Inaccuracy in Written News Reports

A collection by David Pennant, in the order I encountered them.

Australia's Water Crisis

"Last year (2006), media outlets around the world reported that every four days, an Australian farmer committed suicide. It was a headline grabbing-figure, but it came from a decade-old report that actually cited a farmer suicide on average about every six days. Overall, suicides have dropped about 20 percent since the report was released, and some argue that rates among farmers have shown a similar decline - despite the drought." (Geographical, The Magazine for the Royal Geographical Society, August 2007, page 57)

Deaths in Chile following the coup

"When I was in the UK at the end of 1973 I was stunned to read of the number being circulated by the Chile Committee for Human Rights as 15,000 'murdered by the military'! Respectable church newspapers reported 20,000 dead. Other extreme propagandists were talking of 30,000. Knowing it just could not have been anything like such numbers, I rang the offices of the Chile Committee for Human Rights in London, of which my own archbishop was one of the sponsors, to query the publication of such exaggerated information. I heard what I had expected - it did not matter what the actual figures were, the vital thing was to 'get the ... military out!'

The West continued repeating these exaggerated figures for years... We actually had a BBC reporter in our home in Chile a year or two later who had himself grossly misrepresented the number of dead at the time of the coup. I asked him how he could possibly have come up with such an exaggerated number of deaths. He was apologetic and explained that he had assumed that by counting the combined number of bodies in the mortuaries of Antofagasta, Valparaiso, Santiago and Concepcion, and then multiplying the average by the total number of mortuaries across the country, they could calculate the most probable figures. He had not realised that those four cities were the major areas of conflict. Most of the other mortuaries would not have seen anything like that increase, if any at all.

Amnesty International today gives an actual figure of 3,197 dead and 1,202 disappeared..." (David Pytches, Living at the Edge, Bath, 2002, page 172-3).

Glaciers worldwide

"In April 2005 I read a letter of David Bellamy's in the New Scientist.

Further to your coverage of climate change and melting ice in the Himalayas, it should be pointed out that glaciers in many other parts of the world are not shrinking but in fact are growing... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Swizerland, have been growing since 1980.

(George Monbiot made a Phone call to the Zurich WGMS who strongly denied this figure.)

...I emailed him to ask him for his source (which turned out to be) (which stated)... Since 1980, there has been an advance of more than 55 per cent of the 625 mountian glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring group in Zurich.*

* [footnote] You may have noticed that while Bellamy's source claimed 55 per cent of 625 glaciers are advancing, Bellamy claimed that 555 of them - or 89 per cent - are advancing. The figure seems to have existed nowhere else. But on the standard English keyboard, '5' and '%' occupy the same key. If you try to hit '%', but fail to press shift, you get 555, instead of 55%. This is the only explanation I can produce for his figure. When I challenged him, he admitted that there had been 'a glitch of the electronics'." (George Monbiot, Heat, Penguin, London, 2007, page 24-5 and footnote).

Goodbye to All That

"I was outraged to read of the German's cynical violation of Belgian neutrality. Though I discounted perhaps twenty per cent of the atrocity details as wartime exaggeration, that was not, of course, sufficient. Recently I saw the following contemporary newspaper cuttings put in chronological sequence:

When the fall of Antwerp became known, the church bells were rung [i.e. at Cologne and elsewhere in Germany]. Kolnische Zeitung.

According to the Kolnische Zeitung, the clergy at Antwerp were compelled to ring church bells when the fortress was taken. - Le Matin.

According to what The Times has heard from Cologne, via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken, have been sentenced to hard labour. - Corriere della Sera.

According to information which has reached the Corriere della Sera from Cologne, via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring the church bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with their heads down. - Le Matin (Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That, 1929, opening of chapter 10, writing about the early days of the first world war).

First World War Newspaper Reports

"I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war. To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisonal general and further distorted before they left him and then "written up" out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind. Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn: and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand." (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Fontana, 1959, p128-129, writing about his school days).


I will add more examples as I come across them.