Tabloid bullshit of the month award - April 2011

It's here! A stay in the country this weekend with no internet connection at all (unless I stood in the garden with my phone down by my ankles) delayed it, but it's time for the 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award for April 2011. Hurrah!

It's an odd one this month. I decided to avoid all coverage of the royal bloody wedding wherever possible, and the thought of looking at the yes/no to AV stuff fills me with the kind of existential despair I haven't felt since trying to read the Sun for a week. So I went with what I know.

In the end, there is a tie this month. It was so difficult to choose between two potential winners, who were so completely wrapped up with one another that they both have to get it.

The winners are Tom Whitehead of the Telegraph for 'Almost one in eight people living in UK are born abroad' and 'Concerns over foreign crime wave', and our friend Jack Doyle of the Mail for 'Migrant crime wave revealed: Foreign arrests have almost doubled in just THREE years'. Between the two of them, these crazy guys help reveal how much peddlers of tabloid anti-immigration stories rely on each other for sources, and how the broadsheets are no better than their downmarket cousins.

Here's the letter explaining why. Enjoy:
Dear Mr Whitehead and Mr Doyle, 
Congratulations! I'm pleased to announce that the two of you are joint winners of one of journalism's newest and most prestigious prizes, the 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award for April 2011. Mr Doyle is no stranger to this award, having won the inaugural prize back in October 2010. Hurrah! 
Mr Whitehead has won for his hilariously freamongering-tabloid inspired 'Almost one in eight people living in UK are born abroad' and 'Concerns over foreign crime wave' and Mr Doyle, you're up for 'Migrant crime wave revealed: Foreign arrests have almost doubled in just THREE years'. well done boys. 
Here's why you two won: 
Almost one in eight people living in UK are born abroad
This article reads like its been bashed out by someone who's been locked in a room for years and given only the Daily Mail to read and a bucket to poo in. You'd win a game of tabloid immigration bullshit bingo in no time with this one. The "open door" immigration policy, the 'immigration has added enough for a city the size of...', the 'OMFG! 70 million! If the population hits 70 million, er, something or other will happen. Dunno what, but it's gonna be bad.' 
Some of these points aren't just bullshit in the sense of being editorialising bluster masquerading as objective fact, but are bullshit in the sense of being, uh, bullshit. 
Britain doesn't 'now have a higher proportion of foreign-born residents than European neighbours such as France and Italy', at least according to the UN. France has a slightly higher proportion than the UK, and Italy has had a lower one since at least 1990, so the tabloidesque 'now' is redundant. Even when cherrypicking to achieve a scary result (why not pick other English speaking developed western nations, or other European countries like Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands or Spain - couldn't be because they all have a higher proportion according to the UN) you pick the wrong cherry. I would love to see your sources for this claim. 
You include the funny idea that Andrew Neather revealed a plot to make Britain more multicultural, while being careful to point out that ministers denied there was a plot and equally careful to leave out the fact that none other than Andrew Neather denied the existence of a plot too. He even complained that his words had been twisted beyond recognition by the right wing press. You know, you guys. 
David Coleman never estimated that immigrants cost the taxpayer £8.8 billion a year. He sent a paper to the Economic Affairs Committee with a list of costs accompanied by the disclaimer that these should not be added together as some might overlap and it isn't clear how much of some apply to immigrants. Adding these costs together gives the misleading total of £7.882 billion. The source for the £8.8 billion figure is the Daily Mail, who changed the labels of some of the things Coleman included to read 'immigrant' instead of 'ethnic minority'along with adding almost a billion pounds to the real misleading total. 
'Concerns over foreign crime wave' churned from 'Migrant crime wave revealed: Foreign arrests have almost doubled in just THREE years'
Top churning! The real winner for this one is Mr Doyle. Here's why: 
The technique of sending out a bunch of FoI's to police forces about foreign arrests and then clumsily masking-taping them all together will never return a reliable result. There are a few reasons. One major one is that nationality is something a person being arrested reports themselves. It is never checked and bears little relation to where someone is born. The other is that the Metropolitan Police, who always disclose these figures arrest far more people, 'foreign' or otherwise, than any other force. This would completely skew incomplete national results, even if you could rely on the reliability of the ones you have. Which you can't. 
You display a legendary capacity for ignoring disclaimers. The Metropolitan Police and Durham Police are both keen to point out that you should not add their results together with those from any other force. The Met even says it 'may result in distorted and misleading figures'. Still, never mind distorted and misleading figures when you're writing a Daily Mail story about dirty foreigners with murder in their eyes, eh?

