Justin Webb apologizes for offending viewers
Readers may recall that earlier in the month, in an unprecedented post, TAE praised Justin Webb for his outburst of common sense on one of the BBC's end-of-year roundtable correspondent discussions. Apparently unaccustomed to such fits of clear thinking cutting through the typical Auntie-American schtick, several viewers wrote in to complain about Webb's lack of "impartiality", prompting him to make an appearance on the BBC's Feedback program last Friday with Roger Bolton, to apologize and explain. (The interview is about 4 minutes in.)
Roger Bolton: I spoke to our correspondent this week, and asked if he had gone native
Justin Webb: No, I haven’t, and what I would say to those who complained about me is that I genuinely do apologize to them. It’s not my business to upset and annoy people and its not my business to be seen to be partial or indeed to be partial. And, to the extent that I was in this broadcast, then I think I do owe them an apology.
RB: You agree you were a little partial. You expressed yourself perhaps a little too warmly?
JW: Possibly a little too warmly. But what I was trying to do – and I would say this in mitigation – is puncture an atmosphere which developed,I thought, during this broadcast and which I think does occasionally develop on the BBC, and on other broadcasting outlets, where there is a kind of cosy feeling that somehow if only America would behave differently, then everything in the world would be fine. I think that is a view which does annoy and upset Americans, as I said it did. And it's not just the White House - it is a broader thing than that - and also a view which is, to put it mildly, open to challenge, and that's what I hoped to do, so to the extent that I upset people, I do apologize for that and I would ask them to listen to the range of work that I do, because America is such an important place I am on the radio pretty much every day, and I don’t think they could generally accuse me of being someone who is pro-American. In fact, most of the work that I do, frankly, is sceptical, certainly about the Bush administration and, to a wider extent, about American policies and motives. But I do think occasionally, and I would reserve this, in the context of a discussion that is an open, free discussion, not a news program, I do think it is important that we keep an eye on this tendency that I think we do sometimes have just to throw up our hands and take the easy road, which is to suggest that everything would be fine if only the Americans behaved better.
RB: You think there’s a double standard operating, effectively?
JW: I don't think there's a double-standard at a conscious level. I don't think the BBC has a double standard. I've never been told what to say one way or the other.
RB: But you're saying there's a greater readiness to criticize America than there is to criticize China, or perhaps Saudi Arabia or countries in the Middle East?
JW: And the reason is, I think, that it's easier, that we have a problem reporting open societies, particularly in a time of great international turmoil and war. It's just easier to criticize, it's easier to get access to information, it's easier to find people within the society who are intensely critical of it. Yet when you think of China, when you think of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are still operating on the fringes of society in Afghanistan,when you think of the situation in Iran it's just more difficult to get a handle on what's going on in those places. And I think there is a tendency, which we always have to guard against, of being tougher on democratic societies simply because it's easier.
Frankly, the only thing surprising about JW's lack of impartiality in the offending piece was that it resulted in him defending America rather than joining in the attacks on it. And TAE for one would be more than happy to testify to the fact that JW's regular work on the BBC belies any accusation that he might be pro-American. It is notable that, after spending most of his on-air time annoying and upsetting Americans with his self-admitted portrayal of them as unsophisticated ignoramuses, he now finds it necessary to grovel for forgiveness over having annoyed and upset others by making the surprisingly controversial suggestion that the US is a better place than Saddam's Iraq.
We can, I suppose, take some small comfort in the fact that, despite his sincere apologies, JW does make some effort to stick to his guns. He does, afterall, continue to make the point that the BBC's coverage of America is not, perhaps, what it ought to be. But, while it may be true that the double standard Webb all but admits is practiced at the BBC with regard to America is indeed an unconscious one, a person would have to be literally unconscious not to notice it after the fact.
However, let us not be too ungracious to Mr Webb. Afterall, even if he feels the need to soften with an apology his pinpricks against the bubble within which the BBC fosters anti-American sentiment, he is, at least, saying a few sensible things that need to be said.
(hat tip: Clive Davis via Neverdock)