Saturday, October 08, 2005

God, Bush, and The Guardian

I was going to write about The Guardian's juvenile and unprofessional report on claims that Bush has said that God instructed him to take out the Taliban and Saddam, but there is little that I could add to Scott Burgess' excellent comments over at Daily Ablutions.

It should be noted that the BBC, an upcoming broadcast on which is the basis for the story, is backing away somewhat from the claims, something even The Guardian has now noted, although it shows no sign itself of backing away from it. However, at least The Guardian has finally reported on the White House's denials, something it remarkably avoided doing in its original report.

It is also instructive, to get some idea of the kind of credulous readers The Guardian attracts, to have a look at the readers commments section.

Meddling required

In an article titled “A treat for rightwing tots”, Oliver Burkeman introduces Katherine Debrecht’s new book Help Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed to Guardian readers. For those of you unaware of it, the book apparently tells the story of two kids who open up a simple lemonade stand, only to find themselves running afoul of all manner of state regulations and pernicious government bureaucrats. Citing the book as the right’s embarrassing equivalent to the left’s “cringe-inducing” (Burkeman’s words) Heather Has Two Mommies, he sums up with what he presumably thinks is an especially clever observation:
Incidentally, Heather's two mommies wouldn't be able to get married in Debrecht's home state of South Carolina, because the legislature there explicitly banned such unions in 1996. Don't you just hate meddling liberals telling you how to live your life?
Ah yes, the wonderful irony of it.

Except that, isn’t it the case that marriage, an institution with legal status, necessarily involves the state? It seems to me that if two lesbians don’t want the state (or conservatives) meddling in their lives, they shouldn’t be asking it to legally bless their partnership in the first place.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Blind TV watchers get free ride

The Times today tells us that the government plans to force all households in Britain to switch from analog to digital TV. But certain people need not fear, as the government plans to pick up the cost for certain classes of people.
Yes, the Government has promised to pay for new boxes for the over-75s, the blind and the disabled.
It seems odd enough to me that the government is in a position to tell people what kind of TV they are going to watch. But it seems doubly strange that it plans on picking up the tab for people who can't even watch TV.

Am I hallucinating?

If I didn't know for sure, I would never believe this story was done by the BBC. An entire article not just about Katrina, but about who was to blame for what went wrong, and not a single, solitary mention of George Bush or the federal government. Consider this one paragraph.
A great many of them believe they were let down by their government, at local and state level, and were left there without food, water, medical help, transport out or security. It is those failings that Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin will have to answer for.
Given the BBC's coverage during and immediately following Katrina, who could believe that such a thing could ever have appeared under the BBC logo? Color me shocked.

Court mythology

The Guardian's Julian Borger today writes about the uproar surrounding President Bush's nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, and in the process he makes an infuriating, if all too common, error in his reporting. Speaking of the widespread discontent among Bush's conservative base over his pick, Borger serves up this outrage:
More importantly for the right, she has no public record as an opponent of abortion, and conservatives are furious. Many voted for Mr Bush on the understanding he would put a fire-and-brimstone moral conservative on the supreme court, to outlaw abortion and gay marriage.
At best this is very sloppy reporting. At worst it betrays either remarkable ignorance or a deliberate intent to deceive.

Let's be clear. Conservatives do not now, nor have they ever, expected the Supreme Court to outlaw either abortion or gay marriage. Indeed conservative jurisprudence argues that the Supreme Court has no legitimate role whatsoever in determining whether either should be legal or illegal, and it is for precisely that reason that conservatives object to the likes of Roe v Wade in the first place. The conservative position, as it concerns the Supreme Court, is that each of these issues are issues to be settled at the state, not the federal level.

With regard to abortion, prior to the court's Roe v Wade ruling in 1973, the decision of whether or not to legalize abortion rested with the legislatures of each individual state. In Roe, through the application of rather tortured logic, the court ruled that any state laws outlawing abortion were unconstitutional, and hence invalid. By doing this, the court essentially nationalized the issue, and declared that, with some minor exceptions, abortion-on-demand would henceforth be legal throughout the country. Now, if conservatives had their way, and Roe was overturned tomorrow, abortion would not - repeat would not - be outlawed, as Borger suggests. Abortion would remain legal unless and until the individual state legislatures started to pass laws illegalizing it.

