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Right-wing press stories have backfired so often, people are creating their own spoofs

Lola Olufemi: When the Daily Telegraph published its retraction, she tweeted: “Small victories, hopefully I can get on with my job now.”

You couldn’t make it up – unless you worked for a right-wing rag like the Daily Heil or the Torygraph. And from now on, even if reporters at those organs try, they won’t be believed.

The Daily Mail blotted its own copy(book) with an article on “Our Remainer Universities”. Building on the revelation that Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris had written to universities, requesting details of courses and lecturers dealing with the European Union and Brexit, the <ahem> paper asked readers to send in their own stories.

Apparently nobody in the editorial team stopped to consider the kind of responses they would get from respondents who are – not to put too fine a point on it – educated.

Nor did they expect the floodgates to open in quite the way they did. This Site has already published one professor’s response. Here are a few more, from a range of sources:

For those who cannot read images, Steve Peers wrote: “Dear Witchfinder General,

“I am writing to turn myself in as what your paper would consider a biased professor.

“I discuss the details of refugee law with my students, whereas your paper referred to the ‘problem’ of Jewish refugees ‘pouring into the country’ and depicted recent asylum seekers as rats.

“I ask students to look at EU and human rights laws on LGBT equality, whereas your paper referred to ‘abortion hope’ after a ‘gay gene’ was found.

“I discuss the risk that far right extremism poses to human rights, whereas your paper cheered ‘hurrah to the blackshirts’; and I outline the importance of the rule of law, whereas your paper shrieks that judges it disagrees with are ‘enemies of the people’.

“Despite all this, I can only dream of receiving the huge sums from the EU that your editor Paul Dacre has obtained.

“I can only salute your paper’s commitment to the truth, in spite of its many losses and settlements in libel cases and the frequent readers’ complaints it provokes.

“Yours sincerely,

“Steve Peers
“Professor of Law, University of Essex.”

“Aaron” wrote: “Good morning.

“I attend updog university, and we are being taught anti Brexit propaganda by our left wing professors. We are now made to gather in the study hall once a week and salute an EU flag whilst the professor slowly eats a croissant.

“Another lesson that is now mandatory is ‘brexit may not have been a good idea and blind patriotism is a foolish and extremely dangerous answer’. I think this is disgusting. If you keep saying it will be ok, it will be ok. We all know this. I once had a rabbit that got smashed to bits by a tractor and I said it would be ok and a few days later my dad got me a new rabbit.

“Please help me, there is no longer any room for bigots like myself at places of education and thought.

“Yours sincerely
“Aaron.”

https://twitter.com/davies_will/status/923483195361976320

From Will Davies: “Hi.

“I thought you might be interested in the behaviour of one of our lecturers. In a 2nd year module I take (‘Cultural Maxism and Masculinities’ – 15 credits) our lecturer declared that they were committed to ‘free speech’, but on condition that the speech was in a language other than English. My mate was determined to give an opinion on why Brexit was good, but was forced to stand at the front of the class explaining it in French, a language he doesn’t really speak.

“Happy to talk more.
“Will.”

From Tom Goodwin: “Hello,

“I wish to inform you that I have indeed experienced bias around Brexit at the University of Leeds.

“Only yesterday, I had a lecturer of International Communication show us a study which supposedly demonstrated that the wider international community believe that Brexit is a bad idea. I soon put him straight by showing him my curved banana and asking him whether or not this was the kind of thing that should be influenced by bureaucrats in Brussels.

“Needless to say, the spineless lefty had no response to my compelling argument.

“It is totally scandalous that the lecturers there have based their opinions about Brexit on both fact and quantifiable research that has been critically assessed and approved of by other members of the academic community.

“I can only pray that my lecturers stop using verifiably true information to influence the young minds that they are placed in charge of, and instead use publications such as yours to show students that Brexit will not only bring prosperity to our nation, but will also rid our proud island of the scourge of immigrants, with their unpronounceable names and funny accents.

“I hope this anecdote will be useful to you and your fine fact reporting establishment.

