Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Here endeth the lesson.

No matter how hard I try I simply cannot muster a single ounce of sympathy for The Sun newspaper.

Last week, in what associate editor Trevor Kavanagh described as a "Witch Hunt", five of The Sun's journalists were arrested in connection with alleged corrupt payments to police officers (Gee Note: In order to get "scoopz" I guess. I highly doubt they were offering coppers cash for a neck massage or something). Coming off the back of the recent phone hacking scandal that saw the demise of their sister paper the News Of The Screws World, with fresh revelations arriving daily from the on-going Leveson inquiry in to media ethics (Gee Note: Which has seen witness statements for celebs such as Charlotte Church and Steve Coogan, all of whom have agreed that News International is home to a bunch of sociopathic scumbags), these arrests couldn't come at a worse time. True to form however, rather than hold their hands up and admit that they probably shouldn't have been doing something illegal in the first place, an article penned by the aforementioned Mr. Kavanagh instead criticised the police for… er… doing their jobs rather than receiving large unmarked brown envelopes and keeping quiet about it.

But then The Sun has always had a borderline personality disorder when it comes to those who cross them. Take the case of Chris Bryant MP. In 2003 Bryant was tasked with questioning then Sun editor and Rupert Murdoch acolyte Rebekah Brooks as part of the Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee. During the interview he asked her if while under her stewardship either the Sun or the News Of The World had been involved in various improper acts. Brooks replied that "We have paid for police for information in the past" and had to have her bacon saved by colleague Andy Coulson who maintained that these payments were made lawfully. The Sun's response to the embarrassing faux pas? Fire Rebekah Brooks perhaps? Issue a memo banning all employees from saying stupid things in public? Call up some lawyers on the off chance that someone might take the idea of illegally paying police officers for information seriously? Well it was none of those things. Instead a series of articles were published mocking Chris Bryant, including one where the openly gay politician was shown posing in his underwear on a dating website. In that respect The Sun is a bit like the mafia. You don't mess with them, and should you be foolish enough to do so then they will come back at you tenfold. (Gee Note: It's just like Sean Connery said in The Untouchables. "They pull a knife, you pull a multi-national media empire". As true today as it was then).

Another issue with The Sun is that often the stories printed in it are about as far from the truth as Mel Gibson is from winning "Tolerant Gentleman Of The Year". Whether it be an article claiming that Liverpool football fans involved in the Hillsborough Disaster urinated on people's lifeless bodies, or one claiming Elton John hired rent boys and was such a diva that he had his dog's voice boxes removed so that their barks wouldn't keep him awake at night (Gee Note: No really. They actually printed these things. The Elton one they had to retract after he sued them for a £1million. And it took 20 years for them to print an apology for the Hillsborough piece. By which point circulation for The Sun had dropped to just 12000 in Liverpool. Which means that you could sell brown linen rags soaked in the Ebola virus for £20 a go out of the back of a camper van and it would still be more popular in Merseyside than The Sun) The Sun has always had a reckless attitude towards printing actual facts. Such is the case with the Siberian Woolly Mammoth.

On the 8th February this year The Sun reported that a live woolly mammoth had been captured on video. This video in fact.

Now you'd only really need to watch it a couple of times to come to the conclusion that it is not on the level. For a start there's something ever so slightly off about the creature, such as the way the head stays rigidly still, or the way it creeps forward despite only using one of its front legs, or - from the mammoth's perspective - the alarming lack of a dome on top of its noggin. Also I’m no expert in elephant behaviour, but I would guess that a pachyderm crossing a river would probably raise its trunk up a little bit in order to, you know, breath (Gee Note: Unless our furry friend is tired of living that is. In which case, DON’T DO IT MAMMOTH. YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR. I mean sure, all your friends probably died in the ice age. And it can’t be easy getting a regular job being a giant wild beast with no fixed abode. And you can’t exactly pick up the phone and call the Samaritans, what with no opposable thumb or fingers to dial the number with. But it’s not like you're Bobby Brown or something. I mean that dude is a complete mess. Although it is understandable considering Whitney’s dead and that he’s spent the last several years taking drugs like he was a one man pharmacy. What I’m saying is Mammoth, things could be worse you know?).

