July 31, 2005

The usual Standard

Veronica Wadley
Editor
Evening Standard
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
Kensington
London W8 2TT

Dear Ms Wadley

I wonder whether I could express my concern about a couple of headlines that the Standard has run in the last few days.

On the morning of Friday 22 July a young man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot dead at Stockwell Tube station. Later that day, on newsstands all across London, hoardings for your newspaper read as follows:

BOMBER SHOT DEAD AT STOCKWELL TUBE

At the time this headline appeared nobody was in a position to say that Mr de Menezes was a bomber. He might reasonably have been described as "a suspected bomber", since that was (one assumes) the reason why he was shot, but there was surely no justification for calling him, definitely, a "bomber". This was made starkly clear the following day when it transpired that Mr de Menezes was an entirely innocent man, in no sense a "bomber" of any sort. Nevertheless, not only had your headline already stated otherwise, but your claim that he was a "bomber" remained visible all over the city until the hoardings were replaced on Monday. I cannot have been alone in finding this thoroughly distasteful. In all likelihood those close to Mr de Menezes will have found it added to their distress.

Even before the revelation of Mr de Menezes' innocence I found it hard to believe that you had run the headline. I did however feel sure that you would realise your error and refrain from repeating it. However, exactly one week later, on Friday 29 July, following the arrest of a suspect for the failing bombings of 21 July, you ran the following headline:

BOMBER ARRESTED

You also, I believe, ran a headline 2 BOMBERS ARRESTED in a later edition. Neither headline was qualified by any adjective such as "alleged" or suspected", nor even were the words bomber and bombers allotted quotation marks. It was simply stated as a matter of fact that those arrested were guilty of being bombers.

This is surely unacceptable on a number of grounds. The first is that it is not right to state that somebody suspected or accused of an offence is guilty when there is likely to be a criminal trial, on exceedingly serious charges, in the future. The second is that do so is liable to be prejudicial to the conduct of that trial. The third is that, having run the first headline about Mr de Menezes that turned out to be wholly incorrect and wrong, to run another headline of similar kind just a week later seems, to me, to validate, to approve, the headline you wrote about Mr de Menezes.

What worries me most about this is that you must, surely, be aware of the legal and journalistic issues involved, but chose to go ahead anyway.

I would appreciate it if you could find time to answer the following specific questions:

1. Why did you run a headline referring unconditionally to Mr de Menezes as a bomber?

2. Do you now regret this, and have you apologised to his family for doing so?

3. Why did you run headlines referring unconditionally to the suspects arrested last week as "bombers"? Why did you not qualify the term, as most other newspapers did? What was your attitude to the problem that reporting of that kind could be considered prejudicial to a future trial? If you do not consider it prejudicial, why not?

Many thanks for taking the time to read this letter, to which I would hope to read a reply.

Yours

ejh

16 Comments:

At July 31, 2005 3:05 pm, Blogger Fist said...

Well put. I wonder how a genuine answer might read - not that you'll get one.

 
At July 31, 2005 6:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So journalists should use their psychic powers to know everything about a story when they publish it...?

Or do you just want to have polically correct headlines like "SOME GUY WHO MIGHT BE A BOMBER, WHO KNOWS?"...

 
At July 31, 2005 6:23 pm, Blogger Jonathan M. G. Bryant said...

The answer will no doubt be:-

"We write headlines like that because we are more of a festering pile of cack than a newspaper".

At least it should be.

I have not bought the Evening Standard for over ten years. Their use of the following advertising billboard prompted my decision:=

"Children in coach death crash horror - pictures"

 
At July 31, 2005 8:52 pm, Blogger Fist said...

Times have changed jonathan.

Their usual headline nowadays is,

"Celebrity Does Something!"

(Literally. The hook for London's plankton being, which celebrity? What?)

 
At July 31, 2005 8:53 pm, Blogger Fist said...

& anonymous - Terror Suspect would probably do instead.

 
At July 31, 2005 9:06 pm, Anonymous Sean said...

"So journalists should use their psychic powers to know everything about a story when they publish it...?

Or do you just want to have polically correct headlines like "SOME GUY WHO MIGHT BE A BOMBER, WHO KNOWS?"..."

You're either being deliberately obtuse or you're an utter idiot.

 
At July 31, 2005 9:46 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Anonymous:
Journalists are supposed to display integrity in the articles they publish. As Fist said, simply using the word "Suspect" would have sufficed to carry the message across. Instead newspapers today are no better than trashy gossip magazines and use hyperbole to boost their sales.

But I guess to someone like you it makes no difference: You cannot distinguish between what is SALES PITCH and what is TRUTHFUL! I hope there are less people like you in the world.

JCL.

 
At August 01, 2005 12:28 am, Anonymous David Duff said...

Well, Justin, as we almost always disagree about everything, let me say that I absolutely support the contents of your letter. I hope that in due course, a High Court Judge will have Ms. Wadley up in front of him to explain herself. Please publish whatever drivel you receive in reply.

 
At August 01, 2005 12:02 pm, Anonymous bat020 said...

Shame you didn't mention the Standard's headline on the Monday after it transpired that Jean Charles de Menezes was entirely innocent. No sign of an apology, instead we were treated to GUN VICTIM: 'HIS VISA HAD JUST RUN OUT'

 
At August 01, 2005 1:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> But I guess to someone like you it makes no
> difference: You cannot distinguish between what is > SALES PITCH and what is TRUTHFUL! I hope there are > less people like you in the world.

Yes, I can differentiate between the two. Headlines sell papers. The truth is something that hard to establish immediately after an event. The headline "BOMBER ARRESTED" implies that the person arrested was a suspect. Unless someone is arrested in the act of creating an explosion they will always be a suspect.

Its up to the judicial system to decide whether he is a bomber. Newspapers are just there to make money.

 
At August 01, 2005 1:42 pm, Anonymous bat020 said...

No, newspapers are there to tell people what's going on in the world, truthfully and accurately. Newspaper companies are just there to make money.

 
At August 01, 2005 4:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ES then compounded the offence with billboards saying 'Shot Man's Visa had Expired'. Asking for it then, wasn't he?

 
At August 02, 2005 10:23 am, Blogger Mark K said...

perhaps this 'visa expired' headline was more usual Standard material - Menezes is now a celebrity, so the minutiae of his life are now matters for breathless tell-all journalism

 
At August 02, 2005 12:45 pm, Anonymous Sean said...

Will it affect house prices though?

 
At August 02, 2005 1:26 pm, Blogger ejh said...

You may well ask.

 
At August 08, 2005 3:59 pm, Anonymous Pangur Ban said...

Anonymous wrote:

"The headline "BOMBER ARRESTED" implies that the person arrested was a suspect."

No it does not. It states that the person arrested was a 'bomber' - full stop.

Do you think it is okay for newspapers to print falsehoods just to increase sales?

How predictable that you reach for the Barbour-jacketed cliche of 'political correctness' to quarantine and dismiss proper journalistic concern for the truth.

 

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