Thursday, August 8, 2013

Less Than Meets the Eye

See update below.

When H meets I

Okay, so I’m perusing an article by Stuart Heritage in the Guardian’s Shortcuts blog and the first words to meet my eyes are “eyeball-licking.” Eyeball-licking! Yuck! Who in their right mind would ever do such a thing? Then I read where it says “this is an article about oculolinctus, an eye-licking fetish that is currently sweeping across the schools of Japan.” 

Oh Japan, that explains it, 'nuff said. No reason for me or anybody else to bother lifting the lid on this story and giving it a second look. Nothing out of the ordinary here, just another link in a long chain of weird news stories that seem to be more often than not made in Japan for some odd reason. 

Fortunately Tokyo-based writer, Mark Schreiber, did take a second look. He discovered that this strange story which was covered by news outlets across the globe not only stretched back to Japan but stretched the truth to its extreme limits. Writing in the Number 1 Shimbun, Schreiber says that “it was not especially difficult to at least cast doubts on the sweeping claim that large numbers of Japanese adolescents were suffering from an epidemic of tongue-induced pink eye.” 

While I admittedly have no idea what the Guardian’s intrepid reporter did to get his story, the urban myth-buster from Tokyo went so far as to practice journalism (go figure), contacting a couple of Japanese ophthalmological associations, a school clinicians’ organization and other medical professionals. “None of them had the faintest idea of what I was talking about,” Schreiber says, which leads me to believe that there is a lot less to the Guardian’s story than meets the eye. 



Further reading:

Read "Lick This!" by Mark Schreiber to learn more about how the tale of a fake fad made in Japan made its way to the pages of newspapers, etc. all around the globe. 



Find, or file your own, related reports at MediaBugs.org (a sort of crowd-sourced news correction service) under "Recent Bugs."




One more thought: 

In taking a good hard look at the source of this story, Schreiber discovered it to be Butch (Bucchi) News, a questionable website produced by Core Magazine. Core is a less-than-reputable institution whose offices, Schreiber notes, were “raided by police on suspicion of obscenity last April.” Not only that, the editor of one of Core’s biggest magazines, Schreiber points out, “had the distinction of becoming the first person in Japan arrested under new laws banning child pornography.”  



I am a parent of a Japanese adolescent so this hoax did hit kind of close to home but I’m pretty certain no parent anywhere in the world would want to have his or her child looked upon through a distorted lens like the one held up by Naver Matome or Butch News.

A version of this post was originally published on MediaBugs.org.



Update 

In the Guardian: "The readers' editor on… how we fell into the trap of reporting Japan's eyeball-licking craze as fact."

In his August 25 Open Door column, Chris Elliott, the readers' editor for the Guardian, cites an apology from writer Stuart Heritage and notes how the paper dropped the ball on this story.

Heritage is a popular and witty writer for an excellent paper, the Guardian. The Guardian was certainly not alone in reporting on this trend that was not but its fix to the story puts it head and shoulders above the pack of less responsible media outlets who refuse to set the record straight.

24 comments:

  1. Astounding how major media editors are not fact-checking and publishing increasingly bizarre stories on Japan. In the 90's, media critics called this the English-language media's "Quirky Japanese" trope. But at least published stories were sourced in verified facts.

    ABC (along with the tabloid "Daily Mail") published a false on "mutant Fukushima vegetables". ABC acknowledged they did not fact-check.

    Some media outlets are not adhering to even minimum professional standards...

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  2. Thanks for reading this long post.

    As far as Japan being weird - well, I guess it is but no more weird than anyplace else that I know of. People are strange no matter where you go (especially if they are strangers). I'm not sure why the Western media is so quick to report on these quirky Japan stories and why their readers are so willing to believe but I think it might be worth researching.

    The lack of fact-checking is astounding. I guess the fact-checkers are casualties of the Internet Age, which has seen so many newspapers put out to pasture. Still if the news isn't truthful, it's not even worth the paper its printed on. This was kind of a silly little story (although it did misrepresent an entire country) but I think the same thing happens with the really important stuff like reporting on WMD and, as you mentioned, Fukushima, etc. So I think if people can get reporters to set the record straight when they mess up with even the small stuff, they'll be more careful about the bigger issues.

    I contacted the Washington Times, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle who all reported on this fake fad. So far, believe it or not, the Huff Post is the only one who responded. In fact they added a correction to their story with a reference to Mark Schreiber's article, and published a whole new story about this hoax heard around the world!

    If you've gotten this far - thanks for reading my long reply.



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  3. Of course Japan is no more weird than any other place. What is weird is that this media stereotype is still being propagated: the meta-message of many Japan "news" stories. Scholars trace it back to Orientalism of the 19th century, when white writers routinely caricatured non-whites. The "Quirky Japanese" trope may be compared to "Shuffling Negro" image. Asian American and African American (and now Arab American) scholars have done much research, analysis on this bias.

    Guessing the ABC, Daily Mail, other editors who don't fact-check are influenced by these archaic preconceptions without conscious knowledge. Many recent Hollywood films, including those by intelligent directors, have depicted Japanese in odd, even creepy ways.

