People sometimes talk about enjoying “behind the scenes” documentaries because it shows “how the sausage gets made”. Would you want to see how a sausage gets made? It sounds disgusting.
Well, the morbid among us had an insight into how the journalistic sausage gets made yesterday. The Independent, the Evening Standard, WalesOnline and MyLondon all published a story by a young reporter from the Press Association introducing us to “Jerome Johnson”, a wheelchair-bound victim of muscular dystrophy who loves his XL Bully support dog, Jennie, and yet backs a ban because, “I think it would be selfish for me to say otherwise — too many children have lost their lives.”
Heartening! “Bully Watch UK” promoted the story, adding — in a now deleted post — “Thank you Jerome for speaking out. It’s incredible what you’ve done with Jennie.”
Incredible indeed! The story raised a lot of questions. The first was, quite how gullible can you be?
Why would a disabled man have an XL Bully as a support dog? How could he “rewire her brain” to stop her ripping through “multiple tyres on [his] wheelchair”? How did he know she had been “bred to fight for a county lines drug dealing operation in nearby Thornton Heath”? How, if he is “unable to move, other than a few fingers”, was he able to sit up straight in the photo that accompanied the article? Why did it look so much like it had been made by an AI? (A quick trip to “AI or Not” confirms that it was.)
“Jerome” posts under the Twitter handle @jeromeh8swoke, where he announces himself to be a “disability benefits claimant” and a “former Men’s Mental Health Coach”. The journalist got in touch with him after he posted “this Conservative government wants to take away my benefits and now my XL Bully assistance dog”, writing:
Hi Jerome, I hope you are well. I’m a journalist @PA. I saw your post about your XL Bully assistance dog, would you mind sending me a DM for a quick chat?
And so one of the finest trolls Parliament Square has ever seen began.
Everyone makes mistakes (or, er, several mistakes in quick succession). How the Press Association, the Independent and the Evening Standard have so little oversight is another question, and the extent to which the media relies on cheap, quick human interest stories, pumped out by poor young reporters seven days a week, is another entirely.
Still, one shouldn’t be too earnest about it. If the state of the media has produced entertainment like this then it has at least one virtue.
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