“Yours,
“Thomas Goodwin.”

https://twitter.com/TimBrudenell/status/923514342733221888

And from Tim Brudenell: “Dear Sir/Madam, but hopefully Sir

“There I was performing my morning salute to the national anthem in my commemorative Princess Diana knitwear when my History lecturer kegged me and forced me to eat a copy of Das Capital.

“I was so distressed by this event I had to cancel my erotic pottery class.

“Yours wistfully,
“Crampton Breadworth.”

Not to be outdone, the Daily Telegraph ran a story claiming that Cambridge University Student Union women’s officer Lola Olufemi had forced the university to stop discussing white authors in order to “decolonise” its curriculum.

Of course the letter signed by Ms Olufemi and more than 100 students, on which the article was based, did not call for the exclusion of white men from reading lists and Cambridge University has not dropped any authors from its courses.

Nevertheless, the Mail (again) followed up the story with a a profile of Ms Olufemi headlined ‘Feminist killjoy* behind the campaign (*It’s what she calls herself)’.

The apology that appeared in the Torygraph‘s ‘Corrections and clarifications’ the following day stated: “An Oct 25 article incorrectly stated that under proposals by academic staff in response to an open letter from students on “decolonising” its English Faculty, Cambridge University will be forced to replace white authors with black writers. The proposals were in ract recommendations. Neither they nor the open letter called for the University to replace white authors with black ones and there are no plans to do so.”

These are just the latest blunders by our supposedly impartial mainstream media – which still, improbably, expect us to believe they are more reliable than online news sites.

Now, it seems people have decided enough is enough – and have started lampooning mainstream news stories as they come out.

For example, try this retooling of the story that the man who (allegedly) shot John F Kennedy – Lee Harvey Oswald – met representatives of the KGB before setting out to kill the then-president. It has been re-written to present a story that might be considered more in line with Heil readers’ leanings (and the version I’m using has been edited by an acquaintance to add some salient facts):

What next?


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Personal thoughts on the legacy of Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, photographed in Edinburgh in 2008. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Murdo Macleod, pinched from The Guardian because I don't have any of my own.

Terry Pratchett, photographed in Edinburgh in 2008. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Murdo Macleod, pinched from The Guardian because I don’t have any of my own.

You’re probably wondering how this ties in to politics. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

I first met Terry Pratchett at Forever People on Park Street, Bristol, on the afternoon of September 20, 1986 (if I recall correctly). It was the day of the big fire at the Fowler’s Motorcycles outlet on the Bath Bridge, which makes it an easy date to check. My recollection is that the blaze had not really got started as my brother (the blogger Beastrabban) and I on our way into town, so ‘that Discworld guy’ was much more interesting.

We arrived early, which meant nobody else had arrived by the time Terry did. This was 1986, remember – he was only just getting started. This meant we had him all to ourselves for a good few minutes before anybody else appeared to hesitantly proffer a copy of The Light Fantastic for his squiggle – and nothing’s going to make as great an impression on an impressionable adolescent trying to work out how to make it in the world as a few minutes with the undivided attention of someone who has literally just worked it out.

This was before Terry evolved into the personality he became – the bald beardie with the big black hat and the weakness for banana daiquiri. Obviously he was bald (genetics) and he was bearded (aesthetics) but the rest was yet to reveal itself (unless the memory cheats).

We talked about ideas, work ethics, how to keep people interested (basically, it has to interest you first). By the time we – reluctantly – left, the motorbike place was blazing like Ankh-Morpork in the very first Discworld story (The Colour of Magic) and we had to take a detour to avoid it. My brain had already taken a somewhat longer diversion that would lead to amateur journalism, professional newspaper reporting, and eventually this blog.

Not Ankh-Morpork: The blaze at Fowlers Motorcycles in Bristol on September 20, 1986. While this was going on, I was meeting Terry Pratchett for the first time [Image: www.fire-engine-photos.com].

Not Ankh-Morpork: The blaze at Fowlers Motorcycles in Bristol on September 20, 1986. While this was going on, I was meeting Terry Pratchett for the first time [Image: www.fire-engine-photos.com].

