Everything in the garden is lovely.

Apologies if someone has already posted or commented on this outpouring of Obamalove from Matt Frei. It’s a month old now but still astonishing.

Turning one corner of the White House lawn into a vegetable allotment was an inspired move. And like just about everything else the First Family has turned its attention to, it seemed to come naturally.


The Obamas do not look awkward doing normal things.

Considering the combination of limelight and expectations weighing on the White House, this is quite an achievement.

George W Bush smirked too much, displaying the unbearable lightness of his being at inappropriate times. His father was accused of not knowing what a supermarket checkout scanner was.

I love that “was accused of”. Was it too much trouble for the BBC (aim: to be the world’s most trusted provider of international news) to check out this rumour on Snopes and establish whether the accusation was – what was that word again? – oh, yes, true?

As a candidate, Barack Obama showed that he can harness the power of the Internet and reach out to millions of eager foot-soldiers while keeping the decisions that matter confined to a tiny kitchen cabinet.

Apart from a few slip-ups, he has maintained that mixture of outer charm and inner discipline, of outreach and exclusivity


But what I do remember is that they hit the right note and touched the right nerve at the right time.

On the economy, he was sober without being too pessimistic. On bankers’ bonuses, he shared our outrage without inciting the masses to put heads on stakes. On life in the White House, he combined humility, pride and fun at being the boss with bemusement at life in the armoured bubble.

He told Europe that America had been too arrogant and then chastised Europeans for being prone to a knee-jerk anti-Americanism.

On swine flu, he said there was reason to be concerned but no cause for alarm.

Fear the flu. But flu is not to be feared. When you understand this koan, said the Master, then you will have enlightenment.

He is both bold and measured. It is called nuance – and America and the world have been yearning for it.

America and the World: Yearning for Nuance Since November 3rd 2004.

The marriage of reassuring language and bold policy has been his true victory in the first 100 days.

And there I was thinking his true victory was something to do with General Motors.

I knew I would be writing this post.

Via Samizdata I found this post by Timothy Sandefur: They’re fanatics; we just have isolated incidents. Mr Sandefur writes:

This week a religious fanatic, driven by his ideological fixations, shot and killed a man that, for political and religious reasons, he considered a murderer. The fanatic drove off and was later caught by police. Of course, the killer himself harbored a idiosyncratic mix of toxic religious and political ideology that led him into violent hatred of the institutions of freedom and those who live in freedom. But was he also not encouraged by a background of more “mainstream” partisanship in which political spokesmen—television and radio talk show hosts, bloggers, and political leaders—speak in increasingly angry, bitter, and violent terms of their political opposition? The political atmosphere has seen more and more spokesmen speaking in anger, hostility, and disrespect about those they view as their enemies, and this breakdown in civility must have had some impact on this gunman.

By the way, I’m not speaking of the murder of George Tiller in Kansas.

Mr Sandefur was not writing about the BBC particularly. But I am, and the BBC provided at least four stories on the Tiller murder:

Man charged in US doctor killing

Man quizzed over US doctor death

Profile: George Tiller

US abortion doctor is shot dead.

This level of coverage is reasonable in that it was not just a random killing or a murder motivated by gain or personal animosity. Rather, it was the first targeted assassination of an abortion provider for over ten years. (In fact, if I may digress, the length of time since the last such murder might surprise many, since the media usually give the impression that such killings are common in the US.) It is reasonable to fear that the murder of George Tiller might be followed by others. It might be part of a terrorist movement. But the same, surely, is true of the killing of William Long?

“William Long,” you say. “I haven’t heard about the killing of William Long.” No, you haven’t, not on the BBC at any rate. Nor have you heard about Quinton Ezeagwula who was wounded in the same crime. Nor have you heard from the BBC about the killer, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad.

UPDATE: Commenter DB points out that he mentioned this in the comments on June 2nd.

BBC Blankety-Blank a.k.a. Name That Party. Part Big High Number.

Compare two stories about allegations of political corruption from today’s BBC front page.

First, one from the States:

Illinois Senator Roland Burris has denied that he attempted to “buy his seat” from the state’s disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich.

