Category Archives: Newspapers

Loneliness linked to phantom cigarettes

By Calvin Palmer

Today’s online edition of The Guardian features an article about the loneliness epidemic sweeping the UK.

The article stresses the health risks associated with loneliness and cites a report that states loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

That assertion is linked to an article in the Mail Online, which proclaims social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to research by Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University in Utah and data obtained from 300,000 people.

Alas, the Mail Online article does not specify just how loneliness can be equated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And why is it 15 cigarettes instead of say 10 or five?

Is there a body of knowledge that can precisely show the effects on a person’s health of each cigarette smoked on a daily basis?

And what if a person is lonely and smokes 15 cigarettes a day, does that mean they are effectively smoking 30 cigarettes a day?

It all sounds rather implausible to me and smacks of the kind of junk science that is used to support anti-smoking and anti-tobacco measures the world over.

A photograph accompanying the Mail Online article has the caption: Me, myself and I: Loneliness can be as damaging for your health as smoking, research shows [sic]

Clearly working for the Mail Online means you do not end a sentence with a full stop. I wonder how damaging that can be to a person’s health? It is certainly damaging to your reputation as a working journalist.

And why does the caption only mention smoking when alcohol was also mentioned in the study?

It strikes me the Mail Online, like most of the mainstream media, has an anti-smoking agenda.

What’s the betting that every person associated with that article reaching the public is a non-smoker? I will wager they all like a few pints of beer or a few glasses of wine, hence the link to alcohol being downplayed.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Well, actually they do.

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AP reports of IndyCar driver Wheldon’s death omit his nationality

By Calvin Palmer

When a man who is proud of his nationality, and most men are, dies in a foreign country one would think it incumbent upon that country’s media to acknowledge his nationality. Not only is giving someone’s nationality part of good reporting and journalistic standards but, in the case of someone who has died, it is also a mark of respect.

Many newspapers in the United States carried the story of the death of British driver Dan Wheldon at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. As is newspaper practice, they made use of wire reports by the Associated Press, which failed to make any mention of Wheldon’s British nationality.

While it is true that Wheldon became a sporting hero in the United States and was largely unknown in his home country, he was fiercely proud of his nationality.

When he won the Indy 500 in 2005, a feat he repeated last year, he took to the winner’s rostrum with the Union Jack draped across his shoulders.

Dan Wheldon after winning the Indy 500 in 2005. Picture courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.

So shame on the Associated Press reporters John Marshall and Ken Ritter who omitted Wheldon’s nationality from their reports of this tragic event.

The British, especially the English, are often accused by Americans of being arrogant. The accusation is often leveled at me, even by family members. I usually counter with the Cecil Rhodes quote: “To be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life.” Needless to say this response only further antagonizes Americans but isn’t that what being English is all about?

And Americans cannot claim to be so virtuous. Is not their indifference to, and ignorance of, anyone or anything outside the United States just another form of arrogance?

At least the British can cite several centuries of being in the ascendancy instead of a mere 70 years.

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Media substitutes conjecture for fact in coverage of Norway attacks

By Calvin Palmer

When news of the horrific events in Norway unfolded yesterday, the quality newspapers in Britain were quick to ascribe the bombing in Oslo and shootings on Utøya island to the work of Muslim terrorists.

The newspapers went to great lengths to uncover the various ways Norway might have offended Muslim sensibilities, including Norway’s strong support for military action in Afghanistan.

Such speculation is the stuff of Tyler Twoguns as he downs shots at Sadie’s Bar or Rodney Fortescue-Smythe holding court in the snug of the Dog & Duck.

But everyone knows that the utterances of Tyler and Rodney are opinions that have little basis in fact and no one takes them seriously.

But when idle conjecture appears in a news report rather than an opinion piece, we are treading on dangerous ground. Some people, an awful lot of them, will believe those guesses to be fact..

Fox News uses such methods to warp the perceptions of American voters. It pays no heed to fair and balanced reporting in order to promote its right-wing, anti-Obama agenda.

The media, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The demands of live coverage are such that even if the facts are unknown, the media will fabricate some theory in order to fill the void.

Newspapers in their Web guise are trying to compete with television and offer live coverage on stories and to keep readers interested they guessed at explanation of what had happened in Norway and targeted the usual suspects.

