Those crazy Republicans explained: a BBC bias masterclass

I felt the following article on the BBC website, “Why do people often vote against their own interests?”, based on the first of two radio programmes collectively called Turkeys voting for Christmas, offered an instructive example for the young writer or broadcaster who aspires to produce material for the BBC. I hope that a few selected quotes will provide some useful tips.

Political scientist Dr David Runciman looks at why is there often such deep opposition to reforms that appear to be of obvious benefit to voters.

Focus now, on that “appears to be”, for it is masterful. It – er – appears to be a marker of impartiality. But what it actually does is get that impartiality tick-box done and out the way with a quick, grey, forgettable phrase. The question of whether the appearance of obvious benefit is correct is not subsequently addressed; it is simply assumed.

Last year, in a series of “town-hall meetings” across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms.

What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence.

At this point the radio programme has some people shouting. (Note for the style guide: people never shout at left wing demonstrations because of barely suppressed violence; they are just passionate.) The great thing about the phrase “barely suppressed violence” is that it suggests violence but you don’t have to provide any evidence for it. No one accused of being full of “barely suppressed violence” can disprove it.

But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help.

The inclusion of the word “godless” here is exquisite. Godliness or the lack of it has not greatly featured as part of advocacy for or against Obama’s plans for healthcare. (In fact my personal impression is that most of those bringing religion into the issue are liberal Christians saying that Obamacare is what Jesus would do. Such rightwingers who have opposed Obamacare on religious grounds have mostly done so in the belief that it would mean more abortions.) The word “godless” functions merely as a probe to twitch the right neurons when mentally picturing those who oppose. Note that the two phrases on either side of “godless”, the two concepts that have indeed featured in the debate to a significant digree, are never analysed.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

A lesser article might actually try looking at some potential answers to this question. For example, could it be because they suspect that the insurance companies are happy enough to take a bit of public abuse from Obama in exchange for a whole new pool of captive customers? However the author here knows better than to take that path. Note also that this sentence frames opposition to Obamacare as being a defence of insurance companies.

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

Admire the ju-jitsu with which the author gives us a pleasing whiff of paranoia by warning about that scary toxic stew of right wing paranoia which has been bubbling poisonously in the background for decades.

All that we have seen so far was merely the appetiser to this superb bit of technique:

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

It sounds so good, doesn’t it? It appeals to the disquiet that even the most liberal reader might have felt in reading the patronising BBC coverage of the tea parties. You think you are going to get a bracing defence of the tea partiers as being independent adults. This defence could be along the lines that even right wingers sometimes vote for what they believe is the wider good against their selfish interests, or it could be along the lines that they do not believe that what is claimed to be in their interest really is in their interest, and here’s why.

Of course no such argument is actually put forward. That might involve talking to these ghastly people and even worse, listening to them. Instead we have a portrait of the Republican voter as an overgrown teenager in a sulk against the grown-ups:

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

And then the rest of the article explains that they are idiots.

UPDATE: There are some very good comments to this post. Please take a look in particular at the comment from Martin. You know the anecdote in the article about how Bush responded to Gore’s sober figures with nothing better than a silly little crowd-pleasing quip? It turns out, if you go to the source (as I should have thought of doing myself), that Bush went straight on to give some figures of his own.

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18 Responses to Those crazy Republicans explained: a BBC bias masterclass

  1. taxiban says:

    “a step on the road to a police state”

    This is correct, as Britain has shown, where smoking/drinking/”junk food” are targeted because they supposedly cost the NHS, and the taxpayer, money.


  2. Martin says:

    The article also has another distortion. Here’s a quote he used.

    He uses the following exchange from the first presidential debate between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000 to illustrate the perils of trying to explain to voters what will make them better off:
    Gore: “Under the governor’s plan, if you kept the same fee for service that you have now under Medicare, your premiums would go up by between 18% and 47%, and that is the study of the Congressional plan that he’s modelled his proposal on by the Medicare actuaries.”
    Bush: “Look, this is a man who has great numbers. He talks about numbers.
    <!– S IBOX –> <img src=”” border=”0″/> LISTEN TO THE PROGRAMME <!– S ILIN –> Turkeys Voting for Christmas <!– E ILIN –> BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 27 January at 2045 GMT Or listen via the <!– S ILIN –> iPlayer <!– E ILIN –> <!– E IBOX –>

    “I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the internet, but he invented the calculator. It’s fuzzy math. It’s trying to scare people in the voting booth.”
    Mr Gore was talking sense and Mr Bush nonsense – but Mr Bush won the debate. With statistics, the voters just hear a patronising policy wonk, and switch off.

