The Daily Express and The Wife-Taming Wonder-Spray!

As a result of a little digging around the papers last week, as-ever on the trawl for nonsense, I stumbled across the following in the Daily Express:


BATTLING couples could have found the cure for their marital bust-ups – a herbal remedy which claims it can tame the nastiest of nags.

A miracle cure you say? To get rid of nagging? With a slight hint of a putting-your-woman-in-place angle? Thanks very much, Diana-mourning, Maddie-sleuthing Daily Express. The article was written by Nathan Rao, who I feel is worth calling out because frankly I suspect he contributed barely a word to it, as you may well come to suspect too I’m sure. The article continues:

The world’s first anti-nagging medicine hit the shelves yesterday.

Two sentences in, and we’re suddenly claiming not only a world’s first, but that this herbal product is classifiable as medicine, and all that that entails. In short, if the Express, Nathan Rao or whoever wrote this piece wants to call this herbal remedy a medicine, that’s fine – so long as it’s a licensed product, licensed by the MHRA. If it’s not, then labelling it a ‘medicine’ is… well, let’s call it naughty. And complaint-worthy. And potentially pretty serious. So, a nice start then! Let’s continue:

And, although the makers claim it works for both sexes, they admit it is particularly effective in women.

They say Mindset Living Remedy can “restore a woman’s hormonal balance”, spelling relief to thousands of mercilessly henpecked men.

Even better, once peace and harmony have been restored, case studies show it can enhance a couple’s sex life by increasing libido.

Nice to see a charming sexist angle to this story too. It’s essentially saying:

Dear men, are your womenfolk grouchy, hormonal and irritant? Are their day to day needs annoying you? And are their nagging ways preventing you from getting your end away? Then you should try the all-new, all-natural Woman-Controller! Just one application and you can be rutting your newly-silenced-and-servile wife within minutes! Try it today, and we’ll throw in a free pair of marigolds and a portal back to the 19-fucking-30s…


“It could transform the wildest and angriest of women or men into happy, relaxed individuals,”

said Michael Riley, spokesman for crazy snake-oil peddling bigots and manufacturers of this nonsense, Better by Nature.

Who are Better by Nature? They’re a holistic and homeopathic remedy retailer:

At Better by Nature, we believe that health and wellbeing is achieved by working in harmony with your body and nature, while ill health is often the result of the modern environment in which we all live.

With continual exposure to pollution, electromagnetic radi-ation, the side effects of medical drugs, and the level of stress in our everyday lives, it is no wonder that modern life takes it’s toll on the human body.

So, essentially, they’re believers in EHS (which is one of the first nonsenses we dealt with here at the MSS), anti-pharma, pro-homeopathy and, well, weird. Which is just exactly the kind of company you’d expect to have created the world’s first clinically-robust-and-in-no-way-snakeoily cure for something which is definitely capable of being cured with a mix of herbs. But exactly what mix of herbs? Well, that’s not clear, because like Colonel Sanders, you’ve got to keep your herby blends secret when you’ve got a product as hot and tender as a cure for being pissy. In fact, it’s so secret that if you’d looked at the Better by Nature catalogue, you’d have found zero reference to their wonder drug!

What’s more, if you google around for the name of this husband-saving, wife-enslaving pot pourri, you’ll find the only references to it are ones derived from this particular news article. Curious.

Still we do have some guidance on the exact blend:

“(Michael) said the mix of aloe vera, Chinese and Western herbs calms the mind and reduces confrontation and irrational behaviour.”

Well, that narrows that down – it’s Chinese herbs, some Western herbs, and some Aloe Vera (which must count as neither – I guess that makes sense given the ultra-ubiquity of this wonder herb, now used in hand soaps, dishwasher powder, air fresheners and wife-obedience sprays). Continuing:

Sprayed under the tongue twice a day, it is said to bring results within eight weeks. That’s good news for partners of the women quizzed in a new survey – 87 per cent admitted giving their partner a hard time.

Hello! What’s this about a survey? My ears have pricked up:

They spend 7,920 minutes a year nagging their husband about house­hold chores, drinking and their health, according to the survey by health campaign group Everyman. This is equivalent to a full five-and-a-half days’ ear-bashing.

A survey by Everyman? Recently? Well, sort of – from June 18, 2010. I know this, because I remember it at the time – it came OnePoll. Titled in their archive, rather simply and charmingly ‘Old Nag’:

Henpecked British blokes endure a WEEK of nagging from their wives every year, a study revealed yesterday (Mon). Women moan at their partner for more than two-and-a-half hours a week about helping out around the house, cutting back on booze or taking care of their health. That’s a total of around 11 hours a month – the equivalent of five-and-a-half days a year or more than one working week.

