Friday, June 24, 2005

Disparate coverage

Taking another look at the Durbin story I wrote about yesterday, I thought it might be interesting to compare the BBC’s coverage of this scandal with a similar scandal over a Senator’s ill-advised choice of words that erupted back in 2002.

Some of you may recall that Trent Lott used to be a pretty important guy in the Senate. And then, at the 100th birthday party of Senator Strom Thurmond, Lott toasted Thurmond, saying that he should have won the presidency when he ran back in 1948 and suggesting that America would have been better off for it. Trouble was, in 1948 Thurmond was a racial segregationist and his purpose in running for president (as a Dixiecrat) was to advance a segregationist platform. Lott got in so much trouble that he was forced to resign his leadership position within the Senate.

In covering this episode, which went on for 11 days between December 10 and December 20, the BBC ran 10 separate stories, starting with the day after his original comments, continuing with detailed accounts of the controversy as it grew, and culminating, of course, with Lott’s resignation.

Fast forward to this past week. As I detailed yesterday, Dick Durbin’s comments on the Senate floor equating US actions in Guantanamo with Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot resulted in a similar uproar, although it appears that he may now escape without further damage to his position in the Senate. How much coverage did the BBC give it? A single story appearing a week after the incident and recounting virtually none of the raging controversy. (In fact, that story gives more coverage to other critics of Guantanamo than it does to criticism of Durbin, which is never specified.)

I can see two basic differences that might account for the disparity in the BBC’s treatment of the two scandals. 1) Lott is a Republican, while Durbin is a Democrat. 2) The BBC (I’m guessing) disagrees that Thurmond would have made a good president, while it finds comparisons between the US and any evil regime in history to be fairly uncontroversial.

You make the call.


Anonymous Mark said...

Yeah, looks to me like from the BBC's point of view, and it assumes the POV of the British public, what Durbin was stating was "the obvious". I mean, no use in beating a dead horse, right? I don't mean to suggest that's what I believe (quite the contrary), but I'm just speculating on their point of view. All you have to do is take a look at the coverage from some other lefty papers in the UK, and if you believed it, what Durbin said wouldn't have been that shocking. One of the things that helped Durbin out, at least in terms of the left, is that AI came out in front and said that Gitmo was a "gulag". So if you trust AI, again, what Durbin said wouldn't be that shocking.

Especially given some of the rhetoric we've seen published of what some Europeans think, they wouldn't find it shocking either. So to the Beeb, they just figured they'd mention it, kind of like an item saying, "Oh look. Finally someone in the U.S. has figured this out."

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

CBS ran one story on it. Durbin had the balls to say what a lot of people are thinking already. Guantanamo has done lasting damage to YOUR country. Im relieved someone on Capitol Hill has come to his senses. (Along with John McCain I might add and note you didnt mention him at all, but then he's a Republican.)

6:11 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I didn't mention McCain because his remarks, being temperate and reasonable, were not scandalous and did not provoke outrage. Durbin's, being hyperbolic and offensive, were and did. It is not criticism of Gitmo that has produced scandal. It is the nature of the criticism.

Regarding CBS, I wouldn't be surprised if you were correct. With the exception of FOX, all broadcast media in the States are left-leaning, with CBS being among the worst. So it is not surprising that, like the BBC, it would downplay a growing Democratic scandal.


7:58 AM  

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