    However, the full comment given by Bush was not included (funny that).

    GOV. BUSH: Look. This is a man who’s got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet but he invented the calculator. (Laughter.) It’s fuzzy math. It’s a scaring — trying to scare people in the voting booth. Under my tax plan, that he continues to criticize, I said a third. The federal government should take no more than a third of anybody’s check.
    But I also drop the bottom rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, because by far the vast majority of that help goes to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. If you’re a family of four in Massachusetts making $50,000, you get a 50 percent cut in the federal income taxes you pay. It’s from $4,000 to about $2,000. Now, the difference in our plans is I want that $2,000 to go to you.

    If you take a quote out of context or don’t include it all no wonder it makes no sense. I just love liberals, they are SO arrogant.


    • hippiepooter says:

      I can think of a stronger word than ‘arrogant’ to describe this chicanery .. ooh, I’ve just used it!


  3. Anonymous says:

    The first few seconds of the radio programme are stupendously atrocious.

    Scott Brown : “this bill is not being debated openly and fairly”

    Radio 4 presenter: “Despite what he [Brown] says Americans did get a chance to debate president Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms in a series of town hall meetings”

    Scott Brown was talking about Obama’s broken promise of showing the legislative debate on C-span, an issue that showed the Washington elite in all their pompous glory days prior to the election and helped swing the deep blue state of Massachusetts red. US politicians can’t call their President a liar so this was a subtle way for Brown to get his message across to the state and the country. The BBC have twisted Brown’s words to make it look like the Republican is the liar by making the obviously false assumption that Americans themselves were somehow gagged in debating healthcare.

    US voters are being entirely rational in being against the current healthcare reform. Most of the 65% with private insurance get the best medical care in the world and don’t want this threatened by government; the 20% with Medicare don’t want their bloated system cut; many of the 10% without insurance choose this option and don’t want the threat of fines and then imprisonment over their heads while the 5% of illegals wouldn’t be covered yet still would be against the system since extra employer health regulation could see them deported. Only a loony left-wing twit could consider opposition to Obamacare irrational yet that’s the default position for the ‘intellectual’ idiots at radio 4.


  4. deegee says:

    The BBC didn’t invent the wheel. There are plenty of left wing examples of groups voting against their apparent best interest. Queers for Palestine should head the list but various Christian groups defending Islam, feminists defending the burkha. In fact the entire left-Islamic alliance would appear to be an example of voting against apparent interests.


  5. David Preiser (USA) says:

    Well said, Natalie.

    Leaving aside the question of why the BBC should be wasting the license fee with their relentless promotion of a domestic policy of a foreign country, a major problem here is that all BBC reports leave out one key point in the objections of people like me:  it’s going to increase the deficit even more, which is the exact opposite of what even the President says we should be doing right now.

    But the BBC doesn’t want you to know any of that.  Actually, I suspect that the Beeboids tasked with covering this issue don’t know themselves.  I believe their personal political biases have caused them to dismiss out of hand the fact that the number one objection at the Tea Party protests is that this is the wrong time to be adding $1 Trillion and more to our debt, and will actually (as Martin points out) harm senior citizens, for something that nobody on the Left has actually shown will decrease our costs.

    The BBC says that we hate being spoken to like idiots, which is true.  Irony not understood at Broadcasting House, obviously.

    We also don’t like being lied to or tricked.  For example, one of the key claims of The Obamessiah and supporters is that, under His Health Care Plan For Us, we would be able to keep our current choice of physicians and insurers, and that there will be no government interference with our choice of treatment.  Turns out this was a lie, and The Obamessiah just admitted it:

    Obama:  Health Care Bill “Might Have Violated Pledge” On Keeping Some Doctors And Insurers

    The BBC doesn’t want you to know that.  People like me have been saying this all along, and the fact that this would be the case has been know for some time, but the BBC has ignored it.

    The Beeboids have decided that His Health Care Plan For Us is the way to go, and that those of us who object are fools or worse.  Insulting, condescending, dishonest, and biased to the core.  The BBC just continues to actively promote the domestic policy of a foreign leader, hides information from you, and uses Saul Alinsky tactics to smear the opposition.


  6. Anonymous says:

    A reason why it is in the self-interest of voters to man “the barricades to defend insurance companies
    Medicare Denies More Insurance Claims Than the Private Sector

    Oops! The idea that that insurance companies profiteer also looks like bunk:
    Profit Margin: Health Insurance Industry Ranks #86


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      Fair point, but health insurance companies would do much better if they were run by the actuaries rather than accountants and physicians who quit practicing medicine.


