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.”

Stealth edits.

Got this one from the comments to the last post. Tasty Manatees made a few judicious comments about a BBC story on a riot in Iraq. Then he found the story had mysteriously changed… And, as the next commenter points out, the Telegraph’s Beebwatch has reported

another example of a stealth edit.

To some extent I think that stealth edits are a natural result of the explosion of written material put out by the BBC – it’s worth remembering that only a few years ago the BBC’s output was pretty well all either scripted or spontaneous spoken word – and of the fact that writing on the internet can be changed. I bet many an over-hasty newspaperman has wished he could chop and change too. Stealth edits are sometimes better than letting the kiddies’ sillier statements stand; at least it proves that there is someone there with enough grounding in reality to recognise when there might be a problem. But there really ought to be either some convention to mark when and where the edit took place and/or a Error Central page like the readers’ editors pages of some newspapers. Many BBC news stories have a line saying “last updated” at the top, but it’s like those “last checked” charts in supermarket loos: no one seems to actually update the ‘last updated’ signs very often.

This might be a good moment to talk about my own stealth editing policy, which I have just this moment made up. (I don’t know what the other posters think. Contrary to popular belief I am not the boss here.) It’s this. I can stealth edit all I like except when I really want to.

In other words, typos, mis-spellings, grammatical errors, etc. will be corrected without informing you, the readers. Little improvements to the style, ditto. There is a grey area when it comes to making substantial but uncontroversial changes – deleting or adding whole paragraphs; I’d try to mention it but it’s no great sin if I don’t. But if I have made an embarrassing boo-boo I have to admit it.

Yes, that’s actually a more lax policy than I recommend for the BBC. So what? This is a blog. They are the BBC.

Robert Hinkley writes


On 27 September: this link says:

“North Korea has called for economic aid and a non-aggression pact with America in return for surrendering its nuclear ambitions, but Washington has consistently refused.”

Urm, that would be a bit like the economic aid that was provided by America in the 90s and up to November last year in return for North Korea surrendering its nuclear ambitions but then North Korea turned round and said “Haha, we’ve been building nuclear weapons all along you fools!” then “Oh no we haven’t, oh yes we have, no we haven’t but we want to, we have

them already, no we don’t. Now you don’t know *what* to think, you yankee dogs!”

“We have just submitted a detailed analysis of the BBC Iraq blog as evidence to the Hutton Inquiry”

– 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.

Misrepresentation of anyone is wrong.

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.

BBC special offer! Get yer kinky rightwing sex here! Two fer the price of one!

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 Telegraph scarcely needs

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.

Check out these:

  • Public Interest comments on a Polly Toynbee article on how we need the BBC for our own good.
  • The Spectator says “reform it, don’t kill it” but Samizdata disagrees.
  • Will Thomas writes that Salam Pax will be on the Beeb today, “Answering Qs from carefully selected Beeb junkies this afternoon at 2:30 [BST]. – Just in case you were interested in trying to creep past the censors, like me.”

    Good luck in getting through.

  • I got a perfect score

    in this BBC quiz about Islam. Perhaps that has led me to look kindly on it. It’s very much the BBC view, but I accept a certain delicacy is necessary here. In several cases I gave the answer I knew they wanted while maintaining reservations. Jihad certainly can mean interior struggle -but the non-PC “holy war” translation is enthusastically accepted by many Muslims. That figure for the projected US Muslim population is based on figures for the present population that are contested; estimates vary by a factor of three and the BBC has gone for the higher end. Divorce can indeed be initiated by man or woman, but what they do not say is that the rules are not symmetrical. Finally, I found it a little odd that there wasn’t a “Muslims believe” wrapped round the statement that “Islam began in the Arabian Peninsula in 610 when the prophet Muhammad began to receive his revelations of the direct word of God,” but I attribute that to a condescending mindset that is willing to humour all religions equally rather than to acceptance of the tenets of Islam at the BBC.

    Readers write.

    As Raj noticed, I tried to dodge getting all the B-BBC bias letters for a bit, because of other commitments. What I think I’ll do is every now and then make a post like this one that invites anyone who wishes to tell the world about examples of bias they have seen. Of course it’s impractical for us to track them all down and check the details; this is a amateur website. Think of it as political conversation at a social event. Just as in party debates, speakers will add to their credibility if they are moderate in tone and give details (e.g. time, channel, speaker, a hyperlink where appropriate) where they can. Polite disagreement also welcome.


    writes (originally a comment to the post below):

    I’m writing as someone who in general believed the BBC to be biased over the war but otherwise find most complaints of bias petty.

    The BBC Breakfast news today had a piece on hunting today just before 8am.

    First there was a prefilmed piece which was presumably put together by the BBC.

    You heard 2 anti hunt protestors putting forward their point of view with no opposing questions and it seemed to include footage filmed by these protestors.

    Then there was an interview with a hunt member. He was asked quite aggressive questions & was interrupted in order to get as many questions over as possible. The difference between allowing one side to present it’s argument uninterrupted & having the other side being interviewed by a seemingly sceptical interviewer was in my opinion almost certain to give the anti hunt side a more favourable press than the pro hunt side.

    The Guardian

    says that only when we lose the BBC will we realise what we have lost. Not so. I know perfectly well I will miss this blog. Come the glorious day all the B-BBC posters will feel some of the emptiness that must have touched Carl Bernstein’s soul when he realised that, truly, he no longer had Nixon to kick around any more. With Othello we will bid farewell to the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war and lament that our occupation’s gone. I may even find a little tear trickling down my cheek as I take my £116 to the bank.

    Ever hopeful.

    Sweden had a referendum today on whether to join the Euro. Voting was overshadowed by the murder of Anna Lindh, foreign minister and leading voice of the Yes campaign. The BBC had six quickie quotes from Swedes exiting the polls, clearly gathered before the result was known. How come five out of the six people whose views were quoted had voted Yes? The No campaign led the polls throughout, and in the end won.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see some hurried revision of this story. So, just for the record, the people quoted were Per Schonborg, Halldis Hag Andersson, Beatrice Janzon (the sole No), Jon Lagerberg, Annika Schwarts and Roger Charmete.