Bremner vs Bush

Among the comments to the previous post I particularly liked this one by Joe N:

What I found rather cute in the R4 documentary, was the way it tried to be reasonable, but resorted to “mockumentary” tacktics anyway.

They had a voice-actor imitating President Bush at each segment, and when they played a series of quotations by him, the background music was of rural banjo fuges, as though it meant to cue the pavlov’s dogs of the listening audience a seeming reference to the movie “deliverance”.

The arrogant, culturally ignorant bastards at the BBC don’t even realize that there is no such tradition in Texas, and that he doesn’t comre from the Appalachian or mountain-south traditions associated with the type of fade-in/fade-out music they played.

Really – they are idiots willing to employ what they think they know about a folk culture to abuse someone! It’s about as sophisticated and shows as much a lack of depth of familiarity as a would-be photo-montage of Barack Obama with a watermelon and a bucket of fried chicken.

I assume Joe N is referring to this programme in which the impressionist Rory Bremner “considers the rhetorical evolution of George W Bush from gaffe-prone candidate to grandiose war president.”

I caught the end of the programme. It could have been worse, I suppose. At least it allowed various of Bush’s speechwriters and so on to have a word, though of course the beginning and end of each segment had to be according to the BBC narrative. I did notice one thing – after actually praising Bush for some good rhetoric, the inevitable contrasting Bush-is-stupid bit was the occasion where Bush said that he was “proud to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hands cut off by Saddam Hussein.”

Ha ha ha.

Now, given that the BBC researchers managed to dig out from the archives a clip of his actual words (52 minutes in) then the programme-makers must have known the context in which this speech was made. The link takes you to a post at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, which (unlike the BBC or the Slate magazine feature that prompted Eugene Volokh’s post) gives the next few lines of the speech:

I’m honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein. I’m with six other Iraqi citizens, as well, who suffered the same fate. They are examples of the brutality of the tyrant.

I am also here with Marvin Zindler, of Houston, Texas. I appreciate Joe Agris, the doctor who helped put these hands on these men; Don North, the documentary producer who made a film of this brutality, which brought the plight of these gentlemen to the attention of Marvin and his foundation. These men had hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen. And I am so proud to welcome them to the Oval Office. . . .

Bush was able to shake this man’s hand because he was among several men who had just been provided with artificial hands by US surgeons. That was what occasioned the speech being made at all. He was saying, wasn’t it great that they did, once again, have functioning hands despite the barbaric punishment inflicted upon them.

As I said, the programme makers must have understood those circumstances. But they – and Rory Bremner – chose a cheap laugh over explaining them.

The trouble with those people is they think they can do whatever they want.

“Can Israel do whatever it wants?”

That’s the headline on today’s World Have Your Say, presented by the BBC. I haven’t got time to go into all the buried assumptions and question-begging this choice of headline embodies. It’s designed to draw forth either the answer “Yes – because the world will not stop these maniacs” or “No – the world must stop these maniacs”.

The hours go by.

Stewart Fleming, a 37 year old signalman and father of two, was photographed by his wife as he waited for six hours in Medway Maritime Hospital’s A&E department. He is shown clutching a note from his doctor saying that he must be seen immediately. The photo can be seen at the head of this story in the Sun. It has a certain poignancy now, given that during the wait Mr Fleming’s organs failed one by one and he is now dead.

Squander Two writes:

Secondly, this is being reported all over the place, of course, and every report I’ve seen mentions the six-hour wait, what with it being the whole point of the story. Except the BBC’s:

An inquiry is under way into the death of a man after a two-hour delay in him being seen by an A&E unit in Kent.

I’ll print the rest, what with the BBC’s well-established reputation for stealthily editing their reports after criticism without changing the “Page last updated” bit — for lying, in other words.

Squander Two then does so, and adds some considered commentary on how the BBC could possibly have ended up describing a six hour wait as a two hour wait. His remarks are all the more damning in that they strive so hard to be fair.

Perhaps the BBC read it, as there is something rather shamefaced about the follow-up story concerning the statement on the case by the Chief Executive of the Medway NHS Foundation Trust, which does manage to mention the unadjusted times involved.

While shepherds washed their socks by night

All watching ITV

The angel of the Lord came down

And switched to BBC.

Anyone else remember that? I’m pretty sure that in the playgrounds of my youth it was that way round, though Google gives about 50-50 the angel switching to ITV. I draw no particular conclusions. The only real purpose of this post is to wish everyone a merry Christmas.

