Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Satire beyond the BBC's ability to fathom

Just how bright does one need to be in order to find employment in the BBC newsroom? On today’s evidence, not very.

The BBC offers up its (un-bylined) take on the media reaction to Dick Cheney’s recent escapades in Texas. To show just how universal is the dismay over White House secrecy and the delay in filling in the press corps on the shooting, the BBC notes that:
Even for the conservative Wall Street Journal, enough was enough.

"Don't these Bush people understand that the cover-up is worse than the crime?" Wednesday's edition asks, before launching a satirical broadside at the White House efforts to play down the story.
Bad news for the White House indeed. Except for one thing: A quick read of the WSJ editorial makes it pretty clear, to anyone of moderate intelligence that is, that the satirical broadside was aimed not at the White House’s efforts to play down the story, but rather the media’s efforts to play it up.

The WSJ editorial provides a “coverup timeline” along with “crucial questions that deserve to be asked.” Among those questions:
Saturday 6:30 pm - White House Chief of Staff Andy Card informs President Bush that there's been a hunting accident involving the Vice President's party. Did Mr. Bush ask follow-up questions? Was he intellectually curious?

7 pm - Karl Rove tells Mr. Bush that it is Mr. Cheney who did the shooting. Why was this detail withheld for a full 30 minutes from the President? Who else did Mr. Rove talk to about this in the interim? Was Valerie Plame ever mentioned?

Sunday 1:30 pm - The Texas paper [Corpus Christi] posts the story on its Web site, after calling the Veep's office for confirmation. Everyone involved confirms more or less everything, or so the official line goes. Their agreement is very suspicious.
And just in case there was any doubt among the especially daft, after noting a particularly absurd question from a member of the WH press corps (“and we’re not making this one up” it warns), the WSJ ended its editorial by proclaiming:
We hope the 78-year-old Mr. Whittington recovers promptly after his heart attack yesterday. As for the Beltway press corps, it has once again earned the esteem in which it is held by the American public.
For the dolts at the BBC: The use of the word “esteem” in this context would be, um, ironic.

(And here I thought that it was supposed to be Americans who couldn’t appreciate the heralded British sense of irony.)

UPDATE: As some of you may have noticed, the BBC has done a little bit of editing, and the reference to the WSJ editorial now bears a much closer relationship to what it actually said. I'm not sure whether someone at the Beeb saw TAE's comments, or if an editor with a more heightened sense of sarcasm than the original editor noticed it on his own. Of course the reference to the WSJ has been moved from the top of the article to the bottom, given that it no longer reinforces the story line the BBC is pushing. But give the Beeb some small amount of credit for at least mentioning the contrary take of the WSJ rather than wiping it out of the article completely. Still, I'd say the BBC is, net, in the red on this one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Read the comments

I feel compelled to direct your attention to the comment section on this post on social mobility, where an interesting back-and-forth has taken place between a couple of readers, culminating (most recently) on some excellent comments by reader Stephen on gobalization, comparative advantage, and the perils of zero-sum thinking.

The BBC's curious sensitivities

Several days ago, TAE's friends at Biased BBC noted an interesting letter published in The Times from former BBC Broadcast Chief Executive Will Wyatt. While applauding the BBC's treatment of the whole Danish cartoon fracas, Wyatt felt compelled to point out the "double standard" on the BBC's website regarding its treatment of Islam and Christianity.

In its history of Islam we read: “One night in 610 he (Muhammad) was meditating in a cave on the mountain when he was visited by the angel Jibreel who ordered him to “recite” . . . words which he came to understand were the words of God.” This is written as fact, no “it is said” or “Muhammad reported”. Whenever Muhammad’s name is mentioned the BBC adds “Peace be upon him”, as if the corporation itself were Muslim.

How different, and how much more accurate, when we turn to Christianity. Here, Jesus’ birth “is believed by Christians to be the fulfilment of prophesies in the Jewish Old Testament”; Jesus “claimed that he spoke with the authority of God”; accounts of his resurrection appearances were “put about by his believers”.

A fair point, it seems to me. But I do wonder what exactly Wyatt found praiseworthy in the BBC's treatment of the Danish cartoon affair, given that it is fraught with precisely the same kind of double standard. Although the BBC did, apparently, show "fleeting" glimpses of the cartoons in question on television (which is at least more than can be said of most other media outlets in both the US and the UK), according to Peter Horlocks, editor of BBC's TV news:

We've taken the view that still images that focus and linger on the offending cartoons would be excessively offensive so we haven't used those in our television news pieces.

"We've used moving pictures of the newspapers where they've appeared to show people the context in which they've appeared and to give them some flavour of the type of imagery but without focusing closely on them."

Explaining why the BBC's website is not showing images of the cartoons, BBC interactive's editor Steve Herrmann said:
In addition, images on a web page can have an immediate impact on readers who will not necessarily have absorbed any of the context around them...When we cover any sensitive issue we have to balance our duty to report the story faithfully with our responsibility not to unnecessarily shock or offend our audience.

