Humphrys too eager for answers to hear any reply

* is an interesting article by Philip Webster in The Times today about John Humphrys radio interview with Tony Blair yesterday (as also covered by Melanie Phillips in her diary). Here’s an excerpt of the relevant bits:

IT WAS the interview he had been seeking for three years. But when John Humphrys finally got the Prime Minister in front of him for a Today programme grilling yesterday, the country got slightly more Humphrys than Blair.

The former seemed so determined to pose the questions on Iraq that he has been dying to throw at Mr Blair all this time, that sometimes it appeared he did not really want to wait for the answers.

At least twice he told Mr Blair that he wanted to “move forward” as Mr Blair was spluttering to get his response out. Virtually all the 20-minute encounter was about Iraq.

It was civil, mutually respectful, completely lacking in any personal animosity. But it was mainly about the past as the BBC man took Mr Blair through questions about the faulty intelligence on which the war was based and the legality of the conflict. Mr Blair gave mantra-like responses to several questions, saying: “The war was justified legally because Saddam remained in breach of the UN resolutions.

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Visiting Florida? Beware the “allegators”!

The BBC should know better than to serve up dodgy opinion as news. These three pieces feature the ‘Florida voting disaster’ of the 2000 presidential elections. I wonder if the BBC, singing the tune of MSM, now looks to discredit the US electoral process altogether. The articles fail to note a few key facts:

The machinery of an anxious democracy

Florida: Getting out the vote

Carter fears Florida vote trouble

Compare them to this fact-based, allegation-free column by conservative political analyst John Fund and this one by John Lott and Brian Blase

Fact 1: ‘Voter intimidation’ allegedly occurred in a number of Florida counties, but nothing was conclusively proven. One would think that if there was evidence for voter intimidation or fraud, those adversely affected would have clearly proven their case by now. Why does the BBC fail to report this? [UPDATE: As john b notes in Comments, the 2nd BBC article notes (toward the end of the article) the statement of a Florida state election official that “not a single person had filed suit to say he or she had been wrongfully disenfranchised in 2000.” 28-09-04]

Fact 2: The Michael Moore mantra that “Bush stole the election” has no factual basis. Give us facts, not allegations. Several surveys by major media outlets determined that Al Gore lost fair and square. Why does the BBC fail to report this?

Fact 3: In Palm Beach County where so many elderly and minority voters were allegedly confused by a poorly designedbutterfly ballot” the election supervisor was/is a Democrat (as in 24 of 25 Florida counties [where the highest percentage of ballot spoilage occurred–Updated 28-09-04]. Why does the BBC fail to report this?

Fact 4: Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, had a bevy of lawyers primed to hit every county in Florida by the time polls closed to contest the legality of the high percentage of U.S. Military personnel who use Florida as their home address. There was a concerted effort on the part of the Gore team to disallow all military absentee ballots. Why does the BBC fail to report this?

Fact 5: Jimmy Carter, the former US President, may (or may not) be perceived as a fair arbiter of elections internationally but in the USA he is one of the most partisan figures in national politics. Read his speech from the DNC here. He has continually gone out of his way to snub and embarrass George Bush. Former presidents are normally very hesitant to demean a sitting president, but not Carter.

The BBC fails to balance Carter’s position with a view from the center if not the center-right.

UPDATE 28-09-04: For more on Carter and Florida 2000 see this Wall Street Journal editorial. While you’re thinking of Jimmuh, read Jane Galt’s (aka Megan McArdle)perspective on his glaring inconsistencies (via Instapundit).

Fact 6: No mention or allegation is made of the negative impact early TV projections seem to have made in suppressing voter turnout in the pro-Bush Florida panhandle. Conservative analyst John Fund estimates that Bush lost up to 30,000 votes given the rate of turnout earlier that day.

The BBC fails to report this too.

As with hurricanes in Florida, elections seem to bring out the “allegators” at the BBC. By now we’ve learned to live with them. Welcome to ‘Gatorland’!

