Sunday, August 28, 2005

Justin Webb's deep thoughts

Rare is the occasion that sees the BBC’s Justin Webb filing a “From Our Own Correspondent” report without providing at least some evidence for TAE’s case against the BBC. With yesterday’s report they have become rarer still.

In it Webb uses (surprise!) Cindy Sheehan as the hook on which to hang his thesis that public sentiment in the US is turning so much against the war that “seismic” changes are afoot. But there are so many errors in the report, big and small, of fact and judgment, that one barely knows where to begin.

Webb’s questionable commitment to accuracy can be divined early on, when he speaks of the goings on at “Camp Casey”, Sheehan’s self-named protest site in Crawford. Acknowledging that at least some people oppose Sheehan, Webb says that “it is true that someone drove a truck over the encampment.” Actually, it isn’t quite true. In fact the truck ran over several of the wooden crosses erected outside the camp. There were no lounging protestors diving from their tent in order to avoid being run over, despite the impression Webb would leave you with. But this minor shading of the facts is nothing compared to the way he chooses to portray Sheehan and her movement.

According to Webb, Sheehan is one of several “earth mothers, talking about love, hugging each other, swapping recipes for organic stews.” Her protest is a “huge success” which is symbolic of the fact that Americans (“even Texans” Webb disdainfully adds) are “rethinking the Iraq war, indeed rethinking war itself as a tool of foreign policy.” Sheehan captured the nation because she and it agree on the needed direction in Iraq – out.

All the opinion polls this summer have pointed in one direction - out of Iraq.

Not necessarily now, not necessarily tomorrow, but at a date that should be visible from here.

And where Mrs Sheehan and the public at large have led, politicians of
both main parties are following.

But of course anyone truly familiar with Sheehan (ie not BBC watchers) knows that this is just so much rubbish. Webb has done his best not to edify his audience but to decieve them about Cindy Sheehan and what she (and the unmentioned but vaunted PR machine backing her) represents. In fact, Sheehan’s position, quite unlike the polls to which Webb refers, is to take the troops out now.

She also thinks Bush is a “filth-spewer”, a “war monger” and an “evil maniac” and that the US presence in Iraq is “spread[ing] the cancer of pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East.” She thinks that her son “was killed for lies and for a PNAC Neo-Con agenda to benefit Israel.” She thinks that the foreign terrorists going to Iraq to blow up innocent people are “freedom fighters”. These thoughts may reflect the feelings of the Washington press corps of which Webb is a part, but they do not reflect the thinking of most Americans, regardless of how disillusioned they may be with Iraq at the moment. If you want to know whether the American public actually identifies with Sheehan and her views, you’ll have to ignore Webb and the BBC and ask Rasmussen.

Either Webb doesn’t know all this about Sheehan (in which case shame on the BBC for employing a man so vastly ignorant of the very person he purports to write about) or, more likely, he simply doesn’t want you to know about them because he knows they make her sound like a Michael-Mooresque moonbat, which hardly lends credibility to his portrayal of her as sympathetic “earth mother” talking about "love" who has captured the heart of the nation.

Regular watchers of Webb will know of his penchant for insulting various constituencies of Americans, and yesterday it was the turn of Texans, who, we are told, are ignorant, gun-toting war mongers. Of course, Webb would not be so crass as to put it quite like that, but when Webb describes Bush’s neighbors – “real Texans”, we are told – the message is undeniably, and condescendingly, clear.
The president's neighbours are not, in other words, a bunch of city slickers.

They are not sophisticated thinkers on world affairs, they are at home with guns.

…. Texans have traditionally never believed in getting the troops out of anywhere, much the opposite.

Like I said: ignorant, gun-toting, war-mongering Texans. Texas is so bad, Webb “…cannot imagine a more hostile environment in which to set up a peace camp.” Really? The BBC ought to send Webb to Baghdad to set up a “peace camp” there. And the reference to Sheehan’s “peace camp” is a particularly sly piece of propaganda. Wanting the troops out now, as Sheehan does, could conceivably be described as anti-war (or, at least, anti-American-involvement-in-war). But who in their right mind actually believes that the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will result in “peace”?