The Met says - in bold, mind you:
It was not possible to retrieve data prior to 1 April 2008 as the previous custody system does not hold nationality data.
So you're using incomplete data for your first year of Met figures. Given that your figures from this force account of around half of your "OMG! Foreign arrests have doubled! They're coming to get you!" hook, using an incomplete year to compare with a complete one might be just a little bit significant.

Cambridgeshire Police even point out that they couldn't retrieve anything prior to 2007, which didn't stop you comparing their 2006 numbers with 2010. Still, credit where it's due. You've removed that claim, which is more than can be said for Mr Whitehead. Top churning, Mr W! That's the standard you expect from the Home Affairs Editor of a national broadsheet newspaper. You're in good company with others who blindly churned that number, who include the Daily Express and the National Front. Even the BNP managed to skip that one. 
You're both incredibly good at the technique of ignoring more mundane explanations for changes than Jesus! The foreigners are getting us! Every force I've seen results from indicate that they've recently changed the way they collect this data. Hey, maybe introducing a new recording system would affect the reliability of the new numbers while they're bedding in, especially if they place greater emphasis on recording certain things than the old system.

Durham Police certainly think so, although their statement that, "The [custody recording] system was introduced to the force at the end of 2005 and during its first years several data quality issues were identified, including that the Nationality field was often completed as "unknown" or "not applicable". This issue has now been resolved hence increased accuracy in more recent years," didn't stop you from using their 2006 figures for comparison with 2010. 
The big fancy table in the middle of the Mail version says Bedfordshire Police made 39 arrests in 2008. Bedfordshire Police say they arrested 3 hundred and 39. 
I came up with these howlers after being able to access figures from only five police forces. I wonder how many more would turn up if someone had a proper look the rest. Or even a cursory glance at the covering disclaimers. 
Why you both won instead of just one of youYou both demonstrate the way scaremongering newspapers rely on each other to churn and re-churn material until some things get accepted as fact that aren't. Cambridgeshire Police didn't only arrest 27 foreign nationals in 2006. David Coleman's evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee did not show that the cost of immigration was £8.8 billion per year nationally. But they're shared as if they're facts. 
Now, there are no nuggets churned by Mr Doyle. Your story is based on your own research. But your technique isn't. 
The first time I can see that the idea of banging out FoI requests to police forces and mashing the limited results together to attampt to get a national picture is in a Daily Express story from 2008. 'EVERY 4 MINUTES A MIGRANT IS ARRESTED IN BRITAIN' shouted the headline, atop a story written by the bullshit technique pioneer... 
...Tom Whitehead.  Top job there, Mr W.
So, the other thing you both demonstrate is that broadsheets aren't really any more reliable than the tabloids. When someone scaremongering for the Express can end up as Home Affairs Editor for the Daily Telegraph and churning the old bollocks they read in the Mail, it doesn't really speak well for the quality of the Telegraph. 
That's it. I'll be reproducing this letter over at www.fivechinesecrackers.com. You're both more than welcome to become the first hack ever to reply with an acceptance comment or defence by replying to this email, but I won't be holding my breath. 
Mr Doyle is now well on the way to winning of the first ever 5cc tabloid bullshitter of the year award, which I'll be awarding at the end of this year to the hack who wins the most monthly awards. After all, your hit rate has doubled in just SIX months! 
Mr Whitehead, keep up the good work and you could catch up. Imagine winning a tabloid bullshit award for a broadsheet. 
Good luck. The births and deaths figures are released in the summer, so you should be able to squeeze out some indignant rage about the number of non-white babies born like Jack Doyle did last year or something. Cuh, those non-white babies. Come over here, gurgle a bit, steal cooing smiles from decent, hard-dribbling white British stock. The bastards. 
Cheers then, 

Okay, sorry this was a long one, but that's it for April. Check back at the end of May for the winner next month. It should even be on time this month, since I have no plans to go away and my wife will be out of the country. Send me any suggestions you have and I'll consider them. I'd like to move away from the staple of looking at immigration coverage if I can, so I'm well open to suggestions.


Louiseghawkins said...


Mr Larrington said...

Do any of the winners ever reply?

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Thanks people. They never reply. Never never never.

Anonymous said...

Frickin' brilliant. It's so rude to not reply when one's won an actual award - an award which, unless I'm very much mistaken and completely immersed in a bubble of my own rotting cynicism, is highly contested.

che said...

You'd win a game of tabloid immigration bullshit bingo in no time
May I add that the winning articles have a writing style that suggests they have been composed by a rotating bingo-ball drum. The sentences are so disconnected from each other, you could rearrange them randomly and no one would notice the difference. It's almost as if they're designed to induce an unfocussed trance.
Sterling work.

Ahmed said...

I don't know what I like more, the fact you expose such nonsense, or the way you expose it! Brilliant stuff!