But even without all that the alarm signs are aplenty. The fact that the video is inexplicably only 10 seconds long (Gee Note: “Hmm. This large previously thought to be extinct creature sure is interesting, but I’ve got to save the battery for Mika’s surprise birthday party. I wouldn’t want to miss catching his face when the stripper arrives. Oh it’s going to be priceless!”). Or that it’s blurry and out of focus despite this being 2012 and I can record a crystal clear film of a dog taking a dump across the street using just my phone if I wanted to (Gee Note: Not saying I would want to do that mind. I bet you would though wouldn’t you? Weirdo). Or that there’s a copyright stamp on the video, which means someone somewhere is trying to make some dollar dollar by promoting this footage. It all adds up.

They copyright is the biggest give away of all actually. For this is apparently the property of one Michael Cohen. If that name sounds familiar it is because (Gee Note: Like me, you are a fat nerd who spends way too much time watching pointless videos) about a year or so ago a news story about an alien being filmed in the Brazilian jungle broke, complete with a video which was also owned by Mr. Cohen. Like the mammoth one, it was obviously fake but garnered a lot of media interest none the less.

Which is probably why Mikey tried his hand at it again. And this time he shopped it exclusively to The Sun, who did no background checks whatsoever and ran with it anyway. Reads the article.

The jaw-dropping footage was caught by a government-employed engineer last summer in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug region of Siberia, it is claimed.

Alas we never find out the name of the government-employed engineer, largely because he never existed (Gee Note: Although you’d think that making up names would be the best part about writing this piece. You could use anything. Chesty McHercules. Ivan Funtackle. Horty L. Wingjuzzler III. See? Pretty awesome right? It’s not even that hard. Honestly it took me three seconds to come up with those. It’s like these tabloid journalists aren’t even trying). In fact the video was never Michael Cohen’s to begin with. It was shot by a documentary film maker named Lou Petho (Gee Note: Hey that’s a pretty good one. Wait. What? Lou Petho is a real name? Well I’ll be damned), who was so annoyed by his footage being used against his consent that he made a video of his own.

Damn son. Shit just got REAL.

So Michael Cohen did something stupid and now may be sued for it. That something being, of course, taking someone else’s video and pasting a computer generated Mr. Snuffleupagus on top of it. But that’s not the point of this tale. Oh no dear reader. For that we have to go back to the article in The Sun.

You see it is more than likely that the folks at The Sun knew this was all bobbins to begin with. And while as a group they may be morally reprehensible, as individuals themselves they are highly intelligent human beings. But they still decided to publish it anyway. One can only guess that it's because they put stock in the notion that a good yarn is more important than the actual truth.

Now while some may argue that the extra publicity generated by The Sun can only benefit things like Cryptozoology in the long run, inspiring regular readers to take an interest in woovy bezerk animals, in this case it has hurt a hell of a lot more than it has helped. Because even though The Sun may have exclusively printed the initial story every news organisation under the… er… glowing orange thing in the sky, from Fox News to the Huffington Post, have reported that the video is a hoax. And because of its high profile, it tarnishes those who do work within the field of undiscovered creatures by association. It doesn’t matter that most serious minded cryptozoologists like Loren Coleman and Karl Shuker thought it was at best a misidentified bear chomping on a fish. It doesn’t matter that most online forums and comment sections were filled with sensible people who, having been burned by stuff like this time and time again, were pessimistic about its chances of being legit. Because public perception is now “Hur hur hur look at those geeks who thought it was a real woolly mammoth”. And while it’s true that cryptozoology will never be respected by either the mainstream media or the scientific community, it’s a bit harsh that it should be dragged down just because Michael Cohen was looking to make a quick buck and because The Sun doesn’t care what it publishes as long as it gets people buying their paper.

So here’s the thing. Next time you pick up a copy of The Sun and see a startling exclusive headline about a dinosaur being caught on camera in Dorset or something, do yourself a favour. Put it down and buy another paper instead. It’s the only language The Sun really understands.

1 comment:

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