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How fake news was used to manipulate the Man C story to avoid considering the issues

By Tony Attwood

A couple of changes were made to this article at 9am on 7 Nov after it was initially published 

I recently wrote a little piece How fake news came to dominate the reporting of football in all English media which traced the history of fake news in the media back 100 years.

I’ve been intending to write a second part about how it works today, but was moved to change course a little by a comment Andrew found in the Daily Mirror about the referee for the game, published before the match.

But [Arsenal] supporters will feel they’ve already drawn the short straw after it was announced that Oliver will officiate their game.

Now it’s nothing to do with the referee’s ability, rather Arsenal’s embarrassing win rate with him in charge – a lowly 20 per cent – that will have fans feeling nervous.

It is an interesting comment and another piece of fakery of the type that is now creeping into the media more and more.

It was written by Jake Polden who has published 2029 articles in the last year – that is to say that assuming he works a five day week and takes 30 working days holiday in the year he is churning out around eight articles a day.

Yes, eight articles a day!!!!

I’d like to draw a comparison with my own experience on Untold.  Untold publishes 3 articles a day, and when I write mine they take maybe between one and two hours to write including the research for a regular article.  One that has a lot of research and breaks new ground or includes a lot of translation from foreign sources can take a day.  So eight a day.  How does he do it?

Obviously research goes straight out the window, as there will be no time for that.  Instead we get this

  • But I just want to play! Hilarious video shows mischievous ferret tormenting grumpy cat that wants to be left alone – until it’s lured into a game of hide and see

  • That tasted disgusting! Gruesome moment python regurgitates an entire ANTELOPE in front of stunned villagers
  • I told you to leave me alone! Brutal moment fed-up zebra knocks out annoying warthog with a swift hind leg kick to its face
  • ‘There’s blood being spilled, bones cracking and bruises’: Meet Bangkok’s real-life Fight Club where competitors as young as SIXTEEN meet on the streets to battle it out

These all came from the same day, and give you a taste as to what this guy is up to.  He’s obviously not just covering football, and is a man of many talents.

But now he is onto referees, and he asserts in relation to that earlier comment of the “supporters will feel” variety that “Now it’s nothing to do with the referee’s ability.” 

Indeed if we pause for a second we might ask “what does that actually mean”.  The supporters will be worried, but it has nothing to do with the referee’s ability it starts looking curious.    And in fact the moment one is pushed towards asking “what does that actually mean, we have a clear indication that we are on the trail of fake news.

This quite simply is because fake news is often presented as a set of statements which appear to have a meaning but actually have no meaning at all.

The phrase “Now it’s nothing to do with the referee’s ability,” only has a meaning if we agree Arsenal do badly under this referee, and ask why Arsenal do badly with this referee.  Is it that the referee is incompetent – well no, that is the one concept that is rejected.   So what is the other reasons?  Is the referee biased or bent?  Is that what they are suggesting?

Anyway we already knew that this issue was nothing to do with the referee’s ability as a referee that surely would affect both sides.  Indeed this is something we went out of our way to measure when we reviewed the first 160 games of last season, by looking to see if errors were spread evenly – the old “it all evens out in the end” explanation of incompetence.

So what is left, if as claimed, Arsenal fans are worried about this referee, but it is nothing to do with his ability?

It could be of course that the referee is open to being bought.  But the writer utterly ignores this concept – he doesn’t even mention it as a possibility.  He wants us to believe he knows what Arsenal fans will be thinking, but doesn’t give us the most obvious explanation as to why we would be thinking this.  Instead he comes up with “It turns out to be that Arsenal just perform badly under this referee.”

Now how weird is that?  For what possible reason could it be that Arsenal perform badly under one referee if we rule out match fixing, and take it that referee errors do all even out in the end?

It doesn’t make any sense.  Yes, visiting a particular ground could affect the club, because it is smaller or larger than they are geared up for, because of the anger and aggressiveness of the crowd, the smallness of the visitors’ dressing room, the playing of loud music next door (the old Wimbledon trick at the Plough Lane ground) and so on.  It could be because they have better players than we do.

But “It turns out to be that Arsenal just perform badly under this referee,” simply leads to another question.  Why?

This bit of nonsense – of raising an issue that is on a lot of people’s minds (the quality of the ref) and then giving an answer which a) denies the most obvious explanation for the feeling of the fans (the ref is bent) and b) gives a meaningless answer which itself gives rise to other questions which it doesn’t answer, is a typical approach of fake news.

This is not “a baby’s toy has been spotted on Mars” type of fake news that the Daily Express publishes, but something a little more subtle.  A story that suggests it is looking into an issue but in fact does the opposite.

It is an approach that is now widespread, and is hugely influential in keeping readers thinking one particular way, and not allowing another thought (that the ref has been bought) into the debate.   Of course this nonsense doesn’t prove the ref has been bought – far from it – but it is an approach that aims to keep the discussion going in a certain (meaningless) direction.  And it is what Untold fights against.

The whole debate into whether there is referee corruption is undermined by this fake news which is churned out 24 hours a day, and of course many people fall for it.  All we are trying to do here is balance the matter a little by showing how it is done, and occasionally why it is done.

I don’t contend that it was obvious that the ref was bought.  I do think he made mistakes as previous articles have shown, but there could be many reasons for this.  Him being bent is just one.  What I am trying to show is how articles are produced that aim to keep us away from asking the question: “why did the referee make these mistakes?”

15 comments to How fake news was used to manipulate the Man C story to avoid considering the issues

  • colario

    In other words ”What is not said is usually more important than what is said.”

