Friday, August 12, 2005

Wouldn't it be nice...

From the BBC:

Police in Nottinghamshire are being given green ribbons to show solidarity with the Muslim community after a rise in racist attacks.

The "Good Faith" ribbon is being backed by chief constable Steve Green.

I for one look forward to the day when, rather than reading as it does, such a story would run as follows.

Imams in ‘Muslim’ ribbon gesture

Muslims in Nottinghamshire are being given Union Jack decorated ribbons to show solidarity with the British community after a spate of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims.

The "We are British" ribbon is being backed by Imam Iqbal Sacranie.

Suicide bombing attacks in the county were unprecedented prior to the 7 July tube and bus bombings, which killed over 52 people and injured more than 700.

Twenty thousand of the ribbons have been made to symbolise loyalty and committment to the British nation.

Mr Sacranie said: "We have a huge number of citizens in Nottinghamshire who are just going around trying to do their everyday business.

"But they feel intimidated and sometimes angered by terrorist incidents and by the perception that the Muslim community is more concerned with its own insular well-being than with that of the wider British community.

"Many Muslims feel fully supportive of the British nation, but have no way of showing it and this is a way of allowing them to do that."

He added: "Mosque-goers will not be compelled to wear these but I have preached to them, urging them to take part."

I’m not holding my breath

Cindy Sheehan follow-up

Matt Drudge, of The Drudge Report, reports that the extended Sheehan family has had quite enough of Cindy Sheehan's antics.
The Sheehan Family lost our beloved Casey in the Iraq War and we have been silently, respectfully grieving. We do not agree with the political motivations and publicity tactics of Cindy Sheehan. She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the the expense of her son's good name and reputation. The rest of the Sheehan Family supports the troops, our country, and our President, silently, with prayer and respect.

Casey Sheehan's grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins.

I don't expect you will see this being reported on the BBC (or the New York Times, for that matter) any time soon.

Mourning mother or publicity hound?

Yesterday, displaying its knack for originality, the BBC followed in the footsteps of its American media soulmate, the New York Times, with a story highlighting the plight of Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, who is holding a vigil outside President Bush’s Crawford ranch in what is described as an attempt to speak to the president personally about his Iraq policy.

Demonstrating a keenness for tautology, the BBC writes:
The mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, who is holding a roadside protest outside President Bush's Texas ranch, is gaining support from well-wishers.
Doesn’t everyone gain support from well-wishers?

Anyway, loyal TAE readers will already be familiar with Sheehan, whose association with the anti-war group Gold Star Families for Peace (she was a co-founder) was noted by TAE back on June 17. Recall that GSFP had been ludicrously described by the BBC as a “non-partisan” group, a claim which Sheehan’s own writing on the GSFP website proved to be laughable. Now the BBC presents Sheehan as a simple, distraught mother demonstrating for a meeting with the president.

In fact Sheehan is a full-time protestor and anti-war activist, as well as a media regular when it comes to coverage of the anti-war movement (or, perhaps that should read simply anti-war coverage). Even prior to this most recent spate of coverage over her actions in Crawford, she had been quoted or written about in at least 4 New York Times articles dating back to October 2004, including her own letter to the editor. She was featured in a Washington Post article in February, giving her (negative, of course) reactions to the President’s State of the Union address. She was on CNN’s Larry King Show in June (after already being scheduled but then bumped from the show in January). She’s also been featured in other, lower profile media outlets, such as her interview in the Portland Phoenix in January.

Sheehan and her group GSFP have been involved in various anti-war protests and publicity stunts, including the faux-congressional hearings on the infamous Downing Street Memo , in which Sheehan gave “testimony”, and, in what will now seem a familiar stunt, an attempt to enter the Pentagon, seeking a sit-down with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

I have no doubt that Sheehan is indeed a distraught mother. But she is also a media savvy, publicity seeking, long experienced anti-war activist. Her roadside sit-in is hardly the sincere effort of a mourning mother to have a word with President Bush. It is simply one in a long and on-going series of anti-Bush publicity stunts. Once again, the BBC has hidden the real story from its audience.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hot and cold on global warming

As The Guardian’s “science correspondent” Ian Sample panics over the melting of Siberian ice, global warming has taken a firm grip on Australia…with unprecedented snowfall.

