Saturday, October 29, 2005

BBC's Reynolds disappoints

Paul Reynolds of the BBC writes today about the culmination of the Plame investigation and the indictment of Scooter Libby. Unfortunately, this is one of Reynolds’ worst efforts in quite some time.

He begins by exclaiming that the indictment of Libby:
…raises serious questions about how the Bush administration sought to justify the war against Iraq and brings into scrutiny the possible role of Mr Cheney in the unlawful disclosure of a CIA agent.
No, it doesn’t. This is just spin, with Reynolds himself attempting to raise those questions anew, and to place “scrutiny” on “the role” of Mr. Cheney despite the lack of any reason to do so.

With regard to the justification of the war, these indictments say absolutely nothing whatsoever. The indictments revolve around when Libby discovered that Plame worked at the CIA, who told him, and who he subsequently told. Again, they have absolutely nothing at all to do with the justification of the war. Indeed, the whole Plame issue itself touches only tangentially on it, in the sense that it was instigated by Joe Wilson’s original article which claimed, falsely as it turned out, that his trip to Niger did not bear out the claims of British intelligence. But these indictments provide virtually no new information, and raise no new questions at all, with regard to that intelligence. Reynolds is trying to create new controversy where none exists.

As for Mr. Cheney’s “role”, this has arisen strictly from the fact that Libby originally claimed to have heard about Plame’s employment from a journalist, when in fact he had been told by Cheney previously. But independent prosecutor Fitzgerald said explicitly in his news conference that “there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.” Again, Reynolds is attempting to create an issue where none exists, presumably in order to impart greater political significance to the indictments than already exists.

In his recap of the events that led up to the indictment, Reynolds does a reasonable job, except for his brief mention of Joe Wilson. As seems to be custom with BBC reports about this affair, Reynolds once again fails to inform his audience of the fact that Wilson has been wholly discredited with regard to his claims about his trip to Niger, and has also been shown to be lying about the involvement of his wife in his being given the assignment in the first place.

Given that Reynolds is trying to push the notion that the indictments raise “serious questions” about the justification of the war, it is no wonder that he tries to keep Wilson’s credibility problems from his audience. In one of the more revealing comments by Reynolds, he writes of the charge that Saddam sought uranium in Niger:
The British government certainly believed the Niger report - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does.
Strangely enough? Why would it be strange if the report is, in fact, accurate? Reynolds is obviously insinuating that the report has been shown to be false, and that Wilson’s charges are accurate. But in fact, “after all that has happened”, including the Senate investigation that concluded Wilson was not telling the truth about his Niger trip, what reason does Reynolds have to think it is not accurate? Since Wilson’s lack of candor does not facilitate the use of him as a proxy for promoting the notion that Bush/Blair lied about the justifications for the war, it is little surprise that the BBC doesn’t want to remind its audience of the full story behind Wilson's claims.

Reynolds also employs those classic journalistic weasel words, used to express an opinion while maintaining the pretense of objectivity. The Project for the New American Century has been “seen as” the origin of Bush policy. Seen by who? Reynolds doesn’t say. The indictments have “got people asking” questions about the vice-president's role in the affair. What people? Reynolds doesn’t say.

Reynolds has, to my mind, shown himself in the past to be one of the more reasonable BBC reporters of political events. This latest effort, however, is highly disappointing.

Plame recap

So the Plame investigation has come to somewhat of a conclusion with the indictment of Scooter Libby on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Given the length and convoluted nature of the whole investigation, it is probably worth remembering how this whole thing started.