    I don’t know the source of this quote. I learnt the quote from an anecdote about {resident Lyndon Baines Johnson.

    It is reported that on his first work day in office in the Oval Room, he told some aides to go and listen to people and report to him what they didn’t say.

    In the case of the English media we know what they will say and we know what they will not say. A classic of this happened last night on BBC Radio %

    They interviewed Lee Dixon about the film 1989 the story of ‘that game’ it was good stuff (for an Arsenal fan) full of anecdotes and personal moments. Then came the question it was put to Lee Dixon.

    What one thing would you say to the present Arsenal team?

    His answer was along the lines of ‘they don’t have the enthusiasm we had’ I switched off I knew what was coming and to use that word of the Dixon early 90s boring boring boring.
    I am sure nothing was said about the poverty of today’s referees which sometime no many time beggers belief.

  • colario

    oh sorry missed the typo BBC Radio 5 and of course President Johnson. I am annoyed with myself.

  • Flares

    Lee Dixon once stopped me in Waitrose in Kingston to ask me where I got my avocados from.

    Tru fax.

  • finsbury

    I saw Lee Dixon in Lidl in Finsbury Park once after he’d started working as a plundit.

    He said: Since i’ve started opening my gob for money my new gaffer keeps sticking this cheese eating surrender monkey on my back. it’s a funny old game.
    Why Andre or Paul never get invited on to tell the fans how they feel about the brown paper envelopes in the game (to be fair these days they need ships not envelopes)is a mystery to me.

    He also replied that he cpuldn’t recall another top club sacking a manager for taking a bung*. And interestingly given today’s memes, he didn’t blame AW for that as AW wasn’t at the club when it happened 😉

    *I got the impression Mackay was sacked for not sharing his…

  • MickHazel

    I caught the tail end of Dixon on Talksport this morning saying Wenger should have left after the Cup Final win this year.

  • Flares

    That Lidl in Finsbury park is a liability. They’ve gone almost all self-service with just two small tills near the front, so you just get one long single queue stretching all the way back past cold meats. It’ll be murders at Christmas, mark my words.

  • finsbury

    To be fair the Tescos isn’t much better.
    All together now:

    “It’s a shambles”™ (trade mark belongs to my genius PR consultant)

    I’ve written to the owner and Lord Sainsbury for good measure too. For some reason they are ignoring me, I can’t understand why not but I’m going to blame the branch manager for the lack of a reply there.

  • Alexanderhenry

    Is untold seriously suggesting that PL referees are being bribed?

  • Alexander Henry I really do wish you would pay attention. Untold repeatedly makes the point that because PGMO has adopted the structure of the referee organisation in Italy prior to its reform, it makes it easy for referees to be bribed. We’ve explained how and why many times. All it has to do is adopt the style and approach used in most of the rest of Europe, and that issue could be set aside.
    As it is our repeated research through three different programmes has shown a very high level of error by referees which can only be explained through corruption or gross incompetence, but because of the setup of PGMO it cannot be investigated further nor overcome.

  • Mad Matt

    Piers Morgan could be a powerful ally, if he wasn’t such a twit.

  • Jammy

    Alexanderhenry – Why would you be so surprised about that when it has been proven to happen in other countries? What’s so different about English referees? Is it just because they’re English and don’t get up to the same kind of stuff that those silly foreign blokes do?

  • Jammy

    Mad Matt – Piers Morgan is possibly one of the most universally hated men in the entire world (at least the English speaking parts). Having him on our side would do us more harm than good.

  • Walter

    As a ref. can you answer a question please?
    I am of course referring to the Man. City/Arsenal game

    As one prominent ref. said, it wasn`t a dive but he did “suddenly slow down” (so that his opponent collided with him to attract a penalty)
    As Shearer said “we were taught to do that”, so that they got a penalty
    I have heard more than one pundit say that(i.e. taught to suddenly slow down)
    Being old fashioned and over 21, to me this can`t be a penalty. If you deliberately slow down to attract a penalty 1/ A penalty has to be intentional or caused by the defender (not created by the attacker) 2/ This should be a yellow card for “Ungentlemanly/Unsporting behaviour”
    I am quite a long way past the 21 years age, am I living in the past when football was just a game with rules or is it that £ signs are ruling/ruining our game ?

    Thanks in anticipation
    Many thanks (living in hope )

  • MickHazel

    terry white
    ‘As Shearer said “we were taught to do that”, so that they got a penalty’
    Unless of course it is a similar penalty shout on an Arsenal player when his response would be
    ‘there was slight contact, but not enough for me to give the penalty, after all it’s a contact sport’
    We hear that line trotted out every time we get a similar ‘foul’ against one of our players.

  • omgarsenal

    Terry White….referees today cannot make a call based on judged intent, so a player tricking his opponent into a penalty is entirely possible. This is part of the Law about simulation and very hard to detect. So in answer to your question, a penalty does NOT have to be intentional but can occur and be given if:

    1) play was dangerous, excessively aggressive or careless,and occurred in the penalty area against an opponent,
    2) the defender(s) clearly committed an infringement of the laws (hand ball, charge in the back, etc.) in the penalty area that merits a penalty in the referees opinion,
    3) a penalty cannot be given if play was stopped, the infringement was outside the penalty area or was committed against a teammate or outside party.

    Oliver looked primed and ready to give the penalty and didn’t hesitate. Watching the entire sequence over again, it seemed to my referee’s eyes that Sterling was legally shoulder charged and intended to take a dive in anticipation of Oliver cooperating.

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