Fabricated news

This post isn’t directly climate-related, but it’s about a tactic used in the news media where considerable scepticism is warranted. I’m not sure if its use is increasing, or if I’m just noticing it more.

Here is the top BBC Radio 4 News headline presented at 7am this morning on the Today Programme:

Two EU leaders have backed another referendum on Brexit. One said there was almost unanimous support among them for the idea.

This was immediately followed by the more detailed news that started with

Two EU leaders have said publicly that they would like to see the UK hold another referendum on Brexit in the hope of reversing the result.  The Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, told this programme that most of his counterparts would like the almost impossible to happen…

Is your internal bullshit klaxon going off yet? Firstly there’s the question of the opinion of the Prime Minister of Malta (population less than that of Cardiff) on a decision made by the UK being elevated to the top of the headlines. But the real issue here is in the phrase “told this programme”.  The news headline was created by the BBC from an interview that they chose to conduct.

The modus operandi for what I will call “fabricated news” – not the same thing as “fake news” – seems to be as follows:

  • Decide on an issue that you wish to promote, in this case the call for a second referendum, the so-called “people’s vote”.
  • Conduct an interview with someone, whose opinion you already know, on this topic.
  • Get them to say what you want them to say, maybe with a bit of prompting if necessary.
  • When they say it, extract that bit from your interview, and make it your headline news story.

The fabricated story was returned to repeatedly throughout the Today Programme.

At 7:09, (that’s about 1:09 in the i-player link), the presenter Martha Kearney said

Two EU prime ministers have told this programme that they would like the UK to hold another referendum on Brexit. It’s a pretty unusual intervention and one unlikely to be welcomed by Theresa May…

Err, no, they didn’t “intervene”, Martha, you went out and interviewed them and picked out one thing that they said to create your bogus headline.

Just after this, there was almost an admission that this was a non-story, from BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg:

They don’t like how people in Britain voted, and over the last two years when you’ve talked to EU officials or diplomats in private one of the things they’ve always actually asked Brits is, could there be another referendum, is there a way to stop this, so in that sense it’s not that surprising they had that sentiment…

If you want to hear the actual interviews, the one with the prime minister of the Czech Republic is at 1:34, and the Malta one at about 2:15. Guido has partial clips and transcripts.

If you listen from 2:10 you can hear that Kearney talked to the minister from Luxembourg, and Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the EU Parliament, and the Slovakian and Polish Prime Ministers. None of them mentioned a second referendum. I wonder how many people she had to talk to before she got the comments about a second referendum.





  1. Another tactic in this game is to conduct a poll and then ask a question designed to elicit a response you agree with and want to write a story about. This way, you can present an opinion in a news article and not in an editorial.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Exactly Paul. Well said.
    Fishing for the news worth reporting. Mining for someone to tell the world what the journalist really thinks. Ignoring all the comments that say something else, and framing it as “everyone”.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. DPY6629 20 Sep 18 at 2:26 pm)

    ..and a new refinement in the process of turning poll results into news is interviewing just the people you want to hear from, and no-one else. The Guardian has done this on Brexit with millenials, and more recently with trade union members, in each case turning the result into a main news story. It makes no more sense to spend good money on interviewing only trade union members than it does to interview only lefthanded people, except that the Guardian’s purpose in life is to keep the Labour party on the right (i.e. soft left pro-European) path.

    I’m sure Paul’s hunch is right and that this is a growing trend. The mainstream media are losing readers to the internet blogs, so may be aping them by dropping any pretense to objectivity. You can see this in the BBC’s move from dropping the requirement for balance in climate change reporting to actively banning balance. Their recent policy guidance paper actively discourages the airing of alternative views to the official one.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your distinction between fabricated and fake news is useful, but not absolute. Start with this definition: of “Fake News”: When reporters state their own opinions instead of bearing witness to observed events. As you note we live in an age when news is mostly yellow: relying on sensational and exaggerated headlines to sell newspapers (originally) and now to capture attention for multiple media platforms. As you also note, we have gone beyond hype to wholly inventing stories, which are never retracted or corrected.

    But fabricated news is also fake in that it promotes the journalist’s opinion, while hiding it behind some “reliable” source. The opinion is placed in the mouth of someone else rather as a comment embedded in the “report.” Many fake news articles loosely referred to vague sources, who could not be named since they probably did not exist. But existing or not, the end result is the same: an opinion posing as a fact.

    I tried to address some of this corruption of news, particularly pertaining to climate in a post https://rclutz.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/yellow-climate-journalism/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s been much discussion on Twitter about this article in the Guardian, initiated by Ryan Maue’s criticism. Whether it falls into the category of fake news or fabricated news, I can’t quite decide but it is, as Hunter simply points out, lies.

    The authors say:

    “Based on the total number of named storms, there has been an increase since the start of the 20th century.”

    This is a lie by omission of qualifying information. Every major storm in the Atlantic basin has been recorded since satellite monitoring began. Prior to that, observations were sparse, based mainly on ship’s records. Researchers have analysed the pre-satellite record and estimated the undercount of named storms. When the record is adjusted to take into account this undercount, it is revealed that there is no trend in named storms since 1900 or earlier. The Guardian’s claim is busted.

    But the Graun compounds its error to drive home its political message:

    “The increase in named storms can be attributed to human-induced climate change.”

    They perform an on the spot rapid attribution analysis and bizarrely justify it by linking to a scientific study by Kevin Trenberth, Peter Jacobs et al which argues the case that Harvey’s rains were made more intense by increases in upper ocean heat content due to climate change!

