Poor BBC reporting

Just to prove that, despite anything I may have written or said recently, I can still take an anti-BBC view at times, have a quick look at this report on the MyDoom virus. It’s a paragon – of bad writing and slopping reporting.

Firstly, the bad writing. This is actually something that plagues BBCi: the inability of its journalists to manage paragraphs longer than a single sentence. From Elements of Style, the 1918 classic on how to write English, we learn that “as a rule, single sentences should not be written or printed as paragraphs”. Paragraphs give individual topics, and if a topic is so small it only warrants a single sentence, it really should be married to something related to make a larger topic. There’s worse, but it’s minor by comparison to the other issue.

There are two stories here: SCO vs Linux (SCO claims copyright on some parts of Linux; many people, including IBM, disagree, and SCO is busily suing various parties to make its point), and the MyDoom virus. MyDoom has infected hundreds of thousands of Windows computers recently, and was designed to attack the websites of both Microsoft and SCO. Microsoft has been unaffected (partly due to their own security measures, but mostly because the version of MyDoom set to attack them didn’t spread as widely). SCO’s website is unavailable at its normal address at present, and the company is running a website at a different address.

All well and good. The BBC article blurs these two stories together, not bothering to mention Microsoft at all, and making it sound like not only are the two stories inextricably intertwined , but also making Linux supporters out to also be supporters of creating a virus that has caused some amount of havoc, a fair amount of panic, and some financial loss. The article says “there seems little doubt that SCO was targeted because it has enraged many people devoted to the Linux operating system” which, while strictly true, gives the impression that it’s those “many people” who have created MyDoom, not (as is more likely) some loner who doesn’t get on well with other people. By stating “if anyone’s anger has no measure, it is the wrath of internet zealots”, the association is made, plain and clear. That’s getting pretty close to defamation, and if I were, say, Alan Cox – Linux advocate, British citizen, and generally honest and nice chap – I’d probably be writing to Mark Byfod right now asking what the hell they think they’re doing.

And who is stupid enough, in this day and age, to fling around phrases like “it’s hard to see how any website could withstand that kind of clever evil” when talking about a computer nerd? Evil? Has he been talking to Donald Rumsfeld again?

Oh, enough. My rant has died down. Have a good afternoon.

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