Our media have become mass producers of distortion

By Nick Daves

Original Post Date: 4 February 2017

Here’s a little example of what I call Flat Earth News. In June 2005, Fleet Street told its readers about a gang of feral child bullies who had attempted to murder a five-year-old boy by hanging him from a tree; the boy had managed to free himself. This story was not true. Indeed, it was obviously not true from the moment it started running. There was the commonsense problem that even a fully grown man with 10 years of SAS training who found himself hanging by the neck would have the greatest difficulty in reaching up and lifting his entire body weight with one hand while using the other to remove the noose. How would a five-year-old boy do it?

Μore than that, there was the evidence in the story itself. From the first day, the police refused to say the boy had been hanged. The parents and neighbours, who told the press how shocked they were, never claimed to know what had happened. The one and only line on which the whole story was built was a quote from the boy’s adult cousin, who said he had told her: “Some boys and girls have tied a rope around my neck and tried to tie me to a tree.” That’s “tie me to a tree”, not “hang me from a tree”.

It was a nasty case of bullying but not an attempted murder. A 12-year-old girl had put a rope around the boy’s neck and led him round like a dog, pulling on it hard enough to leave marks on his neck. That was clearly dangerous. But the boy never claimed she had hanged him from a tree. Indeed, he never even claimed that she had tied him to a tree, only that she had tried to. To double check, we spoke to Professor Christopher Milroy, the Home Office pathologist who handled the case. He said: “He had not been hanged. That was not correct and I couldn’t understand why the press were insisting that he was.”

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/feb/04/comment.pressandpublishing