Sunday 1 December 2013

"Please accept our apologies"

You may recall an earlier post about a 2003 episode of Days That Shook the World, re-broadcast around two weeks ago on BBC Two to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

The programme risked misleading its viewers into assuming that right-wing Republicans were guilty of the assassination of JFK. The programme also falsely asserted that Texas was a "very Republican" state in 1963. 

If you're new to this, that might seem (at first glance) like a far-fetched statement, but please click on the link above and you'll see that it isn't. That's precisely what the programme implied, and that's what it asserted.

This BBC programme was a travesty, pure and simple.

A complaint went in to the BBC (from me):
I wish to complain about the way 'Days that Shook the World' kept asserting that Texas was a hot-bed of violently "hostile" right-wing Republicans during the Kennedy Assassination episode. 
Viewers were told of physical attacks on Democrats and "hardcore" right-wing anger, building a picture that "Texas is a difficult state, very right-wing, very Republican, very vocal".  
This could have led any children watching to wrongly assume that Kennedy was killed by right-wing Republicans - especially as Lee Harvey Oswald's ideological standpoint (as a communist) was never mentioned in the programme. 
Moreover, the narrator's assertion that Texas was "very right-wing, very Republican" in 1963 is untrue. 
Texas was firmly Democrat (at presidential elections) from 1848 to 1952. It went Republican in 1952, but returned to the Democrats in 1960, 1964 and 1968. The Republicans took the state in 1972, but the Democrats seized in back in 1976. Only from 1980 onwards did Texas firmly enter the Republican camp. As far as governors of Texas are concerned, there was an unbroken run of Democrat governors from 1874 to 1983, and Democrats also won in 1987 and 1991. Kennedy's vice president, for goodness sake, was a long-serving Democrat senator, Lyndon B. Johnson, and all but one of the so-called Class 1 Texas senators from 1846 to 1993 was a Democrat.  
So why the smearing of U.S Republicans and why the false statement about Texas being "very Republican" in 1963?
Was there an agenda at work here? 
The BBC Complaints department replied as follows (a reply received today):
Thank you for your correspondence regarding the Days That Shook The World broadcast on 17 November 2013.
We assure you that we took your concerns about the JFK film very seriously.
This programme was made by Lion Television and originally broadcast in 2003. You are correct in singling out the description of Texas as a “traditional Republican stronghold” and “very Republican” is indeed wrong and, as you point out, the state was in fact a Democrat stronghold. This error was picked up after the programme’s original transmission but the accompanying paperwork was not marked up. Please be aware that we have now updated all the paperwork for this programme and it will not be repeated with this error again.
Please accept our apologies for the oversight on this occasion.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.
Given that the description was indeed "indeed wrong" - and very clearly so - the BBC really had no option here but to 'fess up and admit that they Lion Television got it wrong. 

That's good. It's an admission of error. 

Less good though is that they try to shift the blame onto Lion Television. 

As I said in the original post, why was this programme - with its blatant errors and apparent agenda - re-broadcast ten years on (from 2003), unedited and uncorrected, by today's BBC bosses? That's surely not Lion Television's fault, is it?!?

Well, from the BBC Complaints department's reply it seems that it's got something to do with the "paperwork" not having been "marked up" after the programme was first broadcast... which my immediate response was: "What the hell does that mean?!?" 

Isn't the BBC responsible for the "paperwork"? And, regardless of the "paperwork", didn't some BBC bigwig check the actual programme before rebroadcasting it two or so weeks ago? 

So I'm not buying it. It seems like an attempt to bamboozle a complainant (me) with linguistic fog.

We must also rest assured, apparently, that it won't happen again though - presumably when the programme is re-broadcast in 2063. 

I'm not resting assured though.

Note also that the admission that the programme was factually wrong in its assertion that Texas - a Democrat stronghold in 1963 - was "very Republican" is conceded on the grounds of accuracy, not bias.

The BBC is, as I've written before, more comfortable admitting to inaccuracy than to bias. 

As evidence of that note that the BBC Complaints lady responsible for that reply failed to answer the central thrust of the complaint - that the programme was biased. 

She didn't tackle the charge that the programme seemed to have an anti-Republican agenda.

Nor did she tackle the main charge - that the programme was potentially deeply misleading and could have led many a viewing schoolchild into getting the (very) wrong end of the stick about who killed President Kennedy. 

She simply ignored that. 

So, it's an admission of factual inaccuracy but also a brush-off as regards the more serious charges of bias and agenda-pushing. 

Where now then? Pursue the matter? Give up?


  1. It wasn't just this programme, sadly.

    On the very 50th anniversay, R2 relived the events with a 3-hour, minute-by-minute reconstruction (

    It might have been interesting, but very soon the presenters were piously rehearsing the same "Right-wing Republican anti-Kennedy Oilmen" crap, so I elected not to stay for more.

    But given that this was a NEW (certainly not ten years' old) programme, allegedly going out LIVE, it does kind of give the lie to the Complaints Dept.'s "wrong kind of paperwork" excuse, since clearly no one in the BBC had spread the word to any producers about the true political complexion of Dallas on that November day in 1963.

  2. Well done, Craig. This statement is puzzling:

    This error was picked up after the programme’s original transmission but the accompanying paperwork was not marked up.

    If the paperwork was not marked up, how does she know, ten years later, that the error was picked up after the original transmission?


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