Headlining Tragedy

In one of the threads below PJF comments that CNN is a left of centre broadcaster. That may be true, but it’s never worried me too much because I’ve always felt, having ‘watched’ Kosovo on CNN, that there is some sanity there and a sense of perspective. Subjective I know, but there it is. Today I read of the terrible news of deaths in Baghdad- after a week of relative (yes, relative) peace. The difference between the headline sequence on CNN and BBC is stark.

Here is the BBC approach at 8.40 UK time:

‘Bombs rock central Baghdad’

‘At least 18 people are reported killed as the Red Cross headquarters and other buildings come under attack.’

Here is the CNN at the same time:

‘Explosions rock Baghdad’

‘At least 10 people have been killed and several injured following three explosions in the space of an hour in the Iraqi capital.

The first blast, believed caused by a suicide car bomb, struck early in the morning outside the Red Cross headquarters in the city leaving several vehicles ablaze and huge plumes of smoke rising into the air.’

Can anyone apart from me see hysteria in the one and sanity in the other, even if, as I suspect, the BBC usually gets casualty figures right? Meantime, the BBC runs two articles by two of my ‘favourite’ (yeah, right) journalists, Martin Asser and Jon Leyne. One talks of civil war in Iraq (that is how it is advertised in the link), the other pursues the nuclear no-show situation via Leyne’s Washington Post angle. I think the terrorists would be satisfied with their weekend’s work merely by seeing these twin approaches taken by the BBC, allied to the ‘crisis’ style headlines.

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15 Responses to Headlining Tragedy

  1. David says:

    “Can anyone apart from me see hysteria in the one and sanity in the other…?

    Sorry. I’d like to answer Yes, but I cannot see much difference between the two stories.


  2. d. mcnabb says:

    This distortion from the BBC’s front page cover story:

    “The attacks raised to 112 the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq since President George Bush declared major hostilities over on 1 May. ”


    And end to major hostilites? He didn’t say that, obviously. He declared an end to “major combat operations”.



  3. d. mcnabb says:

    “Thursday May 1, 2003

    Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”


  4. Matthew says:

    This post is a wind-up, no?

    Or can you enlighten us on the amazing differences between those stories?


  5. ed says:

    Thanks Matt and David. It’s intended to be a starting point for discussion, and for people to comment on coverage in general of this story, which is bound to run for a while.

    Specifically, what are the differences? Well, in terms of detail, plenty, though even the Lit/Lang. grad in me wouldn’t claim they were ‘amazing’. No wind up here I’m afraid. Of course, I’m not saying I’d shoot the journalist concerned as I’m sometimes tempted to do, but still, there are important points at issue.

    ‘The Red Cross headquarters and other buildings’ could imply a generalised attack. ‘Other buildings’ lacks specificity.

    ‘Come under attack’ could imply as sustained assault, rather than a series of isolated explosions.

    ‘Bombs rock CENTRAL Baghdad’ seems unlikely to be accurate given that most of the targets were police stations, unlikely all to be in the ‘centre’. Finally, ‘bombs’ is less specific, more military-sounding and more dramatic than ‘explosions’, when the causes were yet unknown. CNN has the grace to mention A suicide car bomb. The BBC have been talking about guerrilla warfare in the past few months, so what are we to infer? They could have been mortars, and the public perception of ‘bombs’ means it is likely to be more dramatising.

    The differences are in the reporting of the timing, nature and generality of the atrocities. CNN at that time = punctuated explosions, whereas BBC = generalised assault (crisis, crisis, crisis, even though their words are few).

    But, as you guys point out, this is nothing major by journalistic norms at the BBC and more generally.

    BTW D. Macnabb- thanks for your input. There are plenty of issues with the follow-up pieces, not least the one you raise. You wouldn’t believe that only two out of five attacks reached their intended targets, for instance. I thought I’d concentrate on the headline contrast because life’s short.


  6. steven jones says:

    > Can anyone apart from me see hysteria in the one and sanity in the other

    No. i see slightly differing (in detail) but very similar (in tone and style) reports. CNN is reporting it as follows (@22:31GMT)

    Four suicide blasts rocked Baghdad on Monday, killing an estimated 30 people, including two American soldiers, and wounding more than 200 others, U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi hospital officials said.

    is that an ‘acceptable’ tone?

