Saturday 18 January 2014

Unreasonable fanatics

Oh dear. There’s a spat - or maybe just a spatette - between BBCWatch and the BBC’s Berlin correspondent Steve Evans -  it revolves around a pause. No -  two pauses to be precise.

Largely responsible for all the fuss are the two commas that BBCWatch employed to denote two specific pauses, arguably to clarify a point. 
Here’s the sentence:

“It was a time when Jews, who displeased the Nazis, risked their lives.”

That was from BBCWatch’s transcription of a broadcast; the commas were there to denote pauses in Steve Evans’s delivery. 

Having listened to the item, which occurred towards the end of Wednesday’s News at Six, I can confidently state that Steve Evans’s delivery was full of pauses. In fact, he was deliberately using the pause for dramatic effect throughout the piece. As it happens, I think the pauses in question were a little misleading. It was potentially a case of two pauses too many. It was as if he got so carried away with pausing that he forgot to consider that they might subtly affect the subtext.

So, BBCWatch’s interpretation of the sentence, or perhaps, misinterpretation of it, was twofold. 
They concluded that either Steve Evans intended to downplay the Nazis’ antisemitism (implying that the Jews needed to do something provocative in order to displease the Nazis,) or he was using the term ‘displease” in an absurdly reductive example of the famous British understatement .

(Had I listened to the piece before reading this spat I would have disagreed with BBCWatch. Steve Evans’s excessive pausing gave me the impression that he didn’t intend to downplay the Nazi’s antisemitism.) However, in isolation, the sentence in question was ambiguous enough to have been have been interpreted in the way BBCWatch interpreted it. 
But it gets worse from there. 
After reading this harsh, perhaps unfair critique of his report, Steve Evans sent BBC Watch an e-mail, which BBCWatch posted on the blog as an Update.
The tone and content of the message sheds a different light on the matter. He begins in a sarcastic, dismissive fashion, which may or may not represent the BBC’s defensive attitude towards all criticism of its unfair Israel related coverage.
“I don’t normally spot your website but on a slow day I came across it.  Can I say that what you write about me and my piece is drivel.”
Okay, he’s cross and hurt that he’s been unfairly criticised. (We might know how that feels)
He continues:
 “It reveals a level of historical knowledge and awareness that would shame any moderately intelligent fifteen year old with half an interest in the events of the last century.”
He was referring to BBCWatch’s: 
The crass description of a racist, persecutory, genocidal regime as “displeased” and the inversion of action and reaction in that sentence – which makes Jews the active party who “displeased” the passive Nazis – is both historically ridiculous and offensive.” 

He is assuming that BBCWatch is accusing him of minimizing the holocaust, and he is arguing that since the Nazis forced this sale in 1935 -  in the pre-war climate of antisemitism - his phrase “Jews who displeased the Nazis”,  was a reasonable, if cynical way of expressing the situation at the time. In fact it was a kind of understatement, which would have been obvious to most listeners, with the benefit of hindsight, i.e. our knowledge of the genocide that was to follow. It could have indicated the speaker’s sympathy with the Jews, which is the way (I hope) most listeners would have taken as read.

I think that is a reasonable argument.

A cacophony of unnecessary hyperbole often exposes little more than the difficulty of communicating in print, particularly when over-sensitive and clashing comments seem to be at cross purposes. 

At first I was inclined to think that (in this case) there wouldn’t have been such a protracted slanging match if they’d been debating face to face. 
Initially I thought it simply demonstrated the ease with which offence can be given or taken at the written word, i.e.,  in the absence of body language, tone of voice, facial expression, background, context etc etc.

However, once you’ve dug a hole with the aid of sarcasm and anger, you might as well keep digging, as they say on the internet; and he does, with his below the line contributions.
He manages to squander some sympathy by starting his comment with: “I’m probably a fool to comment here”
This insinuates that he thinks people who support BBCWatch are nowt but a bunch of fanatics who are incapable of being reasonable. If that is representative of the BBC’s attitude, then it reinforces some of the criticism of the BBC that is often made on sites such as this one. If it isn’t, then it risks giving that impression. (As does their continual insistence that they get almost everything "about right”)
By this time he’s lost his rag. 
I never thought I’d get anything like a correction or an apology from you and I was right. You need to think before typing.”
I understand his frustration, and it’s unclear from whom he is (not) expecting an apology, but this probably begs one of those  ‘physician, heal thyself’ retorts. 

He later says the commas weren’t in the script, and that inserting them alters the meaning, which is fair enough. But the pauses were there.............. A commenter answered: “there is no other punctuation denoting a pause” (I know what he was getting at, but, hey, what’s wrong with the dash?)

I find Steve Evans’s response to that innocuous explanation, and his two subsequent comments, quite disturbing.......
“Now you’ve lost me. Over and out” (surely he could understand that the punctuation was there to transcribe the verbal to the written )
...and the final sentence:
““Over” means: can’t waste any more time on the paranoid drivel you’re website churns out.”
Which I see as disappointing confirmation of what I said earlier. That Steve Evans and perhaps the BBC as a whole regards critics of its Israel-related coverage, including websites like BBC Watch and, Heaven forfend, “Is”,  as a bunch of fanatics who are entirely incapable of being reasonable.

1 comment:

  1. I've brought myself up to speed with the spat now.

    When I first read Hadar's piece I thought she was being unfair to Steve Evans, and I still do. She 'misread' him.

    Like you though, I found his arrogant below-the-line replies very off-putting - rude and narky.

    Plus it doesn't inspire much confidence in the accuracy of his reporting that he confuses omnilogos (a commenter) with Hadar (the blog's author) - a pretty basis mistake when it comes to comprehension.


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