A fairly detailed account of it can be found here, but in brief, a former diplomat, Joe Wilson, was sent by the CIA in February 2002 to Niger to investigate claims about Saddam attempting to purchase uranium there. In the summer of 2003, after the liberation of Iraq, Wilson penned an article in The New York Times criticizing Bush for using the uranium purchase allegation in the run-up to the war, an allegation which Wilson claimed, based on his trip, to know was false. Robert Novak then wrote an article in which he revealed, based on sources in the White House, that Wilson’s trip to Niger came at the behest of his own wife, Valerie Plame, who worked at the CIA. This column produced an uproar, since Plame had at one time (if not still currently) been a covert agent, the deliberate outing of which can be a federal offense. An independent investigator was appointed to investigate 1) who in the White House leaked the information that Plame worked for the CIA; and 2) whether or not a crime had been committed when Plame was outed.

Today, the independent prosecutor produced the results of his grand jury investigation into the matter. And what have we learned? First, given that Fitzgerald has failed to produce any indictments on the actual outing of Plame, it appears that the supposed crime which instigated the whole episode did not, in fact, occur. Second, we still have no idea who in the White House leaked the name of Plame to Novak, who, despite being the author of the article which outed Plame, appears only once in the entire 22-page indictment of Libby. And that single reference to Novak seems to suggest that Libby, the only person who is now under indictment, did not even speak to Novak.

So what has this nearly 2 year investigation into a crime that apparently never occurred produced that we would not have had the investigation never occurred? An indictment of a person for allegedly lying about what he said to, and what was said to him by, reporters who never wrote anything publicly about Valerie Plame at all. In other words, what was uncovered was not a crime against Plame, the CIA, or the nation’s security, which prompted the investigation in the first place, but instead a crime against the investigation itself, a crime that would not have occurred (if indeed it did occur) had the investigation into a non-crime never been instigated.

If – if - Libby lied to the grand jury, then he deserves the indictment. But given the results, I’d say that this investigation wasn’t exactly a fruitful one.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Never changing but always falling

Back in mid-September, in the aftermath of Katrina, the BBC reported that:
The president's approval ratings have slumped to 40%, the lowest of his time in office.
Just over two weeks later, on October 6, the BBC reported that:
A Newsweek poll released on Saturday suggests that Mr Bush's overall approval rating has dropped to 40% as a result of his much criticised handling of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the ongoing problems in Iraq.
Then, just yesterday, the BBC reported again that on the back of the Miers nomination debacle:
Mr Bush's approval ratings have meanwhile been plummeting, and his apparent inability to push his choice through is thought likely to raise fresh concerns as to what he can achieve in his second term.
The most recent approval ratings from Fox, Pew, and Gallup? 41%, 40%, and 42%.

It would be difficult, of course, to argue that Bush’s ratings are good, but only in the world of BBC spin is it possible for an approval rating that has remained essentially unchanged (if not gone up marginally) over the last two months to be conitinually characterized as “dropping” and “plummeting”.

More trouble for Galloway

George Galloway is now being accused of oil-for-food corruption not just by the US Senate, but also by the UN. I suppose the UN, too, is a "lickspittle Republican committee".

BBC and Guardian share the same hymn book

The Guardian's lead story on-line today is about the death of the Miers nomination. And, of course, The Guardian pushes the same angle spun by the BBC last night on Newsnight. In an article headlined Humiliated Bush forced to retreat as moral right turns its guns on him, Julian Borger claims:
However, it was outrage among Christian conservatives that did the most damage.
Borger gives us virtually no evidence that would lead to such a conclusion. The only thing he says in support of such a contention is that on Wednesday two "conservative pressure groups" which had previously been silent on the issue came out against Miers. However, the idea that the addition of two unnamed (so, possibly not even Christian) groups to the cacophony of opposition that has existed since the day of the announcement "did the most damage" to the nomination is laughable.

Once again, The Guardian shows that it is at one with the BBC in its agenda to misrepresent the influence of the religious right on the conservative movement in the US.

As surprising as it may seem, a much more sensible account of the demise of the nomination can be found in The New York Times.
But the conservative rebellion against the nomination did not diminish. It grew, fed by the "blogocracy," by a powerful set of conservative columnists, by a movement that felt it had "swallowed" enough compromises on Mr. Bush's agenda, as David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, put it.
Note also that the Times distinguishes between social conservatives and religious conservatives, a distinction that seems to be lost on (or at least hidden by) the BBC and The Guardian, each of which seems to erroneously interpret, for example, any opposition to the Supreme Court's abortion decision as being driven by religious, or even evangelist, motivations.

