.S. Also in the same issue:

After it emerged that Evening Standard editor George Osborne had told friends he wants Theresa May “chopped up in bags in my freezer”, fellow politicians queued up to criticize his choice of words.

This one was bizarre because all of the criticism had to do with Osborne (formerly the second-most-powerful person in the U.K. government) using this language to refer to a woman. I guess England’s the kind of place where it’s ok for a leading politician to talk about chopping someone up, if that someone is a man?

Also the bit about the “bags in the freezer.” What’s up with these people? You’d think killing someone would be enough, but then you have to chop up the body just to make sure? And then that’s not enough, you have to keep the chopped up body in your freezer? That’s one creepy country, where a major politician could talk this way.

24 Comments

  1. Alex says:

    Do tabloids often (ever?) run corrections? Seems like it would go against the point of a tabloid.

    Related: I never even think of tabloids when I think of ‘trust in media’.

  2. Robin Morris says:

    The Sun is not a serious newspaper. Would you expect The National Enquirer to run corrections?

    • Andrew says:

      Robin:

      From Wikipedia:

      Roderick E. Liddle is an English journalist and an associate editor of The Spectator. He was an editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

      So it sounds like he’s just about as legit in the English context as, say, David Brooks is in the U.S. context. Would I expect Liddle to correct his errors? I don’t know. In the U.S., David Brooks doesn’t correct his errors. Do I think Liddle and Brooks should correct their errors? Yes.

      The error in the above post struck me because it was so blatant. Brooks’s errors often involve numbers in some way (dodgy statistics or, in one notorious example, the price of a dinner at a chain restaurant), so maybe it’s easier for Brooks to get away with just playing dumb and acting like he doesn’t understand why his statements are false.

      • Robin Morris says:

        Andrew:

        Please read the wikipedia entry in full:

        – He hasn’t been an editor of the Today program since 2002 — when he was asked to resign because his “comments breached his commitment to impartiality as a BBC programme editor”
        – In 2010 he was the first journalist to have a complaint against a blog post he had written to be upheld by the Press Complaints Commission
        – Remember that The Sun, and The (Sunday) Times are both Murdoch papers.

        He might have been legit 15 years ago, but it looks like he’s taken a turn some time between 2002 and now.

        Robin

  3. Phil says:

    Oddly, the bit about “choppped up in bags in my freezer” doesn’t bother me if Osborne said it to a small group of friends (as opposed to a big group that could potentially include a bunch of nutcases). I think we can all agree the language is hyperbolic; what he means is that he loathes her. And it doesn’t seem like racist or sexist language that would indicate a deeper character issue.

    I’m not saying Osborne _doesn’t_ have character problems, just that this particular example is something I would shrug off. I’ve probably said worse about some people, and I don’t think I’m a bad person because of it.

    • Andrew says:

      Phil:

      I agree that, in a casual conversation, the freezer comment would sound like harmless hyperbole. Perhaps the problem with Osborne’s comment was:

      1. Using violent language in this way (“Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight,” etc.) is a macho conversational tactic; it’s sort of a menacing “guy” kind of thing to say. So even if it’s not directly sexist, it’s an obnoxious style.

      2. Perhaps Osborne’s fellow politicians “queued up to criticize his choice of words” was not because the words bothered them, but because they didn’t like Osborne and they were looking for an excuse to slip him the shiv.

      • James says:

        Probably I need to work on my deadpan-humo(u)r-detector, but I’m impressed that you could write “slip him the shiv” at the end of a comment criticising other people’s violent metaphors….

      • Nick says:

        Unless you have spent some time working (on a day-in, day-out basis) with British or Australian colleagues, it can be difficult to appreciate the degree to which banter — often using words that would be highly offensive outside the tacitly agreed context — is an essential part of informal social interactions in those countries. It probably was’t advisable to use the phrase in question somewhere that it might get quoted in the press, but I’m pretty sure that nobody who was present when Osborne said them will have reacted with anything other than a small smile. In Scotland, a four-letter word starting with ‘c’ that you can’t say on television can be a legitimate term of endearment, depending on tone.

