View from Amol Rajan: The inconvenient truths that spoil a good headline

 

Share
Related Topics

To a much greater extent than is generally acknowledged, we use events to justify conclusions we were already minded to make.

Yesterday I noticed, for instance, a small story almost hidden away on that notorious organ of truth, the Daily Mail website. Excuse me if I reproduce a bit of it. "Toxicology results confirm there were no illegal substance in Amy Winehouse's system at the time of her death", the headline screamed. Then came part of a statement from the singer's family: "Results indicate that alcohol was present but it cannot be determined as yet if it played a role in her death."

Hang on a second. Is it my imagination, or did we have a full week of frenzied speculation, in tabloids, on Twitter, and in the blogosphere about her outrageous last bender, the final flirtation with narcotics that her heart just couldn't handle? I think we did, Lord Copper. And now, with a horribly inconvenient news story, all those acres of newsprint are exposed as ignorant tosh from hacks paid to inject drama intotheir writing.

Of course we must wait for the full inquest to report in October, but suddenly her father Mitch's claim at the funeral, that Amy had "conquered" her drug addiction – ridiculed at the time – seems plausible.

The nonsense spouted about the singer's awful death suggests a conflict between the demands on headline writers and the truth. It also proves how many of us make the facts servant to our prejudices, rather than the other way round.

This isn't just true for celebrities. For instance, political columnists, those self-appointed arbiters of public morality, can usually be relied upon to treat any economic data as confirmation of their long-established political bias. You can't get onto Question Time by saying: "I've changed my mind. Perhaps, on balance, Osborne was right to prioritise cutting debt after all."

It's a shame really, because the partisan mind gets boring after a while, and in the age of instant news and opinion, we'd all be better off if we stopped to consider inconvenient truths. Scepticism can be boring – "Unclear whether Winehouse was intoxicated in final hours, but small chance, given chequered history" is the sort of headline a sub-editor would get sacked for – but it might make for better journalism. In any case, it's the least we owe poor Mitch, never mind Amy.

Simon Kelner is away

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Several police officers walk near downtown Ottawa  

Nigel Farage on the Ottawa shooting: It could just as easily happen on the streets of London

Nigel Farage
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?