Saturday, September 03, 2005

Same old same old

I would be inclined to rip apart this horrendous piece of so-called journalism from one Matt Wells of (no surprise here) the BBC, but Ed at Biased BBC has already thoroughly trashed it.

I will only add that Wells' unthinking agenda, and that is most certainly what it is, is made abundantly clear in a particularly illogical series of observations in which he speaks of the "genuinely heroic mayor" of New Orleans a mere 3 sentences before decrying the fact that "No official plan was ever put in place for [the tens of thousands of the poorest residents]."

Well which is it Matt? Is the mayor genuinely heroic? Or did he fail to plan for his city's residents, particularly the poorest ones? Only in the unthinking and ideologically constrained minds of those at the BBC, where George Bush is singularly to blame for all ills great and small, could it possibly be both.

It is also notable that throughout this entire diatribe, the governor of Louisiana, who, in the federal system that is the United States, is the primary executive in charge of managing these types of disaster situations, does not get mentioned once. Not a single, solitary time. Wells, it seems, has never even heard of her.

This is the type of calm, reasoned, and thoughtful reflections that the taxpayers of Britain are forced to pay for. The federal government of the US has nothing on the BBC when it comes to malign incompetence.

Some perspective

John Podheretz, writing on NRO's blog The Corner, provides some perspective on the relief operation in New Orleans:

So it took the federal government somewhere between 72 and 96 hours to go on full mobilization after the disasters of Katrina. At any time in history before the present moment, that would have been considered lightning-fast. Even as little as five years ago, we wouldn't have gotten the horrifying reports out of New Orleans that we got from Shep Smith and others using light cameras and videophones -- and by the time the extent of the nightmare would have become widely known, the relief operation would have been fully underway.

After all, huge naval vessels can only sail so fast; the deployment of National Guardsmen takes a bit of time; even moving helicopters and the like into place surely isn't a matter of a few moments. The thing is that America now sees these things in real time and imagines that if Fox and CNN can be there with a few people, surely the feds can be there with tens of thousands.

With the local and state governments of Louisiana collapsing both tactically and emotionally, there was nowhere for that sense of frustration to flow other than toward the federal government. And there it will remain until the president succeeds in convincing the nation that he has taken personal responsibility for the management of this unprecedented disaster. At which point the responsibility might well begin to flow back again to the local and state authorities whose negligence in the days preceding the catastrophe border on the homicidally negligent. But not until then.

Beeb on the Blumenthal bandwagon

As I predicted, Sydney Blumenthal is getting plenty of airtime, despite the demonstrable falseness of his charges. Yesterday the BBC's 5-Live radio had him on to talk during the late afternoon drive time, giving him the opportunity to spout his rubbish unchallenged for the entire commuting nation.

He was, naturally, introduced simply as an "aide to former President Clinton", but anyone who was around during the Clinton years will know how inadequate that description is. Blumenthal was the most ardent defender of and spin doctor for Clinton, himself taking what Clinton decried as "the politics of personal destruction" to new heights. His reputation for honesty and fairness is, shall we say, not exactly sterling. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff has described Blumenthal as someone who "rearranges facts, spins conspiracy theories, impugns motives, and besmirches the character of his political and journalistic foes" and regarding Blumenthal's book The Clinton Wars, says that "Although there are slivers of truth in most of what he writes, the facts are dishonestly rearranged to settle scores or whitewash his and the Clintons' actions." In other words, Blumenthal's word is not to be taken on trust.

The BBC's presenter Peter Allen is either ignorant of Blumenthal's reputation or he doesn't care, for he treated Blumenthal and his charges with the utmost credulity. There was no skepticism, no effort to challenge Blumenthal, and quite clearly no knowledge of (or at least no desire to inform his audience of) the real facts surrounding the charges. Such a credulous approach might be defensible with an interviewee thought or known to be an unbiased expert in the subject of the discussion. But Blumenthal is neither an expert in flood control nor is he unbiased. Indeed, he is about as far from unbiased as one can get. Yet the BBC allowed Blumenthal to spin his claims without a single peep of skepticism, and without having anyone else on to counter them.

