Lies, damned lies, and the sleazy, dishonest, BBC stealth editors who cover them up.

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.

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36 Responses to Lies, damned lies, and the sleazy, dishonest, BBC stealth editors who cover them up.

  1. Ken Kautsky says:

    Dear Andrew,

    You really should not be so surprised by this type of practice occuring at Britain’s publicly funded national broadcaster.

    The BBC was, in reality, the creative inspiration for former BBC employee, George Orwell’s [a.k.a. Eric Blair’s] Ministry of Truth – where such practices were routine.

    The real surprise is the following:

    Here we are in the 21st century and this massive publicly owned media organisation has not either been fully privatised; or alternatively conventionally regulated.

    If so regulated, it would be made fully accountable to its people – through a minister of parliament responsible (subject to sacking and/or voluntary resignations) for its performance, with the usual ‘non-finicky’ oversight functions of a minister – as with every other area of large government activity.

    Simply, no other choices are acceptable to the people.

    In the future, keep your own copies of all suspect artcles.

    Truth will out.


  2. marc says:

    Andrew, I use a program called Hello from to capture webpages and then post them on my blog. Hello adds an icon to IE’s navigation bar. All you have to do is navigate to the webpage you want a picture of, click on the icon, add a caption and publish to you blog.

    That way no matter what happens to the webpages you still have a snapshot of the original that they cannot stealth edit again or delete.

    See my blog for an example. I used your article here to post the original “cached” BBC webpage and the stealth edited webpage.

    Keep after them!


  3. ed says:

    I agree wholeheartedly Andrew. I think your suggestions ought to have been straightforward enough- it’s almost as if the Beeb enjoy their online journalistic nursery school the way it is.

    Marc- a nifty program; but I think Andrew’s the BBC ought to do that kind of work for us- really. They are public funded. They are supposed to reflect the best journalistic practises in the UK.

    This is not so much a question of their biases (which are patent) but their standards of journalism- which BBConline frequently demonstrates are awful.


  4. ed says:

    er- should have been ‘Andrew’s right’ right in second para above. Well, he is, so it doesn’t harm to underline the fact: ‘Andrew’s right’.


  5. marc says:

    I agree ED, the BBC should do what they are paid to do. I was merely suggesting Hello as a possible tool to document their stealth editing.

    Not that they seem to pay much attention to our complaints anyway.

    But we have to keep trying to hold their feet to the fire.

    Cheers, Marc


  6. PJF says:

    The little gang of happily whipped dogs will drop in soon and announce that you’re overreacting to a simple mistake; that the BBC is under a competitive obligation to rush these essential stories out before an editor gets the chance to look at them, etc.

    This is a great game for the BBC. You can commit gross acts of libel/slander (difficult to pin down which with the transient joys of web publishing) and then sweep it all under the carpet and sit there smiling prettily. Enough people will see the lie but never return to know of the correction (I saw this one about Thatcher and would have believed it today if not for Andrew’s piece).

    The BBC spends hundreds of millions of quid per year on this abuse of its remit – there is absolutely no credible excuse for being unable to update the time stamp on an altered report; or to publish retractions and apologies.


  7. PJF says:

    Speaking of remit abuse – what feckin’ public service does this market distorting atrocity serve:


  8. Padraig Pearce says:

    ‘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.’

    Laughable. Imagine the reflex indignation if in a report on someone referring to ‘Jewish pigs’ this was put in the ‘context’ of some Israeli action in the West Bank. The very fact that you think this constitutes ‘context’ reveals a lot about you – more than you wanted to reveal, I’m sure.


  9. Susan says:

    I remember the Jane Byrne/Princess Margaret incident in 1979 quite well myself. It was heavily covered in the US media at the time. I don’t remember hearing that there was any question about the authenticity of the story.


  10. Susan says:

    Beyond that, it was a foolish mistake to conflate Maggie Thatcher with Princess Margaret. Thatcher was well-versed in US politics and would have been too smart to say something like that in the home of the notorious Daley political machine.


  11. Andrew Bowman says:

    Well, Anonymous (Padraig Pearce, sic, indeed), of course one cannot excuse such an outburst – it is, as I said, a gaffe.

