Saturday, September 15, 2007

On the Monitoring of Enemy Transmissions

Stephen Pollard writing in The Times (London) describes perfectly the tone and demeanor that the BBC reserves for the United States. Meet Matt “Stir” Frei:

On Monday afternoon I watched General David Petraeus testify before Congress. I listened as he went through the facts of the military action in Iraq. I learnt as he outlined the improvements brought about in recent months.

But it wasn’t until I heard Frei’s take on General Petraeus’s words that I realised what had really been going on. The BBC Washington correspondent told us that he had listened “very carefully” – as opposed to his usual half-cocked approach, perhaps? – and gleaned what was actually being said: “Having tried to resist the fragmentation, the creeping partition, ethnic cleansing, the White House now seems to have bowed to that.”

Forget the reams of pages and the hours of testimony about military strategy and dealing with terrorists. The real story of the general’s report is that the White House is to start ethnically cleansing Iraqis.
I heard the same reporting and felt the same buzz, but this is the thing: as skeptical as I am of the BBC’s coverage of news in the U.S. is, I’ve grown used to expecting nothing else. It is typical, unremarkable, and for all the irresponsible invention of conclusions and selectivity, I find it pointless to get angry. Through the water torture of repetition of hypocrisy, I no longer notice it. Surely those not looking closely at the UK’s state broadcaster’s coverage of the U.S. would not need to take a gulp of the kool-aid. They have been given it daily in an eyedropper from birth.
One should not be surprised by Frei’s warped take. His reports from Washington drip with condescension towards Americans and, most of all, Republicans. He recently called the contest for the Republican nomination – a race that is rather more intriguing than usual – a “panic-stricken hunt”. Given his penchant for such creative contempt for the people among whom he lives, it’s no wonder that he has been nicknamed Stir Frei.

Awful as Frei may be, he fits the BBC’s editorial agenda perfectly. The lead report on Monday’s Ten O’Clock News, by the corporation’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, went two minutes without mentioning anything said by General Petraeus, offering instead clips of opponents of the war attacking the report. Simpson then sneered that President Bush cares not a jot what is actually happening in Iraq, caring only how US voters perceive it.
Indeed the irony is that what this once dependable and venerable news organization does is no longer the coverage of news at all. They do not report the news for the sake of making information available, they do much, MUCH less. They simply follow up with further coverage, rewrites, and tales retold to them through the press releases of ‘pressure groups’ and the like to cover the doings of a short list of issues.

Even at that, it is an ideologically driven exercise in the manner of Gramsci: by the eyedropper, until the viewers and listeners themselves can be selectively employed to produce for them a levee-break of the stuff and no cost to them.
So yesterday’s Victoria Derbyshire phone-in on BBC 5 Live was par for the course. The question of the day was: “Do you believe the Americans? Are things improving in Iraq?” For the first half-hour, every single caller informed us that Petraeus was lying about military progress. And don’t think the airing of such biased calls was anything other than an editorial decision. I called in to suggest that it was unlikely that the entire US military high command was engaged in a conspiracy to lie to the world. And was I put on air? Of course not.

- neer-do’ well and man about
town Stephen Pollard’s marathon
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