Was this morning's The Andrew Marr Show biased?
Before I give my answer to that I'd like to pass on the result of a little study I did whilst watching it. I decided to simultaneously follow the programme on Twitter using the hashtag #marr, noting down the allegations of bias being made.
It was quite an experience. Like QT audiences, the #marr hashtag appears to be heavily used by political activists seeking to steer the debate and, again like on QT, the left-wing activists shouted loudest. There was a #webacked campaign running by Labour activists and a parallel #saveed campaign running by non-Labour activists.
Were there many accusations of bias? Oh yes. Huge numbers of them. Though this is going to be an untidy-looking selection (as I copied and pasted them onto Notepad as I went along), hopefully you will be able to make sense of them. Each list proceeds chronologically.
If at least one of these lists doesn't destroy your faith in Twitter users (even your faith in humanity), then there's probably no hope for you!
Tweets alleging right-wing bias
#Marr 'It's been a bad week for @David_Cameron but a disastrous week for @Ed_Miliband'. There you have it. BBC impartiality at it's best.
I bet #Marr has been salivating all week to shriek about Miliband.
#marr in his element this morning. Another opportunity to slag off @Ed_Miliband. His mate @David_Cameron will be pleased
Sheila & Helena doing great job batting 4 Ed. Helena quite correct Ed paid high price for standing up to Murdoch. #marr gatekeeping madly
If #Marr is this attacking about Miliband based on Labour's poll ratings, imagine how he'd be if they had the Tories' far worse ratings
After #marr wets himself over the media Ed Miliband bashing, he now tries close down any argument that supports him.
Worst aspect of #Marr accepting #Cameron's gift of No10 booklaunch is that he & #BBC don't even see there's a problem. Journalistic ethics??
Do you notice how #marr jumps in to interrupt Sheila & Helena but not the right wing guy. He can talk and talk without interruption. Obvious
erm, when are we going to hear about George Osborne and his pathetic spin on the EU rebate on #marr...nope....maybe not then.
Hancock: "We need a reasoned debate." #marr: "Let's move on."
@shirleykay11 caught 5 mins of this earlier. You'd think Tory Central Office would hide the propaganda a little more subtly #Marr
The usual right wing media tripe on #marr today....
#Marr seems so gleeful about Remembrance Sunday. Like it's another national celebration, not for an international tragedy.
Sheila Hancock wearing red and white poppy's on #Marr I suspect the BBC made her wear the red one #BBCWARMACHINE
Absolutely true! The establishment protecting itself pure & simple!Shameful attacks on #EdMiliband #Marr
Not one mention on Osborne spending £5 million taxpayers money for Tory propaganda and ideology attacking the state #marr
A 'Man' dressed in all his war finery and adorned with markers of his 'achievements'. #Marr *Introduces scary reminder of terrorist threat*
well #marr is a total shitfest today. So far its Ed attack & an army general telling us why war is good, with added poppies
#marr why not tell your viewers what's going on at Twitter? Tory toady
Lab should ask why #Marr felt it was ok to hold a book launch party at Downing Street. #impartial #bbc
RT @Lescromps Not a single word from Marr on Cameron and Osborne's EU bill scam ? #marr
@medialens BBC's impartiality on show again - #Marr interviewing Chief of Defence staff Nicholas Houghton but no opponent to militarisation.
#bbc does not represent majority of people in UK. #Marr dragging out only middle class public school educated people 2 comment is indicative
#marr Greens being sidelined by the BBC yet again... its getting BORING Zzzz Zzz ZzZ
Unsurprisingly #Marr droning on about #Labour popularity rather than the #Tories spin over #EU bill #BBC should stop electioneering!
#Marr Shut up about the feckin bacon sandwich. The bias is getting pathetic now #BBC
@MarrShow @BBCNews If I want Tory propaganda I would go to one of their pensioner roadshows, sorry I mean conferences. #Marr
12 minutes of #Marr devoted to talking about the problems for Ed Miliband based on a poll that gives Labour a 5 point lead #Balance
#Marr this is solely an anti Labour programme. BBC should be ashamed of this.
Utterly shocked that #marr suggested @Ed_Miliband take his own life! BBC apologise RIGHT NOW! on this day of all days #poppy #webackEd
#Marr the Tory Tosspot has now got his Tory crystal balls out!
I don't believe a word #Marr says. He just wants a peerage. I think he'll get one for services to the Conservative Party.
Since the Tories threatened the licence fee the BBC has been very Government friendly, #Marr is just the tip of the iceberg
No mention of Osborne lies about the £1.7bn the EU have asked us to pay!! Come on BBC where's the balanced reporting
If #Marr thinks Ed Miliband is taking lots of abuse he should hear me every Sunday shouting at his drivel on BBC Tory home service
Tweets alleging left-wing bias
Mattinson & Kellner: impeccable Labour credentials in the pollsters to be consulted on #Marr, I see. #marrshow
Two Labour millionairesses on the #Marr sofa.
Not a balanced sofa ... Again #Marr
#marr 2 massive Labour supporters reviewing the papers -well done BBC that's fair!
Go on Marr, let Kennedy have her platform! Marr offers a whole blatant, support to EdM! #Marr
2.5 lefties of the 3 reviewing the papers on BBC #Marr
#Marr Another left wing love in.
Apparently it's a Labour love in this morning #Marr
2 labour luvvies on paper review #marr Hancock and Kennedy more bias from BBC
The Andrew #Marr Show, brought to you by the Labour Party.
Tim Montgomerie outnumbered 3:1 #marr
Big win by the Labour spin machine on #Marr this morning.
