Monday, August 22, 2005

Why on Earth did we print this crap? pt2

The ‘piano man story’…

Remember that one?

Four months ago the UK papers and TV channels were filled with accounts of the mysterious man found on a beach in Kent…

  • He was wearing a dripping wet suit and tie and refused to say a word.
  • To make matters worse, all the labels had been cut out of his clothing.
  • He was dubbed the Piano Man after the newspapers reported that he played classical music beautifully to his carers 'for hours'

The papers loved that story. And so did the police. Appeals were made to the public and ‘hundreds’ of leads were followed-up. We read that Piano Man was a concert standard pianist and that his amnesia was probably the result of his highly-strung genius crashing off the rails.

Crap like that.

Anyway, he went home to Germany today.

The funny part of the story is the revelation that he actually couldn’t play the piano at all and he only ever played the same note continuously.

I was listening to a BBC account of the story today and was amused at the way the line ‘he demonstrated the skill of a concert standard pianist’ had been subtly changed to ‘he demonstrated a passion for music’.

Well, yes, I suppose sitting at a piano and hitting the same key repeatedly could be described as a passion for music.

Fuuuuuuuuuucking genius…

Parallels with the misreporting of the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting are entirely non-coincidental and they serve as just another example of how thoroughly and disgracefully useless the mainstream media has become in the UK


Actually, the mainstream media is worse than useless, it’s bent as well.

This week has seen the start of a smear campaign directed at the motivations of the people directing the Justice for Jean Campaign here in the UK. Apparently, some of them are associated with George Galloway and organisations that are opposed to the War in Iraq.

So fucking what?

What’s that got to do with the facts of the case?

I attended a vigil for Jean Charles Menezes at Stockwell station a few days after he was killed and George Galloway was the only national figure there. Who else were the Menezes family going to turn to? I didn’t see any representatives from our supposed leading civil rights organisation, Liberty, there; certainly not its over-exposed Director, Shami ‘My husbands a partner in a City Law firm so I can be all very ‘right on’ whilst living very comfortably thank you’ Chakrabarti. Liberty has been the UK government’s bitch since ‘7/7’ and is beneath contempt.


The mainstream media is so busy feeding smears into the public domain and rewriting stories about piano playing lunatics that it is, quite noticeably, still not taking on certain outstanding issues from 7/7 and the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting.

  • Still no arrests or further clarification about what happened on 7th July? What the fuck is going on there?
  • And what about all that missing videotape; from Luton Station, from Kings Cross, from the bus explosion at Tavistock Square, from de Menezes' flat, from Stockwell station? Just how must of this stuff has to go missing or be suppressed before somebody in the public eye declares shenanigans?


Given the general public’s seemingly unending appetite for reality television, the recent behaviour of our police force and its chief has stimulated me to think of literally dozens of ideas for new television program formats. My current favourites include:

The Metropolitan Police’s Craziest Videos – featuring half an hour of blank television narrated by a police spokesman explaining why their CCTVs stop working whenever a policeman takes a leak.

It's a CCTV Knockout - where competing teams of policemen and MI6 operatives 'on secondment' have to rush to crime scenes, grab all CCTV tapes and hard drives and then have less than four days to reformat and return them to London Bus and Underground staff.

CSI London – Compelling true life drama based on the lives and work of Metropolitan Police forensic specialists. Each episode they change their analytical results every five minutes until nobody cares what they are saying any more

Call My Metropolitan Police Bluff – where a panel of celebrity contestants listens to a series of statements from Ian Blair, Head of the Met, and decide whether he’s covering up an illegal killing or not


Unity said...

Re: 'Piano Man'...

All that's needed to top off that story is for it to be revealed that he's not been ill at all and that this whole thing has been a piece of absurdist perfomance arts inspired by the 'Chief' in Kesey's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

Yes, I think that would suit me down to the ground.

Ian said...

I thought of you immediately I read the Piano Man story elsewhere earlier today.
Since I have no job, I am now going out mugging, in full view of some CCTV cameras. There is no incentive not to, as either my story will be mis-reported and I will be a hero, or there will be no film in the camera.

Stef said...

@Unity: If that was meant to sound absurd and unlikely it's not ;)

@Ian: I think we may have discussed this story in the past and we will now have to file it in the Stef's spooky psychic predictions of media horseshit file. And, remember, it's OK to kill anyone you fancy in London these days - the terrorists bear the ultimate responsibility

zenyenta said...

You have no idea how depressing this is from this side of the pond. We were hoping that somehow the UK was less susceptible to this kind of thing. I guess because here in the US we've gotten a lot of the real news from UK sources, since our own media just tells us fairy stories. I guess yours is also just making it up as it goes along.

