Norman Geras looks at two recent reports on BBC coverage of the Iraq war.
“The reason for my scepticism may be concentrated in a single point: the fact that one of the comparative reference points is Channel 4. Allow me a guffaw or three. “
– writes David Steven. That got my attention. It was he who analysed Andrew Gilligan’s blogging as a reporter in Iraq. Now he and a colleague have looked at one of the most successful elements of the BBC coverage of the Iraq war, the Reporters’ Log in a similar manner. This post contains a summary of what they found. A link to the actual report, “Whose Agenda?” is at the top of the links column on the left.
By the way, I was not being sarcastic in calling the Reporters’ Log successful. If the BBC are smart they can use reports like this one to improve what they do. It’s rather like the way that someone trying to cut down their spending is advised to keep a record of every penny they spend for a month. This allows them to become aware of and control their own “spending triggers” and other behaviour patterns. In a similar way, the BBC, though not short of talent, could learn more self-awareness as to what triggers its prejudices.
I should have posted this ages ago, but better late than never.
You may recall that on June 27 2003 I posted an item about the BBC’s John Willis and US talk show host Michael Savage. To recap, Willis, BBC Director of Factual and Learning, made a speech in which he claimed that Savage said the Arabs must be “snuffed out from the planet, and not in a court of law”. A correspondent to this blog by the name of Peter dug deeper and found that Savage did not say that all Arabs should be snuffed out, he said terrorists should be snuffed out – in an article written two days after the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001. I said on my post that John Willis’s remarks seriously misrepresented Savage.
Since then, Michael Savage, has been in the news. He was fired from a MSNBC talk show slot for telling a homosexual caller that he, Savage, hoped the caller would die from AIDS. His employers were quite right to fire him: that remark contains a level of personal malice that is truly shocking. Protection of free speech does not oblige MSNBC to continue employing someone who brings them into disrepute.
Is John Willis vindicated then? No way.
First point: I can now be more sure than ever that Savage did not advocate genocide against the Arabs. Back in June I did have a moment of doubt. Could it be, I wondered, that even though the article that Peter had dug out clearly referred to snuffing out terrorists, Savage might have made a similar-phrased remark directed against all Arabs on another occasion – say in an unscripted talk radio broadcast which John Willis had heard? After all, I’ve heard that US talk radio can be pretty raw. To check up I took a look at Savage’s website. At that time it contained an interview with an Iraqi. That didn’t sound like Savage wanted all Arabs dead. I decided that Peter was right: such an outrageous remark would have been picked up on.
Well, now I know that it would have been picked up on. For when Savage did make an outrageous remark it was picked up on, and he was fired within hours.
Second point: there was another misrepresentation within John Willis’s speech besides that of Michael Savage. He misrepresented America. He, typically for the BBC, portrayed it as the sort of place where a talk show host can advocate the slaughter of an entire race and yet continue in mainstream public esteem. Yet in fact Savage was fired and widely condemned for a hateful remark against one person. America isn’t the sort of place that John Willis claimed. That misrepresentation goes on daily.
I’ve just noticed something else about the Megan Lane article Peter Briffa posted about two posts down. It says
Conservatives with a small c, too, share this unease about the pleasures of the flesh. In a 1951 letter only now made public, Ronald Reagan revealed his angst about sex. “Even in marriage I had a little guilty feeling about sex, as if the whole thing was tinged with evil,” the man who would be US president wrote to a friend.
Now you’re all thinking that I haven’t noticed that Kerry Buttram has already dealt with all that in a post last Monday. Well you think wrong! So far as I can see the Megan Lane article Peter quoted and the article headed “Reagan had ‘evil sex’ angst” that Kerry quoted are entirely separate.
In other words two BBC journalists independently picked this one-line confession of unease with sex as the most significant excerpt from the letters of one of the most significant presidents in the last half century. Two BBC journalists have misleadingly focussed on that angle and either downplayed or, in Megan Lane’s case, completely failed to mention, that Reagan’s admission of past unease was but the preamble to saying “nothing between her and the man she loves can be wrong or obscene, that desire in itself is normal and right,” a sentiment very different from the repressed attitude that the BBC portrays Reagan as having.
The fact that two BBC writers independently homed in on this one line says it all. There’s no conspiracy. It’s just the BBC worldview. Ronald Reagan simply has to be uptight about sex because, he’s, like, Ronald Reagan. If in reality he wasn’t, so much the worse for reality.
And what’s with the “conservative unease about pleasures of the flesh” lark anyway? Some do, some don’t. Some socialists do, and some don’t – as Robin “penalty rate” Cook and Stephen “socks” Byers could tell you. (You think I’m being crude? Less crude than “To do it is one thing – perhaps whilst wearing a Chelsea strip, or with John Major in a bathtub”) In 1951, when Reagan’s twice-quoted letter was written, the Labour party, outside its metropolitan cadre, was still heavily influenced by Nonconformism. Almost certainly it was more strict in sexual matters than the contemporary Conservative party.
