BBC and The Unbelievable Story Of The Girl Who Bleeds Through Her Eyes

This story was originally published in Spanish on the blog as part of Divorcios por no responder en LINE, chicas que sangran por los ojos y qué le ocurre a la BBC. It’s also included in my book No hemos entendido nada: Qué ocurre cuando dejamos el futuro de la prensa a merced de un algoritmo.

On March 10th 2016, BBC’s website ran a story titled The girl with bleeding eyes and ears – and no diagnosis.

The piece was written by Tracy Ollerenshaw‘s, reporter for Newsbeat, a famous radio news show on BBC 1 focused on stories for young audiences -which has become an euphemism for shocking and often poorly reported stories.

The article was seasoned with several pictures of Marnie-Rae Harvey, a seventeen years old British girl, who, according to Newsbeat, has a rare and undiagnosed illness that make her bleed through her eyes, ears and several other parts of her body.

On March 9th and March 10th, two other British websites known for their appetite for outrageous —and most of the time— fake stories ran their own version of Marnie’s bloody hell. The Sun went with Marnie’s bloody hell: Girl reveals horror of illness that causes her to bleed from the eyes and ears, The Mirror added a bit of drama and capital letters: Girl who BLEEDS from her EYES, EARS and MOUTH describes misery of horrifying condition which leaves her housebound.

Both stories were almost identical, several quotes and snippets were exactly the same, even though none of them mentioned the rival site as a source. The pictures were also the same, both dailies gave credit for them to the «mystery girl», the nickname doctors gave Marnie according to the media sites.

Nor of those articles were Marnie-Rae Harvey story’s debut on British media. Well, to be precise, Marnie Harvie’s story. On December 21st 2015, the reporter Jennifer Tippet published an «exclusive» article on The Sun: The girl who cries BLOOD … the mystery ailment of girl, 18, whose eyes and ears bleed 5 times a day , that covered almost all the same details later revealed by The Sun’s March story, even though there is not a single mention of Tippet’s «exclusive» story, which The Sun ran only two months a half before.

But it was not until Tracy Ollerenshaw, BBC Newsbeat reporter, found Marnie-Rae Harvey, the story got traction on sites all over the world. It seems very safe to say Ms. Ollerenshaw found Ms. Harvey on March 6th. This is a comment the Newsbeat BBC reporter posted on Ms. Harvey’s Instagram account that day:


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If you run a Google search looking for Marnie-Rae Harvey or Marnie Harvie, isolating results until March 6th, the only mention is The Sun’s piece from December 28th 2015. According to Google’s search engine Marnie-Rae didn’t exist for the Internet before that, so it is safe to assume Ms. Ollerenshaw got to know about it because she read Jennifer Tippet’s article for The Sun. Although, she didn’t mention it on the one she published on BBC Newsbeat on March 10th.

Next day, on March 11th, BBC’s Spanish site ran the same story by Tracy Ollerenshaw, now on their Mundo section and titled La joven que sangra por los ojos y nadie sabe por qué.

Once translated, the story got picked up on Spanish language newspapers and news sites all across the world. Some of them credited BBC, others simply copy-pasted it, not even bothering to mention the source. Why should they? Once you have that headline and those pictures who has time for trifles?. Even more if the original story comes from one of the most prestigious news brands in the world.

What all those journalist who lifted the story didn’t know is that nowadays not even BBC has time for trifles. Let’s call trifles the minimum verification process a journalist should go through before filing copy. This would have made all of them question at least the authenticity of those pictures and a headline that combines the words: girl, bleeding, eyes.

If you go through the trifles of BBC’s original story, you will realise all the pictures are credited to Gareth Iwan Jones. All of them: the posed portrait and the other three pictures of Marnie-Rae Harvey bleeding from her eyes and ear, poorly illuminated and with the appearance of being taken with an average phone camera.

Let’s see: Gareth Iwan Jones ( www.garethiwanjones.com) is a professional photographer based in Bristol who regularly publishes celebrity portraits on British media. Let’s say it seems offhand that the same photographer responsible for this:

Or this:


Would be the same guy who selling these pics to the BBC:

So, I sent Mr. Jones a Twitter direct message. He responded immediately and gave me his email address. I emailed him, and he wrote back saying the portrait was his but the other pictures were taken by Marnie herself on her phone.

On a second email, I asked him if he saw Marnie-Rae bleeding while he spent time with her. A few minutes later he responded saying he did not, she didn’t have an «episode» during the session, which lasted a couple of hours.

Also, Mr. Jones told me that if I was interested on the story I should contact Kim from Phoenix Features, «she is Marnie’s media agent and has put the story to the UK media», and he gave me Kim’s email address.

While I was waiting for Mr. Jones’ answer, I also sent an email to BBC Newsbeat’s editor, ultimate responsible for Ms. Ollerenshaw’s story on the bleeding-eyes girl.

Anna Doble emailed me back almost immediately. Short summary: Tracy Ollerenshaw talked to Marnie-Rae Harvey herself; in fact, they had a long chat; «her case seems genuine»; they have more pictures they didn’t use; they talked to Kim from Phoenix Features about the pictures but finally they got them from Marnie; it was Marnie who told them who should be credited for the photographs; they were in contact with Marnie in order to film her next week; and last but not least, the BBC doesn’t pay for stories.

After my first exchange with BBC Newsbeat editor, I contacted Marnie-Rae Harvey myself. It wasn’t hard, a simple Google search led me to a Twitter account on her name. So, I sent her a message. She answered back a few minutes later, and we started an exchange through DM. I introduced myself, explained my interest on her story and asked for an interview. Three short DMs later, Ms. Harvey directed me to her agent, Kim Willis from Phoenix Features. I asked her if that was the only way to get an interview with her and if she thought Ms. Willis would charge for it. She said yes to both questions. I insisted a bit and asked if Newsbeat BBC’d paid for the story too.

Here, Ms. Harvey lost her laconic style and said:

«Kim runs phoenixs,bbc and all the other reporters have to email kim first to ask about the story and decide a price for the story,I have more pictures of the bleeding which haven’t been published yet,but it depends on what your willing to pay» (sic)

Phoenix Features advertises itself on its website ( http://www.phoenixfeatures.co.uk/ ) as an agency to «sell your story» and promises «getting you the best deal available for your real life story». Straightforward. «Are you looking to sell your story? You’ve come to the right place. We will able to tell straight away if we think we can help you to sell a true life story» (sic)

Which stories sell well? Phoenix Features has the answer:

  • Anything bizzare or heart warming
  • Love against the odds
  • Odd couples, surprise events, acts of friendship
  • Handling Press Attention
  • Funny or Crazy Pictures
  • Health Story
  • Surviving Illness Stories
  • Funny or uplifting Story
  • Amazing Pictures
  • Celebrity Scandal

After browsing Phoenix Features’ site for a while, I sent an email to Kim Willis, asking if it would be possible to interview Marnie-Rae Harvey, the girl who bleeds through her eyes. Willis emailed back 5 minutes later: «Yes, it is potentially possible but you would have to pay to purchase the story / Marnie’s pictures and contact details.»

How much would it cost? What was included on the price tag? Was this the only way to talk to Ms. Harvey’?

£200 pounds for «a copy of my story and a selection of pictures» . Yes, it was the only way.

Would it be possible to be referred to at least one of the physicians treating her?

Yes, but no. First, Ms. Willis said «one of her many doctors would be happy to talk». That said, «Are you confirming £200 all in?»

I insisted I would need to talk to at least one of the physicians. Mr. Willis now said Marnie is «worried that it would offend her doctors. She can give you quotes from her medical notes but doesn’t want to put you in touch with a doctor.»

That was the end of my exchange with Phoenix Features. Few days later I sent Ms. Willis a new email saying I’d need at least one doctor confirming Marnie-Rae’s story. I’ve never heard back from her.

Two weeks after my last exchange with Newsbeat BBC’s editor, Ms. Anna Doble, I sent her an email asking if they had already filmed Marnie-Rae Harvey like she said they will 16 days ago. I also told her I contacted Phoenix Features, but Kim Willis said I had to pay for an interview with Ms. Harvey.

Ms. Doble emailed me back almost an hour later: They haven’t filmed Marnie-Rae, they’ve «decided to give Marnie a month or so before trying to film. We only paid to use the photos.»

I responded immediately: Which pictures? The portrait by Gareth Iwan Jones or the other pictures Marnie-Rae took with her phone?

I also wanted to know if she and the reporter find suspicious the fact that only Marnie and her family had seen the bleeding? Or that Marnie and her PR didn’t want to disclose the name of any of the physicians treating her?

A few hours later, Doble said: «We also spoke to her mother. We paid a very small fee for the images».

I only could insist: Do you normally pay for pictures directly to the source? Isn’t it weird that the mother says the bleeding never stops but Marnie-Rae was not bleeding when your reporter interviewed her (she did interview her in person, right?) or when Gareth photographed her?

Newsbeat BBC’s editor emailed back: «We spoke to her on the phone».

So, this is what I knew so far:

  • A Newsbeat BBC reporter —Tracy Ollerenshaw— published an incredible story about a British teenager who claims she bleeds through her eyes and ears.No one aside the girl herself and her mother had seen her bleed.Newsbeat BBC editor, Anna Doble, admits her reporter, Ms. Ollerenshaw, only interviewed her subject over the phone.
  • An agency, whose business is to sell stories to media outlets, who also represents Marnie-Rae Harvey’s interests, sold the girls’ pictures and testimony to whoever is willing to pay for.Newsbeat BBC editor, Anna Doble, admitted they paid, although only for the pictures.
  • The agency who represents and sells Marnie-Rae Harvey story refused to give the name and contact of any of the numerous physicians who allegedly treated the girl who bleeds through her eyes.
  • Both the reporter and editor of Newsbeat BBC decided that was all ok and went ahead without checking Marnie’s and her mother’s testimony. They don’t have any other source —a neighbor, a school friend, a doctor—, none of them had seen bleed, and they go ahead even when Marnie’s illness is so rare that, if confirmed, it would make her one of only two documented cases of haemolacria —the medical term for those who cry blood— in the world.
  • Hundreds of sites all around the world duplicated the fabulous story of Marnie-Rae Harvey, the girl who bleeds through her eyes and ears, without even pausing to verify it.


Trifles, you know.

At this point I am unable to verify whether Marnie-Rae Harvey really bleeds through her eyes and ears, although it seems highly unlikely. I didn’t pay the £200 her agent, Kim Willis, asked for the story. When I pushed for the doctors’ contact and made it clear that without them I had no story, I never heard from them again.

Ms. Ollerenshaw and Ms. Doble weren’t able to verify the story either. Not with the reporting they had conducted so far. A phone conversation with the girl and the pictures herself charged them for the right to publish are all they had to corroborated an astonishing and groundbreaking medical story. That’s it. Trifles, indeed.

UPDATE

On Wednesday July 26th 2017, after another story published on No hemos entendido nada went viral and drew attention to this one, BBC Mundo’s site deleted La joven que sangra por los ojos y nadie sabe por qué:

So far, they haven’t comment on it. You can still read BBC Newsbeat original article in English.

No, Barack y Michelle Obama no se han divorciado

Hace unos días, un contacto de Facebook me hizo llegar un link a una «noticia» del diario peruano La República acerca del supuesto divorcio del expresidente norteamericano Barack Obama. Por supuesto, picado por la curiosidad, di click y me topé con esto:

Me bastó echar un vistazo al cuerpo de la nota para descubrir que la información de La República acerca del divorcio de Barack y Michelle Obama era tan fiable como las historias de reptilianos y ovnis a las que son tan aficionados sus editores.

