Here lies Winterval: 1998-2011?

So, after a lot of resistance – distorted, truth-bending resistance – the Daily Mail have published a correction after Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

Tabloid Watch has charted the great effort the complainant – regular Tabloid Watch reader James – went to in order for the Daily Mail to admit to the simple truth that Winterval was simply a tabloid fiction. As usual the Mail took a month to respond to the complaint – remember the PCC’s slogan is ‘Free, fast, fair’ and that Daily mail editor Paul Dacre keeps defending the PCC as effective – and when they did they argued that:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term “Christmas” refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day.

Much wrangling later they finally issued in print and online the following apology:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Amazingly – in what appears to be a first – the Daily Mail website has also added the same clarification to the bottom of the original article as well. The Daily Mail is to be commended for this – they have done the right thing.

There are a few remaining questions:

  1. Will Melanie Phillips acknowledge the correction in her next column with any sort of apology?
  2. Will Melanie Phillips apologise to me for responding to my polite email pointing her in the direction of my essay on the Winterval myth by claiming that my message was ‘as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive’?
  3. Will she also admit that her claim that my blog post about her was ‘highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action’ was complete rubbish – given that her own newspaper has now had to issue a correction on her behalf?
  4. Will Winterval still be repeated by politicians / journalists and so forth in the same way that it always has done following various previous debunkings?

I will always be tempted to refer back to my initial point on the Winterval myth: the most depressing thing about it isn’t neccesarily its longevity, but the fact that the original story was so clearly completely untrue and contained clear statements from the council that demonstrated this. It should never have been born, let alone be fed until it was big enough for politicians and far right groups alike to befriend.

Anyway, if you’re in the spirit for more on this please feel free to read my piece on Comment is Free. Or, you could settle down and read my lengthy essay on the matter.


  • John Smith says:

    Well done for Tabloid Watch reader James and especially you for seeing this through! This is the kind of thing which you need to put in a lot of work on and be determined about to get there in the end.

  • hannanibal says:

    Well done James! And well done you for your essay. Please e-mail Mel Phillips with a link to the correction and the three letter abbreviation LOL.

  • Congrats Kevin. A victory for common sense and common truth (even though I’m sure the depressingness of the whole affair will live on!)

  • Dave says:

    This is very good. Shame the Mail’s ‘correction’ came several years too late to undo much of the damage this falsehood has caused.

  • Peter PieEater says:

    Yes, nice one. She obviously reacted to you that way because she was embarrassed at being caught out. While you and the followers of this site are never going to agree with Melanie Phillips’s line on most issues, she is not normally sloppy and lazy (unlike certain of her colleagues) – you normally get the impression that she has at least familiarised herself with the source material before setting about putting her characteristic spin on it. But you rumbled her here and she was rattled.

    Definitely a large number of points to you

  • Mike says:

    That was your piece on Comment is Free? I read that and thought it was excellent. Hope you can write more stuff for the Guardian.

  • Rob says:

    Do keep us informed of how MM’s libel action is coming along.

  • Madeleine says:

    I’ve never posted a comment before, but just wanted to say I think the painstaking work undertaken and shared by you and others writing about these issues constitutes an invaluable public service. Thanks so much :-) and congratulations

  • Well this shows that blogs do have an effect. But I do wonder how many people will have been left with the impression that “Winterval” is a reality as a result of the screeching headlines that the Daily Mail feed them.

    I have a project idea I would like to discuss with you actually; I’m thinking of compiling all of the retractions over a year and then produce a mocked up Daily Mail newspaper with headlines revealing the retraction, an article akin to the one which promulgated the myth but worded in a way which shows that the original article was flawed beyond belief.

    It’s a long project of course but one which is not that labour intensive and shouldn’t interfere with our other blogging activities.

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