Rebirth of a legend II - 'The art of lying without lying'

Although 'Sorry, poached swan's off: Calls for clampdown on river bandits from eastern Europe', which I covered in my last post, is an example of the recycling of a familiar urban legend by the Mail, it's also a brilliant example of what the paper is good at. Using suggestion and implication rather than outright lying to create an impression in the minds of its readers.

The original Sun article 'Swan bake' (which you can still see the online version of without the apology) was criticised for representing conjecture as fact. It makes very definite claims, like 'East European poachers lure the protected Royal birds into baited traps, an official Metropolitan Police report says.' There was no Met police report. Hence the PCC's incredibly limp insistence on a clarification.

The Mail ensures the same thing won't happen in connection with this story by not making the same kind of definite claim, but giving readers enough information to sketch in their own details. Let's have a look through the article a bit closer shall we? Yes, let's!

The headline is only an implied reference to eating, by way of a crap pun.
And although the article says:
There are few sights so serene as a swan sailing majestically along the Grand Union Canal.

Except, that is, when it is being chased by a gang of hungry, knife-wielding Eastern Europeans.

Polish and Lithuanian immigrants have been seen trying to drag the 20lb birds away, while the remains of some have been found butchered on the towpath near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. Hundreds are believed to have disappeared from the area.
It doesn't actually explicitly say, 'and that's because the eastern Europeans will eat them.' It doesn't have to. We make that connection. The paper leaves us to do that because it actually has no evidence that anyone's eaten a swan. All it does have is somebody claiming to have seen some Eastern Europeans trying to drag a swan on to the bank.

Next, we have the closest the paper comes to actually making the claim that people have been eating the things:
Now, just in case the newcomers are unaware of the law protecting swans, members of Luton Angling Club have come up with a sign making it clear that they are not for human consumption.
But here, the paper is only reporting what the angling club have done. And they have. Here's the crappy sign:

Note that the paper haven't even claimed that the angling club has said anyone's actually eaten - or even attempted to eat - a swan.

Next, the paper says:
The custom of feasting on roast swan died out in Britain a century ago and killing wild swans - which officially belong to the Queen - is now punishable by six months in jail and a £5,000 fine.
Again, no claim there about whether anyone has actually eaten a swan. Just a historical claim. We then get a quote from 'club official Joanne Edwards, 44' which doesn't actually state that anyone has eaten a swan, or that the people she's seen attempting to drag a swan onto the riverbank were in fact going to eat it.

This is followed by another quote about how there aren't so many swans on that stretch of river, which again doesn't actually claim that this is because they've been eaten by eastern Europeans. It's the paper that implies a connection between the incident of seeing what 'club official Joanne Edwards, 44' claims were eastern Europeans trying to drag a swan away and the low number of swans on that stretch of river.

All the references in this article to eating things made by 'club official Joanne Edwards, 44' are made about eating carp from the river. The only indication we have that she thinks eastern Europeans are eating swans is the sign she has made, which she may well have made as a joke. Since there are other explanations for this, it may well be the case. Even so, the references about eastern Europeans using the river as a larder are made about fish. The paper allows us to make the connection between those and swans.

That's not relevant for now though. The main thing is that the paper has managed to publish an article about eastern Europeans eating swans without once claiming that an eastern European has eaten a swan.

This is why - and trust me, I hate to say it - this paper outclasses the Express and the Sun. Whereas the Sun was stupid enough to actually make definite claims and embellish its story, and the Express would probably make definite claims, blame 'migrants' and include a picture of women in full-face veils, the Mail gets its point across without once making a positive claim.

There will be no PCC finding the article's inaccurate in this case.


septicisle said...

Excellent stuff as usual. Only thing to mention is that I was certain I had seen at least similar story from the more reputable BBC on a gang of East Europeans going after a swan, but I can't seem to find it so I might well have imagined it. I might well have been thinking of Shamshu Miah, the only man to ever have been linked directly with eating a swan which he caught rather than found: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_west/6174344.stm

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Jeepers! A Muslim tried to eat a swan and the Express never covered it?!

septicisle said...

Well, being a sad bastard I just checked the Express site and they don't appear to have done so. You would have thought it would have been a front page super splash for sure.

Anonymous said...

This does happen........


Five Chinese Crackers said...

I'll have a closer look at the link when I get a chance. The important thing in this post is whether or not it happened in this case.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Okay - important things missing from the link:

Nobody knows why the three men took the swans.

Nobody has said these men in particular were eastern European.

Richard Stevenage Jones only talks about eastern Europeans poaching fish in direct quotes.

It's only his opinion that the birds have been shot to be eaten.

Richard Stevenage Jones could well have made his assumptions about killing and eating swans because he's bought into a moral panic.

All we actually know here is that two swans have been shot with air rifles and dragged away by three men. We don't know if the men were eastern European - this article only implies that they are. We don't know if the swans really are going to be eaten.

This is how urban legends and moral panics spread. People read something is widespread and then fit whatever they see into what they think they know. Read lots about eastern Europeans killing and eating swans, then anyone you see mistreating or killing and dragging away swans must be an eastern European dragging them away for food.

A good example of a moral panic working like this is the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s:


More about moral panics here: