Posts I wish I had written – the Sun gets burned by Buzzfeed

With the Daily Mail hogging the nation’s ire by slandering a dead WWII veteran, the Sun needed to do something pretty vile to get back onto the media naughty step. Well it managed it with its lurid front page claim that 1,200 people had been killed by ‘mental patients’ in the past decade.

This is a claim that has been pretty thoroughly smashed by a number of sources. However, for my money the clearest exposition of what is wrong with the Sun’s claim came from Buzzfeed:

In other words, almost half of those who committed the homicides that made up The Sun’s 1,200 figure were not “mental patients”, their illness cannot be shown to have caused the homicide, and for most of that group, the mental health system could have done nothing to prevent the death.

And even those that were classed as “patients” were not necessarily “high-risk” patients, as The Sun claimed – just anybody who had contact with the mental health system in the previous year. According to Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, that’s a figure of around 1.2million people.

This post is impressively concise, written in language wholly devoid of pomposity and leaning more on images than text. In short, its strength is that it is written in much the same way that Buzzfeed would write about cats or Miley Cyrus.

Buzzfeed’s surprising political role has not gone without notice. In the run up to the last presidential election, New Republic wrote an article about “How Buzzfeed is remaking campaign coverage.” This was not a trend it wholly welcomed:

The site has also had some difficulty distinguishing between real stories and manufactured ones. In June, BuzzFeed reported that Romney failed to find the word for “doughnut” while pointing at “chocolate goodies,” and the post was all that political junkies on Twitter could talk about for hours (even if it was absurd: Romney clearly knows what a doughnut is). New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, hardly a Romney apologist, argued persuasively that the item was a perfect example of what’s wrong with a certain kind of political coverage. He suggested that BuzzFeed’s reporters weren’t thinking like journalists, who try to create stories and build context, but like opposition researchers, who are hungry to paint an unflattering picture of the opposing candidate. (Obama’s team could hardly do it better: Romney doesn’t know what doughnuts are because he’s an out-of-touch plutocrat.)

This is broadly speaking correct – as is most of what Chait says. However, it seems beside the point. Clearly it would be best if all news sources had the journalistic standards of the New Yorker. But given that there will always be a demand for populist news, I’d rather it came from Buzzfeed than from papers that have the gutter ethics and reactionary politics of the Sun.

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3 thoughts on “Posts I wish I had written – the Sun gets burned by Buzzfeed

  1. The Buzzfeed article is good, but I think it omits the most crucial flaw in the Sun’s story (I haven’t read the Independent or Channel 4 articles). According to citizensreportuk.org, there were 8089 confirmed murders in the UK between 2000/01 and 2010/11 (at least, that’s what I got by scrolling through and adding them up). According to the Mind website, 300 people out of every 1000 will experience mental health problems each year in the UK, of whom 230 will visit their GP. So if 1200/8089 murders were committed by people who had contacted the NHS regarding to mental health issues in the previous year, that’s lower than the murder rate among people who hadn’t contacted the NHS about mental health issues!

  2. Pingback: Buzzfeed shows why we need the BBC now more than ever | Matter Of Facts

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