Me bastó leer esto para, una vez más, descartar una nota publicada por el site del diario peruano:

De acuerdo con la nota de GLOBE, el medio más vendido en Estados Unidos

Esta es la portada de GLOBE, el supuesto medio más vendido de Estados Unidos según el redactor o redactora de La República:

Por supuesto, GLOBE no es el medio más vendido de Estados Unidos. Ni lo ha sido nunca. Según el más reciente dato de circulación que he podido encontrar, en 2018 su tiraje alcanzaba los 117 mil ejemplares semanales. Según los datos de Alliance for the Audit Media, el organismo que en Estados Unidos verifica los números de circulación de medios, existen más de 60 medios que superan el millón de ejemplares. Y más de un centenar que superan los 120 mil ejemplares sin llegar al millón. GLOBE, como indican los datos de Alliance for the Audit Media, no es uno de ellos. Ni por asomo.

Tan acostumbrado estoy a las mentiras que publica La República en su página web que, en ese momento, no le presté mayor atención. Sin embargo, en los días siguientes vi cómo distintos medios en español repetían en coro la supuesta exclusiva del GLOBE acerca del divorcio –consumado o por llegar– de los Obama:

Por cierto, mientras veía cómo la «noticia» se propagaba, descubrí que en La República habían cambiado su titular. La nota es la misma pero ahora, según el titular, los Obama ya no «se divorcian», sino que Michelle Obama «se divorciaría» de su esposo. De un hecho consumado a uno expresado como posibilidad. Una pequeñez.

Todos estos medios hacían alusión a la supuesta exclusiva de GLOBE, según la cual «Michelle y Barack Obama están peleando de forma feroz mientras llevan vidas separadas, ¡y sus amigos temen que la mala sangre entre ambos hierva hasta el punto de convertirse en un divorcio horrible plagado de escándalos!».

La página de GLOBE es bastante precaria y no ofrece más que pequeños fragmentos de algunas piezas publicadas en su edición impresa, pero ayudándome con la aplicación Pressreader pude encontrar el texto original de la supuesta exclusiva de la revista.

¿Cómo es que saben los periodistas de GLOBE (la nota, por supuesto, no lleva firma) que los Obama se encuentran separados y en medio de una pelea «feroz»? Así (las negritas son mías):

En el corazón de las disputas se encuentra la adicción al trabajo del expresidente –y su evasión de los asuntos familiares– que ha asolado la relación por años y que finalmente ha destrozado su matrimonio, dicen fuentes.

Sus carreras por separado y los problemas de sus desenfrenadas hijas, Malia, de 21, y Sasha, de 18, han hecho trizas la vida familiar, chismean personas con conocimiento (en inglés: «insiders dish»).

«Es un secreto a voces que Michelle quiere más de Barack desde un punto de vista familiar y está increíblemente decepcionada de que él pase tanto tiempo lejos», cotillea una persona con conocimiento (en inglés: «an insider blabs»).

Y así por poco más de 600 palabras: «señala una persona con conocimiento», «delata la fuente», «dice la fuente».

¿Quiénes son esas fuentes o personas con conocimiento de lo que ocurre dentro del hogar de los Obama? Ni idea. En ningún momento la publicación explica cuál es la relación que esas supuestas fuentes tienen con la familia Obama ni por qué los lectores debemos creer lo que señalan. Ya alguna vez he escrito sobre lo delicado que es utilizar fuentes anónimas y la responsabilidad que conlleva de cara a la audiencia. Pero sigamos.

GLOBE es un tabloide norteamericano propiedad hasta hace poco de American Media, Inc, empresa que también editaba otros dos tabloides famosos por sus mentiras, portadas sensacionalistas y escasos escrúpulos periodísticos: el National Enquirer y el National Examiner. En abril, American Media, Inc anunció que vendía los tres semanarios a Hudson News.

La primera de esas publicaciones hermanas de GLOBE quizá les suene de un escándalo reciente. En febrero de 2019, el multimillonario CEO de Amazon, Jeff Bezos, acusó al CEO de American Media, Inc y entonces responsable del Enquirer, David Pecker, de intentar extorsionarlo utilizando unas fotografías en las que aparecía desnudo.