    1) There is room between the reported accounts of Irv Kupcinet and Jane Byrne in his NY Times obituary, to wonder if what is alleged was said in that way. Quite possibly it was. I doubt Mr. Kupcinet et al hung around to find out once they had their headline;

    2) If Kupcinet did hear correctly, one can understand, on a personal level, such an unthinking outburst from someone, like the princess, with personal experience of a family member being killed under such circumstances.

    Just as one can understand, in context, individual expressions of hatred between, for example, Jews & Palestinians, Irish nationalists & Brits, Iraqis and the coalition, etc. That is not to excuse such irrationality – none of it moves humanity forward – merely to accept that we’re all human, and sometimes personal bitterness is expressed in ways that are inimical to the wider picture.


  12. Andrew Bowman says:


    Addressing the bee in your own bonnet, the British government have plenty to answer for in Ireland, as do all the participants in ‘The Troubles’, including people like the Libyans and the American individuals who put up guns and money (and the latter still do) to enable the pointless murder of civilians, police officers and soldiers.

    All the murder, hatred, nastiness and orphaned children achieved little but the eventual realisation that none of it was getting anyone anywhere. Mercifully, people have at last, in spite of grievances all round, managed, bar a few nutters, to stop shooting and murdering each other until there was no one left standing.

    The world would be a better place if the oppressed, particularly with grievances against ostensibly free states, were to pursue justice by the peaceful means demonstrated by Mahatma Ghandi, in the struggle to achieve the independence of India.

    Now, back on your high horse, and be o


  13. Padraig Pearce says:

    ‘Well, Anonymous (Padraig Pearce, sic, indeed.’

    Right, everyone else on this blog uses their real names. Of course.


  14. Ibid. says:

    Ironic that you’re prepared to leap to the defence of one crusty, moribund, in-bred and corrupt arm of the British establishment if it enables you to bash another.


  15. aunt jemima says:

    Padraig, poor baby! Go work on your silly spelling and pout a bit, dear. Oh, and have a good sob with Mary Robinson. That’s all you got left.

    PS — Love those new ethnic purity laws from the Dáoiggghhhoiggioilarglegargle thingy. How multiculti!


  16. ibid says:

    ‘Padraig Pearce’ [‘c’ for ‘s’ intentional] is obviously a pseudonym used for purposes of humour. Addressing a would-be insulting post to a pseudonym is about as logical as sending hate mail to Den Watts of Eastenders. But of course, ‘Aunt Jemima’ is itself just a personae, that of the barely-literate fool and object of contemptuous laughter.


  17. Lurker says:

    Of course we know that no Irish person in recorded history has ever, ever referred to the British (collectively) as pigs even when a relative has died at the hands of a specific group, be they loyalists/police/army whatever.


  18. robbco says:

    Regurgitating the remark does not seem to be designed to promote light and happiness; three hits with one strike, Margret Thatcher; the Tories by association and the royal family.
    Very clever.


  19. Sandy P says:

    –mayor in 1960s Chicago,????


    Don’t these people have fact-checkers?

    There was ONLY 1 Mayor in the 60s and part of the 70s, and part of the 50s, I might add, King Richard I

    Daley, that is.


  20. Sandy P says:

    –and the American individuals who put up guns and money (and the latter still do–

    IRISH-Americans, not Americans.

    Big difference.


  21. Ant says:

    OT: Blair and scare quotes.

    The BBC has compiled a handy 10 year summary of Blair’s leadership for us!

    They really are skilled writers — covering ten years of our country and some how managing to find one positive thing to write about our country (record low unemployment worth a note?)

    But particularly, I loved their view of the Afghanistan war, 7 0ct 2001: UK takes part in US attack on Afghanistan as George W Bush’s “war on terror” begins.


  22. Ant says:

    I meant, in my last post, some how *not* finding a positive thing to write. Bah, I can’t type.


  23. Michael Gill says:

    OT(?): BBC pledges complaints “openness” (posted on BBC web site at 15:21 BST)


  24. a.user says:

    ‘IRISH-Americans, not Americans.

    Big difference.’

    Actually,no. NOt even a small difference. No difference at all in fact. As in:

    ‘red grapes, not grapes.

    Big difference’.


  25. Sandy P says:

    Oh, yes, big difference. We’re the only country in the world where internally, where are you from? means 200 years ago even if you’ve never visited the old sod.