What party do any of these people represent? One might make a guess from the fact that Blagojevich was arrested for corruption and transcripts were released of his discussion of what he could get for selling then-Senator Obama’s seat after he became President. Or from the fact that there’s a story headed “Senate Democrats endorse Burris” in the “See Also” column. But the BBC does not feel the need to explicitly mention it in any of the approximately 450 words of the story.

Contrast that with:

Tory MP Julie Kirkbride has admitted “it might appear strange” that her sister Karen worked as her secretary 140 miles from her constituency.”

It’s not the jokes, it’s how you tell ’em

(NB: This post is not by Natalie, but by occasional B-BBC poster Niall Kilmartin.)

It’s not the jokes, it’s how you tell ’em: BBC red-button news this morning reported the arrests in the US. The final sentence of the report was:

New York has been on alert for a new terror assault since the 9/11 attack claimed by Al Quaida militants

(no emphasis in original) Al Quaida do indeed claim the attack and one would hardly accuse them of lacking militancy, so the sentence is not factually wrong. It seems an odd way to put it – except, I suppose, inside the BBC, where it presumably seems natural to phrase things to accommodate the ‘truther’ viewpoint. (As the post below suggests, some other viewpoints get less consideration.)

Similar ‘how you tell it’ thoughts occurred to me during last night’s 10 o’clock BBC news in a piece on the never-ending expenses scandals. As usual, numbers were balanced: they mentioned one Labour MP and one Tory MP (there are few LibDem MPs so I concede some difficulties in their mentioning a LibDem every time as well). The report on Hazel Blears consisted almost entirely of a summary of Labour MPs’ sympathy for her and criticism of Gordon’s criticism. It was all reportage of others’ views but it had a ‘sorry for her’ flavour and lacked balancing hostile remarks – except Gordon’s, and ‘her behaviour was unacceptable but she’s doing a great job’ (I paraphrase) is already balanced, whatever else you may say about it. No such considerate remarks were reported of the Tory MP whose ducks benefited from our taxes; no suggestion that spending public money on wildlife habitat was very much the norm these days. 🙂 To be sure, there were probably no sympathetic remarks to report: David Cameron’s statement about him was not as ‘balanced’ as Gordon’s about Hazel, and if any Tory felt otherwise, perhaps they (wisely) kept it to themselves.

What more do you want?

The headline of this BBC news story reads, “Sri Lanka leader hails ‘victory'” The same headline, along with the first few lines of this story, also appears as top story on the main BBC news page today.

What’s with the scare quotes round “victory”? I can go with the quotes round “liberated” a few lines later. That’s a matter of opinion. But it is a fact, not an opinion, that the Sri Lankan government has won a victory over the Tamil Tigers. The BBC itself writes that the Tigers are “finished as a conventional military force”. The Tigers’ leader is dead. They hold no territory. They have surrendered.

This is starting to sound like the Dead Parrot sketch. But do you get my point here, Beebfolk? Even if the Tigers were to stage a comeback, this, today, is still a victory. Or are you trying to convey that, “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers,” as Neville Chamberlain put it in 1938?

Just simple preachers.

In the comments to David’s recent post on Jacqui Smith’s list of people denied access to Britain, Not A Sheep has pointed out an example of BBC bias that achieves a sort of holy perfection.

Take a look at this BBC effort to inform the public: Who is on UK ‘least wanted’ list?. What do Abdullah Qadri Al Ahdal, Yunis Al Astal, Safval Hijazi and the wonderfully named Wadgy Abd El Hameid Mohamed Ghoneim all have in common? That’s right. They are all preachers. Of something or other. Mike Guzovsky, however, is a Jewish militant.

Oops, sorry. I got that wrong. Amir Siddique is the fourth preacher-of-no-particular-message. Wadgy Abd El Hameid Mohamed Ghoneim is actually a “speaker and writer”. He speaks and writes about we know not what.

As Not A Sheep says:

…there are eight Muslim “extremists” on the list (four of whom are described as preachers) but only one is identified as a follower of Islam, there is one Jew on the list and his religion is identified in the first word of his description, the American pastor’s religion is not directly named but as he is a “pastor” of a “Baptist church” that is not too tricky to deduce.

So my question to the BBC is this: why is it relevant to identify the religions of the one Jew and the one Christian (couple) on the list but in the majority of cases to leave the religion of Muslims on the list unidentified?