Not helping to tidy the house emerged as the most common bug-bear for a woman to nag about, followed by not doing the dishes. Spending too much money, not being romantic enough and not sorting out clothes for the washing completed the top five.

Other popular things women bend a man’s ear about include drinking too much, their diet, and not going to the doctor to get something checked out.

The sad thing is, as ever, the Everyman health charity is generally pretty decent, aiming to raise cash for research into prostate and testicular cancer. So it’s a bit shitty that they’ve just sank to the standard Bullshit PR Sexism depths. And, on top of that, it goes to show how last year’s piece of bad news bullshit becomes today’s received wisdom, the foundations to build this new piece of bollocks on, like some kind of Bollock Jenga (TM).

The makers of Mindset Living Remedy claim their product could solve all that. But the price of peace is not cheap – it costs £49 a bottle.

Mr Riley said: “There are no guarantees in this world, but opportunities like this have to be worth a try.”

Absolutely – at £49 per bottle, there’s no reason not to buy a herbal spray to stop your wife nagging you. No reason at all. That said, there’s also no reason at all not to burn the £49 in a small campfire, while dancing nakedly around the flame whispering chanted prayers to the goddess Aphrodite. Other than, you know, it’d be a waste of £49 and a total waste of time. Although at least with the fire-ritual you’d be getting some fresh air and exercise.

I fully suspect this is little more than an advertorial PR piece sent to Nathan to paste in full into a national newspaper, in order to fill copy – it smacks of PR or advertorial, uncritically parroting the claims of a product which is highly dubious in nature, failing to comment on the inherent non-medical nature of the problem in question (nagging) and generally singing the praises of the all-natural loons at Bettter By Nature.

As I’ve always said, this level of churnalism is endemic in the modern media, and I’m not alone in saying it – in fact, Johan Hari, the columnist for the Independent, agrees with me, writing in one of his forthcoming articles:

‘As I’ve always said, this level of churnalism is endemic in the modern media, and I’m not alone in saying it’.

It’s like the new Godwin’s law – on a long enough timeline, the chances that Johan will re-appropriate your words as his own approaches 1.

(As an aside, that’s a bit of satire about the way people have pounced on Hari, as if the embarrassing and disappointing intellectual vanity behind his copy/pasting is the same as the examples I expose week-in week-out where supposed journalists have done zero background reading, zero editing, and zero journalism. Whatever transgressions Hari has certainly been guilty of, he can’t be accused of mindless churnalism – unless the people of Somalia, the Gaza strip and The Gays have suddenly been able to hire some cracking PR representation).

Also, as an aside, if you ever go to the Express’s site and try editing the URL, you’ll find you can write whatever you like after the number in the middle of the address, and the link still works. Sounds boring and techy, I know, but it’s the reason that I was able to create:

Much lolz. And it works for EVERY Express article. Consider that a gift, from me to you, as a way of apologising for bringing this misogynistic, meaningless and pseudo-scientific story to your attention.

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  1. #1 by Veronica on August 6, 2011 - 00:16

    Better by Nature’s herbal remedy contains… NO HERBS but rather….water, vodka, nothing else other then some kind of energy..

    Love your article…you most certainly did find nonsense

  2. #2 by Nathan Rao on August 7, 2011 - 12:47

    Would you care to justify your statement that as author of the article I “barely contributed a word to it”.

  3. #3 by Marsh on August 7, 2011 - 20:16

    Nathan – Happy to comment on the article, although I’d like to clarify what my statement was, as I said:

    “The article was written by Nathan Rao, who I feel is worth calling out because frankly I suspect he contributed barely a word to it, as you may well come to suspect too I’m sure”

    I made it clear that the it was a suspicion of mine, not that I had evidence that it were true.

    In the above, I explain that the suspicion here that the piece was wholly or largely taken from a press release from Better By Nature. As the main thrust of my piece wasn’t about how press releases not only set the agenda of many news stories but actually end up being used word-for-word in large chunks (I’ve covered this kind of Churnalism elsewhere on this blog, including examples where a journalist has taken a press release and printed it verbatim. Happy to provide you with examples, if you’re not sure what I mean), but instead the thrust was the blatantly pseudoscientific claims made and their incredibly patronising and sexist implications, so I hadn’t gone into as much detail on the suspicion of press release basis of this article. I’m happy to do so here.

    Firstly, it fits a classic PR format (it’s a sector I know reasonably well) – find a common issue (nagging), give a nicely classical storyline (men get nagged and it’s annoying) and offer your solution (in the 3rd or 4th para to avoid being cut by the sub-editor if it becomes an ‘and finally’/’weird world’/nib). Throw in a reference to sex to sweeten the deal, and an eye-catching quote from a spokesman. The last few paras add classic texture, and can be cut for space if needed. None of this proves in any way that it WAS a press release, but merely that it certainly reads a lot like one, and thus the suspicion that the bulk of this copy, or at least the narrative thrust, was PR-derived.