  7. Biru Wang says:

    My feeling is that, although it occasionally still tries to prop him up, Gordon Brown is such a permanent disaster that the BBC’s corporate heart is just not in it anymore.  Get rid of Gordon, then it can finally have a right go at the bloo*y tories once again, like in the good old times of Maggie’s government. 

    Now, Obama is another matter.  Touch him and you deeply wound the feelings of countless Beeb hacks who still think he is the embodiment of all they believe in.  So, they are a bit sensitive about him. Ouch! Can’t you just feel the pain?


  8. FrankFisher says:

    Quite agree – a new low in the BBC’s wretched bias, but it’s instructive. I honetly think these Lefties just *cannot* understand other points of view. For people who claim to “care” they’re not much cop at empathy. Maybe people don’t want socialised medicine becasue they realise that – far from being an unarguable good, for them *personally* – it has many downsides. We in the UK see that downside very clearly – the NHS is very cheap, for those who do NOT pay; for those who do pay, taxpayers, it’s damned expensive. I coudl get top notch health insurance for me and my family for a lot less than the chunk of my tax that is spent on the NHS. The BBC always insists on working out how much it costs on a per capita basis, rather than per payee. I wonder why….

    Oh and yes, the Bush quote – downright dishonest and distorting reporting. Hey – The BBC: Propaganda and plain lies, it’s what we do.

    ‘ang ’em


    • 1327 says:

      Good point sir. I have never seen the cost of the NHS per payee ! I reckon thats something they would rather avoid in case it gives the proles cause for thought.

      I caught part of a Radio 4 news item last week about home births and how every Mother now (or soon will) have the right to them. Now I can understand why a woman would want one as I personally stay the hell away from hospitals unless I can’t avoid it. However at no point in the item did anyone mention how much this would cost the country or how it would be paid for. Neither was there any suggestion that if you wanted a service like this then perhaps you should have to pay for it.


      • squandertwo says:

        Last I checked, the NHS cost about 10% of GDP, so a fair rough guess is that it costs any taxpayer about 10% of their salary.  Huge.

        Of course, the real point to make when people talk about cost is that it makes no sense to compare the total cost of British healthcare and American healthcare, because British healthcare has one big invoice which has to be paid by the Treasury every year whilst the individual costs of American healthcare are never actually added together into a total in any real sense.  Caring about the total cost of American healthcare is like obsessing over how much the Danish spend on milk.


  9. Will S says:

    The absence, in this Beeboid article, of a summary of what the arguments may be of those who oppose the Democrats so-called “facts” is telling but not surprising.From the left side, there are no possible vaild arguments against their dictats.

    The use of those little smearing words as identified by this site, rather than an objective presentation and attempt to understand beyond amateur psychologising about why people may not be able to comprehend why socialism is good for them is one reason I try and avoid a discussion of political issues with the UK’s so-called intellectual elite.

    Also, who exactly is this Dr “Rancidman”, a political scientist”? Well, apparently he works at Cambridge University, and has written for the Guardian per Wiki.

    Need we say anymore to understand what perspective this man may have to say on those who oppose the imposition of more socialistic dogma?


  10. hippiepooter says:

    Superb dissection of BBC bias, both in the Contribution and comments.  This site really should be linked to by anyone who wants to keep Britain a democracy.  The BBC has been eating away at our democracy for so long now that the foundations are now tottering.

    Loved the comment in the piece about deploying language to get the correct preset nuerons twitching.  People’s brains work by nerves and neurons.  Your average BBC propagandist our brains work by nerds and morons.  After 30 years of relentless and ever increasing propaganda, the mind of the British public has been addled so much that the BBC has acheived its objective with many – people who can’t think for themselves, or have given up trying.  Not here though.  This is as good an evisceration of BBC bias as I’ve seen for a long time.


  11. Will S says:

    Sorry, I meant to add a link (below) to an article by a US Professor who gives a clear exposition of the implication of certain passages in the Obamacare legislation.

    The author, Dr John Lewis, was on BBC radio a couple of months ago as part of a panel, but needless to say, his viewpoints were skirted over.

    Read and weep for Americans.



  12. Guest says:

    Those crazy Americans. Imagine thinking that mass state appropriation of private assets is a bad idea.

    Yours truly,

    Hugh Oxford
    The Austin Allegro Owners’ Club


  13. Guest says:

    I carnt under stand Amerricons. Yud think tha bennefits of state interrvention in the provishun of public goods was obvius.

    Yo bitchez

    Hugh Oxford
    Neasden Comprehensive School


  14. Alice Thomas says:

    realsoft tech