Monday, 28 November 2016

Some trends are more equal than others

As already noted by some of you, my ('oh, when will I ever learn?') hopes that BBC Trending would be nice and impartial and actually report the very-much-trending #forallhisflaws and #trudeaueulogies hashtags that swept across Twitter over the weekend, mocking Jeremy Corbyn and Justin Trudeau's statements on the death of El Comandante, were (inevitably) dashed. 

BBC Trending has simply ignored them. 

Instead, today, we've had "DJ Khaled: The making of a Snapchat superstar" and "India protests a washout, Trump called out on Twitter and Moroccans decry makeup to hide violence". 

You'll have noted "Trump called out on Twitter" there. Not "Corbyn called out on Twitter" or "Trudeau called out on Twitter". And (I suspect) you won't have been surprised.

BBC Trending missed out on some very funny jokes by ignoring #forallhisflaws and #trudeaueulogies. They may not have found them funny though, what with an "old man" dying. 

Andrew Neil again

Here's an intriguing tweet from Andrew Neil ('the exception which proves the rule'):

Wonder which "broadcasters" he has in mind exactly? I've seen and heard lots of those very vox pops on the BBC, and I'm betting he has too.

P.S. And here he is again, just now, giving an "unashamedly left wing" tweeter a less-than-140-character tongue-lashing:

He may be about as impartial as Hugh Sykes on Twitter but, unlike our Hugh, he's a basher of all sides while broadcasting for the BBC (particularly 'his own' - as my old interruptions stats showed many a year back). 

"Right-wing views"

I probably need your advice on this one. What do you make of this?:

There was a curious moment on BBC One's News at Six - which led with Paul Nuttall's election as leader of UKIP - when the BBC's reporter, Alex Forsyth, said this of the new UKIP leader: 
The former history lecturer grew up in Liverpool. He's been a UKIP MEP for the North-West as well as the party's deputy leader. And he holds some right-wing views. He's a climate change sceptic who's tough on crime.
Is being "a climate change sceptic" a "right-wing view"? (Aren't such views held more generally?) Or is that just how the BBC regards 'climate change scepticism' (and 'right-wingers')?


Talking about David Keighley, News-watch has posted a summary of their latest findings today, monitoring something we here at ITBB didn't think to monitor: BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat - and specifically Newsbeat's pre-referendum coverage. 

Among the many striking findings of the News-watch study (all summarised at David's blog) are the following:

  • Newsbeat audiences were 1.5 times more likely to encounter a Remain supporter than a Leave supporter. 238 guest speakers contributed to the various discussions on the referendum. The analysis shows that 45% spoke in favour of Remain, 30% in favour of Leave, with a further 25% giving a neutral, undecided or factual perspective.
  • In 38 Newsbeat reports with guest speakers, 19 (50%), showed a speaker weighting in favour of Remain. Only five similarly favoured ‘leave’. Fourteen had even numbers of speakers. This demonstrates a severe imbalance in favour of Remain.
  • Politicians supporting Remain outnumbered those wanting Leave by 47 to 34. In terms of the number of words spoken by politicians, Remain supporters received 64% of the airtime, compared to 36% for Leave – a ratio of approximately 2:1.
  • There was a much greater breadth of opinion in Remain contributions – they came from Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party. Conversely, the Leave side featured only Conservatives and UKIP. There were no Leave contributions from the Labour party or wider Left. There was no input at all from the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And that's only for starters. Many of the points are highly intriguing, eg:

  • Opponents of current levels of immigration were cast as xenophobic and inward-looking, whereas the comment from those who approved of immigration were made to appear outward-looking, open and broad-minded.
  • Opinions and alleged facts in favour of Leave were robustly scrutinised, made to look ignorant or contradictory, xenophobic or unfounded (Section 2.4). The most striking example of this was that the Leave claim that EU membership cost the UK £350 million a week was categorically said to be untrue, whereas, George Osborne’s estimation that Brexit would cost each household £4,300 annually was subjected to far less scrutiny.

The full report will make for fascinating reading. It will hopefully put a tiger among the (BBC) peacocks - though (BBC) peacocks are stubborn, proud creatures who will, doubtless, still pronounce themselves unbiased even as their last tail feather disappears into the tiger's mouth. 


When I wrote in that last post...
Read in full the statement seems reasonable and morally coherent, doesn't it? The BBC News website, however (at least to my eyes), made it sound as if Donald Trump was being 'Donnie Darkmouth' again, talking ill of the dead - and a very elderly man to boot! - so soon after the event. 
...I was referring back to Mark Mardell's coining of the phrase 'Donnie Darkmouth' (referencing 'Donnie Darko') to describe Donald Trump in campaign mode.

And guess what? Bang on cue - and backing up the point I was tentatively making there, in the most helpful way possible (to a blogger about BBC bias!) - here's Mark Mardell, making explicit the very point I thought the BBC News website was making implicitly:
Some of the old fire is there: he [Donald Trump] condemned Castro, hours after the old man's death, as a brutal dictator...
Which all goes to show that you can generally rely on good old Mark Mardell to state 'the BBC line' with even less regard for maintaining the appearance of 'BBC impartiality' than the BBC News website.

Further reading

There's a fine trio of pieces about BBC bias over at The Conservative Woman today:

Firstly, David Keighley’s 'Today' lauds a tyrant who nearly wiped out the planet -which chronicles a day in the life of the BBC's reporting of a breaking news story, namely the death of Fidel Castro. 