Radio Solent: serving all sections of the community

BBC Radio Solent (no relation whatsoever!) reports that four animal rights activists have been convicted of blackmail, criminal damage, extortion, bomb threats…

So what is Radio Solent’s response to this?

To give the microphone to a spokeswoman for the criminal group responsible so that she could justify their actions, of course. Listen here; it’s 1 hour 57 minutes in.

Hat tip: Chuffer.


  • Bishop Hill on the close yet unclear relationship between the Cambridge Environment and Media Programme and the BBC.
  • Tom Gross of the WSJ writes, “If this isn’t terrorism, what is?”

    For much of the Mumbai siege, the BBC went out of its way to avoid reporting that the Jewish community center was one of the seven targets. At one point viewers were told that “an office building” had been targeted (referring to the Jewish center as such).

    Then on Friday morning, TV pictures of Indian commandos storming the besieged Jewish center were broadcast by networks around the world. Heavily armed commandos, their faces covered by balaclavas, rappelled from helicopters onto the roof while Indian sharpshooters in buildings opposite opened fire and a helicopter circled overhead. Huge crowds of onlookers could be seen looking aghast as they watched from nearby streets. While Sky News and other channels were gripped by these dramatic pictures, BBC World was not, almost pretending there was no siege at the Jewish center — even though by then it was one of only two sites that remained under attack in Mumbai. Had the terrorists chosen to besiege a church or mosque instead, can you imagine the BBC ignoring it this way?

  • You mean those scary statistics in the letters from TV Licensing weren’t true?
  • Following on from Laban’s post, I was listening to Radio 4 the day before yesterday at about 6.15pm. There was quite a lengthy discussion of Governor Rod Blagojevich’s corruption without, yet again, any mention of what party he represented. I expect this tactic works quite well. Anyone listening properly would have gathered Mr Blagojevich was of the same party as Mr Obama, but the many, many people who listen with half an ear while they get on with something else would never hear “blah blah corruption blah blah Democrat blah” whereas you can be sure that in a similar scandal involving a Republican they would get “blah corruption Republican blah THAT’S RIGHT, REPUBLICAN blah”.

I’m looking for something.

Can you guess what?

Israel buries Mumbai attack dead“Six Jews died at the centre, which was one of several places targeted in the attacks that left 188 people dead.”

“She [Sandra Samuel, Moshe Holtzberg’s nanny] hid in a cupboard when the centre was attacked, but emerged to rescue the child after his parents were killed.”

“The Chabad centre was stormed on Wednesday evening by armed militants who seized hostages and fought a gun battle with Indian commandos.

Indian forces eventually regained control of the centre, killing several gunmen, but six of the hostages were found dead.”

Officials quit over India attacks (An earlier headline, preserved in the header, was “Troops battle to end Mumbai seige.) “Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, had been killed alongside his wife, Rivka.”

Israel awaits Mumbai attack dead “The organisation confirmed that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, had been killed alongside his wife, Rivka. Their two-year-old son survived.”

Mumbai victims from all walks of life “Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivkah, 28, were among six Jews killed in the Mumbai attacks. They were found dead at the Jewish cultural centre, known as Nariman House, which was one of the gunmen’s key targets.”

Officials quit over India attacks (Has the header “Police declare Mumbai seige over”, and seems to be a later version of the second story listed.) “The organisation confirmed that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, had been killed alongside his wife, Rivka.”

Tense times for Mumbai’s Jews “Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were among the six people who died in the attack at Nariman House. “

As it happened: Mumbai attacks 27 Nov – contains references to the Holtzbergs being held hostage.

As it happened: Mumbai attacks – 28 Nov “A Brooklyn-based rabbi and his wife were killed in the siege on the Nariman House Jewish centre, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement confirms. Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were “the beloved directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai”, it says.”

Jewish centre seized in Mumbai – contains a reference to the status of Rabbi Holtzberg being unknown at that time.

(Emphasis added in all cases.)

‘Cos Doctor says.

A BBC report, Patients going ‘private’ on NHS by Nick Triggle, says:

Thousands of patients a month in England are using a government reform to get what is effectively private treatment paid for by the taxpayer.

Patients have the right to opt for any NHS hospital or private unit that can offer the care at NHS cost.

In little over 12 months, the number opting for private hospitals has risen 10-fold to over 3,500 a month.