Why bother doing the poll at all?

Imagine a poll in which the same question was asked in two different ways, producing conflicting results. For example, suppose that, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement:
Multiculturalism makes Britain a better place to live
…62% of the respondents agreed. But when asked to agree or disagree with the statement:
People who come to live in Britain should adopt the values and traditions of
British culture
…58% of the respondents agreed.

How do you report these seemingly imcompatible responses? Well, if you are the BBC, you ignore the conflict and hype the results that you prefer:
UK majority back multiculturalism

The majority of British people think multiculturalism makes the country a better place, a BBC poll suggests.
It isn’t until halfway through the article that we are told the poll indicates a “confused attitude” to the concept of multiculturalism, with only a single, passing reference to the clear majority who favor the adoption of British culture. And there is not any mention whatsoever of the section of the poll in which specific aspects of British culture (such as speaking English, accepting the rights of women as equal citizens, accepting the authority of British institutions) were listed, with respondents being asked to agree or disagree that immigrants should be required to accept it as a condition of citizenship. Since not one of them had less than 50% agreement, and most of them had substantial majorities of between 70% and 90% agreement, it is no surprise that the BBC chose to leave that information out of its article.

Now, to be totally fair, the BBC's Cindi John did produce another article (with an earlier timestamp, by the way) focusing on the “mixed messages” of the poll and pointing out the lack of an objective and consistently accepted definition of the term “multiculturalism”. But that article can only be found as a link in a sidebar comment halfway through the page of the other, “top” story which hypes multiculturalism and was itself linked to on the main BBC page. Besides which, if the BBC knew already that the poll results on British acceptance of multiculturalism were “mixed”, and that there is no agreement over the very meaning of the term – a fact which is established by the presence of the earlier article - why did it subsequently produce and promote a different article definitively proclaiming quite a different result?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

UPDATE: The BBC has now removed the "UK backs multiculturalism" story from its Top Stories, and has placed the "mixed messages" article on to the main page.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Care to wager?

How long before the argument made in this ridiculous Boston Globe op-ed about the nomination of John Roberts to fill the Supreme Court vacancy is being aired - in a completely objective way, of course - on the BBC?

Religion, a conservative, and a Bush appointment. How can the BBC resist it?

BBC weighs in on a non-controversy

As highlighted at the top of this website, BBC reporter Justin Webb has admitted to trying to paint the US as an "ignorant, unsophisticated" place "ruled to a dangerous extent by...religious bigotry", and "a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge". Today the BBC has a classic example of just how it goes about painting that picture, and how it does so by misleading its readers.

The culprit this time is not Webb, but Jonathon Beale, who has written this article about the ongoing debate regarding intelligent design and whether it ought to be taught in schools. Beale leaves the clear impression that George Bush has pro-actively taken up the cause of intelligent design, and is attempting to get it introduced into science classes at school. The headline on the article proclaims "Bush weighs into evolution debate", and Beale writes that:

President George Bush has started a national debate in the US over the teaching of evolution in school.

The president has suggested that a theory known as "intelligent design" should be taught in the classroom...

President Bush's championing of intelligent design will be interpreted as further evidence of the growing influence of the religious right.
[Interpreted by who? Jonathon Beale and the BBC, of course - TAE]

The US president told newspaper reporters in Texas that children should be taught about intelligent design so they could better understand the debate about the origins of the universe.

Again, by saying that Bush has "started a national debate" and is "championing" the theory, Beale leaves us with the undeniable impression that Bush is embarking on a new policy of introducing the theory of intelligent design into the classroon, and has recently announced it to reporters.

In the first place, it is simply false to say that Bush has started the national debate about intelligent design in the classroom. The debate was begun primarily by the goings-on in Kansas, which itself has been being played out in the national press for years.

