On Thursday I saw an article on BBC News Online headlined Diplomats mind their language, timestamped Thursday, 15JUL04, 15:03BST. It’s an amusing article about diplomatic faux pas’. One thing that caught my attention was this blatant lie:
Margaret Thatcher, again a woman unafraid of speaking her mind, was reported to have told Jane Byrne, mayor in 1960s Chicago, that “the Irish, they’re pigs”, before remembering her host’s family background and adding: “oh-oh, you’re Irish”.
I made a note and decided to do some fact-checking later. Now, after a chunk of fruitless Googling (save for this quiz page), I went back to the original BBC page to check it again. This time the offending paragraph read:
Princess Margaret, again a woman unafraid of speaking her mind, was reported to have told Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne in 1979, that, “the Irish, they’re pigs”, before remembering her host’s family background and adding: “oh-oh, you’re Irish”.
I knew the article definitely referred to Margaret Thatcher when I first read it. I checked the timestamp. Unbelievably, after such a major correction, it still read Thursday, 15JUL04, 15:03BST.
While the world went to sleep, shocked at this BBC revelation about Baroness Thatcher, the BBC’s gang of sleazy, dishonest, stealth editors crept in, Watergate style, switched the names around, and crept back out again, remembering to leave the timestamp well alone, covering up the evidence of their nasty slander.
You can verify this for yourself via Google’s cache (until it is updated with the doctored version), and compare it to the version now on BBC News Online (I’ve saved copies of both of these, just in case).
Utter bastards. They are so unprofessional – if a newspaper or a broadcast programme made such an egregious slur they’d print a correction or broadcast an apology. But not in the unprofessional Toytown world of BBC News Online – nope, they just slip right in and change it, hope no one noticed and pretend it never happened. No harm done, eh, just one of Britain’s leading elder statesmen slandered, move along now please.
This sort of awful behaviour is just not good enough. If the BBC wish to clean up News Online’s act and encourage responsibility, professionalism and accountability, they must modify their content management system so that each News Online page has attached to it (perhaps as a link) a log of i) who it was created by and when; ii) who has amended it and when. This list should include initials or an identifier specific to each author/amender. It needn’t have a description of every amendment, but major amendments, such as new paragraphs, fact corrections and so on should be recorded. The log should be recorded automatically free from tampering by authors/amenders. And in the case of major errors, such as the vicious slander documented here, News Online ought to publish an apology – and apologies ought to remain in the News Online archive, in exactly the same way they would in a newspaper archive.
So, BBC lurkers, you know what to do – publish an apology to Baroness Thatcher, and then get to it implementing the above changes to your CMS to make your people transparently accountable to us poor damn telly-taxpayers.
Update: After a bit more fact-checking (it’s not that difficult you News Online cub-journos – you should try it sometime) I found an acidic obituary of Princess Margaret, on, er, News Online, including this:
In 1979, the year Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, Princess Margaret caused a stir when the Mayor of Chicago alleged that she had described the Irish as “pigs”
This at least places the Princess’ alleged gaffe in context – in the same year that a senior member of her family was murdered by the IRA. There’s a somewhat partisan account of the murder at An Phoblacht/Republican News. Just in passing, where else do we see terrorist murders described as ‘executions’? Sickening. Still, at least we aren’t compelled by law to buy An Phoblacht. For the record, Mountbatten was a 78-year old murdered along with two relatives and a 14-year old local lad while daytripping on his small boat on holiday in Ireland. Eighteen soldiers were also murdered that day in a vicious roadside double-bomb ambush at Warrenpoint. Some terrorist tactics never change it seems (and yet the US has never, not even once, extradited IRA terrorists to face justice, but I digress).
Even then though, the BBC’s quote is still not well founded – according to this obituary of Irv Kupcinet, the journalist who claimed to overhear the alleged remark:
…it was in a 1979 column that he quoted Princess Margaret of Britain as saying that “the Irish are pigs.” Mr. Kupcinet said he personally heard the princess say that to Chicago’s Mayor Jane M. Byrne at a dinner party. Mayor Byrne, ever the diplomat, explained that the princess was not referring to all the Irish, only those who engaged in terrorism.
It seems, therefore, that there are grounds for demanding another BBC News Online apology, this time for Princess Margaret, or at the very least the addition of a bit of context and a little more doubt into the BBC’s allegation against her.