Friday, 14 July 2017

Weekend reading

My copy of The Spectator dropped through the letter box today and the first thing I read was Charles Moore's Spectator Notes. There's quite a BBC theme this week. 

In the row which has rumbled on about Laura Kuenssberg’s allegedly biased coverage of the general election, one significant factor has not come into the public domain. Early in the campaign, Kuenssberg was assailed by Labour supporters. But later on, and in the post-election recriminations, it was Conservative supporters who were the more annoyed with her. Perhaps this is simply explained by the fact that Labour did better than expected and the Tories did worse. However, the bit the Tories haven’t said in public but keep complaining about in private is that the BBC never reported that Kuenssberg was so badly threatened online by Corbyn supporters that she was given personal protection. They feel that this subdued her capacity to cover the contest clearly. They suspect that if Theresa May had possessed fans as thuggish as Mr Corbyn’s, the BBC would have made a meal of it. I do not know the details of this story, and the BBC won’t comment on security questions, but I have had it informally confirmed from within the BBC. If it is correct, surely the BBC should disclose it. For my own part, I don’t share the resentment against Laura Kuenssberg. She is guilty of the generic sin, encouraged by the BBC in political reporters — including, over the years, Andrew Marr, Nick Robinson, Norman Smith and others — of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening. For this the Corporation, not the individuals, is to blame.
It did cross my mind during the election that Laura K. was toning it down with regards to criticism Jeremy Corbyn, though I put that down to the BBC as a whole seeming to 'tone it down' as well. But what if Laura was toning it down because she had been successfully intimidated by Corbynistas? Wouldn't that be a jaw-dropping state of affairs, with serious questions for Labour and the BBC? 

Without wishing to add to Laura K's woes, I also think that Mr Moore absolutely hits the nail on the head when he says that Laura K. is guilty of a generic BBC sin, that "of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening". 

There was a small but historic moment on the Today programme last week. John Humphrys introduced a report on Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism as being by the ‘highly respected’ Henry Jackson Society. This flustered the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, to whom Humphrys turned. Gardner said that he needed to explain at once that the Henry Jackson Society was ‘right of centre’, not ‘absolutely bang down the centre’. What Gardner meant, but dared not quite directly say, was that in BBC theology ‘highly respected’ means centre-left. Thus the King’s Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are ‘highly respected’ (or, sometimes, ‘independent’). ‘Centre-right’, ‘right of centre’, ‘right-leaning’ think-tanks can just about be tolerated, but can never be ‘highly respected’. A ‘right-wing’ think-tank, tout court, means ‘really bad’. So Gardner was clearly shocked by Humphrys’s description of the Henry Jackson Society and was trying to steer the listener in a different direction. It will be interesting if the Henry Jackson Society remains ‘highly respected’ when it next pops up on Today. Was this a bold move by the excellent new editor, Sarah Sands, or just freelancing by Humphrys? 
Tracking down that exchange to the 5 July edition of Today, here's a transcript of what transpired:
John Humphrys: Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of Islamist extremism in Britain. That is what a report by the highly respected Henry Jackson Society has concluded after extensive research. Saudi Arabia is, of course, our closest ally in the Middle East - or perhaps I should say one of our closest. Frank Gardner, our security correspondent, what do they mean by 'biggest source of Islamist extremism' Frank?
Frank Gardner: Right. First of all I should just say that the Henry Jackson Society, which has spent the last 4 months, 5 months producing this report, it's is a right-of-centre thinktank, so it's not absolutely bang down the centre. It's right-of-centre and they particularly take aim at Islamism, extremism and Putin in Russia. That's their sort of agenda.
I'd rather the BBC dropped labels like 'respected' and 'highly respected' altogether. Let the audience judge whether these organisations are worthy of respect or not.


  1. Is there any explanation of Laura K's anti Brexit position? I understood that Jeremy Corbyn would 'honour the wishes of the electorate' - that is unless his supporters who put Laura under duress think otherwise.

    1. Her anti-Brexit position can be explained by her DNA.

    2. Checked the doorstep. Still nothing.

  2. I read this today, my first thought was to check in here when I got home. Quite remarkable, the story about Laura K. more so than the mask slipping about BBC labeling.

    Laura K. was 'toning it down' with criticisms of Corbyn only in that she was even less likely to point out genuine errors or remind viewers of his serious history of supporting terrorism and general anti-British principles. Of course, we know that sort of thing is what triggers the majority of complaints about BBC anti-Corbyn bias. Others are worse, I think, in that Laura K. isn't the one interviewing him or Labour figures telling them he can't win, pointing out his unsavory associations, etc., like Marr or Robinson or Humphrys.

    Still, I would say that the BBC had a duty to report this sort of thing if it was that serious. I mean, this isn't death threats from supporters of Tommy Robinson or Anjem Choudray, this is from supporters of the Labour leader and candidate for PM. The BBC certainly reports it when foreign parties threaten their journalists, so why not domestically?

    I know the excuse will be the same one they give for Islamic mass murder: one mustn't tar an entire group for the acts of a single person or microscopically tiny minority. Yet they do it regularly for right-wingers: the guy who shot Gabrielle Giffords and the guy who murdered Jo Cox (some Beeboids publicly blamed Sarah Palin as well), and Mardell once tried to make the case that the Tea Party movement was getting violent over ObamaCare because an elderly attendee of a Tea Party rally bit off the fingertip of a Leftist who was assaulting him.

    We saw the same thing with the Occupy movement. The BBC censored nearly all stories about Occupier violence.

    Of course, this begs the most important question of all: just how many threats were there, that they hired bodyguards? Can't have been just the one.

    As the Royle sage would say, Complaints From Both sides, my arse!

  3. PS: I meant that the Beeboids blamed Sarah Palin for Giffords, and should have added that they blamed the Brexit campaign for Jo Cox.

  4. Surely Humphries says the Henry Jackson society is "well-respected" because he is using it's report to criticise the Government! He says that Saudi Arabia is one of "our closest Allies"; criticism of Saudi and especially arms sales has long been a Labour position to embarrass the Govt..

    I don't believe that Humphries makes this up himself, it's scripted. I don't rate Humphries as much intellect tbh.