The BBC is appalling.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blumenthal bombast

Sydney Blumenthal’s effort to place blame for what is probably the worst natural disaster in American history directly at Bush’s feet is starting to make the rounds, and will no doubt be well received by its European target audience. It has already appeared in Germany’s Spiegel, and today the very same piece makes its appearance in The Guardian. And, of course, its theme will continue to be amplified by ostensibly objective news stories of the “critics of Bush say” variety. (See the previously mentioned Paul Reynolds piece.)

Not that it would ever stop the likes of The Guardian from trumpeting his claptrap, but we should note that, over and above the unsettling swiftness with which Bush’s political enemies seek to capitalize on this human tragedy, his claims have already been thoroughly debunked. A poster at has put up an excellent and long critique of the “blame Bush” meme, culminating with this:
Was it rational and defensible to shift funding from any source toward defense- and war-related activities in the aftermath of 9/11? Of course. Did that shift leave the levees unready to handle Katrina's deadly burden? No. The levees were inherently unready: even at maximum proposed funding, their design was only for a Cat3 storm, not the Cat4/5 that Katrina was. It is true that in 2004, proposals were floated to upgrade to a Cat4/5-capable levee system; it is also true that even in an ideal situation, the studies — not the construction! — necessary to assess what that would entail would not be finished before 2008.
As for Blumenthal’s claim that Bush’s development policies are responsible for degrading the wetlands around New Orleans which, he says, would have reduced the storm surge if better maintained, consider this MSNBC report:

[Envornmental experts] say the levees that ring the city have led to the rapid decay of nearby wetlands during the past century, removing a crucial buffer zone that once protected the area from hurricanes...

Several factors — most human-made — have contributed to the steady decline of the delta at the bottom of the Mississippi. But most of the erosion is blamed on the levees, which faithfully steer all the water from the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. That prevents occasional flooding, keeping area residents above water most of the time. But one unforeseen consequence of the levees has been to cut off wetlands from their life force.

The regular floods served nature's purpose by feeding the delta, bringing fresh water and sediment that served to sustain life and replenish the wetlands. Without the regular flooding, the wetlands naturally “compact.”

“Simply put, when the land does not have any nutrients and fresh water it dies,” Marmillion said.

So, it was not Bush, but the very fact that the Mississippi was prevented from flooding in the first place, which caused the degradation. [Update: the preceding sentence was originally, and erroneously, placed in italics, making it appear to be a part of the MSNBC report. It was not. It was my own comment. My apologies for the error.]

I don’t expect these facts to keep the media from credulously citing Blumenthal’s latest hit piece, but they are worth pointing out, nonetheless.

(Hat tip to NRO)

OK, but...

BBC’s World Affairs Correspondent (and occasional TAE reader) Paul Reynolds weighs in on Katrina. It is, I think, largely a reasonable piece, although I can't let a couple of things pass.

First is his mischaracterization of Peggy Noonan, in order to portray her as particularly concerned about Bush’s effort so far.

Even his supporters like columnist Peggy Noonan are concerned that the federal government was a bit slow off the mark. She wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "More was needed in terms of sending a US military presence into New Orleans."

She asked about Mr Bush: "Does he understand that what has happened in our Gulf is as important as what is happening in the other Gulf?"

Placed as it is, the question appears to betray Noonan’s doubt about that understanding. In fact, Noonan was listing the types of questions one should ask in order to assess the president’s performance. She was not raising doubts of her own. This is the whole passage from Noonan’s column, in which she was going through a list of players, and assessing their actions so far:
President Bush. The political subtext: Does he understand that what has happened in our gulf is as important as what is happening in the other gulf? Does he know in his gut that the existence of looting, chaos and disease in a great American city, or cities, is a terrible blow that may have deep implications? It was bad luck that on the day it became clear a bad storm was a catastrophe he was giving a major Iraq speech, and bad planning that he arrived back at the White House cradling a yippy puppy. But his Rose Garden statement was solid. Yes, it was a laundry list, but the kind that that gives an impression of comprehensive government action. Having the cabinet there was good. His concern was obvious. But more was needed in terms of sending a U.S. military presence into New Orleans.
In other words, her assessment was mostly positive, answering her own question by saying that "His concern was obvious." But Reynolds extracts the one substantive criticism she made and adds to it a question taken out of context in order to make the point that "Even [Bush’s] supporters" are concerned about what he's doing. The impression he leaves of Noonan's piece is, quite simply, false. (Which is odd, because if he was looking for conservative critics of Bush, and particularly Bush's immediate reaction, he could have easily found them at National Review.)

