Rumours that the Observer’s Editor will get the push because of the paper’s MMR idiocy

28 Sep

I’m sure readers of this blog will remember the jaw-dropping idiocy of the Observer and Denis Campbell’s recent front page MMR/autism coverage. I’ve been preparing a post looking at how the Observer’s inaccurate 1/58 figure for UK autism prevalence has spread through the Internet (encouragingly, it looks like a good proportion of bloggers and mainstream journalists have been bright enough not to swallow this nonsense) when a little birdy forwarded me this intriguing – but unverified – piece of gossip:

Keep an eye on the Observer over the next weeks. The rumour in the week that editor Roger Alton had got the push/resigned not entirely without foundation as there is now a huge wedge between the Guardian and The Observer…This is the result of news ed Kamal Ahmed getting to keep his job – the result of an investigation into the embarrassment over the MMR splash that wasn’t a story of two months ago…The Scott Trust got involved, editor Roger Alton had to go to before them and receive six of the best like a naughty schoolboy.

It’s interesting that it has had to come to this: when I discussed some of the problems with the Observer’s autism coverage with their Readers’ Editor, he was clear that the decision on whether to retract the Observer’s embarrassing autism coverage (or issue a proper apology) was for the Editor to make, and Alton had chosen not to issue a retraction. If this rumour is correct, it looks like Alton may be paying the price for failing to retract an embarrassingly poor-quality piece of ‘journalism’.

Hopefully the rumour is accurate, and Alton will face the consequences of his actions. I think it is entirely appropriate that – if a newspaper Editor publishes something both stupid and damaging on their front page, then refuses to retract the story – their career should suffer as a consequence of this. It is also encouraging if the Scott Trust has got involved in dealing with this mess, and has taken decisive (albeit slightly slow) action. The Quackometer’s Observer Apology Counter makes it 11 weeks without a proper apology for or retraction of the Observer’s MMR idiocacy – maybe a new Editor will be able to deal with this mess before the counter goes past unlucky 13?

UPDATE: now also blogged by Shinga, here.


5 Responses to “Rumours that the Observer’s Editor will get the push because of the paper’s MMR idiocy”

  1. Shinga September 28, 2007 at 10:05 #

    You have been very diligent about pursuing corrections to The Observer stories, Jon. It will be interesting to see how this plays out because although it would be gratifying to speculate that this is a watershed and may encourage others to be more responsible in their medical reporting, it is important that The Observer retracts these canards.

  2. Jon September 28, 2007 at 14:54 #

    thanks Shinga – it’s definitely important that the Observer retracts, and hopefully this will encourage more responsible reporting in the future.

  3. Sharon September 28, 2007 at 17:29 #

    Well done for sticking to this one.

    And if the editor is told ‘you’re fired’ over that idiotic story and his baffling refusal to retract in the light of so much evidence, well, woo hoo!

  4. Isles September 28, 2007 at 19:27 #


  5. Jon September 28, 2007 at 23:42 #

    thanks for the comments. I don’t think the story in itself would have been enough to justify a firing/’encouraging to leave’ – but when compounded by the failure to retract or issue a proper apology…?

    By the way, have just noticed that Channel 4 have still got the dodgy 1/58 statistic on their website – about a month and a half after I contacted them and explained why this was incorrect. Insert banging-head-on-wall emoticon here…

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