Neither is it true that this is a policy that Bush is "championing", or that it is an issue that has been raised by Bush in any way at all. In fact, Bush’s comments on the issue came strictly at the prompting of a Knight-Ridder reporter, Ron Hutcheson, who asked him for his "personal views" on the subject. Bush then gave him those views, even though, as Hutcheson himself reported, "Bush didn’t seem eager to talk about the topic."

And what, exactly, is he so reluctantly "championing"? Beale studiously avoids quoting Bush directly, even as he quotes others in his article, so BBC readers must take Beale at his word about Bush’s thinking. But a look at what Bush actually said throws new light on the impressions that Beale provides. The exchange between Bush and Hutcheson, as related by Time magazine (which, it is worth noting, also uses the false "champion" characterization):

The President laughed when Knight-Ridder’s Ron Hutcheson asked for Mr. Bush’s "personal views" about the theory of "intelligent design", which religious activists advocate should be taught in U.S. schools as an alternative to theories of evolution. After joking that the reporter was "doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past," to his days as governor of Texas, Bush said: "Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught..."

"Both sides ought to be properly taught?" asked Hutcheson.

"Yes," Bush answered, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Hutcheson followed up: "So the answer accepts the validity of ‘intelligent design' as an alternative to evolution?" Bush replied, "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting — you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

Hutcheson tried one more time: "So we've got to give these groups—" But the president cut him off: "Very interesting question, Hutch," which provoked laughter.

The first thing worth noticing is that Bush plainly says that the decision of what to teach should be made by local school not him. So the implication that Bush is somehow actively pressing for intelligent design to be taught is false.

The other thing to notice is that Bush never actually takes a position on the validity of intelligent design theory. He merely suggests that it is worth knowing about, and therefore worth teaching. He is clearly reluctant to be seen as staking out firm position on the notion of intelligent design, a fact which is quite at odds with the impression left by Beale and the BBC.

Far more interesting, to me anyway, than the thought that a known-to-be-religious president might harbor personal views that, shocker!, reflect the teaching of his religion, is the way in which reporters create news and controversy for themselves. In the case at hand, we have a reporter posing a question out of the blue to the president which is designed to produce controversy and headline making news. Once the question was posed, there was almost nothing Bush could say, short of a rude refusal to answer in any way at all (and perhaps not even then), that would not have subsequently been portrayed as big news.

Imagine that Bush had said that, in his personal view, intelligent design should not be taught in schools. The headlines the next day would then have shouted out "Bush snubs intelligent design, angers his religious base". As it is, Bush gave a rather anodyne, politically nuanced non-answer on a controversial subject, an answer with which few could take offense - It’s up to others to decide, but if you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is they should be - and yet still the headlines have blared with the notion that Bush has made some important political proclamation on the issue.

This in an entirely media-created controversy, at least with regard to Bush's involvement in it. And the BBC, through Jonathon Beale, has taken advantage of it in order to perpetuate its malignant and false view of the US as a land ruled by religiously-induced ignorance.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The despicable George Monbiot

Today George Monbiot of The Guardian demonstrates just how unthinking, dishonest, and ultimately deserving of our contempt he really is.

Monbiot’s article is aimed at countering the phenomenon that TAE pointed to the other day. He begins by arguing that a newfound patriotism which is being called for by the likes of Jonathon Freedland and Tristram Hunt is incompatible with modern liberalism.

To argue that national allegiance reduces human suffering, you must assert that acts of domestic terrorism cause more grievous harm than all the territorial and colonial wars, ethnic cleansing and holocausts pursued in the name of the national interest. To believe this, you need to be not just a patriot but a chauvinist.
Actually, to accept Monbiot’s argument, you need to be not just a liberal, but a hardcore global collectivist. The goal of Freedland, Hunt et al is not necessarily to reduce the sum total of all human suffering, but is instead to reduce the likelihood of homegrown terrorists blowing up their fellow citizens. To a true “internationalist” like Monbiot, though, that is irrelevant.

