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UK tabloids compete for fish wrappery

by Phil Plait, Feb 18 2009

Whenever I wonder if US news is the worst on the planet, I just need to look east, across the Atlantic, to be reassured that we have close competition. I swear, the UK newspaper The Mirror has a bet with The Sun to see which of them can have more ridiculous articles*.

The latest volley in this war is about (drum roll please): the Moon Hoax. Yes, The Mirror has discovered this 40 year old rotting piece of cabbage and is serving it up like a fine box wine. Breathlessly marked "EXCLUSIVE" — as if they are the first to have stumbled on this news — the article goes on and on about the usual tired and long, long-debunked claims of the Moon Hoax crowd.

This article is slightly different than most "fair" articles on these topics in that the writer, Dennis Ellam, actually does give explanations for some of the dumb conspiracy claims, but also uses a writing tone that is somewhat sarcastically dismissive when discussing them. I’ve seen this many times; it allows the writer to fan the flames of the conspiracy while also innocently claiming that they present both sides.

Ellam was pretty confused over the provenance of the conspiracy though. After a description of some of the claims, he then says, "But the HBs [Hoax Believers; a term I coined back in 2001] have begun to gather important allies." Who would these important allies be? Why, Bill Kaysing! But Kaysing originated the Moon hoax idea, so how could the HBs have gathered him as an ally? And Ellam, like every other conspiracy-fanner, neglects to mention that Kaysing had some pretty crazy ideas, like that any kind of space travel is impossible and that NASA blew up Challenger on purpose to keep Christa MacAuliffe from revealing the truth about NASA’s fakery.


Ellam also quotes astronaut Brian O’Leary as saying it’s possible the landings weren’t real. That quotation — unattributed in the article, for shame — comes from the wretched Fox TV show back in 2001, and O’Leary claims he was taken out of context, in fact now saying quite succinctly that the landings were real.

Ellam also relates the incident where Buzz Aldrin punched Bart Sibrel as the act of a guilty man lashing out against a truth-seeker… when we know for a fact that Sibrel was harassing Aldrin and physically intimidating him. Sibrel tried to sue Aldrin for the punch, and the judge threw the case out of court.

Ellam presents all these points in a very misleading way, but all of them are easily debunked. He could have trivially fact-checked them by contacting either me or Jay Windley (who runs the website, another Moon Hoax mythbusting site). It’s not like either of us is very hard to find when it comes to this conspiracy; perhaps typing "Moon Hoax" into Google was too much trouble.

So why bother checking your facts, backing up your claims, or doing, y’know, research, when instead you can write something destined to stir controversy where none exists?

I guess, in the end, people in the UK need something to line their birdcages, and The Mirror is only too happy to provide.

Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to Peter Backus.

* As you may recall, The Mirror recently had an article claiming a UFO hit a wind turbine, while The Sun had a grossly exaggeratedly article about life creating methane on Mars (and The Mirror also had a terrible article about that as well).

17 Responses to “UK tabloids compete for fish wrappery”

  1. RationalCub says:

    This page provides all the proof that you could require that the moon landings were a hoax; picking apart the footage scene by detailed scene:

    … :)

  2. Infomancer says:

    Phil, its almost af if you would believe that anyone in the yellow press (or most of the rest of the media) is actually interested in proper journalism, when its so much easier to sell papers with bogus bull like this.
    Most of them know they are selling snake oil to the masses, they just don’t care as long as it secures their pay cheques.

    – A slightly cynical and hugely disillusioned ex-media bloke

  3. Harry the Skeptic says:

    Good article Phil! Someone should tell the folks at “stuff you should know” podcast that there’s no controversy. On one of their latest podcast they talked about the ” Moon Hoax” and they tried not to go one way or another it’s pretty misleading for a podcast that so many people listen to.

  4. Cambias says:

    I think the whole massive lie denying that the Moon landings took place is more profound than just a desire to sell papers or attract TV viewers. It is an assault on science, on rationality, and on the United States.

    They take the greatest achievement of humankind — travel to another world — and try to cheapen and degrade it. “It didn’t happen. It’s all a big dirty lie. It’s impossible.”

    It appeals to people who cannot achieve anything. It comforts them to think that there are no real achievements, that true heroes are liars, that the whole world is as small and sordid as their own imaginations.