And politicians were no better with Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama promising Norway they would do everything in their power to track down the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

I find it worrying that political leaders come out with these knee-jerk reactions. I expect political leaders to be better than Tyler Twoguns and Rodney Fortescue-Smythe. A leader, by definition, should take time to sort through the facts and duly arrive at a measured response. But the media’s appetite for the instant sound bite is insatiable and politicians seem more than willing to feed it.

Today, it emerges that the bombing in Oslo and shooting of at least 87 youngsters at a political youth camp had nothing to do with Muslim terrorists.

Norwegian police are questioning a suspect – 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian citizen. He is described as a fundamental Christian with right-wing beliefs that include the eradication of Islam and Marxism from Europe.

If it emerges that Breivik was involved in yesterday’s attacks no doubt he will claim he was acting on instructions from God, although might just as well as cite the tooth fairy. He may even have been following Sarah Palin’s advice to “reload” with deadly consequences.

It is frightening to think that Michele Bachmann, who has designs on becoming the next President of the United States, also claim to be acting on God’s instructions.

Should the American electorate be dumb enough to elect her or one of her ilk, and it is possible, the mindset of the United States will take a leap back to the 17th century.

Fox News will be in its element covering the subsequent witch trials and fueling the rabid hysteria against the unfortunate defendants.

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Bands object to Bachmann’s use of their songs at rallies

By Calvin Palmer

The band Katrina & the Waves has contacted lawyers to stop Republican presidential nominee Michele Bachmann from using its song Walking On Sunshine at the Minnesota Congresswoman’s rallies.

Tom Petty has also registered a protest over the use of his song American Girl at Bachmann’s announcement rally in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Daily Telegraph nosed its piece by Toby Harnden as follows:

Michele Bachmann’s status as a potential threat to President Barack Obama has been confirmed by a brace of “cease and desist” letters from pop stars objecting to the use of their songs at her campaign rallies.

I fear that is just wishful thinking on the part of The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that appears to be following in the footsteps of Fox News in mixing up opinions with news stories.

I know Toby to be an honorable man and an excellent reporter, so I can only conclude he is acting under the orders of some Roger Ailes -like figure back at The Telegraph’s London HQ. It could be that Toby did not write that sentence at all and it is the work of a politically motivated editor.

Katrina & the Waves, along with Petty are simply registering their disapproval about Bachmann’s use of their songs simply because they do not wish to be identified with her politics. Given that a lot of Americans are not the brightest bulbs in the box, particularly those who support candidates such as Bachmann, it is likely the use of material by these artists could be construed as their support for the candidate. The move on their part has nothing whatsoever to do with Bachmann’s status as a potential threat to President Obama.

The indignation of rock stars having their music used by candidates they do not approve of is nothing new.

In 2008, John McCain received legal letters from Van Halen and John Mellencamp.

In 2000 and 2004 George W. Bush was told by Mellencamp, Petty, Sting and the band Orleans he couldn’t use their songs.

Singer and guitarist Ted Nugent has said that Bachmann is welcome to use his music at rallies.

“Michele Bachmann is clearly a Great American,” Nugent said. “Her words have iron, her spirit is indefatigable and her beauty contagious.”

With such an endorsement, it is clear America has a lot to fear if Bachmann is successful. And is there really the need to cap “Great”?

The Telegraph’s article concludes that Bachmann could use the songs of dead artists:

Elvis Presley’s “Promised Land” and James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown have already been played at Bachmann rallies.

Aren’t there too many Browns there?

This Mickey Mouse article appears to have been also proofread by a Mickey Mouse copy editor — is this a new role for James Delingpole, I wonder —  if indeed it was proofread at all.

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One phone call away from the full story

By Calvin Palmer

Florida is one of two states forecast to lose restaurant jobs this summer, according to a report by the National Restaurant Association. The other state facing a fall in restaurant jobs is Arizona.

The Florida Times-Union carried this story in its Business Section, on Thursday, stating restaurant employment in Florida is estimated to shrink by 3.1 percent, from 614,100 to 595,100 jobs, as well as pointing out that Alaska’s growth is projected at 23 percent; Delaware’s is estimated at 20.6 percent and Maine’s is projected at 31.1 percent.