When confronted with a conflict between the interests of your country and those of another, patriotism, by definition, demands that you choose those of your own. Internationalism, by contrast, means choosing the option that delivers most good or least harm to people, regardless of where they live. It tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington, and that a policy which favours the interests of 100 British people at the expense of 101 Congolese is one we should not pursue. Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of the 100 British people. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism?
Well, George, you reconcile it by, um, thinking. In the first place, don’t conflate liberalism with Internationalism. For all its faults, modern liberalism (of which, regular readers will know, I am no fan) is not quite so detached from reality as to totally disregard human nature. No one (not even Monbiot, I feel confident in saying) actually holds all human life to be of equal value. We all discriminate when it comes to valuing others…we value our own children more than we value those of others; we value our spouses more than we value acquaintances; we value our friends more than we value strangers. And we also tend to value those with whom we identify for some reason (often times proximity), more than we value those with whom we have nothing in common. This is not something to either strive towards or away from. It is simply a fact of existence. Monbiot’s “Internationalism”, in which he pretends not to make such distinctions, suffers from the same fatal flaw as all unreconstructed leftist thought – a refusal to accept human nature for what it is.

Anticipating the introduction of patriotic heavyweight George Orwell who, even as a socialist, famously took British intellectuals to task for their lack of patriotism during WW II, Monbiot admirably, if ineffectually, takes him on.

Did not the sage assert that "patriotism has nothing to do with conservatism", and complain that "England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality"? He did. But he wrote this during the second world war. There was no question that we had a duty to fight Hitler and, in so doing, to take sides. And the sides were organised along national lines. If you failed to support Britain, you were assisting the enemy. But today the people trying to kill us are British citizens. They are divided from most of those who live here by ideology, not nationality.
Yet is that not precisely the point? The people trying to kill us do not consider themselves British citizens, or at least, just like Monbiot, do not attach any value whatsoever to the fact. It is exactly this lack of regard for a national identity, and the resulting lack of any sense of community with the nation, which encourages them to seek that inevitable sense of attachment elsewhere – like among their co-religionists throughout the world. Hence, many Muslims end up being indifferent to their fellow Britons being blown-up if, in some warped way, they see it as advancing the interests of their (more valued) fellow Muslims somewhere else in the world.

It is interesting that Monbiot acknowledges the "duty" to fight Hitler during WW II. With terrorists targetting innocent "infidels" for death in buildings, on trains, and in buses, one wonders what it would take for him to acknoweldge the duty to fight radical Islam. It seems likely, given his cultural relativism and his utilitarian morality, that he favors the death of 52 London tube riders rather than the death of 53 bomb-toting Islamic extremists.

Monbiot apparently is just too muddle-headed to get this. Indeed, he concludes his critique of Freedland and Hunt with this simple-minded gem:

To the extent that the invasion of Iraq motivated the terrorists, and patriotism made Britain's participation in the invasion possible, it was patriotism that got us into this mess.
On that logic, if I went around blowing up trains in opposition to the existence of the BBC, it would be the license fee to blame, for making the BBC possible.

But Monbiot is at least civil, if not coherent, when critiquing his fellow liberals. Despite spending half the article trying to establish that the thinking of both Freedland and Hunt is “chauvinistic” and perhaps even racist, he concedes that “of course [they] are nothing of the kind.” Not so for the “rightwing press”, the owners of which he smears as either Nazi sympathizers (albeit 3-times removed), tax cheats, or, seemingly worst of all, “an Australian with American citizenship”. (One is sorely tempted to test Monbiot’s globally utilitarian moral calculations by asking him if he would truly favor the interests of 3 Murdoch-like press barons over the interests of 2 Guardian acolytes.)

Monbiot cites a Daily Telegraph editorial, detailing “10 core values of the British identity”, as conclusive evidence of the depravity of right-wing patriotism. Of course, to make his case, he can’t be entirely honest in his citations. For example, quoting out of context, Monbiot says:

These were not values we might choose to embrace, but "non-negotiable components of our identity".
In fact the editorial specifically decries “statutory patriotism” as “an intrinsically un-British notion.” Indeed, the reference to “non-negotiable components” seemed to refer to precisely the qualities that immigrants were choosing to sign up for when they applied for British citizenship.