It’s a sign of the BBC’s lack of historical perspective that they thought the story about Reagan revealed in his letters was his sexual angst. Actually the surprise is that he expressed himself so freely. In 1951 most ordinary Britons or Americans (once again, I exclude the literary and metropolitan elites) of either left or right would, if anything, have been somewhat shocked at Reagan’s daring to put down such advanced views in a letter to a woman – and, moreover, one with whom he was not having a relationship. That sort of talk was for the locker room or the public bar.
the links from us, but this Beebwatch makes some fine points. (Registration needed.)
Radio 4’s World Tonight attracts smaller audiences than Today and is rarely criticised for bias, yet few BBC programmes are so slanted towards the Left.
… There was a 17-second clip from America’s UN ambassador, John Negroponte; then a 77-second interview with the Arab League’s ambassador and 170 seconds with Phyllis Bennis from the violently anti-Bush Institute for Policy Studies.
…Item three: “There’s been a lot of talk about the role played by religious schools in the Islamic world – the Madrassahs – for allegedly fomenting extremism. But it’s not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan that there are flourishing religious schools. They also exist in the US, where many are run by Protestant evangelicals…” Note the “allegedly” and the implied analogy between evangelical colleges and schools that recruit suicide bombers.
Libelling Hilter isn’t an easy thing to do. However, in this piece on the Tories, Megan Lane portrays the Great Dictator in an unflattering light.
“The Nazi regime cracked down on abortion and equality for women”, she claims. Not true, as a brief Googling can confirm. Adolf was very pro-choice. I wonder why she feels obliged to make such a claim. Right-wingers anti-choice, left-wingers pro-choice, perhaps?
The ever-brilliant Stephen den Beste fisks this ridiculous piece of BBC anti-American propaganda posing as news.
This sort of analysis would be met with shock and horror in Islington by the soft-left supporters of the BBC, no doubt.
The BBC of course does not understand civil disobedience – it is not a right to break the law and get away with it because one (thinks one) has noble intentions, it is the moral duty to break an immoral law and be punished for it because to comply with the law would be wrong. This sort of obvious subtlety is completely lost on the BBC.
That’s one reason I can think of for this BBCi headline.
BBC: Reagan had ‘evil sex’ angst
Compare this with ABC and Time.
ABC: The Reagan Letters
Time Magazine: The Real Reagan
Of course, it couldn’t be a commercial motive since the Beeb is “above it all” and the license fee keeps the larder well-stocked. Another less charitable possibility springs to mind: a visceral reaction to the man and what he stands for. So, in an article about a new Reagan book which features 1,000 of his handwritten letters, why does the BBC lead with such a stinky headline? My guess is that they do not wish to deal with the other substantive issues in the book which highlight something many leftist elites do not wish to acknowledge–that Ronald Reagan’s vision of freedom has been largely vindicated. And if they cannot discredit Reagan’s record, why not trivialize it?
ABC News is neither pro-Reagan nor non-commercial but it at least gives Reagan’s book a fair shake. BBC small-mindedness plummets lower by the day. Go ahead and compare what the BBC writes about the Reagan book with the ABC News article. As I look back over the BBC article, it’s really not all that bad, but the headline is very misleading. Here is the ABC News piece with the letter from which the Beeb plucked its verbal noogie. (Reagan’s words are italicized.)
Perhaps the most surprising letter in the collection is one that Reagan wrote in 1951 to Florence Yerly, an old friend from his hometown in Illinois. Florence had just been through a bitter divorce, and wrote to Reagan that she was giving up men ? permanently. Reagan told her she was making a big mistake. He explained why it was important that she have a man in her life. And then he explained the importance of love and sex.
My personal belief is that God couldn’t create evil so the desires he planted in us are good and the physical relationship between a man and a woman is the highest form of companionship. If I can, I want to say all this to my daughter. I want her to know that nothing between her and the man she loves can be wrong or obscene, that desire in itself is normal and right. The world is full of lonely people — people capable of giving happiness and love is not a magic touch of cosmic dust that preordains two people and two people only for each other. Love can grow slowly out of warmth and companionship and none of us should be afraid to seek it.
As he closed the letter, Reagan admitted to feeling a bit queasy about giving such explicit advice:
Now I’m going to seal this letter very quickly and mail it because if I read it over I won’t have the nerve to send it.
Have a look at the Time cover article here.
blogleagues never sleep. Bran at Blog Irish continues to hold the Beeb to account whilst Norm at Normblog goes after those clueless Beeb apologists.
would have averted all this trouble.
“We goofed.” Those two little words, uttered by the BBC early in its latest escapade in biased journalism — falsely claiming the Blair government “sexed up” its intelligence reports during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion — would have saved a lot of time, a lot of money, and at least one life. Instead, we have the BBC’s bloated buddy, Andrew Gilligan, admitting, in the Telegraph, what everybody knew: that he committed lousy journalism, and the Labor Government promising, in the Guardian, that the world’s most arrogant media institution (pace, New York Times) was going to become accountable at long, long last. Maybe the empty suits mismanaging the Corporation will even be fired. That would be good. Next Thursday, the Hugely Expensive Commission charged with investigating the suicide of a Gilligan source, will conclude its wildly disproportionate inquiry. It will be the most expensive correction notice ever published.
Read the rest of Denis Boyles’ non-Beeb-related EuroPress Review here.
wasn’t caught in a hurricane but he was blown away just the same…undoubtedly a rare occurrence.
comments about a BBC story on the ‘danger’ of referenda.