No es el único escándalo en que se han visto envueltos Pecker y American Media, Inc recientemente. En diciembre de 2018, el responsable de American Media, Inc admitió haber pagado a al menos una mujer que aseguraba haber tenido un affaire con Donald Trump para comprar su silencio. Según el texto de cooperación de la compañía con la fiscalía federal:

«Pecker ofreció su ayuda para lidiar con historias negativas acerca del [entonces] candidato presidencial y sus relaciones con mujeres. Entre otras cosas, ayudando a la campaña a identificar ese tipo de historias para que puedan pagar por ellas y así evitar su publicación…Pecker accedió a mantener informado de ese tipo de historias negativas a [Michael] Cohen (el abogado de Donald Trump condenado por mentir ante el Congreso y el Senado de Estados Unidos)».

Todo un modelo a seguir en cuanto a prácticas periodísticas se refiere.

Pero volvamos al GLOBE. El semanario, como explicaba párrafos arriba, no es ni el medio más vendido del Estados Unidos ni tampoco ninguna «prestigiosa revista». Es, como sus hermanos el National Enquirer y el National Examiner, un tabloide de más que dudosa reputación, famoso por portadas escandalosas e información nada fiable, que además tiene una poco sana obsesión con el expresidente Barack Obama.

Echen un vistazo a algunas de las portadas que le ha dedicado:

GLOBE no solo fue uno de los medios más activos a la hora de apuntalar el «birtherism», la famosa teoría de la conspiración según la cual Obama no había nacido en Estados Unidos y, por ende, su elección era ilegal (teoría que el ahora presidente Trump también promovió activamente durante años), sino que lleva un buen tiempo repitiendo que el expresidente es gay y que debido a ello Michelle Obama lo abandonará en cualquier momento. Entre muchas otras mentiras.

Pese a ello, los editores del diario La República, no contentos con difundir una vez la falsa exclusiva del GLOBE, le dedicaron una segunda nota. El día 13 de agosto publicaban este curioso titular:

Voy a repetirlo una vez: «El divorcio de Michelle Obama y Barack toma un nuevo rumbo».

Ya en el cuerpo de la nota podemos leer joyas como esta:

La noticia propalada por Globe fue reproducida en diversos medios y plataformas. No obstante, la pareja que ya lleva 27 años de casados no brindó declaraciones al respecto.

«Diversos medios y plataformas» como nosotros, olvidaron decir.

O esta otra:

La probable razón para Barack Obama y Michelle Obama no se pronuncien sobre lo publicado o le entablen una demanda de difamación, es precisamente, para evitar que lo dicho sobre ellos crezca aún más y alcancen nuevos vuelos. Mientras que Globe, sigue generando ganancias al ofertar su suscripción para poder leer la nota completa de las supuestas exclusivas que vende.

Una más:

No obstante, la reputación de Globe está en contradicho (sic), teniendo en cuenta sus anteriores “grandes exclusivas” como la muerte de la Princesa Diana de Gales, que según la revista habría sido ideada por su exesposo, el Príncipe Carlos, quien luego se lo habría confesado a su madre, la Reina Isabel II, en busca de ayuda para evitar el escándalo.

Ojalá fuera solo la reputación del GLOBE la que se encuentra en entredicho.

Por supuesto, todas esas «grandes exclusivas» –incluida la homosexualidad del expresidente Obama o su nacimiento en África– son falsas. Así como es falso que los Obama se hayan divorciado o estén a punto de hacerlo. No existe una sola información fiable al respecto. Y, debido a ello, ningún medio que se respete en Estados Unidos se ha hecho eco de la supuesta exclusiva del GLOBE.

Pese a ello, varios diarios en Perú, España, México, Chile y el resto del mundo hispanoamericano, optaron por poner la poca credibilidad que les queda en las manos de un semanario sensacionalista adicto a la desinformación. No es la primera vez. Y, conociéndolos, no será la última.