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10 Egregiously False Stories In The ‘Daily Mail’

by David Tormsen
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The Daily Mail is one of the UK’s most notorious and successful tabloids, enjoying widespread popularity despite an extremely poor sense of journalistic integrity. In recent years, it has fooled many media outlets in other countries into republishing its fabrications, thanks to a slick website resembling a reputable news source. You won’t see many Daily Mail stories on Listverse, and here’s why.

10J.K. Rowling’s Sob Story


Photo credit: Daniel Ogren

After author J.K. Rowling wrote an article about her experience as a single mother and a single negative incident of stigmatization while working at a church, the Daily Mail misrepresented her case in an article entitled “How J.K. Rowling’s sob story about her single mother past surprised and confused the church members who cared for her,” alleging Rowling had falsely accused her former church of bigotry. Rowling had said nothing of the sort. In her article, written for single parents’ charity Gingerbread, she spoke of the social stigma she felt as a working mother on benefits and made reference to a single woman visiting her church who referred to her as “The Unmarried Mother.”

Taking passages of her article wildly out of context, the Daily Mail played it up as “hard-up single mother finds low-paid, menial work in an inner city church but bigoted, unchristian people make clear their disapproval of her unmarried status, and cruelly taunt her.” They interviewed members of the church, who understandably expressed confusion over the incident, most likely because they hadn’t read the article in question and were just hearing a twisted version of it from the lips of the Daily Mail journalist. Rowling, furious, sued the paper for libel, forcing the Mail to print an apology and pay her substantial damages, which she promptly donated to charity.

9Cannibal Chateaubriand Steak

Binging with Babish: Chateaubriand Steak from The Matrix

In 2015, the Daily Mail posted a story about a hotel restaurant in Nigeria serving human flesh and a kitchen filled with human heads. The article was actually posted by Nigerian tabloid Osun Defender back in 2013, and it was then republished verbatim by a number of Western news outlets, including the New York Daily News, the International Business Times, the Independent, Metro, and Gawker. This was despite the fact that the article contained a number of hints it was fake, including a lack of verifiable details, a single dubious source, a flippant tone (“I went to the hotel early this year, after eating, I was told that a lump of meat was being sold at N700, I was surprised. So I did not know it was human meat that I ate at such expensive price.”), and, most damningly, a comment section filled with Nigerians blasting the Defender for posting fake articles.

The truth was human heads had been discovered in a hotel, but they seemed to have been placed there by the owner’s enemies as an excuse to have him arrested and for his hotel to be demolished by corrupt government officials. However, the original cannibalism story somehow got picked up again in 2015 by BBC Swahili. From there, it finally made its way onto the pages of the Daily Mail, though both were forced to print a retraction. In their tasteless article, the Mail used a photo of a piece of chateaubriand steak from London’s Hawksmoor restaurant, leading the owner to clear things up for news outlets: “For clarity’s sake we don’t serve human flesh, there are no severed heads in our kitchen, and we’ve never even been nominated for ‘Nigeria’s Best Restaurant’ or ‘Cannibal Menu of the Year.’ ”

8Clooney’s Druze Troubles

The Daily Mail claimed the mother of George Clooney’s fiance, Amal Alamuddin, opposed their match because her Druze faith forbade marriage with outsiders, and she had “half of Beirut” hoping the match fell apart. None of the story was true. Amal’s mother, Baria, was not even Druze, hadn’t been to Beirut since the engagement was announced, and—most importantly—wasn’t against the marriage. This prompted a furious response by the actor in an editorial for USA Today: “The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous. We have family members all over the world, and the idea that someone would inflame any part of that world for the sole reason of selling papers should be criminal.”

In response, the Daily Mail removed the article from its website and printed an apology, though it still claimed the story was not a “fabrication but supplied in good faith by a reputable and trusted freelance journalist” based on “conversations with senior members of the Lebanese community,” despite the original article being attributed to an anonymous family friend. Clooney rejected the apology and called the Mailthe worst kind of tabloid,” expressing concerns over the effect the British tabloid was having on the American media. He later admitted to Variety magazine, “It’s just fun to slap those bad guys every once in a while, knock ’em around.”

7Romanian And Bulgarian Hordes


When work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK were lifted in late 2013, the Daily Mail quickly responded with a scare piece: “Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK.” The article played up fears of Eastern European immigrants flooding the British job market. They reported all flights from Romania to England fully booked—some seats going for £3,000 ($5,000)—and the same for buses and flights out of Bulgarian capital Sofia, with low-cost carrier Wizz Air doubling the number of flights. Then, on New Year’s Day, they published another article, saying Romania was handing out passports to Moldovans, Bulgaria was giving them to Macedonians, and, for whatever reason, Hungary was giving passports to ethnic Hungarians living in other countries (despite the fact that most Hungarian migrant workers go to Germany rather than the UK).