Does TV news play the terrorists’ game when it shows the hostage videos?

– so asks Nick Robinson, formerly of the BBC, now ITN, in his Notebook column in The Times last Friday. This isn’t strictly about the BBC, although it is quite relevant to recent topics on Biased BBC. Here’s the rest of what he says on this subject:

WHAT a foul, nauseating stench of a week. Day after depressing day I have waited for a man to be brutally murdered as a spectacle for a watching world. Day after day I have watched a family’s agony. Day after day I have witnessed the Government’s apparent helplessness. How I hate the feeling that we are doing exactly what the hostage takers want. Every video of their butchery, every heart-rending appeal, every breathless countdown to a new deadline is part of a script which could have been written by the men holding a knife to Ken Bigley’s throat.

So why do we in the media play along? Please don’t think for a moment that we cover these events without the most careful thought. Each and every day my bosses at ITV News have issued new guidance to programme teams. Don’t talk of hostages being “executed”, read one, as it implies a legal punishment. Another decreed that we would not use the video and the (dreadful) sound of the moments before hostages die as this robbed them of their dignity. And so on. My boss says that these are some of the hardest editorial decisions he has had to take, for he must decide not only whether to show but also how much.

Why, though, don’t we simply refuse to play the terrorists’ game at all and not broadcast any of it? Why don’t we deny them what Margaret Thatcher once called “the oxygen of publicity”? News organisations do occasionally agree to news blackouts if they are advised that this will help to secure the safety of hostages. But to censor our coverage now would be a political act. We can no more censor images of the appalling deaths of hostages than we can of the victims of war. The Pentagon’s decision to refuse to allow pictures to be taken of coffins returning from Iraq was, I have little doubt, not simply to show respect, as officials claimed.

There is another problem. Even if all the terrestrial broadcasters wanted to we could not black out CNN, Fox and al-Jazeera, not to mention the internet. I have been shocked by the number of people I have spoken to who have watched the gruesome hostages videos on the web. I won’t. It is what they want me to do. It is down to each of us to find our own way of not giving the hostage takers what they want.

A sorry spectacle

A sorry spectacle: all those who thought Greg Dyke would never say sorry, think again. Yesterday, speaking to an audience in Glasgow, he apologised unreservedly – for having once given Tony Blair £5000 to help him win the leadership contest in the Labour party. Mr Dyke said he now saw that Tony was “the worst sort of prime minister.” Greg’s repentance for having assisted him in the past was total.


Of course, some of us think Tony unfit to be prime minister because of his habit of appointing people like Greg Dyke to posts where impartiality is needed. Natalie Solent has described how people below a certain moral level can’t see how they betray themselves even as they apologise. That Greg had contributed sizable sums to Labour party funds was known to me. That he had also given money somewhat more directly to Tony was news to me (and perhaps to many in his audience). A cleverer man would not have mentioned it while denouncing his sacking. A man who had a clue why the BBC should try to be impartial would not have reminded us how very partisan he was. And a man with a sense of humour would have avoided a speech that so invited parody (I helped Tony get Tony’s job and Tony helped me get mine; how dare he go back on the deal !).

The idea of this rather obvious satire did not help the air of martyrdom Greg saught to hint at: (I summarise the gist) ‘Now that the government have had their revenge on the BBC and imposed their authority, at least the renewal of the BBC’s charter in 2007 should go through easily.’ I’m not sure if Mr Dyke really sees himself as a noble sacrifice for the cause of the BBC, but I suspect he hopes others may. In the same vein, having vented his spleen on the prime minister, Greg preferred to damn his successor at the BBC with faint praise (a good sign as far as it goes, I suppose, though savage criticism of him would have been a much better one). There was a definite air of holding himself in, and great praise for the splendid people in the BBC generally. I think this disappointed some in the audience, who hoped for scandalous revelations (or assertions, at least) but Greg is not burning any boats. Tony is a passing thing, but the BBC is eternal.