  4. Z says:

    “This one was bizarre because all of the criticism had to do with Osborne … using this language to refer to a woman.”

    Perhaps they’re still not over Jack the Ripper.

  5. conchis says:

    “Other countries have it a lot worse” seems a strong statement to make on the basis of a single other-country data point and a tenuous analogy between Liddle and David Brooks. Not saying you’re necessarily wrong, but this doesn’t provide much evidence one way or another.

    These individual stories are interesting in their own right, but drawing sweeping conclusions about the characteristics of a nation on the basis of them seems pretty naive, and the sort of thing you would normally criticise as “story time”. (Typical American – making ill-informed generalisations about other cultures!)

    Semi-relatedly, I have a vague recollection reading that it is a common phenomenon when people visit other countries to notice unusual things and assume they are typical in the foreign country, when in fact they are often just as unusual there. Perhaps there is (or should be) a catchy name for this effect!

  6. conchis says:

    Funny – I tried to include a mock html /irony tag at the end of the parenthesised sentence, but the comment system appears to have treated it as an actual html tag and eaten it. I guess I should be using irony emojis or something to keep up with the times anyway…

  7. James says:

    @Alex – right. The UK tabloids have been appalling (and damaging in all sorts of ways) for ever. On the other hand, the UK hasn’t traditionally had the awful TV channels that the US has made a speciality of. So I don’t think that UK media is overall worse than the US, only different. These days everything is in flux, of course. As for the P.S., I can’t tell to what extent Andrew is joking. I can’t imagine he thinks US politicians all talk nicely in their private conversations.

  8. Mikhail says:

    I dont have much experience with US or UK media.
    But I sometimes to watch new on Russian TV, and they are ATROCIOUS

  9. Adam says:

    The New York Times and The Sun are on entirely different levels. You get annoyed when the nytimes never runs a correction because you expected better. Nobody expects much of The Sun. I don’t think the US has the same kind of tabloids, so maybe the best comparison is if a popular YouTuber or Twitter personality posts something false and refuses to post a correction.

    • We’ve got The National Enquirer, Star and a few others. It used to be those were all over the checkout lines at supermarkets. These days I go to supermarkets that don’t even have any kind of journalism (Trader Joes, Aldi, and local chain markets). So maybe with the internet and changes in supermarkets they’ve fallen off to a large extent, but we definitely do have tabloids. Many of them used to just be outright made up stuff about Elvis returning from Mars or whatever. If you tell me The Sun is like The National Enquirer then yes it seems strange to ask that they print a correction. Their paper would be nothing but corrections, they are intentionally wrong as a form of entertainment.

      • Ben Prytherch says:

        The Sun isn’t like the National Enquirer, for exactly this reason (“Elvis returns from Mars”). Our tabloids push goofy, completely over the top nonsense. English tabloids publish highly sensationalized versions of real news.

    • Andrew says:

      Adam:

      See above comment: “Roderick E. Liddle is an English journalist and an associate editor of The Spectator. He was an editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.” This guy’s on the BBC; that’s respected, no?

  10. Oliver says:

    The Sun is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which means that it is possible to make a complaint about a factual error and force them to run a correction. I guess that people just give up with tabloids, and I can’t find a record of any complaint in this case.

  11. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I come here to (partly) defend Rod Liddle. The stories I have read on this case claim that Jowzek called the perpetrator’s 15 year old friend a nigger and then the perpetrator struck. While it is apparently true that the perpetrator himself was not black, this fact (if fact it is) appears to still be not clear since the perpetrator’s identity has been suppressed under British laws protecting juveniles. This became a big story in the UK because the perpetrator was alleged to be acting under post-Brexit anti-Polish prejudice. That this is not the case (and the story was very big in the non-tabloid British press for a long time) is what made the story noteworthy… not the race of the perpetrator, which is a completely unimportant detail of the story, in context. See https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-polish-migrant-is-killed-in-harlow-essex-and-our-sneering-elite-turns-it-into-a-brexit-lie-phq7glps6

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