How left wing papers help push people away from left wing politics

Imagine a new health and safety gone mad story started doing the rounds, but it was pretty obvious that the right wing papers were farting about to make things look more crazy than they were. Yeah, I know - you don't have to imagine it - but if there was a new one, how would you imagine the apparently left wing papers would handle it? The Guardian, after all, is responsible for publishing the excellent 'Conkers, goggles, 'elf 'n' safety? You really could make it up' in response to David Cameron blarting out a speech based on some of this cobblers.

You'd think you could rely on these papers to at least include all the relevant facts so readers were clear about what really happened. And you'd be wronger than Richard Littlejohn. And that's mighty wrong.

A new story is doing the rounds about a woman, Kim Barrett, getting reported to the police for rescuing a child stuck up a tree, because health and safety rules mean kids should be left up there.

As you'd expect, things didn't actually happen that way. Angry Mob has managed to find a letter from the headteacher, including a long quote from the child's mother, that puts the story into perspective. It says
On the 1st March, Key Stage 1 playtime ended at 11.05am. At the end of the playtime, the child concerned wanted to stay out and ran up to one of the trees on the pathway adjacent to Miss Tristram’s classroom and outdoor area whilst some of the teaching assistants on duty took the classes of children in off the playground. At 11.15am more than 130 children and seven more teaching assistants came out to the playground. In the ten minutes between the two break times, the woman was observed by one of our Key Stage 2 teaching assistants entering the vehicular gate and turning across the private staff car park rather than walking to reception. The child concerned had been sitting and then swinging on the bottom branch of the tree and was in no way stuck and was not distressed. The woman then climbed the padlocked gate that separates the car park and the playground, walked past Miss Tristram and Mrs Lee’s classrooms and approached the child who was standing on the path, having exited the tree. The child was reluctant to talk to her and walk with her. The woman was then intercepted by a teaching assistant who took her to see Mr Hester. Mr Hester took the woman back on to the playground during Key Stage 2 playtime and asked her to identify the tree and then challenged her regarding her entrance to the school via a locked gateway. At this point the woman became more verbally aggressive and exited by climbing back over the locked gateway. The whole incident including the discussion with Mr Hester was over in less than fifteen minutes.
So, woman reported for tresspassing on school property and approaching a kid. There were lots of people around, he could have been there for only a few minutes, he was on a low branch, on a tree far enough away from the pavement to necessitate walking through one gate and climbing another. The woman was not reported for helping a child left all on his own in an empty playground up a tree on a branch overhanging the pavement.

All the papers' coverage of the story is churned from somewhere and gives a far, far different account. Even so, the Telegraph's 'Woman reported to police after coming to aid of boy left in tree' and the Mail's 'Teachers leave boy, 5, stranded in tree because of health and safety (then report passer-by who helped him down to police)' include just enough information for readers with the skill in the secret newspaper-deciphering-kung-fu technique of reading the end of the article to know that the woman was not reported to the police for breaking health and safety rules.  You can easily work out that it was approaching a kid in a playground that was the trouble.

The Guardian's coverage, however, is headlined 'Passerby reported to police after trying to help schoolboy from tree', and opens:
A woman was reported to the police after going to the aid of a child left in a tree because it was the school's policy not to help youngsters in that situation.
Even though the headline includes the ambigous 'after', the opening paragraph just pretends it was because of the health and safety policy, whcih is curious since the subheading says
Woman shocked when school gives her reprimand and police officer visits with trespass warning
And, in true tabloid stylie, the article later says:
The school disputes Barrett's observation of the incident. It concedes that the child had been in the tree but says he got down before she reached him. It also claims Barrett climbed over a padlocked gate to get into the school.
So why open the story saying something else, in the knowledge that the woman was reported for tresspassing, not breaching health and safety policy?

The Mirror, also apparently left-wing, covers the story, headlined 'Teachers call police on mum who rescued 5-year-old boy from school tree', she's 'mum' now in the headline, to ramp up sympathy for her. It goes one better than the Graun, saying exactly bugger all about entering school property, scaling a fence or the concern for a child being approached by a stranger. The only thing in the article is a quote from the woman saying "I told the associate head I thought it was a serious incident and he said his only concern was me trespassing."

Away from the commie slag papers, the others pull the tricks you'd expect. The Mail manages to quote Barrett saying
'Break ends at 10.30am so that means he had been in the tree for at least 45 minutes.

‘I stopped to ask him if he was OK, and it became clear that he'd been there since the end of playtime, which had been around half an hour earlier.'
Did she say both? Really? Has the paper spun half an hour into at least 45 minutes? In any case, we know we're talking ten minutes, tops, and there were hundreds of people in the playground by the time she got to the kid.