Stef said...

@z: How can I put this? Do not believe the British media any more than you would trust Fox in the US. The era of the investigative journalist is now long dead. The vast majority of journalists here rely completely on 'official sources' and simply repeat what they are told, otherwise those sources are denied to them. It's all pretty depressing really.

Sparkling said...

Does anyone know what they teach them at journalism college?

My first thought when I read the latest about the Piano man was along the same lines of Unity. Performance is all about publicity.

Peter said...

I'm just out of journalism school and I can tell you that it's not so much what they teach you there, which is all straightforward theory and vocational, but where they push you. It's expected that you pay your dues in local journalism, and the career that started as a rejection of the man-management politics-ridden rat race quickly becomes an acceptance. You have no real interest in the stories you write and scarcely choose them. After 18 or so months you might become a sub-editor, then a manager (badly-paid corporate equivalent).

Next you could go and work for one of the enemies of free speech, like Murdoch, and have exposes pulled or neutered. Or you stick in local journalism and, sick of the crap pay and boring topics, eventually write a gonzo piece where a journalist is found with slit wrists in his bathroom.

As you can tell, I'm pretty disillusioned with it.

Internet journalism is one solution but it's hard to write a well-researched piece if you aren't being paid for it or writing in your spare time.

Stef said...

Thanks for that Peter

I don't doubt that people enter journalism with the best of intentions. Decent journalism is as essential to a healthly democracy as being a decent policeman or a decent politician.

Earlier in the year I was chatting with an academic researcher about the difference between UK and US blogs. In the US there are many blogs that have morphed into a form of alternate press. In the UK that trend has been less pronounced because of the greater trust people place in the UK mainstream media. In short, the British are smug and complacent enough to believe that their press is still independent and objective.

Sad isn't it?

There are a growing number of British blogs out there that serve as bullshit detectors; sniffing away at the inconsistencies in the stories we are being told but, you're right, that's no substitute for hard research and it certainly won't pay anyone a living wage.

de said...

Wonderful example of living off the shit they are fed is the sports story Is Michael Owen coming back to the Premiership? The news driver is the players agent, but the journalists make NO attempt to examine anything.

1. Michael Owen is happy in Spain. He was successful in his last season, and doing well. No playing stats are produced to underline this.

2. Michael Owen wants to leave Spain. Due to new purchases he is "fifth choice striker". No confirmation of where this number comes from.

3. Michael Owen wants to join a premiership team, and many are interested. As an established England striker, he will naturally be chased by all the top teams.
Top premiership teams are not in fact known for using many English players in any position.

4. Michael Owen wants to join a premiership team, though none are interested. They are playing a canny game, just waiting for the right deal.

5. Michael Owen will join Liverpool. Its only a matter of time, the board want him, the fans want him. Oddly, the manager who let him go originally has not mentioned that he wants Owen, or any other striker.

6. Michael Owen will join Liverpool. Just need to wait for another striket to be sold
The manager now flatly rejects this.

7. Michael Owen will join Everton. Despite being bitter rivals with Liverpool, that won't matter. His dad liked Everton(??)

8. Michael Owen not interested in Everton. He may stay in Spain, and may not be fifth choice

..contintued till end of season.
And you trust these guys with the real news?

Stef said...

Well, personally, I don't trust them but I take your point.

Mind you, think how much thinner the newspapers would be if they simply got their stories right first time. There'd be so much less to read.

And that's one of the problems isn't it? News is largely written and consumed as entertainment. It doesn't matter if it's 'true' or even if it is particularly important news. The primary objective of news reporting is to fill fifteen minute TV slots and to pad out newspapers.

Governments and business take advantage of that need for space filling and then, bottom of the list of priorities, comes the notion of keeping us informed about anything. There's no percentage in that is there?

Siddhartha said...

In the 70s and 80s, people with of social conscience would plant themselves in vigils in front of South Africa House, to protest Apartheid. In the 90s vigils and protests were made in front of the Israeli Embassy in London, to protest against their Human Rights transgressions.

I think time has come for people to form vigils in front of the Daily Mail and Mirror Group offices to protest against their connivance with certain Government institutions who are guilty of subverting free speech and obvious cover-up. How about some investigative reportage instead of distorted lies from the so-called Fourth Estate for a change?

Stef said...

A nice idea but you're presuming enough people care and that there are suitable spokespeople we can place our trust in.

I'm old enough to remember the late 70's and early 80's and the vibe was much different then. The sense I have these days is of a nation in coma and one that wouldn't have anyone to turn to even if it woke up.

I really wish I believed something else...