    Many thanks for your post and reply. Actually first saw the story in your news feed and read the original, then your post.

    Find these kinds of errors and lack of correction troubling - especially at the Guardian. Took a look; it doesn't appear that the writer has any Japan credentials. Probably the same for his editor.

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    1. Yes! You've crystallized my thoughts clearly. I suspect you are absolutely right about the dynamic at work behind these stories. I said they misrepresent an entire country but it goes beyond that and maybe it's really not such a silly endeavor to combat this kind of stereotype in the media. Those kinds of negative images and words do shape the way people think and maybe they are part of the reason why 68 years ago today it was so easy for the US to commit what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called "the most racist, nastiest act by this country [the US], after human slavery," the bombing of Nagasaki.

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  5. Wrote to the Guardian's reader editor, asking if their standards are different for bloggers than for their Japan correspondent whose work is professional and reliable.

    Agree, it is important to bring attention to these inaccurate and unchecked "stories." It's astonishing that, even after the mistake was brought to the attention of senior editors, major media outlets would not remove the stories or include corrections.

    What's going on? Are we reverting back to yellow journalism as the standard for mass media?

    Disseminating inaccurate and negative stereotypes is a form of violence aimed at those being stereotyped. Inaccurate sensationalized stories also degrade journalism as a profession. It's a lame way to try to increase readership.

    Constructive critical journalism like Mark Schreiber's article at the FCCJ's journal is a public service as well as great investigative journalism.

    Will post on this at our blog in September, after O'Bon break.

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    1. Great! I look forward to reading it and maybe hearing what the Guardian's reader editor had to say, if anything.

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  6. I'm using the MediaBugs website to fix but also kind of catalog these stories that have helped to spread this hoax heard around the world. In part I hope to get an answer to Schreiber's question, "does anybody really care?" I think the responses or lack thereof will also help paint a better picture of the media landscape and perhaps put these kind of tall tales, about Japan in particular, into perspective (see comments above). Anyone can file a report on the MediaBugs website and since there are many similar stories out there I hope a few people will be interested in bearing the torch.

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  8. Yes, some still care about journalism standards and ethics, reporting and speaking the truth.

    Kyoto Journal posted Schreiber's article on their FB page. The Smithsonian and some other outlets published on the viral hoax; most of this coverage was good, but one of the stories (minor web outlet) blamed the dissemination not on bad journalism, but on Japan for being "weird."

    If we had seen the urban myth story at The Japan Times, Mainichi, Asahi, Kyodo, The Wall Street Journal (reportage is excellent, even if the editorial page only offers one ideological POV), that would indicate a huge problem. But mostly only tabloids and bloggers propagated this wild hearsay.

    BTW, Melvin Van Peebles' "Classified X" is a brilliant exploration of stereotypes of African Americans in the media and how he was hurt by those stereotypes while growing up. This film deepened my understanding of the violence of negative stereotypes. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUDDPkcCfQE)

    Cornel West and other scholars trace these kinds of demeaning stereotypes of non-whites to 19th-century media caricatures used to justify imperialistic domination of Asia, Africa, and Latin America; slavery, Jim Crow, and seizure of Native American lands. Of course, racist images of Jews, Irish, go even farther back in history.

    Social psychologists say these are all forms of scapegoating, blaming the victim for psychological domination that accompanied institutionalized white supremacy. Japanese Americans say that the psychological violence now directed towards people of Arab, South Asian heritage is parallel to what they endured during the WWII incarceration.

    Going to follow Schreiber in the future. Many thanks for your post and this dialogue. Hope all in Temple Valley have a good O'Bon...(Apologies for deletes: typos)

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  9. FYI: http://jimromenesko.com/2013/08/20/morning-report-for-august-20-2013/

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  10. Thanks for all your support, and I think you will like this:
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/25/guardian-japan-eyeball-licking-craze-hoax

    M.S.

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    1. Thank you! I was glad to read that. I appreciate you sending me the link.

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  11. This mea culpa from South Africa is really well written. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

    http://www.bdlive.co.za/blogs/health/2013/09/02/japanese-eyeballs-internet-anarchy-and-preconceptions

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    1. Thanks Bystander. That was an interesting correction.

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  12. Here's one more, a follow-up in the Sept. issue of No. 1 Shimbun, to add to your database:

    http://no1.fccj.ne.jp/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=974

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  13. APJ just posted the Schreiber article: http://japanfocus.org///events/view/202

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  14. I hadn't seen that. Thanks for keeping me posted!

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  15. Thanks again! http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/12/21/national/the-envelope-please-and-dont-lick-it/#.UrXEYeB4HnY

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    1. OMG thanks for the mention! I enjoyed reading the Japan Times article (especially the part about me). Hope your new year is full of good news.

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  16. Found Media Bugs, the webpage you contributed to; great content. Also some articles of your's from earlier days, terrific analysis and writing. Wanted to wish you and all at Temple Valley a wonderful holiday season and N. Year! Hope all are well! J

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    1. Thanks very much for remembering me and the rest of us in Temple Valley. From the bottom of the hollow I wish you a new year full of peace, joy, and all good things!

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