Reynolds also makes a strange statement when wondering why so many people had not evactuated New Orleans, despite being urged to do so.
There has been some dispute about why so many were left behind or stayed behind. In Cuba they would have been taken out. Whether enough transport was available or whether people simply ignored the warnings will have to be examined for lessons to be learned in future.
The relevance of what Cuba would have done, even if Reynolds can accurately divine what El Commandante Castro would have done, is lost on me. I’d like to think that Reynolds is not actually comparing the freedom of New Orleans unfavourably with the tyranny of Havana, but frankly I can’t think of any other reason for this statement, and this is, afterall, the BBC. So anything is possible.

Perhaps Mr. Reynolds will bless us with an explanation.

Webb: Katrina problems no big deal

Justin Webb, reporting on the BBC’s 5-Live radio program this morning about Americans’ reactions to the seeming inability of the government to get food and water to so many of those stranded in New Orleans, says that the people are astonished at “what should be, frankly, not really that huge a problem.” Perhaps the relief efforts should enlist Webb’s extensive experience at what he apparently thinks is the relatively simple task of rescuing and feeding thousands of people stranded in a city that is 80% under water.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Reprehensible Dems

This is the how the DNC responds to disaster and human tragedy:

9/1/2005 12:34:00 PM

To: National Desk

Contact: Josh Earnest of the Democratic National Committee, 202-863-8148

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by the Democratic National Committee:

This morning, President Bush told Diane Sawyer on ABC's Good Morning America that to ease skyrocketing gas prices Americans "oughtta conserve more and I would hope Americans conserve if given the choice."(ABC, Good Morning America, 9/1/05)

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued the following statement reminding President Bush that in case he hadn't noticed, ordinary Americans have been doing their part. They have been making sacrifices, they have been suffering. Meanwhile President Bush has failed to rein in skyrocketing gas prices. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as Americans pull together to do their part, and gas prices again explode, Chairman Dean suggested that perhaps it's time for President Bush to finally use whatever influence he may have to call on his friends and campaign contributors in the oil and gas industry to bear their fair share of the burden:

"Under the Bush Presidency over the past five years we've seen skyrocketing gas prices and oil companies reaping record profits, while ordinary Americans struggle to pay their bills -- yet the President has seemingly looked the other way. Americans are always willing to shoulder their fair share of the burden, and they have been. Now it's time for the President to step up and put the needs of the American people ahead of profits for his pals in Big Oil. So while he's asking ordinary Americans to do more, he ought to show some real leadership, and call on his friends in Big Oil to join in the sacrifice and stop gouging American families at the gas pump."


Paid for and authorized by the Democratic National Committee, This communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

Tragedy no impediment to The Guardian's agenda

At the conclusion of what was otherwise a generally sympathetic and reasonable editorial look at the effects of Katrina, The Guardian’s editors can’t help themselves but to conclude with this unsupported, and unsupportable, knock on the US government:
And, just when the victims most need the support of the federal government, they find themselves dependent on one that is least inclined to accept its responsibilities.
Oh really? From the AP:
As the Category 4 the storm surged ashore just east of New Orleans on Monday, FEMA had medical teams, rescue squads and groups prepared to supply food and water poised in a semicircle around the city, said agency Director Michael Brown.
FEMA, by the way, stands for Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The EPA dispatched emergency crews to Louisiana and Texas, because of concern about oil and chemical spills. The agency has set up facilities for checking on the damage, but won't be able to quickly assess the region's needs until it can safely send more people into the field.
For those who might be unaware, the Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government.
More than 40 Coast Guard aircraft from units along the entire Eastern Seaboard, along with more than 30 small boats, patrol boats and cutters, were positioned around the area to be ready to conduct post-hurricane search and rescue operations and to do waterway damage checks and begin any needed repairs.
The Coast Guard, in case you were wondering, is a part of federal government.
The Agriculture Department said it will provide meals and other commodities, such as infant formula, distilled water for babies and emergency food stamps, through its Food and Nutrition Service.
Its Natural Resources Conservation Service has an emergency watershed protection program. Its Rural Development office offers housing assistance to keep people from being delinquent on housing payments. The Farm Service Agency has state emergency boards with members who will help assess damage to agriculture and help decide the type and amount of recovery aid available in areas where disasters have been declared.