UPDATE: The Times here in London also does a good job and resists the caricatured religious spin.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

BBC: Blame the religious right (as usual)

Unable to totally avoid the political uproar on the right over the Miers nomination now that the nomination has actually been withdrawn, the BBC has decided to take the same path that The Guardian had paved previously. Tonight on Newsnight, reporter Stephanie Flanders adopted the standard BBC/Guardian default position used as a stock explanation for virtally anything that happens on the political right in the's all the work of the religious right.

Ostensibly, but falsely, explaining the demise of the Miers nomination, Flanders gives us a clip of a group of people kneeling, holding hands, and praying, as she serves up this:

But by far the harshest opposition has come from right wing faith groups...

As I've pointed out previously, this is complete and utter rubbish, and the fact that Flanders was able to track down a Christian who denounced Miers doesn't make it smell any better. The most immediate, powerful, and heated objections came from the likes of George Will, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and the entire staff of National Review. These people are not voices of the Christian right. They are voices of intellectual, ideological, principled conservatism, and contrary to the BBC's warped reporting, these are the voices that influence and drive conservative policy in Washington, not Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition.

Now this reference to the religious right made up maybe 30 seconds of a 4 minute report. But these are precisely the types of small but constant characterizations that are incessantly dropped into BBC coverage of the US political scene, and which ultimately serve to give Britain a warped and ignorant view of American politics, particularly on the right. As the BBC's relentless (and wholly false) campaign to portray the American right as subservient to and driven by evangelist Christians continues unabated, you have to ask the question: Can BBC reporters themselves be so ignorant of reality, or are they deliberately misinforming the folks back home? Well, Jeremy Paxman may have quite a few unpleasant personality traits, but he's never struck me as stupid and uninformed. Which leaves me with only one conclusion to draw.

Who's who, Guardian style

In anticipation of the end of the Plame investigation, and undoubtedly with high hopes that indictments against Bush officials will be forthcoming, The Guardian today gives us a who’s who of the Wilson/Plame affair.

Typically, it shades the facts, specifically with regard to Joe Wilson, the person who instigated the whole affair with his article in The New York Times suggesting that the Bush administration had lied about the Niger/uranium intelligence. Not surprisingly, The Guardian fails to inform its readers that virtually every substantive claim that Wilson made about the conclusions of his Niger trip, along with denials about the involvement of his wife in getting him sent in the first place, were subsequently found by a bipartisan Senate committee to be, in a word, false.

Another word might be "lies", something with which, if this guy is to be believed (and the case looks pretty compelling to me), The Guardian itself is intimately familiar.

Miers withdraws nomination

As has seemed inevitable for a couple weeks now, Harriet Miers has mercifully withdrawn herself from consideration for the Supreme Court. This is good news, and regardless of how it might be played out in the press, it is ultimately good for Bush and Republicans in the long run.

Congratulations White Sox

Following on from last year's (regrettable) ending of the Boston Red Sox 80+ years streak of failure, the Chicago White Sox have achieved a similar (not to mention more acceptable to TAE) feat, winning the World Series for the first time since 1917. And they did so in emphatic fashion, taking the series in a clean, 4-0 sweep.

Congratulations to White Sox fans, especially to TAE reader and long suffering White Sox supporter Peter S. And of course, to make White Sox celebrations even more enjoyable, we should note that the run of failure for cross-town rivals Cubs continues into its, gulp, 97th year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Old Brain Pan responds

I've received a clarification e-mail from Nick Reavill, the author of The Old Brain Pan post which I mentioned the other day. You may recall that it was about my parody of the BBC's article regarding the UN's attempted takeover of the internet. Nick, a Brit currently residing in the States, seems perfectly reasonable (except for his continued admiration for the NHS), and has given me permission to reproduce his e-mail here, lest there be any more confusion.

