Thursday, December 01, 2005

BBC still telling porkies about Wilson/Niger

BBC's Newsnight interviewed Judy Miller, formerly of The New York Times, yesterday. Recall that Miller was the NYT reporter who went to jail ostensibly to protect the source of her information about Valerie Plame, that source turning out to be Scooter Libby, who has since been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Presumably to help edify viewers, Newsnight has put together a timeline about the whole affair.

Now, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but it is both astonishing and galling that, even after BBC Online's Paul Reynolds managed to do a commendable job setting out the details of the affair (after much prompting from TAE), the wider BBC still refuses to tell the true story. The very first entry in the timeline has three sentences, each of which is, in a word, false.
Joseph C Wilson IV, a retired career diplomat, is asked by the CIA to go to Niger, in west Africa, to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to buy uranium there. On his return, Mr Wilson reports back that he does not believe this. Nevertheless, President Bush refers to the reports in his State of the Union address in January 2003.
First, Wilson was not sent to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Niger. He was sent to investigate reports that Iraq had purchased uranium there.

Second, Wilson did not report back that he did not believe that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Niger. He reported back that he believed no purchase had taken place.

Third, Bush did not refer in his SOTU address to the reports which Wilson was sent to investigate. He referred to a British intelligence claim which, significantly, British intelligence stands by to this very day.

Three sentences; three falsehoods. The BBC at its best.

Also notable is the complete absence in the timeline of any reference at all to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation that looked into the matter, much less any reference to the fact that the investigation totally discredited Wilson. The BBC is shameless.

(Review of the Miller interview hopefully to come later this weekend.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A BBC/Guardian partnership?

About a month ago, TAE noted that in the space of a week, The Guardian published two seperate editorial hosannas to the BBC, one in the regular Guardian, and one in the Sunday Observer. The latter came under the headline Worth Every Penny: The BBC still delivers the goods. At the time I wondered out loud whether this was an unconscious reference to the amount of money the BBC poured into The Guardian itself via advertising. One of the comments to the post took me to task, suggesting that I was "tipping over into conspiracy mania".

That prompted me to make a freedom of information request of the BBC regarding a breakdown of the amount of money it spent on recruitment advertising in the print media. Today, TAE got an answer.

In the fiscal year from from April 2004 until March 2005, the BBC spent a total of £568,343 on recruitment advertising in a total of 49 newspapers. The recipient of the largest amount of revenue from such BBC advertising was, by far, The Guardian. Nearly 41% of the BBC's expenditures, or £231,944, went into The Guardian's coffers. To put this into some perspective, this is over two and a half times more than the amount received by the next largest recipient, The Western Mail (a Welsh paper) which received £92,388, or just over 16% of the total expenditures. The Times/Sunday Times received a combined total of just £53,326, or a shade over 9% of the total. The amount received by The Guardian alone is approximately equal to the next seven largest recipients combined. And one of those seven, The Manchester Evening News, which received £11,100, is in fact itself a member of The Guardian Media Group.

Now, perhaps this rather blatant disparity in the distribution of the BBC's (tax-financed) advertising expenditures, can be easily explained. After all, one might expect the BBC to justifiably focus a lot of its recruitment efforts where the audience is, so if The Guardian has a particularly large readership, perhaps it makes sense that it receives a particularly large share of the BBC's advertising expenditures. Is that the case? Alas, no.

According to the National Readership Survey, of the 13 top line dailies in Britain, The Guardian ranks eighth, garnering just 2.5% of the total adult population. The Times has a readership 1.5 times larger than that of The Guardian, although it received only 22% of The Guardian's take in BBC advertising monies. The Daily Telegraph received only 15% as much, despite the fact that it has a readership almost double that of The Guardian. The paper with the biggest readership by far, The Sun, received no advertising revenues at all from the BBC's recruitment efforts. So, it would seem clear that it is not an effort to reach the widest audience that had produced such lopsided expenditures.

Perhaps it is, instead, a desire to reach a particular kind of audience that has driven the decision to spend so much at The Guardian. But what kind of audience is the BBC reaching at The Guardian? Well, it is no secret that The Guardian is a left-leaning newspaper. Even Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of The Guardian Unlimited, admits (nay, proclaims) that it approaches the news from a "slightly more liberal perspective". Even if the BBC is not intending to target a left-liberal audience from which it will pluck its future employees, that is, in fact, precisely what it is doing when it spends nearly half of all its recruitment advertising in a single newspaper dominated by a left-liberal perspective.

Is this really the way that a tax-funded, "public service" enterprise ought to be running itself?

In any event, and in light of this information, I can only reiterate what I suggested a month ago...perhaps there is more to The Guardian's belief that the BBC "delivers the goods" than meets the eye.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Could be worse

Given the Supreme Court vacancies that have arisen this year, it was inevitable that the BBC would do a profile on abortion in America. Clare Murphy provided that profile today, and to be honest, it could have been a lot worse.