Webb’s political judgement is hardly any better than his journalistic accuracy. Citing Russ Feingold and Chuck Hagel (and their “presidential ambitions” – ha!) as bellwethers of their respective parties is absurd. In talking about how potential presidential candidates are going to have to start figuring out now how to bail out of Iraq (because it is “inconceivable” that someone could win with Bush’s policies), he says ridiculous things like “The next presidential election is only three years away.” Only?!? Three years in politics, especially in Washington, is an eternity. George Bush the first had an approval rating of over 80% just a year and a half before he proceeded to lose to Clinton in his re-election bid. In December 2003 Howard Dean was everybody’s favourite candidate for the Democratic nomination. Two months later he was toast. The views of the American people are extremely fickle. “Only” three years? Please.

Leaving his audience with little doubt about where exactly he stands on the decision to liberate Iraq, Webb concludes with what he no doubt sees as a sage observation:
President Bush cannot look Cindy Sheehan in the eye and tell her that her son died because the White House messed up.

But a future president will.

I see. Her son didn't die because of the terrorists roaming around Iraq trying to make life hell for everyone. Nor did he die because he decided to voluntarily re-enlist in an army already at war. No. It was because the White House "messed up". Hmmm.

In any event, pretending to see justified shame inside the president’s refusal to play along with Sheehan’s publicity seeking demand to “meet” with the president is foolish enough. But asserting with authority what an unknown president from an unknown party in an unknown political situation at least three years hence will have to say about the merits of liberating Iraqis from Saddam is simply delusional.


Anonymous JohninLondon said...


I am glad you seized on this.

Webb's piece was truly terrible. Bias by omission, bias by lying, bias every which way.

And have no doubt -- it was deliberate. And it was not editid for correctness either.

This article/broadcast is a casebook example of BBC anti-Bush propaganda. What does Paul Reynolds think ?

1:08 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

I couldn't agree more and wrote a post myself.

Did you notice this in Webb's report:

"But those predictable reactions have been trumped by other friendlier ones ..."

Note the "predictable reactions" vs the "other friendlier ones". Bush supporters can be predicted to cause trouble while the anti-war crowd are the "friendlier ones", according to Webb.

This goes right along with the BBC's characterization of Sheehan's opponents as "conservative militants".

Webb's well up on the BBC's policy of dissing anti-war opponents.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post Scott. It's unbelievable that the BBC get still get away with calling this type of biased writing "News".Webb's article should be used as a textbook example of the BBC's bias against Bush and America . This kind of bias from the BBC make me more determined than ever to not renew my licence fee next year. Keep nailing these bastards Scott - the truth is beginning to shine through.

11:36 PM  
Blogger chip said...

"President Bush cannot look Cindy Sheehan in the eye and tell her that her son died because the White House messed up.

But a future president will.'

Actually, Bush has already looked Sheehan in the eye. As almost everyone knows, she had a meeting with the president after her son died.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Joe Noory said...

I've met Webb - he's a nrevous jerk who writes as he does but doesn't think vbery nimbly. I presented to him a factual error on his part, and he used a rehearased response about how he knows he isn't always accurate about the US, but that his children were born here - as if that absolves his factual and contextual liberties.

I know it's rehearsed because he told me the exact same thing in an email exchange, not knowing that I was the same person he was chatting with.

He seems desperate in many ways. He knows what he has to feed the world service and UK listeners, and knows how off base it is most of the time.

1:28 AM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

Somehow doubt Reynolds will pipe up about this -- his nuts are in the vise already.

The only interesting thing about Webb is that he's a known disgrace but still on the payroll. Who's protecting him, and why? It would be good to hear an official response but it won't happen.

Right now the BBC's newsrooms will be working hard on an anti-American spin for hurricane Katrina. Brace yourselves for sermons from "environmentalists" at Louisiana State University and preening by British Boscastle "experts".

Oh, for any still interested in Mother Sheehan, this recent quote (via Lucianne) won't make it to any commentary of Webb's:

"Someone said before I came back down here that we should go down in a pasture near Bush's ranch and thousands of people would come and you ought to call it Turdstock, so let's call it Turdstock." --Wordsmith Cindy Sheehan speaking at a rally this weekend

9:35 AM  
Blogger Richard John said...

Oh good grief. Even now I cannot believe this guy.

Interesting point from Rasmussen. Inside the US (unlike the BBC) the interest in the subject would appear on a par with Iranian nuclear power. Perhaps not quite the subject being debated in the living rooms of every American household then. There's a thing.

12:20 AM  

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