Two quick links

  • When David Mills, somewhat-estranged husband of Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison by an Italian court, what was the headline those fearless BBC newshounds with their keen nose for a story came up with? Er… “UK lawyer guilty in bribery case”. Bet that one pulled in the punters.
  • Freeborn John is thinking of starting a list of awful things caused by Conservatism. His first entry was provided by what the BBC calls the “conservative views” of one Abdurraheem Green. Funnily enough, the preacher himself describes his own views as “radical” rather than conservative:

    Despite these conservative views the Metropolitan Police has sought Abdurraheem Green’s advice recently.

    And the preacher himself insists that in spite of his conservative views about life in Britain he is “part of the solution” to extremism because young people listen to him.

    “I surely have said some pretty radical things and maybe even written some radical things in the past,” he told Panorama. “But one thing I have been very consistent on is terrorism, participating in terrorist activities, violent revolution – is not something that I have ever thought was part of the religion of Islam.”

    Some senior police officers argue it is vital to work with radicals because they have credibility amongst young British Muslims.

    But some moderate scholars warn this is a dangerous road.

    Sheikh Musa Admani, imam at London Metropolitan University, says if advice is sought from the radicals, or if they are funded with public money, then “Muslims are going to endorse them as a whole and so there’s the danger”.

    All emphases added. It is not clear to me whether Sheik Musa Admani actually used the term radical himself, but the sentence about senior police officers is certainly the wording of the BBC writer. How odd that he or she uses the antithetical terms “conservative” and “radical” almost interchangeably.

The usual suspects.

Robin Horbury made this comment a few days ago:

BBC drama once led the world. Today, it is little more than political correctness and pantomime agitprop.

Did anyone see the latest BBC1 example, Hunter? (Sunday and last night 9pm). The plot was that a group of Pro-Lifers (natural BBC villains because they don’t support sexual free-for-all)were so incensed that they decided to start killing children unless the BBC showed footage of a post-24 week abortion.

It was license for some horrendous images of the Pro-Lifers abducting and injecting innocent children with various lethal drugs – sequences that were so graphic that they would not have been shown on terrestrial television a few years back. And of course to portray the villains as heartless, callous, evil scum.

I have combed the internet to see if Pro-Life groups have ever done anything remotely like this. I found a few nastly examples of intimidation and violence in the US where staff of clinics have been targeted.

But – tell me if I’m wrong – there’s not one example anywhere in the world of a Pro-Lifer killing children, under any circumstances.

So Hunter looks to me to have been an example of a BBC coterie sitting down somewhere and deciding how they could find new ways tovillify a group that the corporation hates. Any passing resemblance to something called reality was abandoned in favour of the political need.

I personally do not support a lot of what Pro-Lifers want. But I do support their right to say and camapign for their goals – and not to be attacked in this wholly ridiculous way by the BBC.

The other ludicrous element of the plot was that the Pro-Lifers believed that exposure on BBC news bulletins would change attitudes. Of course, that was yet another reflection of the puffed up self-importance of BBC types.

A commenter called Tom replied,

I seem to remember the first of BBC’s Spooks (or the first I ever saw) had a similar plot – pro-lifers as terrorists.

They’re clearly into recycling their rubbish.

Meanwhile, back at the batcave …

… Peter Rippon, editor of Newsnight, has responded to the complaints about how an audio clip of President Obama’s inaugural speech was spliced, had its order altered, and then was rejoined to make a new sentence never actually spoken by Obama.

The original post in Harmless Sky can be read here. My B-BBC post on the subject is here.

Mr Rippon writes,

We did edit sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science. The aim was to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying.

I don’t think Mr Rippon’s response answers the objections raised.

Point one: fades, what fades? Listening to the audio clip there is a change in the quality of the background sound at the first splice point, which I initially heard as a faint sound but now think is just a discontinuity. No one who was not listening specifically for the break point would ever think it was anything other than a continuous flow of speech. Fades are meant to, you know, fade.

Point two: there is not even that at the second break point – it runs smoothly on.

Point three: what about the alteration of the order? Someone just offering up a montage of phrases doesn’t mess with the order such that a new, coherent (but never actually spoken) sentence is created.