Dear Scott,

I am the 'Sloshings' you speak of. My name's Nick, actually, and 'Sloshings' was the category of the post, but I'm new to this blogging game. I didn't miss your point. I thought your parody was quite funny, and intentionally ridiculous. I linked to your site merely to point out that it wasn't my idea that the Iranians might run their own World Service. I kind of agree with you about the BBCs bias, especially the point you make about the reporting of Iraq's constitutional vote. I also agree that the British media is very biased about the USA, the BBC included, and I had to move here to find that out. My main point was that the BBC is so much more than it's news reporting and that all news outlets are equally, if not more biased. The way you feel about a news outlet’s veracity depends on your own bias, I think.

I’m not budging on the NHS though, and as wonderful as your country is, when it comes to healthcare, the US is seriously lacking. The banks are rubbish too, but generally I’m having a great time.


The BBC on blogs

The BBC's Torin Douglas attempts to explain blogs and the BBC's relationship to them. First he tells us of some of the blogosphere's successes:
It claimed the scalps of CNN news boss Eason Jordan and CBS anchor Dan Rather after news errors exposed by bloggers.
Then, its drawbacks.
More dangerously, with none of the traditional journalistic checks, it spawns errors, hoaxes and downright lies which can be right round the world before the truth has its boots on.
Ah, would those be the vaunted "traditional journalistic checks" which spawned the, er, "news errors" of Eason Jordan and Dan Rather? A more accurate term than "news errors" might have been, well, hoaxes and downright lies. But, of course, those terms are reserved for blogs, not fellow members of the MSM.

Naturally, Douglas doesn't actually come up with even one instance of a blog-generated hoax or lie that made its way "round the world before the truth has its boots on." Shocking that the BBC's crack "traditional journalistic check" squad didn't pick up on that, don't you think?

Htich on Gorgeous George

Hitchens today in Slate, on Galloway.
I wonder if any of those who furnished him a platform will now have the grace to admit that they were hosting a man who is not just a pimp for fascism but one of its prostitutes as well.
Good stuff.

BBC gets vote results right - but only just

Iraq has announced the results of the vote on its new constitution. The process was such that a small minority of the population, concentrated in just a few provinces, could prevent ratification. If just 3 of Iraq’s 18 provinces voted “No” by a two-thirds majority, ratification would have been defeated, no matter what the degree of support in the overall population.

So, essentially, the process was stacked against approval to begin with, requiring not just majority support throughout the country, but significant minority support even in those few areas where opposition was expected to be high.

In the event, support was overwhelming: 78% of the overall population voted in favour of ratification; 15 of the 18 provinces had majority support; and only 2 of the 3 provinces voting against did so by a two-thirds majority (the third had a 55% vote against.)

So, how does the BBC headline its article about this overwhelming vote in favour of ratification?

Iraq backs charter – but only just

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Surprise, surprise

George Galloway gets accused of perjury. The Senate committee says it has proof of his and his wife's connections to Saddam's oil-for-food bribes. Galloway, naturally, denies the charge, but more interestingly he says that he can't speak for his wife. He has absolutely "no idea" about her business dealings.

This will be interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Public service or self-promoter?

Today's BBC preview of the Chelsea v Everton football match advertises the fact that the game will be broadcast live over BBC radio's Five Live. Indeed, the self-promotion comes right under the headline. Unreported, however, is the fact that the game will also be broadcast live on the television by Sky Sports.

Normally, of course, one wouldn't expect a broadcaster to advertise what a competitor is showing. However, given that the BBC explicitly justifies the "license fee" by claiming that the fee frees it from "commericial pressures" and that it acts as a public service provider, why should the BBC be promoting its own radio broadcast of a public interest event while at the same time failing to inform its audience that the very same event will be broadcast live on TV, just because it happens to be broadcast by a different broadcaster?