Demonstrating yet again his inability or reluctance to draw relevant and valuable distinctions, Monbiot says that:

These non-negotiable demands are not so different to those of the terrorists. Instead of an eternal caliphate, an eternal monarchy. Instead of an Islamic vision of history, an Etonian one. Instead of the Ummah, the Anglosphere.
Except, of course, for the minor fact that the Telegraph editors aren't blowing up trains in order to effect their "demands". But nevermind that. As Orwell might say, it takes a certain kind of intellectual to equate the current role of the British monarchy to the implications of a newly imposed Islamic caliphate - no ordinary man could be so foolish. Indeed, the Telegraph reference to “the sovereignty of the crown” goes on to explicitly clarify that "The Lords, the Commons and the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land. There is no appeal to any higher jurisdiction, spiritual or temporal." The caliphate, indeed.

Ironically it is Monbiot who demonstrates that he is not so different to the terrorists. He proudly asserts that:

If there is one thing that could make me hate this country, it is the Telegraph and its "non-negotiable components".
Taking a closer look at the actual content of those components (as opposed to Monbiot’s selective use of them), we find things such as:

The rule of law. Our society is based on the idea that we all abide by the same rules, whatever our wealth or status. No one is above the law - not even the government.

The pluralist state. Equality before the law implies that no one should be treated differently on the basis of belonging to a particular group. Conversely, all parties, sects, faiths and ideologies must tolerate the existence of their rivals.

Personal freedom. There should be a presumption, always and everywhere, against state coercion. We should tolerate eccentricity in others, almost to the point of lunacy, provided no one else is harmed.

Private property. Freedom must include the freedom to buy and sell without fear of confiscation, to transfer ownership, to sign contracts and have them enforced. Britain was quicker than most countries to recognise this and became, in consequence, one of the happiest and most prosperous nations on Earth.

Institutions. British freedom and British character are immanent in British institutions. These are not, mostly, statutory bodies, but spring from the way free individuals regulate each other's conduct, and provide for their needs, without recourse to coercion.
Hmmm. One can see what Monbiot finds so hate-worthy…if one is interested in imposing Sharia, that is.

Despite his ability to cite the “one thing” that could lead him to hate his country (along with a gratuitous reference to his reasons for hatred of the US), he admits that “I have no idea why I should love this country more than any other.”

That is instructive. When a British citizen, with all of the benefits and advantages that that implies, says he has no more reason for affection towards Britain than towards any other random country, you've learned enough about his intellect, judgment, and/or honesty to treat him exactly how he deserves to be treated.

With complete and utter contempt.

Monday, August 08, 2005

TAE gets scooped

It appears that Biased-BBC noted the "tribute"/"reaction" discrepancy way back when Susan Sontag kicked the bucket earlier this year.

Great minds....

BBC-think on its head

The BBC’s Jonathon Beale, in a piece today on the “strained relations” between the US and the UN, introduces us to the issue with the following:

It is strange to think that a country perceived as "hostile" to the United Nations was in fact one of the founding fathers of the international organisation.

The name "United Nations" was first coined by President Franklin D Roosevelt during the Second World War when 26 nations pledged to continue fighting together against the Axis powers.

In 1945 representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to draw up the UN Charter.

The fact that its headquarters would be in New York showed the US commitment to the project and its desire to be a leading members (sic).

American affection for the organisation though has slowly been ebbing away - the relationship all but collapsing in the run up to the Iraq war.

This is indicative of the mindset that pervades not only the BBC, but the “mainstream” media in general. In looking at the rise in tension between the US and the UN, it seems to assume that the tension is strictly a function of US attitudes towards the UN, and not vice-versa. To see what I mean, try to imagine the following ever being published by the BBC.

It is strange to think that an organization perceived as “hostile” to the United States in fact owes its very existence to the benevolence and planning of that very same country.

