Banished to the lobby.

This story about Arnie says in passing that he has long supported the “Jewish Lobby Group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center.”

The description “Jewish lobby group” caught my eye. Hmm. The description is defensible, but subtly wrong. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has to do with the Jews and it is a lobby group – but actually its mission is a lot more specific than that. What the Center is famous for is Nazi hunting. As the decades go by, true, most of the Nazis have died off, and the organisation is now more concerned with the Jew-killers of 2003 than 1943. That still doesn’t make it just a Jewish lobby group. So far as I know the Center does not lobby for greater recognition of Jewish culture, or for subsidies for Jewish activities, or try to get out the Jewish vote, or do any of the other things that national or racial lobby groups usually do. Nor does it, so far as I can tell, press for any particular US policy with regard to the State of Israel, although it certainly supports Israel. It very specifically concerned with violence and hatred against Jews. I think the BBC no longer feel happy talking about violence against Jews.

How things have changed. Back in 1999 the BBC was much more specific:

“The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, set up in 1977, has pressed for the extradition of numerous war crimes suspects, as well as campaigning for the rights of Holocaust survivors and an end for pensions to SS officers.”

What a difference four years makes! The Wiesenthal boys have now been sent to the lobby doghouse to languish with, obviously, the rest of the sinister Jewish Lobby (a somewhat inflammatory term that the BBC hardly ever used to use), and other low-life such as the gun lobby and the hunting lobby. Joining those sinister lobbyists will be members of various brigades, notably the pro-hunting one already mentioned in the story I linked to, and the blue rinse one. Brigade, being a military word, is even worse than lobby. (In BBC-speak organisations supporting gun-control or favouring a ban on hunting are not lobbies – they are campaigns, a word suggesting mass popular action. The US NRA or the Countryside Alliance can be as massive or popular as they like, they are still usually stuck with being shady old lobbies – though to be fair I have occasionally heard “campaign” used by the Beeb to describe the Countryside Alliance.)

It is instructive to compare this to the BBC’s treatement of the homelessness lobby group Shelter, which back in March and April the BBC used to describe as a “homlessness charity”, but by August is just mentioned by name with no supplementary description at all. What is going on? The BBC is meant to be a worldwide service and usually carefully adds little notes of explanation for its many foreign (or clueless British) readers. No way is Shelter so world-famous that no explanation is needed. What I think has happened is that the BBC has felt one or two blows land home on the subject of its partisan allocation of the terms ‘charity’ and ‘lobby’ group and would rather not lead with its collective chin again. It would be just too painful to call dear old Shelter by that nasty name “lobby group”, though, so the BBC has gone with the old saw that if you can’t say anything nice say nothing.

To forestall criticism that I am just swapping the BBC’s labels, I think there is a meaningful distinction between a charity and a lobby group. If most of the money an organisation goes on giving out help to the afflicted, it’s a charity. If most of it goes on trying to get governments to do things, it’s a lobby group. The SWC is, by this description, a lobby group (but not just a Jewish one). I think Shelter is also a lobby group.

LATER: On reflection, I’m not sure about that last sentence. To be frank I couldn’t find a breakdown of how Shelter spends its money. There isn’t one on the Shelter website, but I get the impression that soup-dispensing is on the way down and politics is on the way up. Nor could I find a chart showing where Shelter’s money came in. Many “charities” nowadays are actually funnels for state money.

UPDATE: Searching BBC news for “gun lobby” I got 10 results. For “anti-gun lobby” I got 1 result. “Hunting lobby” got 47 – and I bet “hunt lobby” would get some more, “anti-hunting lobby” got 5. (Remember to take away 5 from the 47, though.) My searches were quick ‘n’ dirty. I leave it to others to do this more scientifically.

UPDATE: Stealth edit sonar ping! Ben Wald has pointed out in the comments that the Simon Wiesenthal Center is now called a “Jewish human rights group.”

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10 Responses to Banished to the lobby.

  1. Charles Smith says:

    Yes Natalie, it’s those pesky semantics again, and being journalists, you can bet those words are chosen with care. And they are chosen to blur and obfuscate. Yhe canard that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter for example has irritated me for years. There is a major difference. A freedom fighter is part of an army of sorts, who live in the wilds and attack government buildings and personnel. A terrorist is someone who lives within a system, goes out and murders civilians, then blends back into the population.
    For the BBC, Schroeder, Chirac and Co., are moderate centrists, Berlusconi is a right wing extremist.

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  2. George Junior says:

    About Shelter:

    Shelter is primarily a campaigning organisation. It has been criticized in the past, by both the government and others, for being overtly political.

    In terms of how it uses it’s money, Charities Direct has calculated that over 50% of Shelter’s voluntary income goes on fundraising costs. The rest goes on advice for the homeless, campaigning and admin.

