Monday, 24 March 2003

Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation?

Andrew Sullivan frequently carries items on the leftist slant of the BBC, Britain’s state-funded (out of a per-household tax on television possession) media outlet. He notes that the Beeb’s bias is finally being discovered on this side of the pond:

I’m somewhat thrilled my little obsession of the past couple months has begun to find new converts. Not exactly my persuasive powers. More due to the fact that suddenly the BBC is being broadcast live to Americans. That funny, subtle sound you hear is of a few thousand jaws dropping. The Mickster suddenly sees what I’ve been going on about. Here’s Rand Simberg too.

People not familiar with the Beeb, or not familiar with how Britons normally speak, may miss some of the subtleties. One that may be of particular interest to my fellow Americans: listen closely, and you’ll find that there are not one, but two BBC pronunciations of “American”: one form is the descriptive, and one form is the “sneer.” The version with the i pronounced as a long “e” is the sneer; the version with the i prounounced as a ə (schwa), as most Americans would pronounce it, is the descriptive.

However, this is a largely subjective approach. Another way to discover BBC bias is to read their reporters’ largely unfiltered weblog entries. For example, Andrew North writes (emphasis mine):

The commanders of this US marine unit here have admitted that they were surprised by just how hard and how determined the Iraqis fought yesterday.

Now, admitted is a pretty loaded word. Rene J. Cappon, in The Word (now retitled as The Associated Press Guide to Newswriting), explicitly warns against using it:

Admit, as in admitting a crime, implies yielding reluctantly under pressure. The company chairman admitted that interest rates had not been factored into production estimates suggests that he came clean after an astute reporter put the thumbscrews to him. In fact, he volunteered the information. Use said or acknowledged.

Peter Hunt, however, won’t be outdone by Andy:

It is the very worst possible news for the British military. They have suffered a series of setbacks and now this—two servicemen missing in southern Iraq.

The very worst possible news? No, I think the very worst possible news would be that Saddam had flattened a Kuwaiti airstrip with a tactical nuke, killing thousands of British and allied servicemen. While the loss of two servicemen is sad, Peter really needs to get some perspective.

Let’s examine some of yesterday’s coverage while we’re at it. Ian Pannell writes:

One expects within 24hrs the pictures of the captured servicemen will be shown on American TV networks.

I don’t think it will change people’s minds about the war because they are rallying behind the troops. But after the war it may raise problems for the president.

Perhaps Ian could enlighten the rest of us as to what problems he expects might come of this, because I’m completely at a loss. Meanwhile, Andrew Gilligan blogs from Baghdad, noting the Iraqis’ “search and rescue” techniques, which Lt. Gen. John Abizad rightly derided in todays’ press conference as leaving “a lot to be desired”:

They combed the banks of the Tigris just opposite the hotel and for a second time today they were burning the shrubbery to flush out any downed enemy pilot.

Odd that Andy would forget to mention the Iraqis that decided to fire their Kalashnikovs into the Tigris, which I suspect was the most vivid memory anyone took from the video footage of the “search.” Fellow BBC reporter Adrian Mynott, somewhere near Umm Qasr, has some issues of his own:

The suggestion that was being made in the planning of this operation—that this may take a day or a few hours to sort our [sic] have proved to be very wrong—this is proving to be a major thorn in the coalition’s side and indeed something of an embarrassment.

Yeah, it was pretty embarrassing to the Allies when they landed in Normandy and they hadn’t captured Paris by the end of the day, too. What is this guy smoking? Adrian’s confusing an optimistic estimate with the benchmark the operation’s supposed to be held to.

Finally, Steve Kingstone takes the biscuit for the most idiotic statement:

As the Pentagon and any US official you speak to sees it, there is confusion in the control and command structure of the Iraqi regime.

We have no way of knowing if that is true but it seems they think the more they say it, it will filter through.

Great mind-reading, Steve. Alternate thesis: perhaps they keep saying it because they believe it to be true.

Now, I won’t go out on a limb and say the Beeb is “pro-Saddam,” or even leftist. I don’t know how many leftists there are in Broadcasting House. At the very least, I think the BBC takes its “mission statement” too seriously, in the sense that they are excessively critical of British government policy, and confusing opposition with objectivity; an instructive comparison is to the U.S.-funded Voice of America, which manages to critically examine the U.S. and allied governments without the exaggeration that characterizes the BBC. However, that does not explain, in and of itself, the BBC’s criticism of America, which suggests a far more sinister explanation: that the BBC sees its mission as transformational rather than informational. If so, a lot of British taxpayers should quite rightly object.

Andrew has some more reader mail today on the topic.

Incidentally, I distinctly remember another, heavily biased entry that alleged that the bombings in Baghdad were deliberately targeted in a line so the international media would see them. It apparently has been deleted since.