Richard Ackland doubts that Media Watch will ever come back so Crikey has a new weekly column called Dr Stupid, pointing out some of the bigger mistakes by our media experts.

Speaking of dumb, Dr Stupid has been fuming all summer over the Daily Telegraph’s incomprehensible preview of the Second Test in Perth back in December. The paper declared that bowler Brett Lee might bowl the fastest delivery ever recorded, assisted by the extremely fast Perth pitch.

The Telegraph has evidently discovered a flaw in the laws of physics whereby a cricket ball can be made to accelerate once it has left the bolwer’s hand. Truth is, no matter what the qualities of the pitch, the speed of a cricket ball decreases over distance. On some surfaces – so-called “fast” pitches – it decreases at a lesser rate than on others.

In any case, Lee’s deliveries are at their quickest before they hit the wicket. He’s as likely to send down his fastest delivery in Bombay as he is in Perth.

Craig Lowndes, said to be Australia’s fastest racing driver, is the subject of a genuinely bizarre front-page rave in the latest Weekend Australian. Lowndes has swapped his speedy Holden for a Ford, prompting writers Paul Toohey and Peter Krupka to rant about father-son allegiances, political party ties, and “a world where prejudice is allowed” and “hate must be vocalised.”

I have no idea what they are talking about, but it’s clear from a quick scan of their article that Toohey and Krupka live in a world where basic research errors are allowed and dopey analysis must be vocalised. Lowndes, they write, wants to drive his new car in “the Melbourne Grand Prix in March”, where “the grand prix is only a show race, a curtain raiser for Formula 1.” Wrong. The Grand Prix is the race for Formula One cars.

They also claim Lowndes “has been unable to show he can fill the boots” of retired Holden driver Peter Brock: “Holden wanted to see more wins.” MORE wins? Lowndes has only driven full-time for four seasons, during which he’s won the national title three times. It took Brock 11 years to do the same. Toohey and Krupka (both usually trusted with more serious subjects, which is a concern) don’t have a clue.

Which brings us to Bob Ellis, whose piece on tree-felling in Tasmania in the SMH’s Good Weekend was notable for its picture of “mourners atop the stump of a 400-year-old regnans, cut down to make way for a logging road.” Some mourners. Most of them are laughing and smiling.

Just as bewildered is Phillip Adams in the Weekend Australian’s Review. A week or so back he informed readers that helium is an explosive gas (wrong; helium, like Phil himself, is inert.) On Saturday he offered this puzzling advice: “Cyberspace is becoming a spiritual place, a realm for faith as much for commerce. Let your fingers do the walking to and just follow the prompts.”

“Fingers do the walking”? “Follow the prompts”? No wonder Phil is confused. He thinks his telephone is a PC.

Dr Stupid’s previous contribution

As if to celebrate Dr Stupid’s debut column, the Sydney Morning Herald rushed a special all-stupid edition out for Monday, January 22.

Continuing the specialist writers theme, SMH motoring expert Joshua Dowling contributed a front-page report on a terrible menace set to invade Sydney like so many Panzer tanks – the frightening Mercedes-Benz ML55.

Why, this monster four-wheel-drive can hit 232 km/h, Josh reported – it can “outrun the quickest police pursuit car.” Well, you know how the rich eastern suburbs society dames forking out $147,000 for these sorts of vehicles are always getting involved in high-speed police chases.

Dowling, an early candidate for Beat-Up Merchant Of The Year, declared that “safety experts” were worried about the super Merc “as suburbs move to 50 km/h zones.” I hereby pledge that if anyone is caught driving a Mercedes-Benz ML55 at more than 200 km/h in any of Sydney’s 50 km/h zones, I will get a trademark Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star tattooed on my arse.

Last-minute pardons issued by Bill Clinton confused the SMH, which named the outgoing President’s coke-snorting half-brother as “Roger Bush”. Still on US politics, check out the SMH’s bold claim in a page 10 summary of Clinton’s legacy: “We found 10 prominent Americans generally felt cheated by the Clinton legacy.”

