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.
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.