    Visiting the world, if it’s safe, then we say we’re American.

    We’re schzoid that way.

    And somehow I don’t think all grapes are the same. Winemakers might disagree.

    And for some odd reason, I don’t think too many Native Americans (Indians) would be funding the IRA.

    Most of “the world” never has to think about their roots. I don’t either, and the discussions started when I say internally, I’m an American.


  26. Sandy P says:

    And for some odd reason, maybe not too many African-Americans would be funding the IRA, either.

    The activity in the Irish bars in Chicago, however…..


  27. PJF says:

    Off Topic:

    Did anyone catch a BBC Online story covering the allegations that Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Allawi personally executed some prisoners?

    I’m sure I noticed one yesterday, after specifically looking for it while checking to see how far it had spread (and in what manner). The story I saw ended with a line that the journalist in question was standing by his story.

    There is absolutely nothing on BBC Online News regarding this story now, and no Google cache of anything BBC that I can find relating to it.



  28. a.user says:

    I don’t know about it being reported on the BBC, but have seen articles elsewhere –

    This might at least help you find it..


  29. paul says:

    this just looks like an innocent typo that was corrected


  30. PJ Spassman says:

    Don’t be absurd. That’s exactly what they want you to think. I suppose you imagine that the BBC are just a diverse bunch of journalists coping pragmatically with the welter of information out there. Fool. This is an organised campaign of disinformation and propaganda, which pre-empts anything you might think about it and uses it for its own purposes. The ‘typo’ is the all too obvious alibi, the default excuse, of an essentially totalitarian bureaucracy.


  31. RB says:

    Er no. It’s an extremely high quality broadcaster and enormous asset to our country which unfortunately has a tendency to occasionally reflect the political norms of the UK’s London based university educated media professionals.

    It’s not a ‘totalitarian bureaucracy’. They’re not all out to get you.


  32. rob says:

    Monbiot in the Guardian with an article titled “Our lies led us into war”,14173,1264970,00.html

    He blames much of the press for accepting the pro-war case, but has a blind spot for Gilligan

    “So Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who claimed that the government had sexed up the intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, was mostly right.”

    The Gilligan affair did not turn on “sexing up”, but that Giligan claimed that Blair introduced into the dossier a claim, against the wishes of the intelligence services, knowing it to be untrue. “Mostly right” was & is missing the point against that libel, but Monbiot et al refuse to see that vital fact.

    Monbiot’s advice to the public is

    “And if we don’t respond with openness and honesty, you should cancel your subscriptions and look elsewhere for your news.”

    I wish that was possible in respect of the BBC.


  33. rob says:

    The Iraq Debate on BBC Parliament – the screen has a bar used for the identification of the speaking MP. The BBC gets bored with providing identification, & must assume the viewer is bored with the MP’s words. So instead the bar is used for miscellaneous paraphrasing of Butler’s criticisms – shown with no relevance to the speaking MP’s current argument. eg
    “The report says Iraq did not have usable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons”
    I would have thought that the BBC’s brief for the Parliament channel did not extend to editorializing.


  34. Anonymous says:

    [QUOTE]cannot stealth edit again or delete.[/QUOTE

    Surely people can now see how close we have come to the 1984 prediction of

    “He who controls the present, controls the past.”

    and how Eric Blair’s vision of technological historical revision has become an accepted standard part of life?


  35. marc says:

    PJF, ref your off topic on Iraqi PM shooting prisoners. Here is my post on it with links.

    Several problems with the story not least of which is the reporter works for Media Workers Against War, left Iraq immediately after posting the story and the story was a rumor on an Iraqi blog long before his report.

    Notice how none of the major media seemed to have picked the story up. None that I have seen except his paper the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Maybe someone else has seen more.


  36. PJF says:

    Thanks for the responses re the Allawi allegations.

    However, my query was simply regarding whether anyone (else?) had seen a BBC report on the issue. I thought I saw one, but cannot find any reference to one now. Maybe stealth edit; maybe too much Duvel.

    Incidentally, the Times (filthy, right-wing Murdoch puppets, etc) covered the story, whereas the BBC (wonderful, impartial, thorough, professional, etc) didn’t – or maybe did but now doesn’t want to have done so.