Point four: the meaning was altered and TonyN’s original post in Harmless Sky explained very clearly why. He wrote, “Paragraph 16 does not refer to climate change in any way, but to economic and infrastructure problems. The reference to harnessing the sun, wind and soil could as easily refer to energy security as global warming.” But in the BBC version it does appear to refer to global warming.

I would add that in the original sentence as spoken by Obama, “We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost”, the fact that science being restored to its rightful place is immediately followed by a reference to healthcare gives me the strong impression that it was meant to refer to lifting restrictions on the federal funding of research into embryonic stem cells. The BBC version, “We will restore science to its rightful place – roll back the spectre of a warming planet”, makes it sound as if the restoration of science to its rightful place refers to President Bush’s alleged scepticism over global warming. This interpretation is reinforced by the whole tone of Susan Watts’ blog post and video essay: “But in climate change and other key challenges of science, Bush wouldn’t listen to the scientists. He didn’t like their view of the world, and he didn’t like what they were saying.”

Blimey, that sounds like something aimed at ten-year olds. I am not Obama’s biggest fan, but at least when speaking in his own words he sounds like he is addressing adults.

BBC spliced and joined separate parts of President Obama’s speech in order to make it appear to take a stronger line on global warming.

Steve T in comments pointed out this post by TonyN of “Harmless Sky”.

TonyN links to an audio clip of Obama apparently saying, “We will restore science to its rightful place, [and] roll back the spectre of a warming planet. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

But, as TonyN writes:

I didn’t seem to remember him saying that at all.

When the program [i.e. Newsnight – NS] was over, I went back to the text and this is what I found.

It would seem that someone at the BBC had taken the trouble to splice the tape so that half a sentence from paragraph 16 of the inauguration speech was joined on to half a sentence from paragraph 22, and this apparently continuous sound bite was completed by returning to paragraph 16 again to lift another complete sentence.

Read the rest of his detailed analysis. Incidentally, I couldn’t hear an “and” at the first splice-point of the audio clip, just an unidentifiable noise.

(Added later.) To make one sentence out of two widely separated half-sentences would be shabby and manipulative enough for a broadcaster. To then interfere with the order in which things were said, so that the sentence fragment about “a warming planet” has been falsely interposed between other phrases to which it had no real link, is yet worse. The BBC has gone beyond “dowdification” into something else. “Beebification”, perhaps.

(Another update.) You can hear the spliced audio clip directly from the BBC in the “video essay” at the base of this blog post by Susan Watts, Newsnight‘s science editor. Quite apart from the splicing, the Susan Watts post itself would provide material enough for another B-BBC post (“Scientists have grown used to attempts to silence them”) – but I have to be gone.

UPDATE 24 JAN.: There is a further post discussing the response of the editor of Newsnight to complaints about this here.

BBC unfair to President Obama!

I’m afraid I wasn’t paying complete attention during the inaugural speech. Too busy scanning the skies waiting for the mothership to descend. But it seemed pretty inclusive. Bush was thanked for “his service to our country.” Lots of mention of “our forebears” and George Washington, to make it very clear that Obama knows what country he is president of and, despite certain unfortunate remarks, fully identifies with it. Yeah, there was some slightly partisan stuff about “We are ready to lead once more” but, look, you can scarcely come in as a new president having campaigned on a slogan of “change” then say, “well on second thoughts, I am now firmly resolved to run things in exactly the same way as the previous administration,” can you?

It was all so nice. (I also liked the bit where there were no explosions.) I’m not sure I didn’t have a sentimental tear in my eye as I wandered out into the kitchen to inaugurate a celebratory packet of digestive biscuits.

So twenty seconds after the man calls it a wrap with “… and God bless the United States of America” down stomps the BBC in size eleven hob-nailed Doc Martins. The first, the very first, thing that comes out of the post-speech commentary just had to be that Obama’s comment blah blah blah was “a missile into the heart of the previous administration.” Something like that anyway, and I think, but only think, it was Huw Edwards doing the idioting. Like I said, by this time my attention had wandered. So after all that I missed the moment when the prophecies were fulfilled: because, surely brothers, the BBC was destined to speak thus.

Obama did no more than indulge in some standard “new dawn” rhetoric. The man may be an economic ignoramus but – and this skill at performance may bring us good or ill – he knows very well indeed how to vary his demeanour to match the mood of the occasion. The BBC doesn’t.