That would be the same Agricultural Department which is a department of the federal government.
The Defense Department dispatched emergency coordinators to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to provide a wide range of assistance including communications equipment, search and rescue operations, medical teams and other emergency supplies.
Yes the Defense Department, as you might have guessed, is a department of the federal government.

Bloomberg also tells us that:
President George W. Bush, after getting a bird's-eye view of Hurricane Katrina's destruction, plans to ask Congress for emergency relief and recovery funds, his spokesman said today...

Congressional leaders already are planning to work on special legislation to aid victims of the storm, states, local governments, and businesses when lawmakers reconvene next week, said Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican. The amount will depend on a damage assessment made once rescue operations are finished.

For the apparently unedified editors of The Guardian, George Bush and those congressional leaders referred to are, of course, member of the federal government.

If the editors of The Guardian feel free to deceive its audience about the US government in their very own editorials, what should that tell us about their inclination to ensure that their reporters are portraying the news honestly and accurately?

(And, BTW, what's up with this bizarre reference to post-Civil War times in the same editorial: "Increasingly too, these regions depend on tourism, but tourists could stay away for many months until the reconstruction - a term with unhappy resonance in those parts - kicks in.")

There were liberal groups involved?!?

A TAE reader notes a Washington Times article which points out that, with regard to Cindy Sheehan, big money liberal backers such as appear to be, um, moving on.
Powerful liberal advocacy groups such as are taking a less active role in Cindy Sheehan's anti-war activities in the wake of criticism that they may have muddied her message.

The groups, which played a major role in Mrs. Sheehan's monthlong vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, are scaling back their involvement as Mrs. Sheehan prepares to leave Texas today on a bus tour to Washington.
The BBC’s audience would probably not know quite what to make of this news, given that they were never informed of the role that the groups were playing in the first place. A search of the BBC’s website for stories which include the words “Cindy Sheehan” and “” returns a single story, in which we are told as an aside simply that “Around 1,600 vigils had been planned by liberal advocacy groups Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

NYT: Beat this, BBC

OK…this isn’t precisely in keeping with the theme of this site, but never let it be said the TAE focuses monomaniacally on the British press.

Today, of course, hurricane Katrina dominates the news in the States, and The New York Times has taken a break from its usual obsession with race and class to cover the disaster. Or has it?

Check out this interactive map of New Orleans, which highlights and explains how certain areas of the city were effected. What makes it interactive is that one can select the type of map which lays under the hurricane information. For example, there is a choice for a satellite image, an elevation map, or a population map.

And, naturally, a choice for the type of information that is particularly important in a natural disaster situation like this: a map showing the non-white population, and a median income map. Just in case, of course, you wanted to know whether Katrina was a racist hurricane, or a was perhaps a hurricane of the oppressor capitalist class.

It used to be a joke that, as Armageddon approached, the headlines in the NYT would read “World to End Tomorrow: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit”. How quickly reality outpaces parody.

(Thanks for the heads up, KC)

Yes, let's put Webb's quotation into context

I think I have discovered where Mr. Reynolds has addressed the Justin Webb quotation which can be found at the top of this page. Paul says, in conclusion:
Now, you can agree or diagree with his analysis as to the state of play between conservatives and liberals in the US. But you should put the quote in context. Its context is one of respect for America.
Actually, its context is one of surprised and heretofore lacking respect for America, which is revealing in and of itself. Recall at the time of writing, Justin Webb had been a Washington correspondent for some 5 years, I believe. Yet he was totally unembarrassed to write that:
There is plenty of barminess and plenty of nastiness here if you look for it, but for me, the revelation of the Schiavo case was that there is plenty of good sense as well. Plenty of honest disagreement among reasonable people, religious and non religious, Republican and Democrat."
This comes as a “revelation”? From a guy who has spent at least 5 years in America? Such an admission is simply astounding. And what does it say about the BBC’s coverage of America over those 5 years that its main correspondent in Washington was unaware that there is “plenty of good sense” and plenty of “honest disagreement” among reasonable people, and that both religious and secular people, along with Republicans and Democrats, could be counted among those “reasonable people”? Webb should have been utterly ashamed to even admit to such gobsmacking ignorance. But he wasn’t. He seems to feel as though he has uncovered a great secret. And, no doubt to him it was, because he was (is) so steeped in his own prejudices, he his nearly blind.