#Marr - not well balanced this morning.... with 2 chest thumping Labourites Helena Kennedy and Shelia Hancock vs Tim Montgomerie on #SaveEd
Ffs #marr, its remembrance sunday, talking about "war on ISIS" to an army general shows the contempt you have for the fallen
2 lefties doing the papers and now 2 doing the polls #Marr
#Marr #Marrshow Deborah Mattinson, aka Gordon Brown's polling advisor, let's not pretend she is some impartial observer
Marr's laudable, and, frantic support for EdM! I'm Getting tired of this now. #Marr
Another member of Shadow Cabinet on defending Ed Oh Sheeeet Faulkner is history #Marr
#marr is nothing more than a #Labour love in today. A real flagship programme for #SaveEd campaign.
#Marr can someone rebutt this crap from this discredited fool Its the #Labour show today #SaveEd Beeb
Mr Cathy Ashton, Faulkner Kennedy, Hancock! Beeb doing a god job to #SaveEd as the goodship #Labour sinks #Marr #MarrshowMr Cathy Ashton, Faulkner Kennedy, Hancock! Beeb doing a god job to #SaveEd as the goodship #Labour sinks #Marr #Marrshow
So, was The Andrew Marr Show biased?
The BBC would claim the above shows that they get accused of bias from both sides, therefore they must be getting it about right.
However, they could in fact be getting it dead wrong if one side's arguments are rubbish and the other side's arguments are valid.
What were the main claims from the Left side? That the programme focused on Ed Miliband's problems and ignored the Conservatives' problems, especially George Osborne's £17bn ruse. That Andrew Marr interrupted his left-wing guests more than his right-wing guests. That Andrew Marr was pro-militarist. That Andrew Marr is a Tory.
What were the main claims from the Right side? That 2/3 of the press panel were Labour supporters. That both of the pollsters had close Labour Party links.
Who (if anyone) is right?
Well, yes, the programme did focus on Ed Miliband's problems and largely ignore the Conservatives' problems, especially George Osborne's £17bn ruse.
However, those problems for Labour were reflected on by (1) ultra-loyal Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy, (2) Labour supporter Sheila Hancock, (3) Labour pollster Deborah Mattinson, (4) Labour-supporting pollster Peter Kellner, (5) Labour peer Lord Falconer...oh, and (6) Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie...
...which is a ratio of 5:1 in favour of the Labour Party. A pro-Conservative/pro-Lib Dem pollster should surely have been invited on instead of either Peter Kellner or Deborah Mattinson, shouldn't they?
Ah, but, wasn't Peter Kellner commenting as a pollster rather than as a Labour supporter? So shouldn't that actually be a 4:1 bias? That depends on how you heard Peter Kellner. Did his gloss on the polls strike you as an unduly positive-sounding one for Labour? (I thought Labour wouldn't have been wholly displeased with his take). If so, feel free to put the ratio back up to 5:1 again.
Regardless, can concentrating on Labour's woes rather than Conservative woes be credibly claimed as 'Tory bias' if there's a 4:1 or 5:1 pro-Labour bias in the guest selection? Of course it can't. The Labour defence (from Helena Kennedy on Ed Miliband to Sheila Hancock on her friend Cherie's husband Tony) was heard loud and clear, and repeatedly, throughout the programme and Baroness Kennedy launched several attacks on the Tories.
That 4:1 or 5:1 pro-Labour guest imbalance though. That's surely too much isn't it? Or am I missing something?
So, summing up that bit up: The Left's main point collapses when the pro-Labour guest selection is taken into account. The Right's main point, though weakened by the emphasis on Labour's woes, is on firmer ground. Such a heavy (pro-Labour) imbalance on a hot party political topic (the Labour leadership) is hard to justify - though I'm sure the BBC would try the 'Sheila Hancock is an actress who did express some unease at Labour's lack of direction' and 'Peter Kellner and Deborah Mattinson are purely pollsters' and 'there was Tim Montgomerie there' angles - none of which, even when taken together, strikes me as a sufficient response [though maybe I'm biased].
As for the other left-wing claims of bias...
The claims that Andrew Marr's programme was a poppy-filled, pro-war affair, based on having the Chief of the Defence Staff on and not giving him a hard time on Remembrance Sunday, are simply absurd. The programme featured solemn reflections, readings and music. Sheila Hancock wore a white poppy and a red poppy (and I very much doubt the BBC forced her to put on the red poppy, as one Twitterer suggested), and expressed an anti-war perspective.
The claim that Andrew Marr interrupted his left-wing guests more than his right-wing guests is countered by the fact that there were four or five times as many left-wing guests and that, as far as the press review went (with Tim Mo, Helena K and Sheila H), the two left-wing guests had the lion's share of the discussion...
...indeed, let me get all statistical with you!...Counting up the length of their contributions, Helena Kennedy got 36% of the airtime, Sheila Hancock 35% of the airtime and Tim Montgomerie 29% of the airtime. That gives us 71% of the available airtime going to the left-wing guests and 29% of the available airtime going to the right-wing guest during the press review - much as you'd expect if you had two left-wing guests on the panel, and if they are both talkative people! Plus Baroness Kennedy is an avid interruptor of right-wingers like Tim and kept butting in. Those left-wing twitterers failed to point any of that out, didn't they?
And as for the suggestion that Andrew Marr is a Tory obeying Tory HQ's commands, well, no comment is necessary.
So, just because the BBC gets complaints about bias on Twitter from both sides doesn't mean that it's necessarily impartial. That simply does not follow.
All it might mean is that one side of the argument is complaining without justification while the other side is complaining with some justification. If so, then the BBC isn't getting it about right after all.
Here, the Left is complaining without justification while the Right is complaining with some justification.