This story caught the attention of Tom Bowman at the Adam Smith Institute blog, who writes

You might think that everyone would consider this a good thing, but unfortunately you would be wrong. Just read the BBC article I linked to above, the implicitly negative slant jumps off the page every bit as much as the organization’s left-wing bias. Take the first paragraph as an example: “Thousands of patients a month in England are using a government reform to get what is effectively private treatment paid for by the taxpayer.”

Couldn’t they just have said, “Thousands of English patients are now getting better treatment at no additional cost to the taxpayer”, instead?

That would be an equally valid statement of the facts. The question of why the BBC couldn’t just – and just couldn’t – have said it is an interesting one, covered elsewhere on this blog.

However there is an even worse example of bias in the next sentence from Mr Triggle:

Doctors said patients needed to think carefully as vital NHS money was being lost to private health providers.

Emphasis added. I note this partly in obedience to the necessary convention that quotes are not doctored without warning, partly because it helps the reader better amuse him or herself when repeating these words in a voice modelled on that of an awestruck student nurse rebuking a recalcitrant patient in Carry On Nurse.

This and That

This and that

  • Blognor Regis, writing about the BBC’s “Time Shift 8: How to be a good president”, says he does not go in for hate, but

    …then I take a look at this motley crew, the same old same old rapid response talking head squad, ready to pontificate on anything at anytime, only five minutes from this television studio: Jonathan Freedland is helped by distinguished contributors including James Naughtie, Shirley Williams, Douglas Hurd, Simon Hoggart and Bonnie Greer. Celebrating the diversity of opinion there I don’t think.


  • David Friedman wrote about how the BBC reported a story concerning a worldwide improvement in the child mortality statistics:

    …the Lancet reports that, worldwide, the child death rate has fallen by 28% since 1990. Breaking it down by region, “deaths in western and central Africa have fallen by just 18%; in sub-Saharan Africa the figure was 21%, while in eastern and southern Africa it was 26%.”


How does BBC headline the story?

Huge split in child death rates

Beneath the headline, in boldface type:

“Progress in cutting the number of deaths among children under five is still ‘grossly insufficient’ in some parts of the world, Unicef has warned.” The picture that accompanies it is of two black children, one crying and one looking grim.

The actual news is that things are getting better. But that is not the impression that the headline, the introduction or the picture is designed to give.

I switched from CNN to BBC as a source of online news in response to CNN’s extraordinarily biased reporting of the FLDS case in Texas. BBC is not as bad—you only have to read to the bottom of the article to get the relevant information.

  • I see that after being cramped for so long by having to pay lip-service that tedious Charter obligation to be impartial, the BBC’s Justin Webb has finally drawn the “Get Out of Impartiality Free” card. Now that he has drawn this card, he, a BBC journalist paid by the BBC to write on the BBC website, can describe one of the American vice-presidential candidates in the terms detailed in David’s earlier post:

    And yet the Palin world-view – essentially ignorant, unable to name a single paper read – is not the view that a nation facing an economic catastrophe, complex and international and baffling to most minds, is likely to choose … to hear Palin screeching on about Reagan must be painful to many Republicans who knew him.

    Or he can described her in the terms detailed in Hugh’s post, namely as:

    the woman rational, educated Americans regard with ever-increasing horror.

    The other name for this card is the “Blog”card.

Let’s not be hasty.

In this BBC article, US marks seventh 9/11 anniversary, it says:

Mr Obama said in a statement “the terrorists responsible for 9/11 are still at large, and must be brought to justice,” in a reference to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, who the US believes masterminded the attacks.

(Emphasis added.)

Damned if I can see any reason for that phrasing other than to cast doubt on whether it was Osama Bin Laden who masterminded the attacks. Wasn’t Bin Laden’s own video claiming responsibility good enough for the BBC?

We’ve had this despicable pandering to conspiracy theorists before. There was something of a flare-up a year ago today, as it happened. It ended with worldwide hostile interest courtesy of a link from the Drudge Report and condemnation of the BBC from a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and BBC governor. See this roundup post.

I’ll finish with some further observations from commenters. From “George R”:

In its report on 9/11 anniversary, the BBC presents the events of that day passively and anonymously:

“..four hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvanian field.”

From “Pat”:

On today of all days a topic on the BBC HYS page is ‘Should the US review its war on terror?’

From “Martin”:

… I keep wanting to know where the ‘unsubscribe’ button is on the BBC’s website.

(Added later.) I do find it depressing to reflect how I came to write the above post. Before going to bed last night I scanned the BBC website and, remembering what happened last year, I thought, “At least they wouldn’t dare peddle that line agai– oh. They would.”