We? WE? The piece was lifted from The Guardian, which in turn compiled the list from already published reports. The SMH merely “found” this article.

And in the SMH’s TV Guide, film writer Robin Oliver -yet another specialist – perpetuates the myth of Ava Gardner’s anti-Melbourne line: “I’m here to make a film about the end of the world and this sure is the place for it.” Gardner denied making the observation, says Oliver, but wished she had.

Why is there even any debate? Former Melbourne Age film critic Neil Jillet ‘fessed up years ago: it was he who invented the ‘end of the world’ line and attributed it to Miss Gardner. Still, who can blame Oliver for not reading The Age?

More stupidity abounds

I love specialist reporters. They can always be trusted to get everything right, except in their actual area of expertise. A few years ago, for example, The Australian employed a rural affairs specialist who didn’t know the difference between a rifle and a gun. Rural folk tend to take these distinctions seriously.

A week or so ago, Ros Reines – the highly paid silicon container at Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph – filled a few centimetres of her celebrity gossip column with some speculation over which showbiz personalities might front for George W. Bush’s inaugural ball. Reines, the expert on all things showbizzy, delivered the stunning information that Barbra Streisand would be a no-show.

Really, Ros? Considering Streisand is a major fundraiser and advocate for the Democrats – a fact known to most people on earth – this ain’t hardly news. Streisand singing for Dubya would be like Peter Garrett campaigning for John Howard. As it happened, Babs spent the week leading up to the inauguration busily calling US senators in a bid to overturn John Ashcroft’s nomination. But Reines is obviously fixated on Streisand’s pre-political career; she’ll always be Funny Girl to out-of-date Ros.

(Editor’s note: I can’t win with Ros who Crikey is usually on friendly terms with. Last week Hillary called her a “porn star” so Ros was on the phone accusing me of breaching the sisterhood. I explained that as Crikey editor I have no control over what our star columnist writes. Lo and behold, another guest columnist crops up this week and poor old Ros cops its again. At least I am risking this columnist’s wrath having removed a couple of his stronger adjectives describing Ros. Sister, you’d never tolerate someone doing that to your column so please understand that your “I hold you responsible for everything on that site” is a little harsh? We journalists who dish it out have to learn to take it as well.)

Still on US politics, Fiona Stewart of Melbourne’s Sunday Age this week penned a dull column about George W. not being so bright. Stewart is the director of Realworld Research and Communications, and describes herself as “an e-learning analyst, online researcher and a new economy analyst and commentator.”

Well, analyse this: midway through her lumbering article, Stewart writes: “All this renders rather spooky Nostradamus’ prediction that in the 12th month of the millennium the village idiot will be acclaimed leader.”

Yes, “online researcher” Stewart has fallen for the oldest online trick in the book: the hoax e-mail. Back in December, an e-mail began circulating which claimed that in 1555, old Nosty predicted that: “Come the millennium, month 12, In the home of the greatest power, The village idiot will come forth, To be acclaimed the leader.”

Bollocks. Scour everything Nostradamus ever wrote and you won’t find anything like this. More to the point, don’t scour Nostradamus; just search the Web, as you’d expect an online researcher to do. You’ll quickly discover a number of Nostradamus sites debunking the “village idiot” myth.

Here’s a prediction: Dr Stupid is in for a busy year. Come the 12th month, Dr Stupid’s list of stupid media errors will be longer than a Col Allan lunch. That’s all for now, babies. Stay stupid.

(Editor’s note: Please send in any tragic media bloopers to Crikey and we’ll onpass them to Dr Stupid for his assessment and ranking. Our favourite over the past decade has to be Ian Moore’s effort in the Sunday Herald Sun which hit the streets after the 1993 federal election with “Hewson in Photo Finish”.)

Peter Fray

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