Some of them, of course, would do just that. Many of them would not. Most of them would probably adopt the complex position held by most Americans...regulate abortion more strictly than it currently is, without banning it entirely. But the point is that conservatives judges on the supreme court would not outlaw abortion by judicial fiat, and conservative voters do not expect them to. They merely expect them to allow the issue to return to the political arena, where it belongs.

With regard to gay marriage, what we are currently seeing is in many ways a replay of abortion prior to Roe. At present there is no supreme court ruling with regard to gay marriage, and the institution of marriage is, like abortion prior to Roe, regulated at the state level (although, for the purposes of federal law, the federal government does define marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman). The current legal strategy being employed by advocates of gay marriage is to get gay marriage recognized by the government of one state, and then persuade the supreme court to rule that the full faith and credit clause of the constitution requires all other states to recognize gay marriage. In other words, the hope is that the court will, like it did with abortion in Roe, nationalize the issue, and give to gay marriage advocates a victory in the courts that they could not win at the ballot box. However, just like Roe, if conservative jurists on the court refuse to play along, it will not - repeat will not - result in gay marriage being outlawed. It will simply remain up to each individual state whether or not to legalize gay marriages.

Now, it is true that many conservatives, including President Bush, would themselves like to federalize the issue of gay marriage in order to ban such marriages throughout the country. We know this because Bush himself called for the drafting and passage of a new amendment to the constitution that would define marriage throughout the country as a union of a man and a woman only. But this simply proves the point that neither Bush nor his fellow opponents of gay marriage seek to have the supreme court simply declare gay marriage outlawed. They recognize that they must first go through the political process of actually changing the law, namely the constitution, in order to achieve their end. They do not seek to simply have the law put into effect by judicial fiat in the manner used by abortion rights advocates.

Again, I don't know whether Borger is careless, ignorant, deceitful or a combination of all three. But if Guardian readers are paying for accurate information rather than reinforcement of left-wing mythology, they are not getting their money's worth.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I love the BBC... least when it has headlines like this one:

Red Sox go down to heavy defeat

One minor quibble:
The White Sox made a dream start, scoring five runs in the first innings off Boston starter Matt Clement.

This is not cricket, guys. In baseball each inning has a top half, and a bottom half. Two halves make one whole. The White Sox scored five runs in the first inning, singular, not innings. Having said that, as long as you are reporting Red Sox losses and Yankee wins, call them whatever you want.

Bad Times today

I am usually of the view that The Times is at least a bit better than most others in its coverage of the US, but today it disappoints with two stories.

First off was Simon Freedman, who writes about the new indictments against Tom Delay covered by the BBC yesterday. While the headline avoids the standard BBC ploy of linking Bush with the scandal, Freedman does give us this:
A Texas grand jury lodged a new indictment against the former House Majority Leader just hours after his defence team applied to have a similar charge brought last week struck out on a technicality.
And just what might the “technicality” be?

His lawyers last night argued that the indictment should be dismissed since the law did not come into force until 2003 - a year after the alleged acts.
I see. So, in Freedman’s view, it is a mere “technicality” that an action must, well, actually be illegal in order to be able to prosecute someone for engaging in it. I guess something should be done about such an irritating loophole in the law.

In another article, religious correspondent Ruth Gledhill writes about a new "teaching document" issued by the Catholic heirarchy in Britain which acknowledges that some parts of the Bible are not actually true. Which is all well and good. But then Gledhill throws in this gratuitous reference to the US:

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

The notion of the US as not only increasingly religious, but indeed increasingly ruled by religiosity in public life, is a notion that seems to permeate all British media analyses of the US. It is a rarely, if ever, examined premise that is simply taken on as received wisdom.

Gledhill's reference to the "rise of the religious Right" in the US is a perfect case in point. Who constitutes this "religious Right? How has its "rise" manifested itself? What evidence is there that the body politic of the US is any more religious (or even more religiously "right") today than it was 25, or 50, or 100 years ago? (My own view is that on the whole it is almost certainly less religious today than at any time in its past.)

