At 10pm last night, The Daily Telegraph released a story entitled “Easter egg row: Church of England accuses National Trust of ‘airbrushing’ religion out of children’s egg hunt“, written by its Consumer Affairs Editor Katie Morley.
The story concerns the renaming of the Cadbury-National Trust Egg Hunt from ‘Easter Egg Trail’ to ‘Egg Hunt’ (note: The Telegraph says it is called Great British Egg Hunt but that title is not on the National Trust’s page about it). Nevertheless the story played into the well-worn complaint that multiculturalism in the UK is hollowing out supposedly Christian traditions of the country. The Telegraph quotes an unnamed Church of England spokesperson (just one line from him/her) and cites plenty of indignation from Archbishop of York John Sentamu, saying that the rebranding is “spitting on the grave” of John Cadbury (a Quaker).
The story also mentions Cadbury’s role in all of this thus:
Cadbury, which sponsors the event, said that it wanted to appeal to non-Christians, saying: “We invite people from all faiths and none to enjoy our seasonal treats.”
The problem is I can find those exact words nowhere on the websites of Cadbury, Mondelez International or MyNewsDesk (the site that hosts Mondelez news releases). The insinuation in The Telegraph’s text – that the event was renamed to appeal to those of no faith – therefore cannot even begin to be proven. Indeed a 10th March press release by Cadbury repeatedly stresses the connection to Easter in its ongoing partnership with National Trust. Plus the branding and PR website Creative Pool even has a long piece from 21st March about the background of the campaign that repeatedly has connections between Cadbury’s brand and Easter. “the ultimate aim” the piece says, is “establishing Cadbury as “THE Easter Treat.”“, before going on to quote Hortense Foult-Rothenburger, Senior Brand Manager for Easter at Cadbury. Yep. The firm has a manager devoted to Easter. The piece however does not explain the renaming of the campaign.
The choice of logo used by The Telegraph to illustrate its story is also interesting – it is the one shown to the left here. However a quick Google reverse image search reveals this logo is from this page at the National Trust site, a page that actually mentions Easter a full 6 times. Plus the actual website about the Egg Hunt is shown to the right – that says “Enjoy Easter Fun” in huge letters on it (shown to the right here).
I therefore essentially conclude from this that the whole effort by The Telegraph was one of intentional misinformation. Yes, we do not know why the campaign was re-named (and knowing what the reaction may have been that might ultimately have been a foolish call) but Cadbury and the National Trust are not airbrushing Easter out of their efforts, and indeed seem to be doing precisely the opposite.
So what then happens?
The rest of the media runs with the story about the indignation. It even gets to the FT and The Guardian, and then goes global to Washington Post and Time. Nigel Farage jumps on the story and makes his own insinuations. On Twitter National Trust and Cadbury come in for a load of grief. The Telegraph journalist, having lit the touch paper, herself stays completely silent on Twitter.
And – worst of all – Theresa May then jumps on the story. ITV, presumably informed about all of this due to the social media storm, asks the PM about it when they interview her while she is in Jordan. The film of the interview is available here. These are her words:
“I’m not just a vicar’s daughter – I’m a member of the National Trust as well.
“I think the stance they have taken is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know what they are thinking about frankly.
“Easter’s very important. It’s important to me. It’s a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world. So I think what the National Trust is doing is frankly just ridiculous.”
Except May seems to have the wrong end of the stick just as The Telegraph and John Sentamu do. Plus she seems more wound up about this than she was about how the press attacked judges in the autumn last year.
Cadbury, in an effort to contain the storm, put out a statement covered by The Guardian here:
“It is simply not true to claim that Easter does not feature in our marketing communications or on our products. It is clear to see that within our communications we visibly state the word Easter. […] We want to reassure consumers of our commitment to Easter, which is very prominent within our activity. We will continue to use ‘Easter’ prominently in our commercial campaigns as we do now and in the future.”
The problem is that whoever wrote the statement seems to have not read Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant or Sceptical Science’s The Debunking Handbook, as the way they do it emphasises the very frame they are trying to rebut. Meanwhile the rest of us fall victim of the bullshit asymmetry principle – that rebutting all this rubbish takes one hell of a lot longer than it did for The Telegraph to write a piece of deliberate misinformation.
So take this as a lesson – Cadbury, National Trust, John Sentamu, Theresa May and indeed anyone involved in political communication. Check the background before you open your mouth. Do not fall foul of misinformation. And do not re-emphasise the very myth you are trying to rebut.
Meanwhile a fair few people are fuming that Cadbury and the National Trust are anti-Easter, when actually they are not. And that’s pretty ridiculous.
[UPDATE 4.4.17, 1430]
Stephen Bush at The New Statesman has an even weirder but strangely plausible explanation: May’s reaction is because she hates Helen Ghosh, boss of the National Trust. Read the whole piece here.
[UPDATE 4.4.17, 1645]
Apparently this whole thing has also caused some spoof tweets about sales of Easter Eggs in Tesco to circulate – a helpful tweet pointed me towards Tesco setting the record straight in The Sun. I wonder if that would have happened if the Prime Minister had simply said nothing about the matter and sought to dampen the story rather than inflame it? Meanwhile Esther McConnell (John Cadbury was her great, great, great, great grandfather) has weighed in to point out that Quakers do not celebrate Easter and tweeted at Sentamu!
[UPDATE 4.4.17, 1745]
So Katie Morley has popped up out of the Easter rabbit hole and written more about the issue. She claims on Twitter that the National Trust has “backed down” on the issue while the Trust has actually added the words “this Easter” to this sub page of its website – explained on The Telegraph’s site here, and also covered by the BBC here. That’s not really backing down in my book – as the pages all had Easter throughout the text anyway. Plus the main Cadbury page remains unchanged. Meanwhile The Telegraph has managed to find some Twitter users incensed enough by the misinformation it itself propagated that want to cancel their National Trust membership, and has put up a story about that. It also features a few tweets from well known people like Jeremy Vine and Stig Abell backing The Telegraph’s line. Of course anything pointing out that the essence of their story is made up nonsense does not get a mention. Keep digging your rabbit hole with your indignant anger, Katie Morley!