Neither of these stories were true, and the immigration fears hardly panned out. In fact, during the first quarter of 2014, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK dropped by around 3,000. Despite the number of Bulgarians and Romanians being 18.5 percent higher than the same time the previous year, projections based on the closure of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme predicted some 60,000 fewer short-term workers from Bulgaria and Romania entering the country. As for supposedly booked-out flights and buses, it simply wasn’t true, and the Daily Mail posted a sheepish update: “We have since been made aware, however, that some readers were able to find a larger number of flights leaving Bucharest and Sofia at the beginning of January with availability, with fares starting from £122. We understand that some seats on buses bound for London were also available at the time.”

As for the passport scare, it was overblown, considering that the availability of Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian passports to those with historic roots to the country were comparable to those with historic roots to the Republic of Ireland claiming Irish passports (which would allow them to work in the UK unimpeded).

6Southern Israel’s Dams


In February 2015, the Daily Mail accused Israel of intentionally opening dams in southern Israel in order to flood the Gaza Strip. This was based on a piece in Al Jazeera, which quoted the Palestinian authorities and was also picked up by Vice. There was only one small problem with the story: There are no dams in southern Israel. The article also contained a reference to the Israelis cutting off power to “two of Gaza’s main West Bank cities,” despite the fact that the West Bank and Gaza are geographically separate entities. In reality, the flooding in Gaza was caused by rain and drainage issues. When notified of the nonexistence of the supposed dams, the Mail amended the article, removing a quote from Palestinian Brigadier General Said Al-Saudi and the reference to Gazan West Bank cities.

Pro-Israel organization HonestReporting (which has its own set of biases) accused the Daily Mail of journalistic “false balance” by including the Palestinian charge of Israeli responsibility for the flooding along with the Israeli denial of same, despite the fact that only the latter was based on reality.

5Blowjob Benefits


In 2012, the Daily Mail posted an article entitled “Oral sex is good for women’s health and helps fight depression.” This was an example of wishful thinking based on a controversial study from 10 years earlier. The 2002 study from the peer-reviewed Archives of Sexual Behaviour made the bold claim of semen having an antidepressant effect on women. The research was based on an anonymous survey on condom use among female college students, comparing findings on condom use and sexual activity with the results of a standard test of depression. They wished to investigate the hypothesis that semen had an effect on the mood of women and whether hormones found in semen, including testosterone, estrogen, and prostaglandin, could be absorbed through the vagina. The results showed women who engaged in sexual activity without condoms showed less depressive symptoms than those who used condoms and those who abstained from sexual activity altogether.

The study concluded by saying that semen absorbed through the vagina may have an antidepressant effect and that it would be interesting to do further studies on absorption of semen hormones from oral or anal sex. The problem with the study itself was that it did not take into account other factors potentially affecting depression, such as whether the women surveyed were in a relationship or their frequency of sexual activity. It also didn’t take into account the possible use of coitus interruptus contraception for those who didn’t use condoms, so the correlation between condom-free sex and the absorption of semen hormones was dubious at best.

There is also the possibility that personality characteristics play a part in the non-use of condoms and reduced risk of depression, and that people with “happy-go-lucky” personalities are less likely to use condoms or experience depression. Finally, as the study in question didn’t investigate oral sex at all, the Daily Mail article was likely pulled entirely from one of their journalists’ lurid imaginations.

4Sex And The Country


In 2003, freelance copywriter and PR consultant Juliet Shaw moved from Manchester to her hometown in Cumbria following the acrimonious end of a relationship. She wanted to move away from a distressing situation with her two children, as well as raise her professional profile in her hometown. She was contacted by a freelance journalist working for the Daily Mail in relation to a story about the benefits of moving from the city to the country, and she agreed to an interview. Shaw was somewhat disturbed by the line of questioning, which seemed to focus largely on how many men she had dated following her move, and was pressured into attending a photo shoot in London.

When the article finally came out, Shaw was not prepared to discover that her story had been entirely twisted into a narrative about city women moving to the country for some rural loving: “Sex & the Country; What happened when four singletons, fed up with shallow urban lives, upped sticks in a quest for rural romance?” The Mail attributed to Shaw salacious and fraudulent quotes: “I’ve been asked out on more dates in the past three years than in the 20 years I spent in Manchester,” “eligible country bachelors have asked for my number in village pubs, on the high street, on the beach and at the local fete,” and “It was so refreshing talking about nature and the countryside while sitting and cuddling on hay bales, rather than discussing something vacuous about work in a noisy city bar or club.”

Not only did the article completely misrepresent Shaw (who wasn’t even dating), it made her the laughingstock of her hometown. She ended up suing the Daily Mail for defamation. She was making progress, when she received a threatening phone call saying how high court costs are and that it would be horrid if they had to take her house and business. Shaw responded by saying her house was rented and she was a freelancer, so she didn’t see a problem. Shaw eventually decided on an out-of-court settlement in which the Mail paid her court costs, allowing the tabloid to get away with its fabricated and personally damaging story without having to print a retraction or apology.