Does Gledhill have any answers to these questions? I'd be surprised if she's ever even considered them. Yet here she is nonetheless, passing off the notion that the US has witnessed a "rise" of the "religious Right" as an unquestionable fact. And increasingly, I don't doubt, the British public is accepting it as such.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Beeb delays covering Delay

Once again the BBC pushes the "Bush ally" identification of Tom Delay in a headline on another story about Delay's legal troubles. Do you suppose that, had Delay invented a cure for cancer instead of finding himself the target of a legal probe, you would have seen a BBC headline saying "Bush ally saves millions of cancer victims"? No hurry, take your time thinking about it.

Anyway, the Beeb notes that Delay is the subject of yet more indictments. What it doesn't note, however, is the reason why. Well, actually it does in a way, although it gives voice to the reason only through Delay and his representatives, leaving its audience with the impression that it is spin rather than fact. Quoting Delay:
"He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a 'do-over' since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate. This is an abomination of justice."
However, according to the Austin-American Statesman, this is not just bluster:
Travis County prosecutors rushed Monday to fix problems with an indictment against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay by charging the Sugar Land Republican with the first-degree felony of money laundering.
Which won't come as a surprise to those familiar with Prosecutor Ronnie Earle, who has a well known history of making politically inspired but evidence-free charges against his perceived enemies. Unfortunately the BBC, while happy to quote Delay bad-mouthing his bête noire, hasn't yet found the time to actually fill in its audience on the facts about Earle.

It did, however, have the time to read "the press" in the US and uncover the shocking fact that some newspapers are - wait for it - critical of Delay. I know, I know. It's surely a newsworthy event when such bastions of objectivity, balance, and non-partisanship as the New York Times and the LA Times editorial pages find it necessary to rebuke a Republican in harsh terms. And certainly the Beeb could not have passed on covering such "stinging" condemnation as The Washington Post wondering if "this latest controversy will cause his colleagues to rethink whether he is, in fact, the person they really want to call their leader." Ouch. Pity poor Tom Delay.

Oddly missing from the Beeb's coverage of "the press" were the less-than-entirely stinging comments of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times. Perhaps the BBC didn't want to confuse its own uninformed audience with the WSJ's and Washington Times references to Ronnie Earle's history.

As I said the other day, I've got no brief for Delay. For all I know, he's guilty of something. But what I do know is that the BBC's coverage of the Delay situation has been pretty pathetic to date.

Simpson promotes Cole again

BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson once again sings the praises of University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole, calling him "one of the best academic experts on day-to-day events in Iraq." You may recall Simpson's last mention of Cole back in August, in which he called Cole a "respected US authority on the Middle East." Clearly Simpson thinks highly of Cole.

Regular TAE readers will of course be familiar with Cole's many credibility problems, so there is no need to run through the litany again. One can't help but wonder why one of the most highly praised and visible reporters/editors at the BBC continues to portray this highly partisan, clearly anti-Israel, and arguably anti-semitic professor as a respectable and worthy voice to whom his audience ought to be listening.

It is nearly impossible to believe that Simpson is unaware of Cole's partisan nature and the controversy that swirls around him. It is therefore, I think, reasonable to judge Simpson by the intellectual company that he knowingly keeps. And given that Simpson is not just some freelancer whose stories the BBC happens to pick up once in a while, but is instead an editor with a long history and much ballyhooed reputation at the BBC, it also reasonable to judge the BBC by that same company.

It is not a charitable judgment.


Paul Reynolds has addressed some of my criticisms of his article the other day in the comments section of this post. My response follows his comments in the same place.

Monday, October 03, 2005

"Tend" being the operative word

The other day I commented on a BBC piece about the Supreme Court, in which Philip John Davies, a professor of American Studies at De Montfort University, lent his expertise to the analysis. His words were brought back to me today upon the announcement of President Bush's nominee to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Said Professor Davies:
[In the past nominees] would have taken a law degree as kiddiwinks, but they were really politicians. Now they tend to be judges with good records.
Whoops. From today's BBC:
There has been a collective scratching of heads on Capitol Hill at President George Bush's decision to nominate a member of his inner circle with no experience of being a judge to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court.