    Who are you, anyway? Do you pay your licence fee? Are you a UK resident? Do you realise that the way the BBC is funded has nothing to do with the BBC itself, but rather is under the control of the UK Houses of Parliament?

    If you wish to complain about the BBC’s alleged bias, why not do it directly – by writing to your MP?

    As amusing as your blog is, I don’t quite see the point. Are you suggesting that the BBC is deliberately biased in favour of one party, or to the Left itself? Please, have an ‘about’ section on your site, then I wouldn’t fill your comments box up with these Qs



  7. ed thomas says:


    You ask me who I am presumably to say ‘who do you think you are?’ I am words on a screen. Talk to the words- attack the words if you can- but don’t talk past them. Don’t project your personal feelings of satisfaction with the information world you live in onto the words that others have to read and interpret to fulfil their duty as citizens. I think the Publc Service Broadcaster of this country needs to educate and inform without prejudice. There is a story to be told about its failure to do that, and each post here is a small link in that chain.

    On a personal level, the answers to your questions are yes, yes, yes and yes. As to MP’s- you are the one who is ‘amusing’. How many letters can one write? The point- to me (and I am only one person here- I did not invent it, was delighted by it, and would favour an ‘about’ section for the reason you tack on to your criticism) is that the BBC is criminal and corrupt to its core. Is that pointed enough for you?


  8. Matthew says:

    Thank you for your explanation. Well you didn’t say ‘amazing’ but you did say ‘stark’ and declared one report to be ‘hysterical’ and the other ‘sane’.

    To see bias in the phrase ‘red cross building and others’ and not in the fact that CNN mention three buildings, only one of which they specify, or in the use of the term ‘central (a good description of the red cross building), or in using ‘bombs’ rather than ‘a suicide bomb’ is absolutely hilarious,.

    If, and I presume it must be given the fact that you chose to publish it on a website, this is what you guys come up with as evidence of BBC left-wing bias it’s not surprising that your view is so far adrift of the British public, which thought the BBC was the most pro-government biased of the broadcasters during the war. That the BBC is left-wing biased is also, it appears, not the official view of the Conservative Party, which really must make you think a little.


  9. ed thomas says:

    ‘Our guys’ were not working on this one: I was. I didn’t declare one ‘hysterical’: I said, ‘can anybody apart from me see…’ and so on. If you presume to speak for everybody, then ‘fair comment’. The CNN report mentions three explosions, not three ‘buildings’- ‘buildings’ were the BBC’s thing and they turned out to be partly -importantly- wrong since only two of the bombs reached the buildings they intended to hit, just as they were wrong to imply that the bombs were in central Baghdad- most of them were on the outskirts where Police Stations typically are. The BBC’s own map later showed this to be the case. In other words- headline wrong and misleading. Everything about that short little headline was misleading, in its short little way.

    I approved of CNN’s initial coverage(and the later stuff shown by Steven Jones- thanks) despite the fact that I knew the death toll would be much higher than they said originally. That was because they didn’t imply a generalised attack (think of guerrillas running around firing mortar bombs- perfectly possible vision from the Beeb’s headline. My concern is not that we can’t tease the truth out, but that we have to at all. Remember the recent Saudi compound killings?) but discrete incidents, suicide bombings true enough, spread across Baghdad, which was what turned out to be the case. Sanity vs hysteria? I think so, taken in context of the BBC’s talk of ‘Occupation’, ‘the Iraqi Resistance’, and ‘Battlegrounds’. That’s what made d. Mcnabb’s comment so constructive.

    By the way, we all have a responsibility, even on the not-for-profit and amateur site that this obviously is, to show respect to an Institution funded by taxpayers through the financial distribution of our elected Government. In the context of ‘Not In My Name’, ‘The Contryside Marches’ and a media age, this site is a protest against a very powerful body indeed. I consider that by raking over its EVERY word we (I, in this case) are showing it a real sort of respect. Sorry if it was too sophistical for a monday morning, but the Beeb is not a simple beast, and people realising that is the key to that public opinion that has been mentioned. Let the media do what it does, the Tory party do what they do, and BiasedBBC do what it does, is what I say.