In the years that followed, Terry and I ran into each other too many times to recall, let alone mention. Equal Rites probably saved my sanity when it came out in paperback the following year. I was studying European Literature at Reading and the first novel on the list was Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther; it’s an epistolary novel (written as a series of letters) in which the title character takes his own life at the end (where else?) – and by the time I got there I was ready to do the same. Fortunately, the endeavours of Esk, Discworld’s first female wizard, provided the panacea. Impossible obstacles can be overcome, with good humour and a twinkle in the eye.

At the Mort signing, Terry introduced the ‘Tel’-shirt – a T-shirt featuring his character the Death of the Discworld, with the words “Die Laughing” inscribed across the blade of his scythe. I think I was the first person who asked him to sign it; what a shame the ink wasn’t permanent – now the signature says something like “Try ratchet. I’ve still got that shirt somewhere…

Further meetings would take place, most often at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, which the Beast had discovered after going to college there – including one memorable occasion when Terry explained patiently to us all that the victory at the end of Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings is nothing to celebrate as the good guys had just destroyed the entire industrial base of their continent. Good point!

By this time, my own life was progressing in distorted-mirror similarity to Terry’s. After drifting post-college, I wandered into Bristol’s careers advice centre, fiddled its computerised test so it said I should become a writer, and embarked on a career in journalism – much as Terry had, years before (he came to novels after a career and newspapers and as a press officer for nuclear power stations in the South West, including Hinkley Point). But where he took his training while on the job, I got mine at another college.

Reading A Slip of the Keyboard, Terry’s collection of non-fiction, the similarities are striking – for example the joyless experience of covering inquests (I was lucky; my late uncle was Coroner’s Officer) and magistrates’ courts (happily I never had the ‘directoire knickers’ experience). Terry was proud of his Pitmans shorthand; I am proud of my Teeline. He claimed that his response to people claiming to be journalists was, “Good, tell me the six defences for defamation of character?” This made me want to contact him so I could say, proudly and clearly: “Justification, fair comment, absolute privilege, qualified privilege, accord and satisfaction – sorting out a mutually satisfactory resolution – and, oh… the other one. Yes! Unintentional defamation!” (I often forget that last one.)

There are differences; Terry was an inspiration, no more than that. He started at the Bucks Free Press before moving to work in Bristol; I started in Bristol and, although I interviewed at the Bucks Free Press, I didn’t take a job there.

I left the newspapers a few years ago to become a carer for Mrs Mike; Terry famously contracted Posterior Cortical Atrophy himself. Neither of us stopped writing, although his became even more markedly more profitable than mine. My own progression to blogging, writing more now than ever I did for other people, perhaps reflects Terry’s advice to me in a letter of 1992: “If you want to be a writer, the trick is never to stop writing. Always look for something interesting to write about, try to find interesting ways to write about it, and eventually somebody might actually pay you for it” – or words to that effect (I can’t find the letter at the moment).

I have no reason to believe that I am the only person to have been inspired by the writings and work of this rather unassuming genius. In fact, I hope that he sent similar comments to many thousands of us over the nearly-three-decades he spent at the top of the bestseller lists, and I hope many of them have gone on to successful careers of their own. That will be the best way to remember and celebrate him.

Terry passed on, we’re told, as he always said he wanted – at home, surrounded by his family. Very few of us are lucky enough to have our final wish come true.

For myself, thanks to people like Terry, I hope to die – if not laughing, then at least with a smile on my face…

… and that ‘Tel’-shirt on my chest.

Hmm. It didn’t turn out to be a very political article after all. Fortunately, we can always rely on the quotable Terry Pratchett for help. At a time when This Writer is under attack for taking a stand over the Work Capability Assessment for incapacity/disability benefits (I want Labour to commit to abolishing it; certain members of the Labour hierarchy are threatening me over the way I’ve demanded it), it’s good to remember Terry’s words: “It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.”

Against those who are desperate for me to stop, let’s set this: “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go.”

(…Although it is probably right to add the rest of the line: “Balloons are designed to teach small children this.)

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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