David makes a particularly telling 'moral equivalence' point: 
Paramount in the coverage was constant moral equivalence. Was he a dictator? In the BBC’s estimation – despite the words of Kennedy, and despite irrefutable statistics – it was a case of only some people said so.
He also comments on how the BBC spun the US President-elect's reaction:
Just as egregiously - in line with the Corporation’s all-out assault on first the prospect and then the reality of the Trump presidency – the coverage quickly cast Donald Trump’s reaction as ‘hard-line’, ill-judged and - in contrast to that paragon of virtue President Obama – inflammatory. 
Trump’s crime?  He called Castro a dictator, spelled out that he had oppressed his people and crushed dissent. He finally expressed the hope that Castro’s death would open up the way to genuine freedom for the Cuban people.  How very, very subversive! 
I noticed that mostly with the BBC News website's reporting of those remarks. It struck me at the time - though I failed to blog about it - that the BBC News website didn't quote Mr Trump's statement in full. There was nothing about the 'firing squads', etc. That struck me as odd, given that it wasn't a very long statement. Why not quote it in full?

Read in full the statement seems reasonable and morally coherent, doesn't it? The BBC News website, however (at least to my eyes), made it sound as if Donald Trump was being 'Donnie Darkmouth' again, talking ill of the dead - and a very elderly man to boot! - so soon after the event. The BBC article began:
Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro was a "brutal dictator", US President-elect Donald Trump has said, hours after the 90-year-old's death was announced. 

Secondly, please read James Bartholomew's passionate piece, The BBC buries bad news about the NHS every day

Though I've personally rarely found the NHS to be anything less than wholly admirable in how its staff have treated me, my family and my friends, appalling things do happen in the NHS and there have been some absolutely shocking cover-ups over the years. James recounts some of the latest horrors and argues, forcefully and persuasively, that such stories ought to be leading the BBC's news bulletins and the BBC website. Instead, the BBC has barely reported them. He accuses the corporation of "moral cowardice":
This story of death and incompetence in the NHS has not been  the lead item on the BBC news, the source of news on which more people rely than anything else.  It has not even been the second or third item. The BBC doesn't really want to know about the story. 
I have just checked BBC online and found the top, featured news stories as at 7pm on the 25th. There are 13 of them. No mention at all of these deaths - of the biggest, officially recognised NHS scandal since Mid-Staffordshire. Ranking above this major story is "ITV moves news for entertainment show" and "Black Friday Rush reported by retailers". Yes, there is some brief BBC coverage of the story that appeared online yesterday. But it is absurdly short. It draws no conclusions. No work has been done. 
Basically there is a rule in the media: deaths at the hands of the NHS don't count. Permanent damage to people at the hands of the NHS doesn't count. It is not really news. Contrast that with what happens when something goes wrong in a private hospital.
That does chime with my impressions. Programmes like Panorama, for example, have long seemed far more likely to focus on private sector failings - private hospitals, private nursing homes, private fertility clinics, etc - than public sector failings, and rarely touch on NHS failings, until - as with Mid Staffs a few years back, or the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust briefly - a massive scandal blows up (seemingly out of nowhere). I've always put that down to the BBC being a public sector organisation and having a public sector mentality (whatever that might be). 

Is that just 'confirmation bias' on my part, or is it fair? Check back through the Panorama archive and judge for yourselves. If you do so I suspect you'll agree that it's not 'confirmation bias', just bias.

The third TCW piece on the BBC today takes us back to the BBC and Fidel Castro, namely Paul T Horgan's The BBC should recognise that Castro was a slavemaster not a liberator

Paul gives us an interesting historical take on the BBC's use of the word 'dictator' and tells the story of how successful his own appearance on Newswatch was. (Clue: The BBC took no notice of what he said whatsoever). 


The lead story on BBC News this morning is that "the BBC has learned" (i.e. doubtless meaning that it's been told all about it by the same pro-EU campaigners who star in the article itself!) that various lawyers and a "think tank" are considering legal challenges to the government over the single market:

The article, after outlining the arguments of the lawyers, then refers to British Influence:

"Think tank" is one way of putting it. It doesn't appear to be the correct way though. "Pressure group" seems more accurate. Wikipedia says this of the organisation:

You get none of that background in the BBC article. Even the website of the organisation jokingly calls itself a "re-think tank" (i.e. a campaign group rather than a proper think tank). The BBC is making them sound like 'experts'. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Less moderate

The BBC is nothing if not predictable at times. 

Seeing (on Twitter) that the result of the race from the presidential candidacy of the French centre-right has resulted (by a huge margin) in the triumph of the more right-wing of the two candidates, M. Fillon, I immediately clicked onto the BBC website to see if the BBC had committed some act of bias (as a blogger about BBC bias inevitably tends to do, alas). 

And guess what? There it is, straight away: Bias!

Yes, M. Fillon is less moderate than M. Juppe, according to the BBC. What with being more right-wing 'n' all. 

Fake news

The US magazine Slate tells the story of how "even those outlets that pat themselves on the back for being the serious voices in an Internet filled with fakes and anonymous sources can still fall prey to fake news in the desperate search for clicks". 

One of the fake stories doing the rounds in recent days was Ivanka Trump's "response" to her father's quip that he would date her if she wasn't his daughter: "If he wasn't my father, I would spray him with Mace”. The problem is that she never said it. It appears to have originated in a joke from a comedian in 2006. 

Still, that didn't stop certain US media outlets, including the Hill and the New York Daily News, from reporting the story in recent days. 

And, as DB spotted, it didn't stop the face of the BBC in the US - Katty Kay - from retweeting it either:

She must have so wanted to believe it.

For all his flaws

Andrew Neil is still pursuing the point tonight:

  • Castro' "flaws": 5,600 Cubans murdered by firing squad; 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations,” 10s of 1000s jailed/tortured/died escaping.
And on a related theme...

Surely BBC Trending will be reporting the extraordinary (and often very funny) #forallhisflaws and #trudeaueulogies jokes that have swept across Twitter over the past couple of days? 

These hashtags have been a huge (Twitter) phenomenon in the UK (re Jeremy Corbyn's reaction to Castro's death) and in Canada (re Justin Trudeau's reaction to Castro's death). The UK and Canada have united (on Twitter) in derision. 

