Ranting about biased Beeboid tweets has become something of a favorite past time around here recently, and deservedly so. DB’s trap shooting in particular has provided some real gems, and several other people have brought biased tweets to our attention. The problem, though, is that, with one exception, ultimately the BBC employees revealing their bias remain unaccountable, unaffected by any controversy, and the biased behavior continues unabated. They have no problem openly laughing at us.
We know that the official BBC guidelines abjure openly biased utterances on social media. The catch phrase is “Don’t do anything stupid”. They make a distinction between “official” Twitter accounts and personal ones. Only the “official” ones (NB: pdf file), which require the approval of management and are allegedly monitored by a senior editor, are required to follow BBC guidelines of impartiality. If we take a broad constructionist interpretation, this means that anything which is not strictly prohibited in the text would be permitted. Thus, all those personal accounts can use the “opinions my own” disclaimer as a get-out-of-bias-free card, even though they openly state their positions at the BBC. It’s pretty obvious that there’s a massive grey area here, and I seriously doubt that BBC management has spent much time trying to draw a line between them.
I have my doubts because we know from Mark Mardell’s appearance at the BBC College of Journalism that they accept that their use of Twitter “doesn’t follow BBC guidelines” (@36:45). I don’t know how much more proof we need.
The reason I bring this up is because there’s been a highly relevant incident recently at the Washington Post.
Jennifer Rubin, the lone non-Left voice at the paper (she’s a blogger and not even a reporter or editor), recently retweeted a blog post by “Bad Rachel” about the release of Gilad Shalit, which was full of rather unfortunate anti-Palestinian vitriol. There was naturally a backlash, and Patrick Pexton, the WaPo ombudsman, chose to publicly chastise Rubin for it. He admits that he always gets a load of complaints that the paper even allows a conservative voice in its pages, which is pretty funny. But what he said was instructive. Remember, this is about a mere retweet, and not somebody telling George Osborne to f@#$ off or calling for support for Occupy Wall Street:
But how responsible is Rubin for it? She didn’t write it. It did not appear anywhere in The Washington Post — online or in print. It appeared on Abrams’s independent “Bad Rachel” blog, and then Abrams broadcast it on Twitter.
Some readers suggested that because an employee retweeted this link, The Post somehow condones genocide against Palestinians. That’s nonsense. The Post’s journalism and its editorials show a deep commitment to human rights around the globe, from Russia to China, to North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond.
It’s also worth noting that the rules of objectivity that apply to editors, reporters and bloggers in The Post newsroom do not apply to Post opinion bloggers and columnists. Post opinion writers are given greater leeway to say what they want. That’s how it should be. If the opinion section were too politically correct, it’d be dull.
So we see here a distinction between columnists and opinion bloggers. But is the BBC’s distinction between “official” Twitter accounts and the rest of them equally valid? I would say not, as people like Matt Danzico and Mark Sandell and Jane Bradley are not opinion bloggers or op-ed writers for the BBC. Yet they reveal their bias and, in the case of Bradley, seem to be proud of it.
The Washington Post ombudsman then lays out the official guidelines:
Social-media accounts maintained by Washington Post journalists — whether on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or elsewhere — reflect upon the reputation and credibility of The Washington Post’s newsroom. Even as we express ourselves in more personal and informal ways to forge better connections with our readers, we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence.
He again points out that writers hired specifically for their personal opinions are not included in the “journalistic excellence and fairness” bit, but that their public behavior reflects on the credibility of the WaPo nevertheless.
With this example in mind, one has to ask if the BBC should similarly be concerned about how the constant stream of biased tweets from Beeboids from a number of different departments and job levels reflects on their credibility. Does the “opinions my own” disclaimer really excuse all of it? Does the Washington Post – a paper so biased that the previous ombudsman apologized for their pro-Obamessiah bias during the 2008 election, and the publisher had to apologize for trying to organize dinner parties at her own home to provide personal access to Administration officials – have more integrity than the BBC? Unless they rein in this partisan behavior, I would have to say yes.
If nothing else, the sheer volume of biased utterances from the Left and the fact that there has yet to be a single example of a Beeboid tweet from the Right shows that the BBC is full of Leftoids, and the groupthink is endemic. Intellectual diversity at the BBC seems to be practically non-existent, and their public behavior with social media proves it.