Yes, Murphy focused largely on a single state, Mississippi, where abortions are more heavily regulated than most others, and she did so in vaguely disapproving tones. And yes, she made spurious comparisons between the sparsely populated Mississippi and the most populous state in the Union, California, in order to make Mississippi abortion policy appear particularly draconian. And yes, the article contained an information sidebar which characterized limitations on state funding of abortion as legal "restrictions" on abortion. (On that logic, the absence of public funds to pay for my greens fees is a legal "restriction" on playing golf.) So, no, the BBC has not been able to entirely rid itself of its left-leaning tics.

However, there are some positives that should be pointed out. Murphy does introduce the notion that abortion policy in the US is primarily a state, not a national, issue. And in so doing, she touches on the fact that, even should Roe v Wade be overturned, many states would still retain an abortion on demand policy little different to what exists today. This is significant, because many reports erroneously convey, and many people erroneously think, that the overturning of Roe would necessarily result in the end to abortion in the US. This notion is simply wrong, and Murphy does well to avoid protraying the issue in that way.

Beyond this, she's even introduced the idea that "an end to Roe v Wade might not be a bad thing after all."
It would force the pro-choice lobby to argue their case with voters at the state level, so the thinking goes, and stop them relying on unelected courts to impose their views.
I can't remember ever seeing this point being made in a mainstream media piece before. Certainly, at least, not on the BBC. She's even used an "avowed pro-choice columnist" as her source for this notion, quoting him as saying that reliance on Roe "has been deeply unhealthy for abortion rights, for liberalism more generally, and ultimately for American democracy."

Perhaps I am exercising the soft bigotry of low expectations, but I think this represents a big step forward for the BBC, and hopefully it portends a more reasonable and less breathless coverage of not only the abortion issue in the US, but more specifically the Supreme Court nomination process.

Joe Wilson on the BBC

Natalie at Biased BBC has an interesting post about Joe Wilson's appearance on the BBC's Radio Four last Wednesday. Unfortunately I missed it, but Natalie caught it and has a wee bit of criticism for James Naughtie's interview techniques. Apparently it was not exactly what you might call a confrontational interview.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Webb's own little fantasy world

In yet another From Our Own Correspondent entry, Justin Webb reveals just how deep is his obsession with religion and religious Americans. How deep? Well, it seems that being a Bush supporter and - even worse, one imagines - a sunday school teacher is enough to set Webb to secretly questioning one's children to make sure one is mentally suitable to qualify for Webb's friendship.

I'm not making this up. As a lead in to his tediously typical portrayal of the American right as religiously ensconced ignoramuses, Webb relates a personal anecdote about going to dinner at the house of the parents of one of his own child's classmates. He felt compelled to test the classmate, Meade, on the origins of the dinosaurs in order to satsify himself that the parents are not religious loons. As Webb himself tells us, the answer to his question will tell him "something about Meade's parents which will affect our relationship." Happily, after a pause which Webb finds to be "agonising", Meade manages to provide a satisfactory answer, much to Webb's immense relief.
I could have hugged him and his parents; we are, after all, inhabiting the same mental planet.
Sharing Webb's "mental planet"? Poor Meade.

But, of course, Webb's purpose is not to fill us in on his interesting social life. It is, instead, to demonize Republicans, and his lengthy anecdote culminates with his relief about "inhabiting the same mental planet" simply in order to provide a suitable segue into his real topic:

But many modern members of the Republican party, including some in positions
of great power, do not seem
to be living on that planet.

Conveniently, Webb doesn't actually name any of these people in "positions of great power", so the insinuation is allowed to linger without the nuisance of actually having to provide any substantiating evidence. Indeed, the only actual person directly associated by Webb with these thoughts from another planet is Pat Robertson, who has no position of power within the US government whatsoever. But, Webb informs us, Robertson "is an important man" because "his views are sought on Supreme Court candidates and foreign affairs." Sought by who? Again, Webb doesn't say.

Even when Webb is on solid ground, he stretches his analysis to the breaking point. Not content with simply pointing out that creationists are at odds with science, he tries to expand the realm of evangelical heresy to science by claiming that even their thoughts on homosexuality and abortion "place odds with science campaigning." I was always under the impression that whether or not homosexuality and abortion were sins was a religious rather than a scientific matter. Webb knows differently, I guess.

The most laughable part of Webb's piece, however, is his justification for it. Displaying the journalistic acuity that regular Webb-watchers have come to expect of him, he tells us:
As the nation recovers this weekend from the worldly pleasures of the wonderfully inclusive festival of Thanksgiving, a festival which can appeal equally to atheist and Bible-basher, it seems to me that the central political question facing everyone here, far more important than any to do with Iraq or the deficit or Guantanamo Bay, is whether or not the Republican party, after decades of flirting, has finally got into bed with an irrational sect.
The central political question? Facing everyone in the US? Far more important than any question to do with Iraq? Coming only sentences after having suggested that creationists inhabit a fantasy world, the irony is palpable.