It will be a good test of BBC bias/impartiality to see if they do report this.

Here are a random selection of #forallhisflaws tweets: 

  • #ForAllHisFlaws, he was renowned for his authoritative leadership. (Attila the Hun)
  • #forallhisflaws, he got people out and about and provided free re-education for the people. (Chairman Mao)
  • #forallhisflaws, though he may have mentioned Hitler a strange amount, the congestion charge worked pretty well. (Ken Livingstone). 
  • #ForAllHisFlaws, he was a champion of European cross-border free movement and was fond of cats. (Vlad the Impaler)
  • #forallhisflaws, he was proficient at caving and could live out of a backpack. (Osama bin Laden)
  • #forallhisflaws, he deeply believed in traditional religion and sincerely sought to restore order to the cosmos. (Darth Vader)
  • #forallhisflaws, he never missed the chance to give a dog a kindly pat on the head. (Joseph Stalin)
  • #forallhisflaws, his monorail system and volcano engineering projects were great achievements. A larger than life leader. (Ernst Stavro Blofeld)
  • #ForAllHisFlaws, he was absolutely committed to ensuring healthcare was free at point of delivery. (Dr Harold Shipman).
  • #Foralltheirflaws, they were dedicated to a cohesive community dedicated to the common good of the collective. (The Borg).
  • #ForAllHisFlaws, he helped develop bonds with neighbouring Zaire and the wider provinces of Libya. (Idi Amin).
  • #ForAllHisFlaws, he didn't skimp on hospitality. (Count Dracula)


Here's a post that might sound like 'stating the blindingly obvious' (or wrong-headed), but still...

(In for a penny, in for a pound, but no euros please.)

The Govester

I enjoyed Emily ('Lady Nugee') and Michael ('Gove') on the sofa at the end of The Andrew Marr ShowIt was surprisingly agreeable.

But during that chat, and the preceding formal interview with the Govester (as Boris used to call him), a thought crossed my mind (yes, just one!): 

Michael Gove was being polite and self-deprecating about the way that 'experts' quote ("People in this country have had enough of experts") has been used against him.

It has been used, even more egregiously, against Brexit supporters in general, who have been painted (in some quarters) as 'post-truth', expert-hating 'know-nothings' as a result of it.

Mr Gove called what he'd said "notorious", and admitted that he didn't phrase it very well. But he also claimed that he'd been cut off, taken out of context and then edited.

Like you, no doubt, I've heard this quote being cited in the papers, online and - above all - on the BBC, countless, countless times.

"People in this country have had enough of experts". That's the quote in question, and I've just accepted that that's precisely what he said because 'everybody' says that's what he said and, to be honest, I couldn't remember the original interview. 

As a huge fan of experts who has spent years engaging in happy disagreement with my 84-year-old dad on the topic of experts ('experts' being a dirty word with him), I have to say that I've never been entirely comfortable with what Michael Gove 'said' there.

I kind-of knew what he meant and specifically who he was talking (the anti-Brexit organisations like the IMF, OECD, IFS. NIESR, etc) - as did you, I don't doubt for a second - but, still, felt he'd gone too far in apparently dismissing all experts.

If you look back, however, - say to the FT's initial reporting of the story - and compare it to transcripts of what he actually said, you'll see that, yes, his quote has been edited (deliberately, I'd say) to make it sound worse than it actually was.

It's now become one of those media-backed myths that has taken over the world -  especially with BBC pushing it so relentlessly (as on Newsnight with Nick Watt and James O'Brien this past week). 

In context, as he said today, it's clear exactly who he was talking about (as he told Andrew Marr, "economists, pollsters, social scientists" from the IMF, IFS, OECD, NIESR, etc):
Michael Gove: The people who are arguing that we should get out are concerned to ensure that the working people of this country at last get a fair deal.  I think the people of this country have had enough of experts with organisations from acronyms saying that...
Faisal Islam: The people of this country have had enough of experts, what do you mean by that?
Michael Gove: ...from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong because these people …
Faisal Islam: The people of this country have had enough of experts?
Michael GoveBecause these people are the same ones who have got consistently wrong...
Faisal Islam:This is [inaudible] politics this isn’t it?  This is Oxbridge Trump.
There's been a lot of 'post-truth' MSM/BBC reporting about that over the months, hasn't there? 'Everyone' (in the media) knew what he meant - despite how Faisal Islam immediately spun it - yet 'everyone' (in the media) persisted in spinning it Faisal's way rather than making it crystal clear to their audiences that Mr. Gove only had certain types of expert (the economists, pollsters and social scientists from the 'organisations with acronyms') in mind.

An impression, a smear, was thus left hanging in the air. And that impression has been exploited, again and again, ever since.


The independent, respected IFS readying itself for battle against Brexit

And talking of experts....

In Our Time continues to provide experts I, personally, can never get enough of with a huge public platform.

This week three such experts - Nora Berend, Martin Palmer and Aleks Pluskowski - talked with great fluency and depth about the Baltic Crusades (from 1147) against the pagans in north-east Europe, and very interesting it was too. 


A Helen Yaffe fan, reading her book on Guevara

Something I didn't post about yesterday was that I tried to keep up with most of the BBC News Channel's Castro coverage between about 10am to 3pm (using the scrollable 'live' online News Channel feed so that I could quickly skip most of the rest of the channel's output before finding something better to do). 

The reason I felt I couldn't post about was that I'd missed an hour and that might have undermined the truth of the point I would have made (by featuring a strong critic of the late dictator): namely that all the one-on-one interviews done from the BBC studio within that time frame were with far-leftist fans of Castro (albeit all 'experts' - as Michael Gove might say [see above!]