I pass over his defence of the general correctness and well-intentionedness of everything else he has ever done and said. He offered nothing new and others have posted more than enough analysis of it. It was a little unfortunate that a man assuring us he got things essentially right should repeatedly fluff the names of such well known actors in the drama as Tony Blair, Andrew Gilligan and Saddam Hussein, but (as he himself might agree with reference to Tony Blair), speech-making skill is no guide to general ability. I’m happy to extend him as much courtesy on this as he and his like show to such right-wing US politicians as sometimes fluff their lines.

He had his friends in the audience but it is hard to keep left-wing activists happy, One of these wanted to know why he had not supported a plan for a wholly Scottish 6 o’clock news (I can well imagine how keen the left-wing establishment here is that we in Scotland should less often ‘see ourselves as ithers see us’). So much for any hopes Mr Dyke may have had that the throwaway remark in Rod Liddle’s critique of Greg’s regime at the BBC

… seminars (I remember them well) where you were told, “The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies are very important and don’t you dare ever suggest otherwise.” …



would at least have saved him from such criticisms. Here too, he may feel, there is little gratitude. As for me, I’m just grateful he’s gone.

Memo to the Beeb: Adapt or Face Extinction.

So says The Blogfessor in The Australian. Glenn Reynolds calls attention to the power of “open-source journalism”. Here are the final graphs:

If there’s an analogy to this phenomenon, it’s probably the open-source software movement, which tends to produce far more reliable products via the same process of distributed criticism and relative freedom from groupthink. But I’m afraid that the internet’s threat to cocooned old-media organisations is far greater than the threat that Microsoft poses to Linux.

That’s because writing software is hard. Journalism — particularly journalism practised as it’s practised at CBS (or as the similarly humiliating Andrew Gilligan affair demonstrates, at the BBC) is easy. Those who have lived within the comfortable big-media cocoon have done so not because they possess unusual talents, but because they have had access to the tools for disseminating news and opinion, tools that were until recently so expensive that only a favoured few could use them. They had the megaphone; the rest of us did not.

Those days are over. Nowadays everyone has a megaphone and those with something interesting to say often discover that their megaphone can become very large, very fast. Meanwhile, those in the legacy media are discovering that their megaphones are shrinking as the result of journalistic self-abuse. With the tools now available to everyone, the biggest asset is credibility, something they have already squandered in the belief that no one would know the difference.

Nor is this phenomenon likely to be limited to the US. The Gilligan affair, and the attitudes and behaviours it exposed, has seriously wounded the credibility of the BBC, and there seems no reason to think that other broadcasters across the world, whether state-affiliated or merely oligopolistic, are likely to do any better. As always happens when the comfortable are afflicted by competition, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this phenomenon. But given the performance of these dinosaurs over recent decades, there seems little reason to mourn the change.

Open-source journalism trumps big media dinosaurs. Now who could’ve imagined that a few years back?

Due for a change, again!

– A month ago I asked What’s the difference between an interview and a sketch?, highlighting a lavish News Online puff-piece for George Galloway (“Sir, I salute your courage, your indefatiguability” etc. etc.). A few days later I noted here on BBBC that the continued highlighting of the Galloway ‘feature’ on News Online was well past due for a change.

And, by sheer coincidence, even though the Galloway puff-piece had been featured on News Online’s Politics page for the best part of three weeks, within half-an-hour of my post, it was gone, as if by magic!

Well, fellow BBBC aficionadoes, it has happened again – another piece of leftie-propaganda masquerading as news has become stuck on a News Online index page for longer than is seemly.

The ‘stuck’ article is the specious World ‘wants Kerry as president’, last updated 09SEP04, (allegedly!), featured on the News Online > World > Americas page, where there is a Vote USA 2004 headline summary, which then links to the main Vote USA 2004 page. This ‘stuck’ article has been featured in the Vote USA 2004 headline summary on the Americas page for more than a fortnight – it’s so old now that it no longer even appears on the main Vote USA 2004 page (where it also enjoyed an extended appearance).