And what does it say of the BBC as an organization that it continues to not only employ a man whose judgment and powers of observation are so weak that it took him 5 years to realize there were reasonable people on both sides of political debate in America, but it also continues to value his observations enough to give him his very own regular air time to broadcast his “personal reflections” on America?

The condescension and patronization in Webb’s article, quite beyond his open admission to having “painted” a deliberately negative picture of America, is palpable. “Can you believe it? The Americans are not so screwed up afterall!” This is supposed to be a compliment?

Paul Reynolds may choose to think that the article shows “respect” for America. I think, however, it reveals quite starkly the kind of perniciousness and/or incompetence that is allowed to thrive at the BBC.

(BTW - I won't get into it, but Webb's connection of the Schiavo case with "Jeffersonian democracy" is highly ironic, and betrays an ignorance of either the disposition of the Schiavo case or Jefferson's notion of democracy...or perhaps both.)

Well, allow me to retort!

The following is a partial replication of some comments from Paul Reynolds on the previous post. He has interspersed comments directed to me with comments directed to others, but I have only addressed those directed at me. You can go here and page down to see his comments in full. (Given that Mr. Reynolds is a voice from the BBC itself, I think it is fair to promote his comments from the comments section to the main blog.)

PR: You might be disappointed, because I have not agreed with everything you say. This is no reason to retreat behind your wagons.

This is a rather bizarre statement. I have posed several questions (or requests) to you, virtually none of which you have addressed. Yet you accuse me of “retreating behind your wagons”? Please do explain the thinking behind this accusation. I truly do not understand what would lead you to say such a thing.

BTW, I do not assume you agree with everything, or even anything, I say. That is why I have asked you questions, in order to find out what you think. Your refusal to answer me is making a mutual understanding of things difficult, if not impossible.

PR: I also dealt with the famous Justin Webb quote which Scott uses as his motto.

I am not aware of where you have dealt with this. Please direct me to your comments, or repeat them here, and I will certainly respond. In fact, I look forward to responding with great anticipation.

PR: You believe that the BBC is uniquely evil!

I am not sure whether this was directed at me, but to be clear, I do not think the BBC is uniquely evil, at least in its reporting. Indeed, I find the BBC’s reporting to be fairly typical of most journalism (ie not particularly good), despite its pretense to being some kind of uniquely elite organization.

Having said that, what does make the BBC undeniably unique among most journalistic endeavors is the fact that it is financed through the use of coercion. While, on a scale of evils in the world, that ranks pretty low, it is, nevertheless, an evil, and a fairly unique one at that.

PR: Scott's insistence that the BBC and other media give "negative" information about Cindy Sheehan implies that the BBC should become a cheerleader for her opponents.

Well, it is good, at least, that you have dropped the pretense that you do not understand what “negative” information about Sheehan might be. However, what I have said implies no such thing as what you claim. I have simply claimed that the BBC has not provided relevant information about Cindy Sheehan and her “protest”. You have, notably, not addressed this point. I will pose these questions again to you, in the hopes that you will, finally, address them.

If you think the type of information about Sheehan that I have presented here, and here, and here is not relevant to what the BBC plainly thinks is an important and on-going story, why do you think it is not relevant?

If you agree that it is relevant, why do you suppose the BBC has not yet presented it to its audience?

If you cannot venture a plausible guess as to why, on what basis do you discount the possibility that the explanation is an institutional bias that prefers to keep this information from its audience?

PR: We are not a cheerleader for them or for her.

So you say, but the evidence suggests to me (among others) that you are a cheerleader for her, that evidence being the BBC’s refusal to disclose information about her that would likely have a negative effect on her credibility. Simply saying “No, we’re not” does not refute the evidence. If you are to refute this claim, you must either a) point out that the BBC has disclosed this information; or b) point out that the information is not relevant to an understanding of Sheehan and her protest; or c) point out that the absence of this information is attributable to some other, legitimate reason.