One of them (just before Dateline London) was a female academic from the UK (Helen Yaffe of the LSE) who painted the most Panglossian picture of Cuba and Cuban human rights imaginable. Even Gavin Esler seemed taken aback by her refusal to admit any failings on the part of the Castro regime, including over its treatment of gay people. Gavin said that he had actually seen the sanatoriums/prisons where AIDS sufferers were locked up. He didn't go any further than that though and let her blithe reply that Cuba now has low rates of AIDS go unchallenged - along with all the rest of the 'happy clappy' pro-Castro stuff she spouted. (There are some pretty morally dubious academics teaching in our universities.)

Food for thought

Harry's Place continues to give food for thought. 

The latest post there, Mehrdad Amanpour's Who gave us post truth, conspiracy culture and the alt-right?, is very strong indeed.

Mehrdad is talking to the Left, but right-wingers will most likely find it of considerable interest too. His own reaction to the (non-)reporting of the Muslim grooming scandals is of particular interest.

He could be talking about the BBC throughout (given that they exemplify many of the left-leaning behaviours he describes) and, at one point, he is specifically talking about the BBC: 
The same applies to the Migrant Crisis – who can forget how European leaders, the BBC and the left-wing press referred (and in some cases still refer) to the migrants as “Syrian Refugees, fleeing war”, sometimes adding a photograph of a woman and child.
All the right had to do here was to provide evidence (of which there is plenty from reputable sources) that most of the migrants were neither Syrian, nor women and children nor were most “fleeing” countries that were at war. With that, the establishment version of ‘truth’ was discredited and the right’s argument was won without the actual complexities of the issue even needing to be addressed.
I'd like to quote the whole thing, but you can read it verbatim at the (second) link above. Please do. 

On to a rainbow

That latest blog post of Mark Mardell's characteristically drips with one-sided mockery.

In some quarters, [Philip Hammond] is already castigated for not sticking to a "happy clappy" script. 
Sensible people agree Brexit is an economic leap in the dark, destination unknown. But to some, acknowledging this is akin to heresy. 
Our leap, they insist, will be on to a rainbow from where we will slide gently to a pot of gold.

Donnie Darkmouth

One of the unusual moments during Mark Mardell's Thanksgiving bash came when Mark called the election-campaigning Donald Trump "Donnie Darkmouth". It's a phrase he appears to like as he also used it in his latest BBC News website blog post:
Because the President-elect was so brutally frank about his extreme prescriptions on the road to power, he can afford to tone it down a bit now. Donnie Darkmouth can, to an extent, morph into Temperate Trump.
Where did he get that from? Neither Google nor Twitter are bringing up any results for 'Donnie Darkmouth'. Did he borrow it from someone or make it up himself?


The recent news that the BBC is cracking down (for cost reasons) on well-known presenters flying off on foreign jaunts to cover big stories and, instead, confining them to carrying out “two-way” interviews from the studio with correspondents on the ground doesn't seem to have reached the offices of The World This Weekend. 

BBC 'frequent flier' Mark Mardell managed to wangle himself a BBC-funded trip to Washington and Pennsylvania this week. 

The reason for going to Pennsylvania? To attend a family's Thankgiving dinner and talk Trump over the turkey. 

That's nice for him.

The focus of his report was on the 'divided nation'/'divided family' question. He talked to supporters of both candidates (though disgruntled Democrat supporters predominated). 


The paper review on this morning's The Andrew Marr Show was fun to watch. There was plenty of good-natured disagreement. 

The reviewers ran from the centre-right (Fraser Nelson) through the centre-left (Miranda Green) to the far-left (Paul Mason) - or, as they say in certain of the louder parts of Twitter, from the far-right through the right to the left. 

Such labelling can, of course, be more revealing of where the labeller is coming from, regardless of whether the labeller is actually aware of that or not.

(My labels, however, are neutral and impartial ones and, thus, wholly trustworthy. Naturally). 

Andrew Marr himself stuck a particularly striking label on Norbert Hofer, the Austrian Freedom Party candidate in the Austrian presidential election re-run, this morning:
We've, of course, got Austria, with Norbert Hofer, the neo-Nazi, possibly going to be elected as president.
That drew the following Twitter reaction from economist Andrew Lilico:

Bye, bye Aaqil. Hello James.

Here's something I missed the other day.

Aaqil Ahmed, who became the BBC's (first Muslim) Head of Religion and Ethics in 2009, is leaving the BBC. He sent out a tweet a couple of weeks ago, saying:

He's not going to be directly replaced either. Instead, responsibility for BBC religious broadcasting will pass into the hands of...

...guess who?...

Yes, James Purnell, the former New Labour cabinet minister recently promoted to BBC Head of Radio and Education - an appointment which brought accusations of empire-building even before this latest expansion of his role.

The Guardian reports that Roger Bolton, "a broadcaster and trustee of Sandford St Martin, which aims to promote religious programming", isn't a happy (Easter) bunny:
"If they think that’s the end of the process there will be a great deal of anger,” said Bolton of the decision to make one of Hall’s most senior lieutenants responsible. 
Bolton, who also presents the Feedback programme for BBC Radio 4, said the danger was that “the BBC talks the talk but doesn’t appear to do anything else”.
Maybe he should write to Feedback then.


  • "For all his flaws". Early Castro - prisoners blood nearly all drained before execution. Blood sold to Viet Cong.
  • Poet Valladares. Backed Fidel. But independent-minded. Charged with terrorism. Jailed 30 years. Cell so small he had to stand. Eat excrement.
  • On Castro's death, remember Huber Matos, comrade in arms. Attacked Castro's ties to Moscow. Show trial. Torture. 20 yrs prison. 16 solitary.
  • Castro made huge improvements to Cuban health system. But if you haven't got hard currency you can't buy even basic drugs.
  • Cuba: most doctors per capita in world. Many work abroad (hard currency for regime). Many work in bars/taxis (hard currency for themselves).
  • Castro gave Cuba one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Then told Cubans what they could and could not read.