One can only wonder why, then, an image of a painting that caused much offense among Christians in the US has lingered on the BBC's website for over 6 years without Herrmann or Wyatt being fussed about it.

Readers may recall that, back in 1999, an art exhibition in NYC controversially included a painting by Chris Ofili, purportedly of the Virgin Mary and adorned with cut-outs from pornographic magazines and elephant dung. Rudy Giuliani, then mayor of New York, took offense (along many other Christians) and threatened to withdraw public money which funded the gallery showing the painting. The BBC website covered the story with several articles, including one which contained a picture of the offending painting. That article remains available on the BBC's website to this very day.

Is it too cynical to wonder whether the degree of concern the BBC shows over offending a particular culture's sensitivities is directly proportional to that culture's tendency towards violence?

(BTW, for those interested in seeing the cartoons, they can be found here.)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

In perhaps the biggest news to hit the headlines this year, Dan Glaister of The Guardian joins legions of other media outlets to report that....brace yourself...
The first photograph of President George Bush with the disgraced Washington
lobbyist Jack Abramoff was published yesterday after the White House refused for
weeks to release images of them together.
Apparently the photo "has been compared [by who? - ed] to the Monica Lewinsky 'ropeline' shots, which showed President Clinton greeting the White House intern." Now that certainly would be interesting, seeing Bush giving a big bearhug to a star-struck and adoring Jack Abramoff. Alas, it turns out that Abramoff "appears as a small, blurry, bearded figure in the background" of a photo of Bush meeting the chief of an American Indian tribe. Not everything, I suppose, that scandal mongers would have hoped for, but you have to take what you can get. And, perhaps most incriminating fo all, "Karl Rove, the chief White House political adviser, is also in the photograph." Really makes you think, huh?

Almost forgot

Oh yeah...and Clive Davis in The Times, writes about the future and blogs, mentioning Paul Reynolds' article from the other day, in which TAE featured.

Solid commentary

Lots of interesting commentary this past weekend in the papers.

The Times especially was chock full of good stuff. Minette Marin takes on the Muslim demand for respect, and blames, at least in part, the West itself.
It is a failure for which we in the West — we in this country — bear a great deal of responsibility. Until very recently, the doctrine of multiculturalism reigned supreme here. For at least 15 years public services and the liberal media have been riddled with the idea that all cultures are equally deserving of respect, and that the values of the host culture are not supreme, but on the contrary, rather racist and oppressive (so possibly not equally deserving of respect)...Quite why large sections of the host culture here were taken in by the confused claims of multiculturalism remains a mystery to me. But the consequence is that many Muslims (among others) have come to believe that we agree that their religion and culture are entitled to unquestioning respect.
In another article, which oddly doesn't appear to be on-line, Amir Taheri points out that:
Today, the visible Islam, the loudest Islam, is a political movement
masquerading as a religion...Not long ago when I asked an imam in a London
mosque why it was that God hardly featured in his sermons, he thought I
had lost the plot. "What matters today is the suffering of our brethren
under occupation," he snapped..."We have no religious grievances in this
country," said Azam Tamini, a pro-Hamas British Muslim scholar. "Here we
can practise our religion with more freedom than in any Musilim-ruled
country. It is therefore natural that we should focus on political rather
than religious issues."
How wonderful.

Rod Liddle mentions the BBC's wistful look back at the halcyon days of the radical left with the show Lefties, and makes the sad but true observation that:
The consensus is that the left was trounced, good and proper, in the middle of the 1980s. Certainly the economic arguments were won pretty convincingly by the right...But as the mere existence of the BBC’s series might suggest, the consensus is flawed. For if the right won the economic argument and the cold war, the left won everything else. The followers of Lady Plowden and Shirley Williams still control our education system; children are ill-disciplined and the educational emphasis is on interpretation rather than learning facts.

Popular culture, too. Find me a right-wing Hollywood film, if you can. Or a right-wing play in the West End. Or a pop star who wishes to give less money to Africa and thinks the war against Iraq was just fine and dandy. Or a right-of-centre novelist up for the Booker prize.

Or, indeed, a programme on the BBC that presents a right-wing point of view without irony or downright condemnation. One suspects that over there in Wood Lane they were all, like me, lefties themselves. And maybe still are.


And, speaking of lefties, Martin Kettle at The Guardian warns his capitalist- and US-hating "brothers and sisters" not to find themselves - yet again - on the wrong side of history.

After 1956 it was no longer intellectually honest or true (if it had ever been) to use the cold-war syllogism that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Those who saw history as a long war between good (the left, socialism, the future, the Soviet Union) and evil (the right, capitalism, the old order, the United States) were no longer entitled to swallow their doubts. It was no longer sweet and noble to kill for the cause. A few, of course, still said it was. Even to this day one occasionally encounters the old lie that the Hungarian rising was a counter-revolution.

But the cold-war syllogism lives on today in a new guise. Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy's enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. It is 50 years this month since that simplistic view of the world lost whatever moral purchase it may once have had. It is time such thinking was, to choose a sadly appropriate word, purged. Too long, my brothers and my sisters, too long.

Will they listen?