  5. tmac57 says:

    I have just seen a secret Government document that conclusively proves that the supposed ‘internet’ does not exist!!! It is all part of the great ‘misinformation’ campaign to keep us all dumb and compliant.
    Looks like it is working!!!
    P.S. If you are reading this, then you are part of the conspiracy.

  6. Mike says:

    The Mirror and The Sun are an utter disgrace and not worthy of the name NEWSpapers as their stock in trade is tittle tattle, titillation and salacious gossip. They are not referred to as the ‘gutter press’ in the UK without reason. Please do not use these newspapers as example of British journalism when there are much more worthy journals around.

    Personally I would not use them to wipe my ar*e!

  7. tmac57 says:

    Mike, I think you misspelled arse. Just trying to be helpful ;)

  8. Die Anyway says:

    I’ve never quite understood why the deniers don’t think we could have gone there. It’s only in the neighborhood of 240,000 miles. There are cars driving around with more miles than that, so it’s not like we can’t make machinery that will travel that far. Do they think it’s too technical? Have they ever looked at the control center of a nuclear power plant? The command center on an aircraft carrier? A modern, nuclear submarine that can stay submerged for 6 months? And they don’t think we can toss a bus sized object up to the moon and back? Give me a break. Going to the moon easily passes the “reasonableness” test.

  9. Mastriani says:

    LOL … you’ve got to be kidding me.

    Beyond all possible understanding. I thought this little gem of mental dysfunction had died long ago.


  10. Max says:


    Faking the moon landing and covering it up would’ve been quite an achievement in itself, perhaps even more difficult than a real moon landing.

    To be sure, certain conspiracy theories appeal to certain people. But even in general, conspiracy theorists are oftena compensating for being losers. It makes them feel special and in-the-know.

  11. tmac57 is quite right – the internet does not exist and Al Gore did not invent it.

  12. Us old folk have noticed that certain myths are cyclical. Including its original emergence, this is the third time “The Moon Landing Was Hoaxed!” has surfaced. I think it has to do now with generations of internet users – each new gen finds some reference to a myth prior to finding the info that thoroughly debunks it. I predict the same thing will happen in 5-10 years with the Roswell idiocy, and with 9/11/01 conspiracy theories when that date hits an aniversarial milestone, say 20 years in 2021. Ignorance is a phoenix.

  13. tmac57 says:

    DA, “Ignorance is a phoenix”.. great line. How about phonynix?

  14. Mastriani says:

    the internet does not exist and Al Gore did not invent it.


    Blue pill, blue pill!!!

    I see nothing here.

  15. Fraser says:

    I can certainly understand escapist appeal of these rags but I am constantly amazed and disturbed by their widespread popularity and the political clout that follows from this. How can you publish topless girls on page 3 everyday and expect to be taken seriously! I sometimes think the Home Office is an arm of the Sun.

  16. bill babishoff says:

    Why can’t we be skeptical about the supposed moon landing. There is a huge body of evidence suggesting a hoax, far more than Mr. Kaysing has offered up, and relatively nothing but the “good word” of our space program to prove we did land on the moon. AS the old saying goes the proof is in the pudding. If we went there in 1969 we should be able to go there now, but we can’t. If you get videotape of these moon “landings” and play them on a vcr with a jog shuttle you can easily see how the recording speeds have been altered to fool us. The dust falls as it does on earth. The golf swing is my personal fave. It would be ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to swing a golf club in near zero gravity. The torque of the backswing would have sent him spiraling backwards before he could have hit the ball. THINK ABOUT IT! WE WERE HOAXED!!!

  17. Jeshua says:

    This whole thing about the Moon land hoax is a reminder that many people, especially undereducated people, like to believe weird things. But unfortunately many educated people fall in the same trap.
    I was shocked recently by an old friend who was a high-school classmate.

    We lost touch after high school, but ran into each other again through a friend of my brother. We were traveling in a car at night when he looked up at the moon and said, “Do you think one day that we’ll be able to explore the pyramids on the moon, the ones that are just like the pyramids in Egypt?” I asked him where he learned that bit of nonsense. He hesitated and looked at me in disbelief before he told me that he hadn’t read it, it was just something that “everybody knew.” And he is an elementary school teacher who comes from a family of teachers!