Fidel Castro’s Cuba during the 1960s wasn’t a cool or trendy place. Human rights organisations estimate the number of executions which took place then, often without a fair trial, as anywhere between 200 and 17,000. Not cool. 
Prisoners, including female prisoners, were routinely tortured. Not cool. By the late 1960s, “revolutionary social hygiene” meant a vicious campaign against homosexuals and degenerate effeminates: men with long hair were rounded up and had it cut. Not cool. There was no freedom of the press, nor of assembly, nor of expression . . . Definitely, not trendy. 
But these realities, policed by an effective internal system of repression, were not reflected by the West’s increasing fascination with Fidel Castro. For the young, it was more like infatuation. And yes, part of the story was about a tiny country facing up to the US superpower but, really, this is another story about just how susceptible we are to that other superpower — the power of the image.
The article, incidentally, contains an interesting biographical detail about the young Master Marr (presumably from around 1971): 
Aged about 12, I persuaded my staunchly conservative, Presbyterian mother to sew a fabric patch of Korda’s Che onto my favourite black jeans, and strode around feeling taller for weeks.
'Red Andy', as he was known in his student days, obviously took to politics very early.

And finally, quite a few of you will have already read BBC Newswatch/Front Row presenter Samira Ahmed's Guardian piece headlined How to interview extremists – and avoid normalising racism

For those who haven't, the piece restated and expanded upon the opinions she'd already expressed on Twitter.

Her article argues that the media needs to carefully control how it interviews people from the populist right, the alt-right, the far-right, Breitbart, or whatever you want to call them, in the same way that the media (or so she asserts) presently controls interviews with Islamic extremists such as Anjem Choudary.

In other words, someone from UKIP/Trump-supporting Breitbart ought to be handled in much the same way as someone from groups like Islam4UK which wants to impose Sharia law on the UK and vocally support Islamist terror groups.

The two appear to be equivalent in her mind.

Similarly, all manner of people seem to get bundled into the 'alt-right' camp (from Marine le Pen to UKIP, from Breitbart to white supremacists).

Samira argues that people from both groups (Islamists, 'alt-right') should never be interviewed without (a) being 'contextualised' by the reporter/presenter and (b) without their critics being interviewed. Any interview with such people should be "scrupulously justified, carefully prepared for, and its purpose thought through". Never again should Justin Webb be allowed to interview a senior Breitbart editor without such careful controls being in place.

Also, only senior figures from both groups should be interviewed - i.e. no ordinary Islamist foot-soldiers or mere Breitbart columnists.

So says the presenter of one of the BBC's main 'watchdog' programmes about BBC reporting.


Saturday, 26 November 2016

"Critics saw him as a dictator"

The BBC News website's main article on the death of Fidel Castro begins:

The last sentence there has understandably raised eyebrows. Among the eyebrows raised are those belonging to historian Andrew Roberts, writing at The Spectator

All four of them

This week's Dateline London discussed Brexit at length. 

Everyone on the panel (from arch-Europhiles Marc Roche, Eunice Goes and Steve Richards to Brexit-doubting American Greg Katz) gave Brexit a thoroughgoing bashing. 

Impartiality was chucked out of the window yet again today, guest-wise. 

No smelling salts are required for that news it has to be said; however, at least Gavin Esler tried harder to ask devil's advocate questions this week.

Others are noticing too, e.g. Dr Richard Wellings of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

Ken Livingstone v Mishal Husain

And yes, Ken did mention him

Here's a transcript of the interview from this morning's Today that appears to have really got people talking. It's Ken Livingstone on Fidel Castro.

Reactions to the interview seem to be just as sharply divided as the reactions to the ex-Cuban dictator's demise. I think it's safe to say that the far-Left are not happy with Mishal Husain.


Mishal Husain: How do you think we should remember him?

Ken Livingstone: I think an absolute giant of the 20th Century. If you had to live in any Latin American country you would have chosen Cuba because your children would have had good education and decent healthcare. Everywhere else in Latin America, small, corrupt elites, dictatorships. It was a beacon of light, I think, to people all over Latin America.

Mishal Husain: "A beacon of light", you say. And yet in his last year in power in 2007 Human Rights Watch said he was "the architect of a repressive machinery constructed over half a century", that under him "Cuban citizens had been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association of assembly, movement and due process of law"?

Ken Livingstone: Yes, but he was effectively in a war situation. He was constantly living with the threat of being overthrown and other American intervention. There was a completely illegal American block on trade which damaged their economy. And you've got to remember he came to power at the height of the Cold War. And I think, yes, had he...had America taken a different position, allowed him to develop, you might have moved more towards a traditional democracy and much better human rights. But he was living with eight attempts at assassination authorised by American presidents.

Mishal Husain (interrupting): You would really...sorry, you would really dismiss all of that criticism of his record in Cuba by saying he was in a 'war situation' for his entire period in power?

Ken Livingstone: It was...He lived with the constant fear of being over....just...It wasn't just in Cuba. When people elected democratic left-wing governments in Chile, Brazil and in Argentina, America, with its influence over there, militarily had them overthrown and tens of thousands of people killed and tortured afterwards. Basically the whole of that post-war period America wanted to keep control of Latin America so the mineral resources, the wealth, flowed to American corporations and didn't go to the local people.

Mishal Husain: Well, whatever the criticism of US policy in that period - and there are plenty - he was nevertheless someone who had absolute control over his country. He could do anything he wanted to do. In fact, he set up a whole system to make sure that dissent was completely clamped down on. And yet you seem willing to excuse all of that because of...because of what America was doing at that time.

Ken Livingstone: Well, absolutely. The position was...You actually look at the people of Vietnam struggling for their freedom. America killed 3.5 million of them. It was an unbelievably unhappy world to actually...and be trying to assert your independence and your own control over your own economy. And the simple fact is, yes, of course Fidel did things that were wrong but he was living in a world where....

Mishal Husain (interrupting): Go on. What did he do wrong? Talk about what he did that was wrong. 