The Express ramps it up further with 'TEACHERS LEAVE BOY OF 5 STUCK UP A TREE FOR 1 HOUR'. Ten minutes not good enough? Around half an hour not good enough? Forty five minutes not good enough? Say it's an hour, fuck it.

The Sun goes with a shit pun in the headline, natch, in 'Tree-ly stupid safety measures'  (seriously, 'tree-ly' - not 'safe-tree'?) and highlighting the ludicrousness of saying that she "approached the school in an inappropriate way" without saying the inappropriate way was climbing a padlocked gate.

All the stuff we know and love is there in the right wing press. But why is it in the left?

It's actually very common for the Mirror to cover health and safety and political correctness gone mad stories, and the Guardian aren't immune either. Here are the search results for 'health and safety' and 'political correctness' on the Mirror website, and the Observer actually kicked off the 'they're banning Christmas' season a couple of years ago by falsely claiming Oxford Council had banned the term 'Christmas' from its Christmas celebrations that year. I checked. 'Christmas' was all over the Oxford Council website, and the site of the charity Oxford Inspires, which had arranged an arts festival called 'Winter Light' that led to bogus stories claiming that's what Oford had renamed Christmas.

The political correctness gone mad story was invented in the 80s, almost certainly deliberately to attack left wing politics by making it seem completely ludicrous and scary (see 'Culture Wars: The Media and the British Left' for more on that. The health and safety gone mad story was bolted on much later, perhaps because there wasn't even enough material around to dishonestly spin into political correctness gone mad howlers, and the two are often confused.  Health and safety is political correctness now.

Left wing papers should actually be challenging this stuff - but whatever the reason, laziness, lack of resources, 'Ninja Turtle Syndrome', they're actually churning it, contributing to these stories snowballing out of control, and more importantly, contributing to the completely false public impression that you're not allowed to do anything any more for fear of causing offence to Muslims and everything is banned because it's dangerous.  It's an indicator of exactly how much the right wing press controls debate.

Ultimately, when they cover these sorts of stories in such a lazy churnalised manner, they're turning readers away from left wing politics.  Which is kind of, you know, counterproductive?


Nick Mazonowicz said...

Someone (I think it was you) once posted on a sun article called 'APCs, an A-Z of Political Correctness'. Interestingly, one of the complaints was that school pupils weren't allowed to climb trees anymore.

You just can't win, can you?

Anonymous said...

Whilst I accept your political point, this is a story which need not have happened, had the fruit cake who climbed over the gate been dealt with diplomatically. But speaking as a former teacher, English Primary education suffers from a cultural insularity which too oftens leads to these kind of misunderstandings - parents included. The woman should have been 'disarmed', not confronted.

merrick said...

"the ambigous 'after'"

That's one of my favourite bits of media language, better than putting 'now' at the start of a headline.

The 'after' is meant to be misleading. It is used where there isn't evidence to make the assertion they're wanting to publish.

It most commonly appears in drugs stories. Leah Betts died 'after taking ecstasy' (when she actually died of coning of the brain thanks to drinking 15 pints of water in a couple of hours).

Louis Wainwright and Nicholas Smith died 'after taking mephedrone' (as well as methadone, alcohol and who knows what else).

Texas Pete said...

So this "innocent passer-by" had broken into the school and attempted to talk to a young child.

The Sun certainly normally has a different take on stories such as this. Isn't this a story of lax security opening children up to the advances of the millions of paedophiles the Sun say stalk our streets?

What if the passer-by was not rebuked and the next week went on to abduct a child? The Sun would surely criticise the school for allowing them on the premises the previous week.

Richard Seymour said...

The Guardian and The Mirror shouldn't be classified as left-wing papers. The fact is that we don't have a left-wing press in this country. If you want to see really left-wing newspapers, you should take a visit to Paris sometime. Or Mumbai.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Cheers, people.

Culfy: That was me. Ther have been loads of similar stories, some even lamenting that kids aren't allowed to climb up trees in the chuffing headline.

Muslimanarchist: Perhaps the matter could have been handled differently, you're right. I suppose it depends on exactly how stroppy the woman was and how she behaved in front of the children.

Merrick: Bang on the money with that one.

Texas Pete: Aside from being made up and parroted by apparently left wing papers, this story is interesting because it bucks two tabloid tropes.

Weirdly, one of Barrett's original concerns was that the kids was (actually he wasn't) six feet up a tree above a pavement, and a giant peedo could pluck him from the tree and run off with the kid tucked under his arm like a rugby ball.

Paedo panic means a woman will charge into a school trying to drag a kid along with them, and the school will report her for acting like a paedo.

Lenin: You're quite right, although I've never seen any of the Paris or Mumbai papers.

devolute said...

It isn't the 'left-wing' press' job to tackle right-wing idiocy. It's their job to sell papers. They look to their better selling competitors output and just copy them.

I think it's a foolish business decision, but a business decision is what it is.