Finally, just to lay to rest any doubts: the title was intended as sarcasm.

UPDATE, 13 SEP: The wording of the BBC article has now been stealth-edited to “…in a reference to the hunt for the al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.” The “Last Edited” field at the top of the page says “17:33 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 18:33 UK”. This is untrue, as I noticed the original and offensive wording that prompted my post hours later than that and it was still there the following morning.

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.

Slow burn.

The BBC Press Office says of Burn Up, its latest drama, made in conjunction with a Canadian company and featuring attractive Canadian locations*, that it is “a highly authored piece wholly of this unique moment in time.”

Don’t ask me.

Anyway, AA Gill of the Times says:

This gem of the scriptwriter’s craft was brought to us courtesy of Burn Up (Wednesday/Friday, BBC2), the hugely expensive and very Canadian and cavernously vacuous thriller about Kyoto and global warming that starred Adam from Spooks and Josh from The West Wing. Watching it was a bit like being manacled to the table at a Notting Hill dinner party, or being lectured by a vegan vitamin salesman.

The finger-wagging about global warming was relentless and unabating, all couched in the comfy velour of the edge-of-history and watershed gibberish. The goodies were witty, brilliant, sensitive, imaginative, attractive, sexy and great dancers – rather, I suspect, like the scriptwriters. The baddies were, well,they were all American. This was film-making from the Soviet school of political subtlety, a childishly black-and-white premise, delivered with a patronising blog of a script, which overwhelmed the plot, pace, anything resembling a character and, finally, the audience’s sympathy.

And Kevin O’Sullivan of the Mirror says:

The end of the world is nigh. Americans are baddies . The oil business is terribly awful. Invest in windmills… before it’s TOO LATE.

Preaching the kind of dreary ecoorthodoxy that soppy actors just love, BBC2’s lukewarm Burn Up was stupefying.

I was a little worried that the BBC might forget to insert the evil Christians into the first episode as made de rigeur by the first episodes of Spooks and Bonekickers. But Mike McNally was able to reassure me:

Battling Holly for Tom’s soul is oil lobbyist Mack, played by The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford. Mack is essentially JR Ewing without the good points, and in case the viewer should be in any doubt as to the extent of his moral bankruptcy, in one of Burn Up’s many gratuitously America-bashing scenes Mack is shown watching a faith healer at work on cable TV, and exclaiming, with tears in his eyes, “Praise the Lord!” It’s not bad enough that he’s a shill for the oil industry — he’s a Bible-bashing shill for the oil industry.

*I want to be positive where I can.

You can’t have it both ways.

Sam Leith in the Telegraph responds to the arguments in favour of the TV licence put forward in a recent column by the BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson. Sam Leith writes:

On the one hand, we are told that the BBC deserves its funding because it is hugely popular; on the other, we are told that its programming would wither on the vine were its popularity to be tested in the marketplace. On the one hand, we are told that it has a “unique link” with its adoring viewers; on the other, we are assured that so strong and affectionate is that link that it needs to be maintained by the full majesty of the criminal law.

Well said, but I did not agree with the following:

Above all, I’m thinking about news reporting. [As a thing that the state-funded broadcaster ought to be doing – NS] This is something that is very, very expensive to do well – and it is something the BBC, however bedevilled by accusations of bias, at present does do excellently. The balkanisation of the commercial media means fewer and fewer organisations are able to invest in original reporting or proper verification: cheap, quick and sexy increasingly trumps fair, honest and scrupulous. A properly independent BBC, funded by all of us, could be exempt from that trend.

I think that the balkanisation of the commercial media is not a fact of nature, but partly a result of “crowding out” by the BBC. The payoff that other organisations might get from putting their money into original reporting is much reduced if they must compete with a broadcaster that can put your money into original reporting.

UPDATE: Re-reading the Director-General’s article, I was struck by this passage describing what the world would be like without the BBC:

The Albert Hall in August would be in darkness – there would be no BBC Proms, broadcast across television and radio. The Young Musician of the Year would remain undiscovered. Pop fans would be denied the Radio 1 Big Weekend, and Jools Holland on BBC 2. Musicians in the BBC orchestras could be busking on the street.

In his commendable desire to avoid sensationalism the D-G has put his case far too modestly. What would actually happen should the BBC be abolished is that, deprived of their proper object, the eyeballs of every single person who had ever watched a BBC programme would instantly explode.

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.