Ken Livingstone: I mean, initially, he wasn't very good on lesbian and gay rights. Erm, but the key things that mattered were that people had a good education, good healthcare and wealth was evenly distributed. He was not living as a billionaire laundering money off into Panamanian bank accounts, or anything like that. He was good for the people.

Mishal Husain (interrupting): OK, so just to be clear. You would personally would rather live in a country with decent literacy and healthcare than a proper democracy?

Ken Livingstone: Well, if you have a proper democracy you'll get those things. But most of the democracies we've seen in the Third World, not just Latin America, have effectively been fronts for American imperialism and terrible things have been done to people who threaten that.

Mishal Husain (interrupting): Well, no, no, but...I asked you which of those scenarios you would rather have lived in; which you would choose; whether you think it's an acceptable trade-off. 

Ken Livingstone: If you'd said to me. 'You're going to live as an ordinary person in Cuba or in Brazil under the dictatorship there I'd have gone for Cuba.

Mishal Husain: Despite the fact that in all the political activity, everything that you've based your career on, would never have been possible in Castro's Cuba?

Ken Livingstone: No. I would have been a supporter of Castro. (Mishal Husain laughs). There was...

Mishal Husain (interrupting): Therefore, you're happy that no one could have one even today can really opposite view, openly?

Ken Livingstone: No. I've been there many times. It's a very open and relaxed society. And the simple fact is I'm sure they will over time move towards something like a traditional West European democracy but it could have happened a lot earlier if you hadn't had, the entire time, the blockade by America, attempts to overthrow the regime, eight assassination attempts authorised by American presidents. If you're doing things like that...I mean, we didn't have a fully functioning democracy during World War II. It was shut down. The general election was cancelled. Anyone expressing support for Hitler was thrown into prison. If you're living in a wartime situation it's not good for democracy.

Smoking kills

Mishal Husain (interrupting):  You've already...On Cuba...on Cuba...on Cuba - and Castro, because that's what we're talking about today - you've already acknowledged that you are partisan on this. You've been to Cuba as a supporter of the Castros. Let me tell you...give you an independent view. Human Rights Watch last year said, "Today the Cuban government represses dissent, discourages public criticism. Short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics include beatings, public acts of shaming and the termination of employment". This is the country that you're a fan of.

Ken Livingstone: That...and that is happening all over the world. And that's a simple, brutal fact because we're still in a position where American imperialism, hiding itself in a much better way than British imperialism did, continues to undermine anyone that threatens its control of their economic wealth. 

Mishal Husain: And, therefore, any...If you follow that logic then any country which says it's facing that sort of oppression from the outside can do anything it likes within its own borders and you wouldn't have a problem with it?

Ken Livingstone: No. I would...I would oppose all of those things. I'd say, "It's time to move towards a proper democracy. You're not under a threat now." I mean, I don't think there's any prospect of an American invasion, even if Trump goes  a little bit bonkers....

Mishal Husain (interrupting):  So you would, therefore, attack all of this happening today?

Ken Livingstone: I mean, I would argue it's time to move on and put that behind. But throughout all those decades they lived with the fear of being overthrown, and the simple fact of the matter is you can walk down the streets in Havana and talk to people openly and relax in a way that you can't in a lot of brutal dictatorships supported by the West all over the world. 

Mishal Husain: But the things that you say you have had a problem with, did you ever put that to the Castros?

Ken Livingstone: No. I mean, I was always dealing with the mayor of Havana. I never met Fidel or his brother Raul. The simple fact is they wanted advice on how you you can develop their own things like that.  I think the last time I was there - 2008 - it was one of their sporting events which we were supporting. 

Mishal Husain: Hmmm. (Pause). Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, thank you very much for talking to us.

Gavin and Gott

Just for the record, here are Gavin Esler's contribution to that interview with "journalist and author"/KGB-gold-receiving 'agent of influence' Richard Gott on the BBC News Channel this morning:
  • Well, for more perspective on this now, I'm pleased to say we're joined by Richard Gott, who's travelled to and written about Cuba on many, many occasions. Richard, good to see you. Let's pick up on the revolutionary. I mean, you see those pictures and to the Left around the world this was the glamour of the revolution - the people who told the Americans to get lost. 
  • And because the regime was rotten. I mean, the regime that he replaced. We can get onto the problems that he had later, but the Batista regime was absolutely despicable, wasn't it? 
  • And at the start...I mean, the revolution did quite extraordinary things for ordinary people. I mean, in terms of healthcare one of the interesting facts is if you were...unbelievable perhaps to some people...if you were a child born in Cuba, post-Castro Cuba, you had a better chance of living than actually a child, statistically, in the United States because perinatal mortality, they attacked that and did a lot for children. So that was the good bit of the balance sheet. 
  • And Richard Gott is still with us. On that point, Richard. I have visited Cuba a few times and was told during the period where Fidel was at the heights of his powers, as one could say, that the most subversive things the Americans could do would be to normalise relations because the people feared that Cuban-Americans would come back home and say, 'Look, this is my house in Miami. This is my car. How are you doing, brother or cousin?' And that does have an effect on Cuba, doesn't it? It did change things?
  • When Fidel Castro got older the regime became quite geriatric, didn't it, in some ways? And also very authoritarian. I mean, if you got AIDS you were locked up. It was called a sanatorium but, basically, it was a kind of prison. Dissent was crushed and so on. And that's the aspect of the regime that many people find the most distasteful. In other words it replicated - perhaps not as bad at Batista - what they'd overthrown.
  • And in terms of where Cuba is now, however, how do you see the future? Because the Castro era is not over. Raul is still president. But it will be over eventually and there must be a younger generation who want change?
  • Let me ask you what may be an impossible question: Was Fidel Castro actually ever a communist? I mean, people have said to me he's more an egotist. In other words, he was - as you say - the Governor General. He was called 'el lider maximo' - you know,  'top leader'. Was he really a communist or that really a convenient thing for him to do to get money from the Soviet Union? 
  • As a flag of convenience. Because there was a lot of money in it for him, to be crude!
  • And just one final point, which is on the romantic Cuba -  you know, Che Guevara, the early years. It was pretty much because he was putting two fingers up to the superpower that made him to some people on the European Left and elsewhere the hero?
Richard Gott said that Fidel Castro was really a "liberal democrat in the Cuban tradition". Gavin didn't laugh.

