Saturday, June 04, 2005


It is bad enough that the BBC thinks this ridiculous Koran "desecration" story at Guantanamo is worthy of its coverage, but is it too much to ask that it get its facts straight when covering it? Apparently it is.
The US has given details of how guards mishandled copies of the Koran at its
Guantanamo Bay prison, including a case of one copy being deliberately kicked.
It was part of an inquiry sparked by a magazine report, later retracted, that a
Koran was flushed down a toilet.

No, the inquiry was not sparked by a magazine report that a Koran was flushed down a toilet. The inquiry had been underway well before the Newsweek report, and indeed the Newsweek report was about what the already-existing investigation had discovered. This is what the article in the May 9 Newsweek said:
Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center
at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI
e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases,
sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed
a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog
Newsweek was, of course, wrong. The investigation did not confirm the flushing of a Koran down a toilet, as we now know. But only in the strange world inhabited by BBC reporters could an investigation have been "sparked" by an incorrect report about the conclusions of that very same investigation.

Why is this mistake important? Because it perpetuates the myth that, in the absence of media pressure, the US military is uninterested in and unaccountable for the misbehaviors of those acting in its behalf. This is a conceit of the media in general, and is a deceit that is perpetuated particularly by the BBC. The fact is that the US military is so image-conscious that it even investigates and reports seriously on these trivial and petty "abuses" of Korans. (Korans which, by the way, were provided to the prisoners by who? The US, of course.)

BTW, if Koran "desecration" is such an offense to Muslims, and such an important issue for the BBC to cover, why is it that this report doesn't make a single mention of the number of Korans which were surely destroyed?

Profiles in Bias

The BBC often publishes "Profiles" of people who happen to be topical in the news and with whom, presumably, the BBC feels their audience might not be familiar. Compare and contrast the style and approach in two relatively recent profiles, one for Dominique De Villepin who has just been appointed Prime Minister in France, and the other for John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for US representative to the UN.

The first two lines on De Villepin:

France's new Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is best known for leading the charge against US policy in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The silver-haired politician, once referred to as a "diplomatic pin-up" by a newspaper, cuts a dashing figure in the often grey world of French politics.
A newspaper? Who cares what "a newspaper" said about him. "A newspaper" also once referred to, and even pictured De Villepin as, a "weasel". Why wasn't that mentioned as part of his profile?

On the other hand, this is a Brit's first glimpse of Bolton, as seen through the filter of the BBC:
Employees at the UN in New York have described reactions ranging from
disbelief to horror when John Bolton was nominated as US ambassador to the

So, one "cuts a dashing figure" and the other inspires "disbelief" and "horror". Just the facts on old Auntie BBC.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Filibuster mania

Yesterday Powerline pointed out that Sidney Blumenthal, ex-Clinton aide and current columnist for The Guardian, has been peddling misinformation about the whole filibuster imbroglio to his British audience. The Guardian is not the only outlet here that covered the issue, nor, unfortunately, do they win the prize for the most ill-informed coverage of it. That distinction must surely belong to the BBC, which published at least 3 separate articles on the filibuster fight, each of which was as bad as the last.

The first article, written by Justin Webb back in April, portrays the filibuster as a warm-hearted American tradition, and puts forward Senator Robert Byrd as a loveable practioner and defender of it in the mold of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Unfortunately, Webb fails to inform his readers that the filibuster which Byrd, a former member of the KKK, so fondly remembers was in fact his attempt to prevent passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Bill. I guess filling his readers in on that fact would have detracted a bit from the warm and cuddly feeling the reader is suppose to get. Besides, he had more important facts to focus on, like the fact that this “plot to ban the filibuster” had been hatched on behalf of “evangelical Christians who desperately want President Bush's conservative judges to get into the courts and start dispensing their kind of justice.” Riiiight.

The BBC's next attempt to explain the issue came at the hands of one James Coomarasamy. This was a less flippant and, on the surface at least, more in-depth analysis than what Webb could muster of what was going on. But still it failed utterly to capture the reality of the situation. Apart from the usual imbalances and leading language common to biased reporting, along with outright factual errors (he claims that the term "nuclear option" derives from the "destructive power" of eliminating the filibuster), Coomarasamy fails to note some of the most relevant points of the dispute: how historically rare, prior its most recent application, the use of the filibuster has been with regard to judicial nominations; the recent politicization of the judicial approval process (both among Republicans and Democrats); the fact that the Republican proposal applied only to filibusters on judicial nominations. But his most egreious error is that he totally miscontrues the American notion of checks and balances. He rightly points out that America "holds its system of checks and balances in high regard", but is apparently under the misconception that "checks and balances" refers to the minority party's ability to constrain the power of the majority, rather than what it actually refers to...the ability of various branches of government to constrain the power of other branches. This confusion leads him to imply that the divisiveness over the issue derives from the fact that the Republican plan threatens the cherished checks and balances. That claim is simply ridiculous, but it of course leaves the impression of the Republicans as a threat to the "system".

Finally, on the back of the Gang of 14 deal last week which averted a vote on the "nuclear option", the BBC gave the topic one more shot, although this time the article was, perhaps understandably, not attributed to any specific author. The article allows unnamed Democrats to "point out" that 1) the filibuster was used by Republicans against Bill Clinton's nominees (the same claim propagated by Blumenthal in the Guardian) and 2) that there is little difference between the ratio of blocked nominations under Bush and that under Clinton. How one can sensibly "point out" things that are demonstrably false is unclear to me. (Can one "point out" that the sun rises in the west?) But the biggest whopper came with this claim by the BBC itself:

If the Republican side had gone ahead, in a plan which would have used the vote of Vice-President Dick Cheney to declare the filibuster unconstitutional, the upshot could have been to freeze Senate business altogether.

One barely knows where to begin to unravel this one.

1) Cheney doesn't even have a vote unless there is a tie, which was hardly part of the "plan".

2) The proposal was nothing more than an attempt to change Senate rules. It had absolutely nothing to do with declaring anythign "unconstitutional".

3) The only way Senate business might have been frozen would have been if Democrats had implemented their plan to, well, freeze Senate business in response.

A whole trifecta of errors all in one simple sentence. If the BBC was this efficient in running its more general affairs, it probably wouldn't have to be sacking people.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Mission statement

My primary aim with this site is to document and counter the misinformation about America that regularly flows forth from the British media. The quotation at the top of this site is a perfect illustration not only of the caricatured picture of America that elite British journalists themselves maintain, but also of how unabashed they are in pushing that caricature on to their audience. Americans are often presumed by foreigners to be provincial and uninterested in the rest of the world, which is supposed to contrast with a much more curious and much better informed British public. I don't know if they are particularly more curious, but better informed they certainly are not, at least not if they are relying on the British media, and in particular the state-funded BBC, for their knowledge about America. Hopefully I can demonstrate why that is the case.

I suspect, as an adjunct to this, I will delve into American politics itself in order to provide context to my criticisms of British coverage of it....and also because I will simply be unable to contain myself. In this regard, I expect this site will act as the outlet for my opinions that, until now, I have so inconsiderately foisted upon a select group of family and friends via e-mail, all of whom have been the involuntary recipients of my unsolicited rants. With the advent of this site, I can erase my guilt, knowing that if any of you continue to read my screeds, you are finally doing so by choice.

Lastly, a thank you to Richard J., who not only suggested to me that I start this site, but went through the effort of getting it set up for me. Apparently he really wanted to stop getting those e-mails.