Why is it, given that there’s only room for six headlines in the Vote USA 2004 headline summary (and two of those are Key election battlegrounds and Issues-at-a-glance) that the ‘stuck’ article has remained there all this time? Why, especially when there has been so much else going on in the US election campaign (Rathergate anyone?) over the last fortnight? Why does the ‘stuck’ story have so much appeal to the compilers of News Online that it remains on prolonged display?

As last time with the Galloway article, in the interests of thoroughness, I’ve looked at the timestamps on all of the other articles linked to from the Americas page. At lunchtime today (exactly fourteen days since the Kerry article was last updated) there were thirty-two linked articles. Of those, eight were dated 23SEP04, seventeen were dated 22SEP04, four were dated 21SEP04. There were three other articles, dated 13SEP04, 15SEP04 and 18SEP04, respectively, plus the World ‘wants Kerry as president’ article, dated 09SEP04 – much the oldest, as you can see.

Of the other three ‘long lived’ articles, all of them are arguably negative towards Bush’s America – being about, respectively, opposition to the Patriot Act, Religion & Politics in America and the Democrats unwillingness to face Ralph Nader at the polls in Florida (the only one of these veteran articles that still appears on the main Vote USA 2004 page).

This is one of those cases of BBC News Online bias where it’s not necessarily what they’re saying that’s biased – the bias here is the lengthy and favoured prominence given to articles that are in tune with the political views and aspirations of the News Online staff – those who decide what is news and what is in the archive. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, although it is harder to spot and thus easier for them to get away with.

Men in Tights

Well, jodphurs anyway.

It seems to be stating the obvious that this BBC article is absurdly skewed. Absurd, because in its efforts to appear impartial it becomes necessary to bastardise history and neuter rational understanding.
Of hunting the BBC says ´Not only is the hunt itself steeped in ritual, but opposition towards it is just as well established, with meets as regularly attended by protesters as by those taking part.´

Yeah, sure Beebies. I am sure those yeoman of old England were out falling in front of the huntsman´s horses hundreds of years ago to protect brer Fox.
The Beebies are forced to go back to their English seminars to dredge up the noble anti hunt tradition-

‘The 17th Century poet Andrew Marvell described those who “wash their guilty hands” in a hunted animal’s “warm life blood” and Shakespeare’s wrote of the “dismal cry” of the hunt in Venus and Adonis.’
Why can the Beeb appreciate that poets DON’T MEAN and have NEVER MEANT what they say? Or that the circumstantial evidence they put forward could be counterbalanced ten times over to show that hunting met practically no opposition in previous centuries, for so many very obvious reasons.

Abolish it if you must, for whatever selfish political or addle-brained reasons, but don’t lie about it. That would make me very angry.

Meanwhile, Steyn has some related reflections.

Driving politics – Voters’ views in US bumper stickers

is the BBC News Online strap to a pop-up ‘in pictures’ collection of US election bumper stickers. It has been featured on various News Online pages over the weekend, currently appearing on the Vote USA 2004 index page.

But does the BBC keep to the impartial middle of the road ‘driving politics’, or do they pull to the left or the right? Here’s a BBBC round-up of the BBC’s chosen stickers, each with its BBC caption and my assessment:

  1. Bush/Cheney ’04

    San Marco, Texas: Bumper stickers in the US are often used to express political views. Here there is support for President George W Bush.

    So far, so good – a standard Bush/Cheney bumper sticker. Will it be a standard Kerry/Edwards sticker next?

  2. a) Stop mad cowboy disease

    b) Somewhere in Texas there’s a village missing an idiot

    Boulder, Colorado: Both sides have come up with witty slogans, like this one suggesting that Mr Bush is a lost village idiot.

    Nope. Both sides might have come up with witty slogans, but here we have two anti-Bush stickers for the price of one…

  3. Support W. for real peace!

    Austin, Texas: Many Bush supporters say his response to 9/11 has made America safer. They fear that John Kerry would not do so well.