So far, you have done none of this. You have simply made the bald assertion, and refused to address the reasoning behind my conclusion.

PR: There is plenty of info about Ms Sheehan on the BBC website, including the fact that she had spoken against the war before.

What is missing (among other things) is what she has said in speaking out against the war.

If the BBC had simply said that Pat Robertson had “spoken out” against Chavez, without divulging that Robertson had called for his assassination, would you think that the BBC had done a fair job in representing the situation? I’m guessing not. Likewise, if the BBC does not divulge the types of things that Sheehan has been saying, then it cannot be said to have fairly represented either her, her protest, or her position on Iraq (Indeed, beyond even failure to provide information, Justin Webb went so far as to misrepresent her position on Iraq). Sheehan has been saying some extremely controversial, radical, some would even say nutty things. The BBC has not reported this. Why?

PR: If I punt, I punt in the rugby sense.

I’d prefer to engage in an honest debate than to play games.

PR: Don't give up just yet, guys.

I’m not. Unlike some of my readers, I still have hope that you will address the issues I’ve raised head on and in an honest fashion. Am I hoping in vain?

PR: (from another comment) It is the use of the word "negative" which indicates where Scott is coming from and where he wants us to go. If he had said what you said, fine. But he did not.

My use of the word “negative” was in response to your professed confusion over what it meant with regard to Sheehan, and your claim that the BBC reports both positives and negatives. In other words, I used the term in a context that you had introduced. (Update: This is not precisely correct. In fact Marc introduced it, and you took him up on the characterization.)

In my request for your explanations (which, again, you have still not provided), I referred to the information about Sheehan that I think the BBC should be reporting as “relevant”, not negative. To remind you, this is what I said to you:

I have offered plenty of information here about Cindy Sheehan that, I believe, is highly relevant to an understanding of what she and her well publicized protest is all about. None of that information has appeared on the BBC. If you believe the information is irrelevant, I would like to understand your reasons, as an experienced observer of events, for thinking so. If you believe it is relevant, then I would like your explanation, as a person with vast experience in and understanding of the workings of the BBC, why it hasn’t yet made an appearance on the BBC, despite the high profile that the BBC has given to Sheehan. If you cannot conceive of an explanation, then I would like to know how you can dismiss the possibility (indeed, in the absence of any other reasonable explanation, the likelihood) that the reason is an institutional bias about the way that Sheehan and her protest should be portrayed.
Note the absence of the controversial "negative". As I said above, to desire relevant information from the BBC in no way implies that the BBC should act as a "cheerleader" to anyone. Indeed, it is to ask for precisely the opposite.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You know what we mean, Mr. Reynolds

The BBC’s Paul Reynolds asks his critic at USSNeverdock:

re: Cindy Sheehan. You ask if the BBC is deliberately ignoring the "negative" side of her story.

What does "negative" mean?

Your use of the words "positive" and "negative" are revealing, Marc. That is the world as you see it. The world as we report it is different. It is neither one nor the other but a lot of both and a lot in between.

Since this exchange was prompted by one of my posts, I would like to answer your question, Paul.

By negative I/we mean information that would tend to discredit her, and hence her “protest”, in the eyes of many if not most people. In short, we mean the type of information which has been publicized on this site and others like it.

You, of course, almost certainly know this. The very fact that you think the the world as reported by the BBC is both positive and negative means that you do recognize what is and is not negative information. It does not do you credit to play such semantic games in order to avoid answering the question. Better that you stick with your previous stance of refusing to get into every story that is raised than to wade into it by feigning confusion over what might or might not be deemed negative information about Sheehan.

And about that claim that the world as the BBC reports is a lot of both positive and negative. That is precisely the point regarding Sheehan: the BBC is absolutely not reporting both positive and negative stories about her. All of its many, many stories about her are very selective and narrow, and refrain from reporting information about her and her views which would tend to discredit the image that she and her rather experienced, not to mention radical, PR machine is trying to present to the public. If, as you suggest, the role of the BBC is to report on the positives and negatives and shades of gray in between that exist in the world, then it is plainly failing with regards to the Cindy Sheehan story. I don't see how you can possibly deny this.