    Secondly, the language used is curiously marketing-heavy for a national newspaper – again, not a definitive proof of a press release basis, but something to feed the ‘suspicion’ I was very clear to mention. The ludicruous claims of the product go unchallenged, despite being paper-thin. Even the final note, quoting the price and the pay-off line from Mr Riley, is a classic marketing call-to-action.

    Thirdly, the remedy is billed as a ‘The world’s first anti-nagging medicine’. Labelling an unlicensed herbal product as a medicine is not only inaccurate, but illegal under the Medicines (Advertising) Regulations of 1994. I presumed this was taken directly from the press release from Better By Nature / their PR agency, but I’m happy to credit it to you of course (as I’m sure will be the MHRA when taking this matter up).

    Fourthly, it’s far from alien for the Express (and indeed the whole press, but your paper is the most relevant example when it comes to clarifying my above statement) to use a press release near-verbatim as a news article – 30 seconds on Google shows that your colleague Tom Morgan managed to craft this excellent article by taking almost every element of it from this press release: So, in that instance, it’s demonstrable that an Express journalist contributed ‘barely a word’ to the finished article, given that almost every element of it was written by the PR company behind it.

    But as I say, I am happy to be shown that my suspicion is untrue, and will happily make the edit to confirm that you did indeed write this story yourself, rather than publishing text from a press release, or even taking a press release as lead and moving sentences around into the gaps in your own article.

    However, this does open up some interesting questions:

    – Why did you decide to tell the story of this herbal product as being a relief to the henpecked (and therefore stereotypically male)? Did the implications that women were irritating nags whose concerns needed medication rather than attention not make you feel at all uncomfortable when you first came up with the idea of spinning the story that way?
    – Were you aware as you were writing this article of the MHRA regulations around herbal products (Medicines (Advertising) Regulations 1994.) and the implications of calling an unlicensed product a ‘medicine’, given that making such a claim is very likely illegal?
    – What were the case studies that showed this product increased a woman’s libido?
    – Did you call any medical professionals to check the claims made by this product? Because it’s hard to see how anyone with any knowledge of sexual health, relationships, medication or herbalism wouldn’t have offered a more tempered note regarding the remarkable claims of Better By Nature.
    – How did you find out about this product, given that it’s not listed on the company’s website, nor anywhere I could find online. Did you see it yourself in person, or did someone tip you off as to the wonderful properties it possessed?

    As it happens, I actually didn’t particularly have a problem with the idea that rather than doing a journalistic role on this story (which I’d imagine would involve assessing the claims made, discovering them to be patently nonsense and throwing away the story), you’d relied on PR copy and given it brush up and applied thehouse style – I appreciate that deadlines loom and columns need to be filled, and thus the temptation to use PR copy when you’re pushed for one last story is rightly difficult to resist. I was actually also distancing you from the pretty grotesquely sexist things the story contained, as it felt to me like these were likely to have come from an attempt at eye-catching PR rather than the voice of the paper/yourself and it’s those PR elements who regularly use stereotypes – and irritatingly offensive and patronising ones at that – to get their product mentioned in the news. But as I say, I’m more than happy to concede that this was your angle, rather than the angle the story came to you with.

    Do you agree with what you wrote in the article and the claims made? And how would you respond to the other criticisms I’ve made about the validity of the claims made, the research it’s backed up with and also the implications of the anti-woman angle of the article’s tone?

    I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this

  4. #4 by Zyaama on August 8, 2011 - 16:13

    Oooh, now I’m curious. Come on, Nathan, you just jumped into pool, don’t let the circling fins scare you off. I’m sure you got good answers to all of Marsh’s questions…

  5. #5 by Ramsey Campbell on August 10, 2011 - 17:44

    There seem to be two possibilities here:

    Mr Rao did not write most of the published text, in which case he should be ashamed.

    Mr Rao did write most of the published text, in which case he should be ashamed.

  6. #6 by Marsh on August 17, 2011 - 18:34

    A quick follow up – the proprietor of Better By Nature has confirmed to me over email that this story was indeed based on the press release he sent out. As I suspected above. The only question is the degree to which Nathan’s article parroted the press release, or re-worded it into his own words.

  7. #7 by Tom on June 2, 2012 - 09:10

    Hilarious – if he hadn’t have tried to have a go at you, he wouldn’t have been smacked down the second time. So given that he must have known you were right and would come back on him, why on Earth would he ask for it a second time? Did he think you would be intimidated, and back down? He’s revealed himself to be, as well as lazy and bigoted, arrogant and stupid.

    Also, as an apparently professional journalist, where’s his question mark at the end of his pissy little interjection? So he’s relying on the subs for grammar and press releases for content – what is Nathan Rao actually doing for his salary?

(will not be published)