    Shelter’s annual report for 2002/2003 is now on-line at:

    http://www.shelter.org.uk/images/pdfs/Annual%20Report%2003.pdf

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  3. ed says:

    Sorry to go off message, but I’d like to record the contrast in coverage of the breaking news about Israel attacking a target in Syria.

    Here’s the BBC website at 9.58 UK on Oct 5:

    ‘Israel Hits Palestinian ‘Camp’ In Syria.

    Israeli forces attack a Palestinian base inside Syria in response to Saturday’s suicide bombing that killed nineteen people’

    Here’s CNN at the same time:

    Israeli Army attacks Islamic Jihad training camp deep inside Syria, Israel Defense Forces confirm. Details soon.

    Ok, that’s it.

    BTW, great investigation, Natalie. It’s not the kind of thing that’s recently made my collar hot, but following your argument I really do see the ‘lobby’ word as one more injustice to add to the long list.

    ps. N.- thanks for the mail tips- I’ll get there eventually.

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  4. john b says:

    Ed – Isn’t the BBC story above more pro-Israeli than the CNN one? The BBC mentions that the Syria attack was motivated by the murder of 18 Israelis; CNN doesn’t give a justification.

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  5. ed says:

    John b. Yes (I see your point) and No, I disgree. Here we have Israel, a sovereign state with a democratically elected government, attacking a terrorist group (they’ve specifically said they weren’t attacking Syria or Syrians I understand) that clearly threatens their people. That is a more justifiable act than mere revenge, and the question of the target is key to that justice. The BBC often depicts Israel as hysterical and vengeful, whereas Israel’s government talks in defensible terms of national security. The killing of children for instance might be a side-effect of Israel’s actions (though of course not at all likely in this case, given the target the Israelis claim), whereas is it inseparable to the policies of Islamic Jihad and its ilk. The target- rationally chosen, decisively attacked- is the key fact in this instance (and CNN leapt on it with the waiver that ‘Israeli defense forces confirm’), and the BBC prefers a knee jerk motivation to appear in place of this straightforwardness.

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  6. dan skapol says:

    It’s a different story altogether when it gets to the Israeli response, those reports always follow reports on suicide bombings to make sure people grasp the concept of ‘cycle of violence’, and always an explanation or better yet, an excuse is given for such ruthless murders (‘ocupation’ what else).
    here’s some examples for ‘bbc’headlines, when i searched for ‘israel’ on the bbc site:
    “Israel attack sparks crisis talks “, “Israel hits Palestinian ‘camp’ in Syria”, “Syria vents anger at Israel attack”, “Israel’s history of bomb blasts” (see Israel has a history of bombing itself)”Israel’s ‘bomb squad pigs'” (the ‘bbc’ finds the time has come for comic reliefs, later in that story the ‘bbc’ reveals the possitive side of suicide bombing :”After three years of the Palestinian intifada, security is a thriving business in Israel.”), “Israel to expand security barrier”, “Israel’s West Bank barrier ‘illegal'” , a really poetic one :”Fortress Israel braced for anniversary” and so on…
    when i searched ‘palestinian’ (and not palestine, based on the bbcs own definition of the whole topic: “Israel & the palestinians”, maybe a paraphrase on Wolf and the Peters), there were hardly any headlines with the word palestinian in them except for more ‘civil’ or personal uses i.e : “Palestinian PM upbeat over cabinet”, “Palestinians ‘still seeking truce'”, “Palestinian scholar Edward Said dies
    “. in fact in both searches i got the same ‘israel did this, israel did that, slap on wrist’ headlines.

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  7. Ben Wald says:

    The story has changed (stealth edit)- Now the Simon Wiesenthal Center is charaterized as a Jewish human rights group.

    Funny how things change isn’t it.

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  8. sally says:

    I noticed the odd descripion of the Simon Wiesenthal centre and emailed the BBC about it, and later got a reply notifying me of the change of phrase – so to be fair I would not have seen it as a “stealth edit” in this case.

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  9. PJF says:

    When the head of the page says:

    Last Updated: Saturday, 4 October, 2003, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK

    I think it’s fair to describe subsequent alterations as stealth edits.

    Web publishing certainly allows for much easier corrections of “mistakes” than with print, or even other broadcast, media. But it also permits, due to the relatively cheap cost-per-word-per-reader rate, publishing a clear and consise reason for the correction. No blogger worth his or her salt would correct a piece without saying so and saying why. Every internet forum I know that permits editing of posts will (after a set time or a subsequent posting) automatically show that the post has been edited, when and by whom.

    The BBC attaches great importance to its internet news service. Yet it treats it as the ultimate “Orwellian” play pen. Stealth editing is a significant issue for a supposedly impartial and ‘professional’ news service. It is so simple and straightforward to note changes to web pages that a persistent failure to do so can only be deliberate and cynical.

    BBC News Online – changing history as it happens.

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  10. sally says:

    I agree, actually,I was just, I suppose, hoping it wasn’t so, since this (seeing webpages change in what seem to me very significant ways) keps happening to me..:(

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