Doubts not raised.

You may recall this B-BBC post which linked to a BBC story titled “Doubts raised on US ‘plumber Joe'”:

Doubt has been cast over the story of “Joe the plumber”, the man who unexpectedly became the star of this week’s US presidential debate.

Joe Wurzelbacher, of Ohio, was thrown into the spotlight after he was used by John McCain as an example of who might suffer under Barack Obama’s tax plans.

But it now emerges he is not a licensed plumber and owes $1,200 in back taxes.

So, Joe Wurzelbacher is suddenly thrown into the spotlight – and in about five minutes flat the BBC makes sure we all know about his lack of a licence, his back taxes, and even that the name on his birth certificate is not actually Joseph.

Compare that to the BBC’s approach to another man who has found sudden fame: Dr Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor currently working in Gaza, has been quoted in media outlets all over the world, including multiple mentions on the BBC:

  • Israel ‘is nearing Gaza goals’

    Doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse said half of their patients were civilians, some of them young children with shrapnel and blast wounds.

    They also said 12 ambulance staff had been killed in shelling, despite their clearly-marked vehicles.

  • Israeli raids as reserves move in (includes a video interview with Dr Gilbert)

    Doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse said half of their patients were civilians, some of them young children with shrapnel and blast wounds.

  • Inside Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital (another video interview with Dr Gilbert)
  • Fighting flares outside Gaza City

    Israel says it is not targeting civilians but Dr Gilbert said he had only seen two fighters among hundreds of casualties.

No doubts raised there as to Dr Gilbert’s motives or veracity as a witness. The video interview within the second “Israeli raids” link is not exactly challenging (“You look exhausted. Tell us what it’s been like”) but does raise a teensy doubt an inch or so (“It has been said that you’ve turned political. What do you say to that?”) the better to set the stage for Dr Gilbert’s impassioned reply about the Hippocratic oath and being the voice of the voiceless.

Yet there are things in Dr Mads Gilbert’s past and present of a little more consequence than unpaid back taxes. For one thing, he didn’t “turn political” after seeing the sufferings of the Palestinians this month. He has long been very definitely political, a Maoist in fact. He is a member of the Norwegian Rødt (i.e. Red) party, formerly known as the Workers’ Communist Party. That alone tells us something about his attitude to objective truth that should raise doubts about anything he says as a witness. Note, I am not here throwing random abuse along the lines of “he’s a lefty, so he must be a liar.” I am stating that Maoists, in common with other Marxists, consciously hold as a matter of doctrine that “objective truth” is a bourgeois construction and truth is whatever the Party says it is.

In the BBC interview Dr Gilbert describes his unspecified politics as merely part of the “whole person” working in Gaza. Another aspect of his whole personhood is that he supported the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Here, via Harry’s Place, is a link to the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet in which when asked “Do you support the terrorist attack on the United States?” he replied “Terrorism is a bad weapon but the answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned.” You don’t need to understand Norwegian to be able to spot where he says this.

I have not yet touched on the biggest doubt of all: a doctor wrote to the Little Green Footballs website stating his opinion that Mads Gilbert participated in a staged video purporting to show CPR being executed in an unsuccessful attempt to save a mortally injured Palestinian boy. Numerous other doctors have agreed with the original correspondent that the man shown performing “chest compressions” could not possibly have believed that his light bouncing movements would actually restart the heart. Dr Gilbert is to the left. There are also odd editing discontinuities, and unexplained discrepancies between the order of events as shown on CNN and on Channel 4.

Isn’t that at least as interesting as “…a bit of media digging has uncovered that Mr Wurzelbacher’s first name is actually Samuel and he does not have a plumber’s licence, although the company he works for does”? The fact that the video was first withdrawn and then reinstated by CNN is a story in itself. It all remains undug by the BBC, though.

General BBC-related comment thread.

Please use this thread for comments about the BBC’s current programming and activities. This post will remain at or near the top of the blog – scroll down for new topic-specific posts. N.B. This is not an invitation for general off-topic comments, rants or chit-chat. Thoughtful comments are encouraged. Comments may also be moderated. Any suggestions for stories that you might like covered would be appreciated! It’s your space, use it wisely.