    So far, no British or indeed American climate scientists have challenged this rubbish in the Graun. Richard Betts suggests a Climate Feedback analysis, but we all know how useless they can be as regards countering AGW misinformation in the media.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Graun’s taking of liberties with C20th hurricane data is the same form of lie as the Global Commission on Climate and the Economy’s New Climate Economy report, discussed in the recent post.

    Is it an epiphenomenon? (Or a memo).

    Evidently, the alarmists are struggling to make their case.

    September is usually the month in which alarmism ramps up ready for the climate talks, and to make political hay while the silly season’s temperatures are still in memory, the ice is retreating, and the hurricanes peak. But this year seems to be exceptionally desperate.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There does appear to be some serious doubling down on attribution.

    I wonder if the IPCC will be able to resist.


  8. “The increase in named storms can be attributed to human-induced climate change.”
    Not really
    The increase in named storms can be attributed to human-induced naming of storms, period.”

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Alan, I’m sure the Guardian’s next trick will be to attribute the very sudden increase in named storms in the British Isles from 2015 onwards to man-made climate change.


  10. Jaime
    attributing the very sudden increase in named storms….” to man-made climate change” is so, so sexist.
    Only storms with male names should be so attributed. The female named ones (usually the most damaging in my experience) should be attributed fairly and squarely to to woman-made climate change.


  11. I noticed a balanced statement on hurricane science, what is known and not known, by storm expert David Nolan, posted surprisingly at an NBC website.
    For example:
    “Q: But there’s no evidence that climate change is making hurricanes more frequent?

    A: There is not. Unfortunately, the existing modern records of hurricanes are only of good quality for about 60 years. Because hurricane activity varies so much from year to year, then it’s not long enough to say for sure if there is a clear trend upward due to global warming.”

    “The other very popular topic is how hurricane activity will (or will not) change with global warming. While everyone seems to think it will make it worse, there is no proof of that yet.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alan, I’m not sure it is sexist to be honest. It WAS, after all, now dead white men who were responsible for unleashing the Industrial Revolution upon the world, so it’s probably entirely justifiable to talk in terms of “man-made climate change”. The fairer sex had nowt to do with it. Anglo-Saxon males dunnit – and Trump is till doing it.


  13. Jaime. You raise some good points, but not quite good enough. Think of those many cotton mills. Who used their products? Anglo Saxon males? A small part but nothing to compare with all the frills and unmentionables sought after by the fairer sex. Did anglo saxon males lust after and collect all that pottery? I think not. And when it comes to early motor vehicles; pictures I have seen show them full of women with big hats and flowing dresses. Anglo Saxon men with beards may have driven the Industrial Revolution, but Anglo Saxon women consumed its products and thus are equally culpable for catastrophic climate change. I think that, upon reflection, you will agree.


  14. The BBC News is full of fabrication. You can measure it by the number of times in a news programme the word “BBC” is mentioned.

    “The BBC has learned that……”
    “The BBC understands that……”
    “In an exclusive interview with the BBC……”
    “An investigation by the BBC has found that…..”
    “The BBC can reveal that …..”

    BBC news is all about the BBC, its opinions and what the BBC wants the sheeple to hear.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. @Phillip

    have noticed the same as you.

    watch the BBC news anytime & it refers to earlier progs/polls/surveys/foi’s it has carried out all the time.

    wonder how many “foi” requests it has made over the last year alone.
    harassing the hard worked. wonder what event that reminds me off 🙂


  16. Jaime:
    “Anglo-Saxon males dunnit – and Trump is still doing it.”

    And the IPCC may try and quantify how much he has impacted “climate Change”


    A major upcoming international climate report won’t be assessing how the White House’s actions have hurt humanity’s chances of surviving climate change.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – an organization of 195 governments that harnesses the intellect of hundreds of experts to assess peer-reviewed, published science – is still lacking the needed source material to make such an assessment, a top official said Tuesday. [no doubt it will be forthcoming].

    “To be straight, the Trump effect is not mentioned in the report,” said Jim Skea, the co-chair of the IPCC working group that deals with mitigation, or actions that countries take to reduce their emissions.

    “We’re waiting for the literature to emerge that will assess the aggregate effect of the various pledges that countries have or have not made,” added Skea, also a professor and chair in sustainable energy at Imperial College London. “The literature has not really emerged in the time that’s available to allow us to take account of that in this particular report.”

    In a call with journalists from around the world, Skea said future reports from the IPCC, in particular the so-called sixth assessment report expected in 2021, will have some of the necessary information to assess the damage from the U.S.”

    Imperial College is part of the Grantham nexus, http://www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/

    Liked by 1 person

  17. From the GUARDIAN

    “So if I start to even ask myself what’s going to happen to the 250,000 dogs and cats that leave the European continent every year,” Juncker told an audience in Freiburg. “Right now they just pass through customs, all these dogs and cats coming to mainland Europe every year. There are lots of people in Europe who just want people and animals to cross borders but I think we’re just going to have four-day quarantine and if you want to go to Brittany for eight days for vacation then maybe you need to leave the dog or the cat at home but maybe you’ll just stay home altogether.”

    I try and imagine what would have happened if the Remainers had hired a bus plastered with the slogan: “If you vote Brexit, Juncker will quarantine your dog.” They’d have been ridiculed, and people would have voted for Brexit. Which they did anyway.

    This doesn’t quite fit Paul’s definition of fabricated news (“Decide on an issue… Conduct an interview with someone… Get them to say what you want them to say,… When they say it, extract that bit from your interview…”) since there was no prompting involved. Juncker just went ahead and fabricated it with no prompting – prefabricated, you might say. As with so much of the “scientist says…” climate propaganda, it’s almost bound to provoke the opposite reaction to the one intended.

    “Support a second referendum, or the dog gets it.” I don’t see that working. But the Guardian apparently does.


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