Diversity, WaPo sameness

The powers that be at The Washington Post have apparently been soliciting in-house critiques of the paper from it's own staff, and the Post's media reporter Howard Kurtz today gives us an interesting look into some of the staff comments. Most notable, although hardly a revelation, was this:
On Thursday, Book World Editor Marie Arana, noting that she had been "a Young Republican at 15, a marching SDSer at 20, and roundly disgusted by the blue-team, red-team political dialogue by the time I turned 30," criticized an article on what was called a "stealth evangelism" festival by saying: "The elephant in the newsroom is our narrowness. Too often, we wear liberalism on our sleeve and are intolerant of other lifestyles and opinions. . . . We're not very subtle about it at this paper: If you work here, you must be one of us. You must be liberal, progressive, a Democrat. I've been in communal gatherings in The Post, watching election returns, and have been flabbergasted to see my colleagues cheer unabashedly for the Democrats."
Who would have guessed, huh? BTW, does this sound like an atmosphere that might prevail at any other media outlet you might know of, perhaps this side of the Atlantic? Nah. Impossible, right?

Particularly hilarious was the response of the Post's Executive Editor Leonard Downie to this revelation. According to Kurtz:
Downie says he is concerned if some staffers are openly displaying political references but that Arana's comments were valuable and "made clear that we do have a diverse staff when it comes to ideological backgrounds."
Now there is an interesting analysis. The fact that one person is able to recognize the lack of ideological diversity at the Post means that the Post does in fact have an ideologically diverse staff. Rarely has even a politician been heard to say such a plainly ludicrous thing.

(From The Corner)

The Guradian's odd notion of candor

The Guardian's Gary Younge tries to give us a lesson on American race relations today by taking a look at OJ Simpson on the 10th anniversary of his infamous acquittal. There is plenty in the article with which to take issue, but what struck me most was the egregious misrepresentation that Younge used to conclude his piece. Generalizing to a ridiculous extent, Younge says:
The enduring lesson of the OJ Simpson trial is that no matter how many times black and white Americans rally around the same flag, black Americans occupy a philosophical and material landscape that white Americans only become aware of in times of crisis and conflict.

When tens of thousands of mostly black Americans were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention centre, the then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency admitted as much. In a rare moment of candour, Michael Brown told one interviewer: "We are seeing people we didn't know exist"
Younge has taken Brown’s words totally out of context. Brown didn’t say anything like what he’s being presented as saying.

The quoted statement was made during an interview with Jim Lehrer. Brown had said that FEMA was getting relief to people inside New Orleans "as fast as we can", and Lehrer responded by citing numerous people who had "walked across the bridge and they got to the other end of the bridge and there was nobody there, nobody to help them." Lehrer then asked "So what does 'as soon as we can' mean at this stage of the game, Mr. Brown?"

Brown answered as follows:
Well, let me answer the question two ways: First, with regard to the evacuation of the Superdome and the convention center, we have had an ongoing supply food and water to there. They've had meals every day that they've been there. They had meals this morning.

We have five trailers moving into the Superdome this evening and to the convention center to provide both water and meals to those people, so they're getting regular amounts of food in the morning and evening in both of those places.

The second part of my answer, Jim, which, I think, again, the American people understand how fascinating and unusual this is -- is that we're seeing people that we didn't know exist that suddenly are showing up on bridges or showing up on overpasses or parts of the interstate that aren't inundated, and that now we're trying to get to them by Coast Guard helicopter to at least get them some immediate relief so we can start airlifting them out. [emphasis added]
Clearly Brown was not talking about a class of people normally hidden from the eyes of the country suddenly making their existence known. He was, instead, making a rather mundane differentiation between those victims who had gone to the Superdome and the convention center, whose presence the relief effort was aware of and who were being tended to, and those people that the relief effort was unaware of, who happened to be just showing up on bridges and overpasses.

Indeed, while Younge makes it appear that Brown was speaking about the "tens of thousands of mostly black Americans" who "were forced to take shelter in the New Orleans convention center," a look at what he actually said makes it plain that he was speaking precisely about the people who were not at the convention center.

How ironic that Younge needs to totally misrepresent Brown’s words in order to claim that he has given us a "rare moment candour" on race relations in the States - an alleged candor which, naturally, lends support to his own over-generalized view.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Newsflash: Words actually have meaning!

A headline from today's New York Times:

To More Inmates, Life Term Means Dying Behind Bars

This reminds me of a debate I heard once on BBC radio's Five Live in which the presenters held a serious discussion on whether a person sentenced to life in prison should serve 15 or 20 years.

I wonder: Should I pay £3 or £5 for the daily £8 congestion charge?