Given that Florida is a state where tourism forms a large part of the state’s economy, this story immediately begs the question, why is its number of restaurant jobs projected to fall?

Sadly, The Florida Times-Union was not prepared to go the extra yard and provide its readers with an explanation.

The Jacksonville Business Journal, however, was on the ball. It contacted the National Restaurant Association and concluded its coverage of the story with the following paragraph:

Florida and Arizona’s busiest seasons for travel and tourism are not the summer months, an association spokeswoman said.

Was that too difficult a task for Florida Times-Union reporter, Kevin Turner? Apparently it was.

[Based on reports by The Florida Times-Union and the Jacksonville Business Journal.]

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British newspaper article on Florida’s pill mills fails to keep up with events

By Calvin Palmer

The Guardian newspaper today carried an article about the thousands of people flocking to the pill mills of Florida to obtain the powerfully addictive painkiller oxycodone.

The White House has described the abuse of prescription drugs as the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, pointing out that people were dying unintentionally from painkiller overdoses at rates that exceeded the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the black tar heroin epidemic of the 1970s combined.

Florida is described as the epicenter of the oxycodone epidemic. Guardian writer Ed Pilkington states that 98 percent of all the nation’s doctors who handle the drug are located in Florida, which “has no comprehensive database recording prescription histories”.

Pilkington goes on: “Even more astonishingly its recently elected governor, the Tea Party favourite Rick Scott, has blocked the introduction of a database on grounds of cost.”

Now, I am no fan of Gov. Rick Scott but I do believe in accurate and fair reporting. I am from the old school of journalism.

Last Friday, if Pilkington had bothered to read or find out, Scott signed a bill aimed at cracking down on clinics that frivolously dispense pain pills.

“Florida will shed its title as the Oxy Express,” he said at a bill signing ceremony in Tampa.

Scott had concerns about the prescription drug monitoring database on the grounds of its effectiveness and privacy. But even he had the good sense to bow to the pressure from elected officials throughout the country to do something about the proliferation of pill mills in Florida.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the advocates for the database, said: “The governor has made a huge turnaround. He has signed a bill today that not only preserves the prescription drug monitoring database. It makes it better.”

The bill tightens reporting requirements to the database from 15 days to seven days, a change critics said the program needed to make it more effective.

The measure also increases penalties for overprescribing oxycodone and other narcotics, tracks wholesale distribution of some controlled substances, and provides $3 million to support law enforcement efforts and state prosecutors.

It also bans most doctors who prescribe narcotics from dispensing them, requiring prescriptions to be filled at certain types of pharmacies.

“The toll our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating and Florida is ground zero,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy after Scott signed the bill.

Even as far back as April, while testifying before a congressional committee with Kentucky Gov. Steve Bershear, Scott pledged to address the problem and give up his push to kill Florida’s prescription drug monitoring database.

So just how much research did Pilkington do for his article? Not a lot, it would appear. His article is lazy journalism at best; inaccurate and biased reporting at worst.

[Based on reports by The Guardian and The Miami Herald.]

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Fairy-tales have no place in the science classroom

By Calvin Palmer

With important local elections coming up in Jacksonville, The Florida Times-Union yesterday chose a letter on five key political issues as its letter of the day.

Only in Florida could the teaching of evolution be described as a key political issue. Surely a greater political issue is the way expenditure on public schools is being eroded away to the point where children are not going to get much in the way of an education.

But that suits the tea party idiots and ultra-conservative Republicans. Why would they want educated voters who are able to think for themselves about issues?

The reader from Jacksonville Beach suggests that intelligent design or creationism be taught alongside evolution.

Well, there is a perfectly good reason why it isn’t.

Evolution is a theory based on scientific evidence and has underpinned scientific inquiry for more than 150 years. Creationism, on the other hand, is a bloody fairy-tale!

The reader states:

Since the debate involves public schools, why not teach both views in an unbiased way and let the students choose for themselves what they believe about a subject that is as much an emotional issue as it is science?

I love this appeal to objectivity. I wonder if the same reader, in the interests of objectivity, would be in favour of Islam being taught in public schools so that children could decide for themselves on the true religion?

Thought not.

There are none so blind as the ignorant and bigoted.

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