In 1944, US President Harry F. Truman invited representatives of China, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom to the US to establish proposals which would ultimately form the basis for the UN Charter, which was drawn up and signed by representatives of 50 nations in San Francisco nearly a year later.

The fact that UN headquarters would be established in New York showed UN recognition of the importance to the organization of US sponsorship.

Since then the US has been far and away the largest financial contributor to the UN’s coffers, with, for example, nearly 22% the latest UN budget being covered by US contributions alone.

The UN even owes its name to an American, with President Franklin Roosevelt coining the term during World War II.

Yet UN hostility towards the US has been slowing increasing – the relationship all but collapsing in the run up to the Iraq War.

It is difficult to imagine such words ever being written or uttered on the BBC. Yet, is framing the issue in this way any less objective – or less accurate – than the way it was framed by Beale?

Peter Jennings, RIP

ABC anchor Peter Jennings has died. Being a liberal Canadian journalist rather than a conservative American politician, Jennings of course gets “tributes” from the BBC rather than mere “reactions”.

My own most notable memory of Jennings comes from a late 1980’s PBS roundtable discussion comprised of several journalists and several members of the US military hierarchy, moderated by Charles Ogletree. The discussion was one of a series called Ethics in America, which gathered groups of influential people in various areas of professional life, and posed to them a series of ethical dilemmas which they were then asked to discuss and solve.

This particular show was called “Under Orders, Under Fire”, and placed both journalists and military men into battle situations, asking what they would do under certain trying circumstances. The moderator presented the following situation to the journalists: You are covering the war, and have somehow gained permission to be embedded with a unit of the enemy. While traveling with them, they come across and establish a plan to ambush a unit of unsuspecting American soldiers. The question was then put to Jennings: With foreknowledge of the ambush, would you simply roll film and record the ensuing massacre?

After much thought, Jennings said that he would personally do whatever he could to warn the Americans. The moderator turned to Mike Wallace (of CBS’ 60 Minutes fame), who proceeded to upbraid Jennings for his decision. Wallace, seemingly without a trace of a second thought, claimed that Jennings’ first and highest duty was as a reporter, not an American, and that he should approach the situation as a disinterested reporter. Jennings then completely wilted, saying that he had “chickened out” and had made the wrong decision.

I agree that Jennings chickened out, although certainly not in the way he thought. The contempt with which the military men went on to hold the two journalists was, I think, well deserved.

For a more extensive recap of the show, see James Fallows’ description of the event. And you can see the show itself (along with the rest of the series), although you do have to go through a free sign up to get it. Page down to number 6 an 7.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Tributes, tributes everywhere...well, almost

The death of former Cabinet minister Robin Cook yesterday reminded me of a particular instance of subtle but undeniable BBC bias that I noticed last year.

Today the BBC has put up a page on its website soliciting reader tributes to Mr. Cook. This is in keeping with BBC practice anytime someone of public note and respect dies. The request is pretty much always the same: "So-and-so has died. Send us your tributes". Public figures ranging from the Queen Mother to Spike Milligan and from Susan Sontag to King Hussein of Jordan have all had their own BBC page dedicated to "tributes" solicited from readers. It is pretty standard fare.

Except, of course, when an American politician of whom the BBC does not quite approve happens to die. Last year, when Ronald Reagan died, the BBC, apparently unable to bear the thought of a tribute page to RR, just couldn't help itself from making a subtle change to is usual request:
Send us your reaction to news of Ronald Reagan's death.
No bias at the BBC, though, right?


Radical Islam has finally driven Nick Cohen of The Guardian/Observer to officially step off the fellow traveller train.

The thing to watch for with fellow travellers is what shocks them into pulling the emergency cord and jumping off the train. I know some will stay on to the terminus, and when the man with the rucksack explodes his bomb their dying words will be: 'It's not your fault. I blame Tony Blair.'

My advice to my former comrades is to struggle out of your straitjackets and get off at the next station. It would be good to see you on this side of the barrier.