On Twitter

Here's a flavour of what's happening on Twitter this morning...

First Guido Fawkes on the BBC and its Castro coverage:

And talking of Richard Gott, he was also on Today this morning:

And here's a similar take on the BBC's coverage to that of Guido's:

Plus here's more reaction to John Simpson:

And as for 'the exception that proves the rule' at the BBC, well, here's Andrew Neil:

And finally, though non-BBC-related, here's something in a similar spirit:

"The world in general is certainly poorer and more ordinary without him"

Leading the news on Today this morning was the following 'breaking news':
The Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a towering figure of the Cold War who became a symbol of revolution and defiance, has died at the age of 90. 
The BBC's world affairs editor John Simpson then gave us his assessment of Castro's legacy: 
With Castro's passing an entire aged has died. Like the cars and buildings of Havana, perfectly preserved from the early 1950s, Castro represented an unaltered line of resistance, not just to Americanism but also to most of the changes which have swept through our world - from the collapse of Marxism-Leninism to market economics and the fostering of civil society. Inevitably, Castro was far more popular outside Cuba than he was at home. For the world he was a magnificent figure defiant in his loneliness. Large numbers of Cubans found the isolation and the dogmatic refusal to change deeply wearing. Most would have have liked something less heroic and most basically satisfying. He let his supporters down continually by assaults on freedom of speech and action, yet he turned Cuba from being a nasty, corrupt dictatorship to a proud and in many ways more decent society. To meet him, as I did, was to get a taste of the impossible glamour which surrounded him. Whether Cuba will now be a better place is far from clear but the world in general is certainly poorer and more ordinary without him. 
That closing sentence has already provoked the following exchange on Twitter (click to enlarge):

Friday, 25 November 2016

Letters from America

Often, of a Friday night, blogs will post 'long reads' for the weekend. 

Here's one for ITBB which I hope you'll enjoy (though it's probably not one for if you've just got in from the pub)...

Radio 4's short series of post-US election talks, Letters from America, has been notable for featuring five speakers, none of whom supported Donald Trump and most of whom obviously loathe him. 

That's much as you'd expect from a left-liberal-biased radio station like BBC Radio 4.

The station should be - but won't be - ashamed of itself for not featuring even a single Trump supporter.

However, it has to be said that the talks improved as the week went on, and I will gladly confess that I rather enjoyed them, all-in-all. So much so that I will now feature my own personal highlights from each episode - namely, the wholly-cherry-picked bits that run counter to the usual BBC narrative and which, inadvertently (and tellingly), expose the BBC's bias in the process.

From Episode 1 (Zoë Heller) came this surprising and effective take-down of US liberal and Radio 4 A Point of View regular Adam Gopnik and his absurdly hysterical, apocalyptic anti-Trump pre-US election edition of A Point of View - especially surprising given the partisan tone and content of the rest of the speaker's (anti-Trump) talk:
Recently on this network the American writer Adam Gopnik asserted that there was "zero correlation" between support for Trump and economic dislocation. 
"Despite its various injustices and inequities, America", he assured us, "was a prosperous and, by any sane historical standard, successful country. The rise of Trump reflects an eternal and immutable tribalist instinct, nothing more, nothing less". 
This is certainly a neat diagnosis, but perhaps a little too neat. 
If all that Trump's people wanted was to build walls and get rid of minorities how do we interpret the curious fact that more than 200 of the United States counties that voted for Trump this election were won by Obama in 2008 and 2012? Did the people in those counties turn racist over the last four years? Or here's another interesting question: Why did so many Trump supporters identify Bernie Sanders - a democratic socialist - as their second choice? 
Gopnik's assertion that America is an essentially prosperous and successful country is, I suspect, precisely the sort of complacent statement that makes people living in America's bleak post-industrial and rural areas despise the comfortable elites living on America's coasts. 
Thanks in part to spikes in alcoholism, drug overdose and suicide, the mortality rates for white men in such places have been rising over the last thirty years, even as mortality rates in the rest of America have been declining. 
It's worthwhile wondering: If you were a former steelworker living in one of these areas and working as a Walmart greeter for $9 an hour or a woman who lost a house in the sub-prime mortgage crisis or a young man who spent four years fighting a war that's now widely understood to have been a mistake or the mother of a meth addict, don't you think you might find it maddening to have someone calmly inform you that actually America is doing very nicely and that your desire to make it great again is just a redneck, xenophobic fantasy?

From Episode 2 (Thomas Chatterton Williams) came this also-unexpected point of view (especially given what had gone before - an anti-Trump rant). It intriguingly echoes the point of view most effectively championed by Spiked - i.e. a robust, unflinching defence of free speech against the various 'safe spaces' of this world, including BBC studios!:
In the days since the election I have been dismayed to see well-meaning white friends on my Twitter timeline and Facebook news feed self-flagellating, apologising for their whiteness, as if they were somehow born into original sin. And I have seen too many non-white glibly blaming whiteness and white people as a category for every possible malady. 
Without excusing the racists and sexists, who by all indications are both numerous and emboldened, the dominant liberal discourse of late has too often shown itself to be counter-productive. It has made traditional and social media outlets and campuses across the country self-censoring, borderline oppressive environments, more focused on the optics of pluralism, creating safe spaces and policing bad thoughts than developing real diversity of ideas, ways of being and, yes, the right to be wrong and be defeated. 
The Left certainly didn't create white supremacy or tribalism but it has, in its celebration of essentialism, offered a mainstream template for an overly white identity-based politics that Trump has masterfully exploited - even if more minorities did vote for him than Mitt Romney.

