Imagine asking people their opinion on a hypothetical event nobody was proposing and that pretty much everyone agreed was not going to come to pass. On Monday The Herald newspaper gave over its front page to just such a survey.
The newspaper dutifully reported that a majority of people in Scotland did not want a second independence referendum this year. So something that nobody is proposing isn’t backed by people who aren’t asking for it.
It’s what I’ve termed ‘Quack Journalism’. Quack journalism is presenting as news something that isn’t. It’s the manufacturing of a story to give it the appearance of news.
Another example of ‘Quack Journalism’ appeared in the same newspaper the day after the survey. The story – SNP ex-leader: Delay the vote on independence – appeared courtesy of the irrelevant and politically redundant former MP Gordon Wilson.
The article contained the following:
NICOLA Sturgeon should shelve a second independence referendum “indefinitely”, a former SNP leader has said, after a new poll showed most Scots opposed to another vote this year.
… Reacting to the poll, Mr Wilson said the poll “confirms that there is no appetite for an immediate independence referendum”, and added it was “worrying” for the SNP that a third of its voters also didn’t want one, “a figure close to the number [of SNP supporters] who voted Leave”.
The article also contained this bewildering piece of drivel:
For Labour, shadow Scottish secretary Dave Anderson said: “This poll is yet further evidence that most Scots are opposed to the SNP’s latest attempt to divide our country, just as they were before Brexit.”
So we had Quack Journalism built on Quack Journalism. Both stories were utterly worthless and probably harmless. Wilson is of course one of a number of ex-SNP figures with an axe to grind, who regularly sharpens it within the pages or airwaves of the Scottish media. Few take him seriously anymore.
Perhaps the worst example of Quack Journalism appeared on Tuesday evening when The Herald published a story so ridiculous that it took quackery to a whole new level.
This particular gem was based on a tweet by SNP MSP John Mason. Below is an image of the MSPs tweet.
Here’s how The Herald article began:
SNP MSP John Mason has defended himself against claims that a message he sent on Twitter was sexist and might contribute to ‘rape culture’.
So John Mason says that, “The girl does not always say yes first time.” And he’s correct of course, many girls don’t say yes first time. In my experience most don’t … although a few do!
This of course applies to asking for a dance, a date, a kiss or … well you know what I mean.
In terms of that most intimate of acts, through time, and if the courtship goes as hoped, then both the boy and girl may eventually feel comfortable enough to accept the advances of the other [It isn’t always boys who take the initiative.]
This is how relationships begin and progress. It is often clumsy with signals being misread. Initial rejection is the norm. What it isn’t is part of a rape culture.
To imply such is Quack Journalism at its worst. It’s the deliberate contorting of a comment for the worst possible motive. The motive is to blacken someone’s good name, perhaps end a career, by using that most emotive of subjects – rape.
John Mason isn’t in trouble, unless of course we define ‘being in trouble’ as being the victim of Quack Journalism or the opportunists who have leapt on the quackery. Four such opportunists are the president of NUS Scotland, Vonnie Sandlan, Glasgow Labour council candidate Maggie McTernan, Conservative equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells and Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.
Sandlan claimed Mason’s tweet amounted to “trivialising rape culture and coercive control”.
McTernan said the tweet implied “overriding a woman’s consent”.
Wells said the tweet was ill-judged “when we are trying to tackle domestic abuse and violence against women”.
I find these interpretations of John Mason’s tweet far more disconcerting than the tweet. Do these women really believe Mason is trivialising rape, suggesting a woman’s consent be ignored, advocating violence against women?
Dugdales response can be seen below in full:
“This is an entirely unacceptable comment from SNP MSP John Mason, which has caused considerable offence and hurt.
“Mr Mason must personally apologise for this comment and I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon will want to apologise on behalf of the SNP. The SNP leadership must now consider what disciplinary action it will take against Mr Mason.
“The First Minister will have to decide if Mr Mason is a man she genuinely believes can continue to represent the SNP, given his apparent sexist attitude towards women.
“For the first time in Scotland we’ll soon be able to prosecute coercive behaviour as the result of a Domestic Abuse Bill that was supported by all political parties.
“Mr Mason clearly learned nothing from those parliamentary debates about the importance of using responsible language.
“We have made great strides through education and campaigns to teach the lesson that No means No, and Mr Mason’s choice of words risks undermining that progress.”
Dugdale’s response sadly doesn’t surprise. If there’s anything that the Scottish Labour leader can be relied upon to do it’s to try to make political capital in the most ill-judged manner.
Quack Journalism often misleads. It can turn non-news into a front page scoop. It can spawn similar quack stories. They are often harmless.
However at its worst it can distort and seek to destroy. Presenting an innocuous tweet as proxy-support of rape culture is as disgusting as it gets.
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