    This one’s hardly a witty example, but it is pro-Bush…

  4. MissionNothing Accomplished – Defeat Bush in ’04

    Boulder, Colorado: This sticker mocks the “Mission Accomplished” banner that hung behind Mr Bush when he declared Iraq hostilities over.

    Let’s call this one for Kerry – it is a MoveOn production…

  5. a) Asses of Evil

    b) More Trees Less Bush

    c) Leave No B[illionaire Behind]

    d) We’re Gooder!

    Boulder, Colorado: This driver attacks Mr Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, as well as his education and environmental stances – and verbal gaffes.

    Gosh – this must’ve been the BBC van! – four anti-Bush stickers…

  6. It’s a woman’s job to vote – BPW/Texas

    Austin, Texas: Not all bumper stickers are directly related to the presidential campaign. This one backs causes such as abortion rights.

    Er, no, if you go to the web address on the sticker, you’ll find it’s actually the Business & Professional Women’s Club of Texas, Inc., who have 117 pages cached in Google, none of which even mention abortion, let alone express an opinion on it…

  7. Texas supports our troops – red, white & blue ribbon

    Austin, Texas: Some bumper stickers avoid endorsing one candidate or another, such as this one in Texas – a state with strong military ties.

    Okay, this one’s arguably neutral, but let’s be generous to the BBC and count it as a half point in favour of Bush…

  8. Pray for our troops – yellow ribbon

    San Marco, Texas: This one uses the motif of the yellow ribbon that families tie in hopes of bringing their loved ones home safely.

    I’m not sure that this qualifies as a ‘voter view’ – more a straightforward human plea to a higher power.

Okay, that’s twelve stickers in all. So how did the BBC do this time?

BBC bumper sticker scorecard





Neither candidate:


Total stickers:


Oh dear. Is it just me, or is the BBC’s ‘driving politics’ selection showing evidence of a distinct pull to the left?

Worse, presumably some BBC bod has been wandering around taking these pictures (on salary and expenses, natch), only to end up with such a poor selection (or perhaps, in fairness to the bod, to have them edited poorly).

It might have been worth doing a spot of research on the subject, before leaving home, to find a broader, funnier, selection, such as these or these.

Beware of the Leopard.

(With apologies to the late Douglas Adams.)

“But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

I can confirm that the BBC’s Ceefax service did report on CBS’s retraction of the Bush memos.

“Oh yes, well, as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything.”

The story appeared yesterday on page 120.

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

For foreign readers unfamiliar with Ceefax, the BBC’s teletext information service, the main stories usually appear on pages 104 through to, say, 113, after a summary of headlines on pages 100-103. A slot on page 120 means ‘not important’.

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

This story appeared as one of a rotating clutch of stories under the the exciting group heading “Other News”.

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

Even within that it didn’t get its own headline. It was the second of two pages.

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

The first page of the two being a report of disparaging remarks about Bush made by the British ambassador to Italy.

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display on the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'”

In other words if you laboriously waited for all the “other news” stories to rotate through you would eventually see a headline saying “UK Envoy’s Bush barb made public”. If you then selected and read that story and then waited for about three times as long as it takes to read you would eventually see the [1/2] in the bottom right corner change to [2/2] and you would discover (to your very great surprise if you are the sort of person who heads eagerly to stories that demonstrate the lack of esteem for Bush on the part of sophisticated people) that the revelatory memos about Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard were forgeries.

When the BBC thought they were genuine they merited a high-number headline on the main index page and a story all to themselves. As I said before, it is simple justice that a report saying evidence for an accusation was forged should have equal prominence with the report of the original accusation.

As technology, Ceefax is past it. But it remains useful to many people: those who do not have internet access or those for whom turning on the internet is troublesome. Ceefax gives these people a quick summary of the news available at any time. Unfortunately the summary is often skewed.