From Episode 3 (Jill Lepore) came the following, which (whilst bashing both sides - and the Trump side even more so) also, I think, showed up hysterical, apocalyptic anti-Trump types like Adam Gopnik - plus whole swathes of of the BBC too (both on the BBC proper and on their Twitter feeds). This describes them as much as it describes ardent Trump supporters:
This election there was much talk of 'division', of a 'divided nation', even of 'divided marriages'. But there was union in misery, in lament and in doom-mongering. The candidates and their followers pointed, again and again, to the gaping chasm between them - and, for certain, their differences were many and deep. But so were the traits that straddled the divide: isolation, incomprehension, a spirit of vengeance and the rhetoric of apocalypse. 
Republicans and Democrats in this election weren't practitioners of two different faiths. They were members of rival sects. They accepted the fundamental tenets of a shared creed: that the world turns on the election of an American president; that this was the most important election in American history; that their opponent is a liar and an enemy; that supporters of their enemy are either knaves or fools; and that a loss would be devastating to the nation and to the world. 
Both sides predicted political catastrophe and even urged it on, as if, in the agony of defeat and the maelstrom to follow, would be found redemption - the scourge upon the land that would prove the rightness of their sect. This is the reaping of the whirlwind by those that have sown the wind. 

From Episode 4 (from anti-Trump Andrew Sullivan) came this evisceration of Hillary Clinton and her 'blind' supporters - into which camp I'd unflinchingly place much of the BBC during the past year and more:
In all the post-election analysis one explanation for the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has, so far, been all but missing. I hardly dare mention it to my liberal friends for fear of being overwhelmed by a torrent of defensive knee-jerk fury and abuse. And so the delicate silence continues and the denial they're still in deepens. So allow me to fill the gap and say what has to be said: It was Hillary, stupid. 
There's a clear, blinding, obvious reason Trump won the election: The Democrats ran the most mediocre, flawed, despised and compromised candidate since Michael Dukakis. She lost because it would have been impossible to find a more damning representative of everything that is currently unpopular in the populist mood sweeping the West.... 
She gave the impression she was running for president because, well, because it was her turn. Her smugness never left her and infected her party and her campaign.... 
She is, and always has been, a mediocrity - someone who has close to nothing to cite as a single achievement in over three decades in national life, who sucked the life out of a room whenever she spoke and overstayed her welcome in American life by a decade or more.... 
And her alleged ace card in the entire campaign - that she was the first woman ever to campaign for president - proved to be a total dud. White women, her core demographic, voted for a repulsive and disgusting chauvinist pig over the icon they'd been told to bow down and worship.... 
America and the world will live with the consequences of the Democrats' blindness and Clinton's fathomless sense of entitlement. May she leave the stage forever and never, ever come back.

And, finally, from Episode 5 (John Gray) came the following set of perspectives, none of which find much if any echo in the consistent agendas of programmes like Newsnight or Today or the BBC One news bulletins or From Our Own Correspondent, etc, etc, etc.:
In polite society the election of Donald Trump has produced something like a collective nervous breakdown. Along with gasps of astonishment there's been an outpouring of anger and grief. The world that so many expected to continue indefinitely, slowly improving, has suddenly vanished. And, despite what they'd like to believe, it's clear that it's not coming back. The pre-Trump status quo has gone forever. It's the lessons of Trump's victory that should concern us now - and, in particular, what it means for the liberal inheritance that many of us seem to have taken for granted. 
There can be no doubt that these lessons will be hard to swallow - so hard in fact that I doubt that the current generation of liberals is capable of learning them. For if there's a single message that comes out from the dramatic political events of the past months is that the liberal establishment that has framed policies and shaped opinion over the past decade and more did not understand the urgent needs of large numbers of their fellow citizens. 
There's incessant talk of the dangers of populism, but populism at the present time is a term that liberals apply to the consequences of their own errors and folly. The threat to liberal values that exists today is largely the result of the attempt to apply an ultra-liberal ideology which in applying an ideal model of society has lost sight of how most people actually want to live.... 
As a look at the history of the last century will confirm liberal democracy is far from being the European norm. The irony is that it's an extreme version of liberal ideology that has put liberal democracy in peril again in Europe.... 
Immune from democratic accountability [the European elites] refuse to respond to discontents that are being felt ever more intensely and widely. The disaffection of voters can only be expressed in an effective way at a national level, where the upheavals of the past few months in Britain and the US look like being repeated. Starting with a constitutional referendum in Italy and a re-run of a cancelled presidential election in Austria, both to be held on December 4th, there will be elections in Holland, France and Germany over the coming year. 
If, as I suspect, may prove to be the case, the EU comes undone as a result of this succession of votes, the blow liberals will suffer will be greater than any so far. More than any governing system today the EU is a quintessentially liberal construction. 
The dream it serves is one that gives meaning to the lives of liberals everywhere: free movement of people and goods in a borderless world. But it's this very dream that makes the EU likely to founder. 
What we rightly cherish as liberal values - individual freedom and toleration of different faiths - aren't free-floating ideals that can be realised anywhere by an act of political will. They are fragile practices, fashioned with immense difficulty over many generations, which can survive only when the majority of people enjoy a decent measure of security in their everyday life. 
Plainly this is not how people in the EU feel today. On top of unprecedented levels of long-term unemployment in some countries many are unhappy with the way the EU has dealt with the migrant crisis. Equal or greater numbers are worried by its inability to prevent or deter terrorism. Above all, voters are becoming convinced - not unreasonably, in my view - that the EU is incapable of reforming itself.... 
After Trump's unnerving victory Europe's electorates know they can inflict a similar shock on their rulers - and on all who believe the future can only be a continuation of the recent past.