On January 13, 1898, an open letter by renowned writer Émile Zola was published in the French newspaper L’Aurore. Zola reacting to the unlawful conviction and imprisonment of a Jewish officer in the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus. He accused the government (and, one was meant to extrapolate, the press and society) of anti-Semitism, and declared that this prejudice is what led to Dreyfus’s imprisonment in spite of the facts of the case. It’s still known today as “The Dreyfus Affair”.
In his letter, Zola pointed out judicial errors and highlighted the lack of real evidence in the case. He went on to condemn the general anti-Semitic attitude of the government and many in society which led to the false accusation of espionage. He also stated that the General in charge of the investigation withheld key evidence which would prove the charges were false. In fact, Zola found that another man was to blame for the crime, but since charging him would also have implicated the Army brass, they sat on the story. Someone had to be a scapegoat, and they pointed the finger at someone, simply out of the convenience of prejudice. The Army even tried and acquitted the actual guilty man. Stop me if any of this is starting to sound familiar.
Another dimension to Zola’s point was that the entrenched anti-Semitism in the government, army, and society in general is what caused the crime against Dreyfus. Unfortunately, he was soon convicted of libel for it, and was sentenced to prison. He fled to England, where he stayed until the sitting French Government fell apart. Dreyfus served time at Devil’s Island, but eventually was able to get his case retried. He got a happy result in the end, but it took years and a lot of struggle.
Like the French Army more than a century ago, the BBC is blaming an innocent person for inciting a crime perpetrated by someone else. Even in the face of evidence that the murderer in Tucson had completely different influences, the BBC still accuses Sarah Palin of inciting him to attempt the assassination of a government official. In fact, the BBC tried to censor the news that Jared Loughner was left-wing and had been angry with his intended victim since 2007, long before anyone ever heard of Sarah Palin. In other words, in spite of all the evidence telling them that there’s no possible way the perpetrator of the crime could have been inspired by the words and deeds of Sarah Palin, they accuse her anyway. By extension, they are accusing the Tea Party movement and pundits and leading figures on the political Right for these murders. But they need a scapegoat for the story they want to tell, and found one out of convenience. All in the face of the evidence, and all due to their political and personal prejudices.
Let’s get the first line of defense out of the way. The BBC believes itself to be a special organization, one which stands apart from the rest of the worlds’ media. It’s at least part of their justification for the license fee. Thus, I would say that it would be unacceptable for them to claim that, as the rest of the media is making the story about political rhetoric, so too should the BBC, and that it’s perfectly acceptable for them to ignore the facts of the case and change the story to suit the Narrative.
If we’re to accept the BBC is what they claim it to be, then we expect that the BBC ought to rise above petty politics in the case of a tragedy which was so clearly due to mental illness. Mark Mardell should have followed his own advice from back when that Muslim Major committed mass murder at Ft. Hood, and demurred from pointing fingers at easy targets. The BBC News producers should have held their staff back from declaring a Right-wing cause for this crime in the exact same manner in which they restrained their staff from immediately blaming Islamic Jihad on such crimes when reporting on that Palestinian with a bulldozer, the attempted bombing of Times Square, the attempted bombing of that London night club, when MP Stephen Timms was stabbed, and Maj. Nidal. In those cases, the BBC was among the last to associate the crimes with the influence of Islamic Jihad, and often even warned against such a connection. All in stark contrast to the way they’ve reported on this case in Tucson.
Or did they not have to be reminded of their duty to journalistic integrity in those cases? Is there an instinctive move to defend in some cases, but attack in others, regardless of the facts involved?
Now, the BBC seems to be relentless in this attack of convenience on their political enemies. In spite of the evidence that Loughner was clearly mentally disturbed and dangerous, and had targeted Rep. Giffords since 2007, the BBC still wants to make the story about Sarah Palin, the Tea Party movement, and many others on the Right of the political spectrum. They surely haven’t failed to take advantage of a crisis. A weak attempt to make this about the larger issue of the nature of political rhetoric in the US doesn’t alter the basis of their reporting, or the overall tone of the coverage across the spectrum.
I submit that this behavior is due to an inherent political prejudice at the BBC, specifically in the News department. I include World News in this, as they all share footage and resources so much as to be virtually indistinguishable when reporting on international stories. They all sign off as reporting for BBC News in any case.
In spite of known facts that the murderer in Tucson had no connection to Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement or Fox News, and was in reality mentally disturbed and had a wide range of influences, they are making the story about the non-Left elements only. Why not discuss his interest in Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto, BBC? Why not use this as an opportunity to discuss how society needs to improve the way we look after the mentally ill? No, instead the BBC uses this as a chance to attack their political enemies.
The fact that the BBC is now giving air time to Keith Olbermann, someone who is known not for his journalistic integrity but almost exclusively these days for his venomous political vitriol, tells you all you need to know about the bias at the BBC.
It’s an intellectual failure, and a failure of integrity. It’s not enough to start admitting after two or three days of stories focusing exclusively on blaming political rhetoric from the Right that the murderer had other issues. The damage is done, and the real story buried deep beneath a mass of political attacks. The BBC has done an equivalent of the Dreyfus Affair here by accusing and convicting Sarah Palin and Right-wing pundits of directly inciting murder, in the face of known evidence to the contrary. They leapt to accuse before the facts were out, then ignored and suppressed the facts which pointed in another direction, simply because that would hurt the Narrative, the story they wanted to tell.
In short: BBC, j’accuse!
Nothing short of an apology from the BBC is going to fix this, and nothing short of a wholesale change in personnel at BBC News is going to prevent this from happening again and again in the future. They should start with those in the US.