3Commander Crackpot


Police Commander for London’s borough of Lambeth, Brian Paddick, was both openly gay and known for a lenient policy on soft drugs. He encouraged officers to simply confiscate cannabis from those caught with it rather than taking up police time and incurring the bureaucratic hassles following an arrest. This allowed officers to concentrate their efforts on Class A drugs more commonly associated with crime. This made him a target of a histrionic opposition campaign by Britain’s right-wing tabloid media. His attempts at outreach for the community also ruffled feathers. Participating in an online debate about policing on the radical website, Paddick admitted to finding some elements of anarchism attractive. This led to censure by more conservative police commanders, and the tabloids dubbed him “Commander Crackpot.”

The Daily Mail paid £100,000 ($160,000) to Paddick’s former partner of five years, James Renolleau, who claimed Paddick had allowed him to smoke marijuana in their shared apartment and flouted Metropolitan Police rules by not reporting that Renolleau was on bail facing criminal charges. The Mail expanded this into a tale of “smoking pot, picking up strangers for sex in public, cruising swim pools for conquests . . . gay saunas and unprotected acts with Aids victims.” Paddick admitted Renolleau’s claims but vehemently denied that he had himself smoked marijuana, successfully suing the Daily Mail in 2003 and receiving damages from the tabloid. Paddick saw the story as part of a campaign to discredit him and his approach to policing: “It’s elements of the media that are ultra conservative and take grave exception to police officers using that sort of language—suggesting radically different approaches—and find the idea of an openly gay man in any position of authority abhorrent, not the police service.”

2Professional Women Cause Autism


The causes of autism are poorly understood, but in 2011, the Daily Mail was sure it was probably women’s fault. In an article entitled “Is the changing role of women in our society behind the rise in autism in the past 30 years?,” the Mail introduced a theory by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin to the comedian Sacha), speculating that behavior known as “assortative mating” may be behind the rise of the phenomenon. Baron-Cohen believes there are two kinds of brains: male brains, which are systemizing and driven to analyze, explore, and construct systems, and female brains, which are empathizing and driven to interpret and analyze emotions.

There are a range of issues with his phrasing, considering it echoes worn sexist sentiments and his own research indicates half of males lack “male brains” and half of females lack “female brains.” His theory on autism states that “systemizers” who intermarry—such as the population of engineers, technicians, and computer scientists in places like Silicon Valley—are more likely to produce children with “extreme male brains,” aka autism. The Daily Mail took this theory and speculated that the rise of women in the workforce was the root cause of this assortative mating. The reasoning was that 100 years ago, intelligent women were not in demand, and professional men were more likely to marry slow-minded, good-looking women.

Today, however, smart, successful men are preferring smart, successful women—and the end result? Autism. The London Feminist argued that two main implications of the article are that women become more “male-brained” by entering the workforce and that they should forsake their careers for the sake of their children’s well-being. The theory is dubious at best, and the Mail‘s extrapolations are laughable, but it is part of a recognizable trend of blaming mothers for their children’s autism. The difference is that in the mid-20th century, autism was blamed on mothers being too emotionally cold, called “refrigerator mothers.” Now, it seems, it’s mothers’ fault for being too smart.

1Sandy Loot Crew

Fighting at Gothenberg EU Summit

The venerable online activist crew known as the Gay N—er Association of America (GNAA) decided to have some fun with racist assumptions in the media, and the Daily Mail fell for it hook, line, and sinker. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the GNAA began posting to the Twitter hashtag #SandyLootCrew images of African Americans (including some GNAA members) pretending to steal as many ludicrous items as they could think of, along with over-the-top comments. These included a woman holding a mannequin (“LAST NIGHT EVEN MOMMA GOT OUTTA HER HOUSE TO LOOT ME A NEW SHIRT . . . LUV U MOMMA”), a kitten (“N–GA I JUS STOLE A CAT OUTTA SUM1S HOUSE GET ON MY LEVEL”), and a wide-screen television (“PICS OF MY BOY DEMARCUS SWIPING THAT TV”). The original photos were either unrelated to looting or connected to earlier events like Hurricane Francis and Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the fact that those posting on #SandyLootCrew didn’t make any effort to hide that they were experienced Internet trolls, the Daily Mail took the whole thing as fact, claiming #SandyLootCrew were behind a massive wave of lootings throughout New York, stealing everything from alcohol and electronics to diapers and Kit-Kats and then bragging about it on Twitter. GNAA president Leon Kaiser was relaxed about backlash over the epic trolling: “I’m not worried. I’ve gotten scores of death threats and whatnot for doing this, and I do this sort of thing a lot. They get old after a while. If anything were to fan the flames of looting, it’d be the irresponsible handling of this story by the media. Anyone who takes ‘N–GA I JUST STOLE A CAT OUTTA SUM1S HOUSE GET ON MY LEVEL’ at face value probably shouldn’t be working in the news industry.”

David Tormsen probably won’t be working in a freelance capacity for the Daily Mail any time soon.

fact checked by Jamie Frater