    Thanks for the comments- they’re healthy (and kind of fun) to discuss, but understand that I am only one person. I might favour all sorts of things you say, such as an ‘about us’ section, but I have limited contact with others. I’m totally happy to stand by my exact wordings, but I don’t expect anyone else to.
    Ed Thomas


  10. Matthew says:

    Again thank you for your reply. I think saying ‘I didn’t declare one was hysterical’ when you said, ‘can anyone apart from me see hysteria in one…’ is misleading.

    But the whole concept of ‘raking over every word’ strikes me as silly, especially when combined with an assumption that the BBC is going to show left-wing bias. Put if this way — you could take almost any story in from any media outlet and find ‘bias’ in the same way. Such ‘bias’ means absolutely nothing.

    Just to clarify I put the headline that so offended you into google. Fox News (Fox News) ran the identical headline (before presumably doing one of those ‘stealth edits’ one reads so much about), about 30 US newspapers also (of the ones google covers). The phrase ‘central’ or ‘heart’ in relation to Baghdad appears in hundreds of others (and they aren’t BBC copies).


  11. colin says:

    “The phrase ‘central’ or ‘heart’ in relation to Baghdad appears in hundreds of others”

    But we know that central Baghdad is a very specific location for the BBC.
    Gilligan & others denied that US tanks had reached central Baghdad even as we watched, on Sky News, the US convoy rolling thru centralish Baghdad.


  12. ed thomas says:

    Colin- just what I thought. Thanks.

    Matthew- hi again. Thanks for your input. My comparison was with CNN, not the ‘others’. I consider it like for like, whereas many other comparisons wouldn’t be, but in the context of the UK, and often beyond, the BBC is the correspondent-rich standard setter.

    BTW, the point of raking over every word is to try and show that meanings speak louder than assumptions. I try not to assume bias, although that’s difficult- I try (yes, try) to interpret the words the BBC uses, and work inductively.

    For once I thought to examine the impact of those breaking headlines that’re so easy just to accept and move past, but which in their own right have a significant influence and value.

    By using the polarising language I used, I was interested to see what people came up with- to work with other’s thoughts rather than in isolation off my own bat.

    Thank you all for your thoughts.

    Ed Thomas.


  13. PJF says:

    Since my name was mentioned, I will make a comment on this. I can’t say I saw any “stark” difference between the BBC and CNN snipets, in style or content, and nothing subsequent in the comments discussion has dissuaded me from this view.

    I think the bloggers of this site should think carefully before posting; perhaps leaving it another hour and looking again to see if their initial impressions of a report are valid. Drawing attention to items that are not clearly biased will simply aid the supporters of the BBC, who will be able to offer evidential examples showing that the bias this blog alludes to is in the eye of the beholder.

    Indeed, we’ve had a couple crawl out of the woodwork in this thread who seem more than pleased to able to dismiss the entire site on the basis of this one item. Although they don’t appear to be willing or able to challenge any of the other recent items, they are probably off assuring themselves and their friends that all is well with the BBC, and that this site is unhinged.

    The BBC produces enough clear, clumsy and crass bias to keep this site busy. It is counterproductive to highlight borderline instances that might not even be bias at all.


  14. ed thomas says:

    Thanks PJF,

    Perhaps you are right on a number of fronts there. I mentioned your view of CNN as a spring-board, and because I value your contribution generally, so I’m glad you’ve contributed here.

    I can say at least that the CNN coverage satisfied me, whereas the BBC coverage didn’t (‘perhaps that is subjective, but..’). I’ve explained some of my reasons but haven’t time or energy to elaborate further. The controversy this has generated is in some ways regrettable, but I would finish by saying that controversy is inevitable when dealing with an institution like the BBC- it doesn’t invalidate the occasional attempt to push the debate further than it is usually taken.

    My final point, were I Mahathir Mohammed trying to argue my case, would be that the generalised scepticism provoked by a very specific argument proves that I am right to make it. Erm, if I were Mahathir Mohammed, I say.

    Thanks to everyone for chipping in. Case closed?

    Ed Thomas


  15. PJF says:

    I think we could harp on at you for days with this. 😉