Wednesday, December 14, 2005

America's obsession?!?

Yesterday the BBC provided an excellent example of the way in which its own warped and pejorative view of the US is casually passed on as established fact. In an article prompted by the execution of "Tookie" Williams and headlined Can a murderer ever be redeemed, religious affairs correspondent Alex Kirby points out that most of those arguing against the implementation of Williams' death sentence presented strictly utilitarian arguments.
Oddly, for a country as obsessed with religious observance as the US, the Christian argument seems almost an afterthought.
Not a country with a predominantly Christian population. Not a largely church-going nation. No. A country "obsessed" with religious observance.

It is pretty much unimaginable that the BBC might ever characterized a Muslim theocracy governed by Sharia as being "obsessed" with religious observance. But with America, where religion is increasingly banned from the public sector and the number of people who attend church weekly is, at best, around 40% (and is more likely much lower), the BBC has no problem at all not only characterizing the country as being "obsessed" with religion, but with assuming it is a well-known and established fact among its readers.

Frankly, given the BBC's own relentless coverage of religion in America, one must wonder just where the "obsession" with religion lies.

Guardian Catch-22

The Guardian’s Luke Harding today questions whether Bush got the number of dead in Iraq since its liberation from Saddam correct the other day when he claimed it was around 30,000. Harding contrasts Bush’s figure with the infamous Lancet study which last year placed the number at 100,000. Naturally, Harding failed to inform his readers of just how misleading that headline-grabbing number was.

More notably, though, he begins his piece by characterizing Bush’s 30,000 number as a “belated admission”. Yet he then goes on to claim that the actual figure of deaths is “categorically unknowable”, concluding that Bush “would do better” not to cite any specific number at all.

So, one might wonder, how is it possible to be “late” in “admitting” something that is both unknowable and better left unspecified? Guardianthink at its best.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A point to ponder

Notice that in nearly every article on the BBC about ex-gang member, convicted murderer, and soon-to-be-executed Stanley “Tookie” Williams, readers are reminded that Williams has “earned” several Nobel Peace Prize nominations. Considering that all it takes to get such a nomination is a nod from a single social science professor somewhere in the world, and especially given the kinds of people who have managed to actually win the prize, it’s not at all clear to me that such a nomination is all that significant.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that getting nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is indeed a significant and important achievement. When, do you suppose, was the last time the BBC reminded its audience that US President George W. Bush has been the recipient of such a nomination not just once, but twice?

Monday, December 12, 2005


Apparently BBC Radio 4's Today Program is going to run a segment each in in which it will be inviting a rota of bloggers to comment on a particular issue. Of particular interest to TAE will be tomorrow's question, Does the media rule Britain?, and Friday, Does the US rule Britain? Both tomorrow's and Friday's featured blogger will be Judy, who's blog Adloyada has been very good particularly on BBC coverage of Israel. If you get a chance, have a look.

Simpson fulfills Reynolds' prediciton

The big news today is the release of the latest poll results to come out of Iraq. As the BBC's Paul Reynolds notes, the results reflect a rather different story than the one we are used to hearing from the MSM.
The latest survey of opinion in Iraq shows a degree of optimism at variance with the usual depiction of the country as one in total chaos.

The figures will provide evidence for supporters of the invasion and occupation to argue that the international media have got it wrong - that, despite everything, most Iraqis are wedded to a democratic future in a unified state and have faith it will come.

Indeed they do. The attitudes of Iraqis towards both their own individual circumstances and the future prospects of the country are both overwhelmingly positive. But Reynolds goes on to show that he knows his colleagues at the BBC only too well.

However critics will claim that the survey proves little beyond showing how resilient Iraqis are at a local level. They will argue that it reveals enough important exceptions to the rosy assessment, especially in the centre of the country, to indicate serious dissatisfaction.

And sure enough, along comes the BBC's relentlessy pessimistic John Simpson to prove Reynolds correct, trying to convince us that despite the poll results:
Things have changed radically in Baghdad since March last year - and not for the better.
Nevermind the 70+% of Iraqis who say that things in their life are going either quite good or very good. Despite the fact that Simpson admits that he doesn't stay in any one place for more than a few minutes, he apparently knows better than than the Iraqis who do.

Perhaps recognizing that readers are less likely to believe him than Iraqis themselves, Simpson does make an effort to portray the Iraqis as agreeing with him.
No wonder, then, that the people whose views are reflected in the new
opinion poll are so obsessed with the need for security.
Indeed. I suppose that "obsession" explains why, when asked "What is the single biggest problem you are facing in your life today?", terrorist attacks ranked, um, 8th with 2.2% of the responses, behind things like "personal problems". And also why, when asked how they would rate the security situation in their own village/neighborhood, fully 61% rated it as either "very good" or "quite good". And also why, when asked to compare the security situation now to that prior to the war in 2003, 44% said it was either "somewhat" or "much" better now, as opposed to 38% who said it was worse. That's quite an "obsession".

Simpson also helpfully points out that:
Given that the Shia-dominated government which has been in power for most of 2005 has been so unable to provide [security], it's not surprising the great majority of people told our pollsters they wanted strong government more than anything
More surprising if one believes Simpson's portrayal of things - so surprising, in fact, that Simpson decided not to tell his audience about it - is the fact that, when asked how well the current government had carried out its responsibilities, 61% of respondents thought it was doing either a "very good job" or "quite a good job".

There may indeed be obsessions in Iraq, but a review of his articles suggests that any such obsessions belong to Simpson himself, and not Iraqis. When he cannot ignore the good news coming out of Iraq, he is relentlessy trying to spin it as bad news. Given his belief that the primary battleground in the war for Iraq is over public opinion, it remains difficult for me to conclude anything other than that Simpson is doing his best to shift that battleground in favor of the enemy.