I have offered plenty of information here about Cindy Sheehan that, I believe, is highly relevant to an understanding of what she and her well publicized protest is all about. None of that information has appeared on the BBC. If you believe the information is irrelevant, I would like to understand your reasons, as an experienced observer of events, for thinking so. If you believe it is relevant, then I would like your explanation, as a person with vast experience in and understanding of the workings of the BBC, why it hasn’t yet made an appearance on the BBC, despite the high profile that the BBC has given to Sheehan. If you cannot conceive of an explanation, then I would like to know how you can dismiss the possibility (indeed, in the absence of any other reasonable explanation, the likelihood) that the reason is an institutional bias about the way that Sheehan and her protest should be portrayed.

Please note that I am not asking you to comment on any specific story done by the BBC. I am asking you to venture an explanation as to why the BBC is failing to provide full and relevant information on an on-going story which the BBC itself, based on its coverage, clearly views as an important story.

I look forward to your comments.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Pat, Cindy, and the Beeb

Just in case you forgot, the BBC reminded us yet again yesterday that Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez. That makes six stories in 6 days. It is, at least, testimony to the creativity of the BBC that they manage to daily find a new angle to this foolish story to justify its presence. Yesterday's story was occassioned by the "propaganda coup" of Chavez meeting Jesse Jackson. Whether it was a coup for Chavez or the increasingly irrelevant Jackson, the BBC doesn't say. Which is too bad. I'd like to know on whose behalf the BBC is acting as publicity agent these days.

And speaking of the ridiculous Robertson, the BBC's treatment of him is instructive. Two days after Robertson placed himself in the limelight with his idiocy, the Beeb did one of its renowned profiles on him, dredging up all of his past idiocies, which, it must be said, are abundant.

Contrast this treatment to the Beeb's treatment of Cindy Sheehan, who, TAE readers will know, is certainly Robertson's equal when it comes to making objectionable comments (see here, here, and here.) To date, the BBC has yet to mention any of these kinds of statements in any of its outrageously numerous reports about Sheehan, much less having put together a profile of Cindy's greatest hits.

Now why do you suppose that might be? Anyone?

What the BBC won't tell you

Here are some more comments from Cindy Sheehan, from a rally earlier this year on behalf of Lynne Stewart, who, you might recall, is the radical lawyer for terrorists who was convicted of lying, aiding and abetting terrorism, and conspiracy to defraud the government.

I take responsibility partly for my son’s death, too. I was raised in a country by a public school system that taught us that America was good, that America was just. America has been killing people, like my sister over here says, since we first stepped on this continent, we have been responsible for death and destruction. I passed on that bullshit to my son and my son enlisted. I’m going all over the country telling moms: “This country is not worth dying for. If we’re attacked, we would all go out. We’d all take whatever we had. I’d take my rolling pin and I’d beat the attackers over the head with it. But we were not attacked by Iraq. {applause} We might not even have been attacked by Osama bin Laden if {applause}. 9/11 was their Pearl Harbor to get their neo-con agenda through and, if I would have known that before my son was killed, I would have taken him to Canada. I would never have let him go and try and defend this morally repugnant system we have. The people are good, the system is morally repugnant. {applause}

Please – teach your babies, teach your babies better than I taught my babies. When Congress gave George Bush the right to go to war, they abrogated their constitutional responsibilities and they basically made our constitution null and void. We have no checks and balances in this country. We have no recourse. If they’re going to what they did to Lynne, they don’t have backs they call names, what we need to be is, we the people, we’re their checks and balances. We’re the only checks and balances. We have to stand up and say, Not only is this our school, this is our country. We want our country back and, if we have to impeach everybody from George Bush down to the person who picks up dog shit in Washington, we will impeach all those people. Our country needs to {unintelligible} we need to start over again.

The notion that the US is good and just is “bullshit”? We have a “morally repugnant” system and our country needs to “start over again”?

These are the thoughts of the woman that Justin Webb would have you believe is at one with public sentiment in the US, and whose lead he says politicians in the US are following. The fact that the BBC continues to employ this man and broadcast his “reports” is further evidence that the problems at the BBC are primarily institutional in nature, not simply individual instances of poor reporting.

(hat tip: Attila)

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.