Hitchens on Today

Christopher Hitchens has had two fairly well publicised articles out during the past week. The first, from Newsweek, attacked Sarah Palin; the second more recent piece appeared in Slate and attacked “the host of damage-control commentators” who rushed to claim that religion was not a motivating factor in the Fort Hood killings.

No prizes for guessing which topic Hitchens was invited on the Today programme to discuss just before 7 this morning. Also, no surprise that Hitchens – well-known for his anti-Palin views – was the only person interviewed. I very much doubt that it even crossed the minds of the Today editors to seek the perspective of a commentator with a more sympathetic opinion of Palin. In the highly unlikely event that Hitchens had been asked on to discuss Fort Hood, I thinks it’s a near certainty that an opposing voice would’ve been heard.


It’s funny but when Sarah Palin brought up the great dangers posed by Obamacare, using the term “death panels” to vividly describe possible outcomes, the BBC were quick to get stuck into her. Then, oddly enough, Today covers an item @ 7.45am (no link at time of writing this) in which a group of senior doctors who care for the terminally ill have written a letter in the Telegraph warning that some patients are dying prematurely because of new NHS guidelines in England. It seems to me that our own socialised healthcare system is all the warning the US needs, as Dan Hannan properly observed.

Post match analysis

With the election finally over, let’s take a moment to review the Beeb’s coverage before we move on. This is possibly one for the train spotters, but it’s important not least because of the Beeb’s claim that individual examples of bias aren’t persuasive as they are trying to achieve balance over time. How the Beeb does so is anyone’s guess, as there’s no evidence they monitor it. However, let’s be radical: let’s assume they’re not lying. So let’s look at the coverage of the election (okay, from the moment Palin was selected) on Justin Webb’s blog. And let’s take with the treatment of Palin. To anticipate a few preliminary objections:

  • Why Webb? Well, he’s the North American Editor, so it seems reasonable.
  • Why the blog? I don’t think the Beeb’s going to let me have all the tapes of Webb’s broadcast coverage. And, frankly, I don’t want them. But not to worry: we know that the same rules regarding impartiality apply, so the blog entries should, if Webb’s doing his job, present a balanced and impartial view.
  • Why Palin? Webb’s blogged on her a lot, which means there’s a decent sample. And she’s someone on which there are significantly differing views, which we should therefore expect to see reflected in the coverage. As Webb puts it, she is immensely grating on those who do not like her, but immensely pleasing to those who do.

So let’s look at the balance:

As for Sarah Palin! Her creationist views are bound to become an issue (can you really have a president who denies basic truths about the world?)

So Webb’s coverage of Palin begins, and with characteristic style – ignoring the fact that, as the Beeb’s admitted, she’s not a creationist, and that she’s not running for president. I’m going to chalk that one up as a negative comment.

However, I’m going to exclude those comments that are neutral – and I’m using the term loosely. Comments such as these:

As well as these posts: on the pregnancy; agreeing she is not the new Eagleton; and his entry about lipstickgate.

So what’s that leave us with? Well, here are the postive comments, such as they are:

  • Palins Punches: I liked the parliamentary-style jabs at Obama and they have peppered the news coverage, though I still think she is skating on thin ice.
  • America’s Answer to Thatcher: with that quote about being grating or pleasing (I’m trying to be generous)
  • Two posts about Palin getting more cheers than McCain: Disappointment? and Regan, Clinton, W and Obama. These really seem like digs at McCain, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • And an admission that She is not the harbinger of some dark witch-burning retreat into superstition and irrationality.

And on the negative side:

So, on balance, and over time, do you reckon that Webb thinks Palin would have: made a brilliant VP; been an awful one; or do those rules on impartiality and his professionalism make it just impossible to tell?