Tuesday 20 January 2015

Rant about right rant

Before I started blogging, from time to time I would send letters to newspapers. Always in retaliation to intense provocation you’ll understand. 

In 2007 I wrote to the then TV editor of the Sunday Times to question a headline in that paper’s preview of an upcoming programme. The headline was: “Right Rant.”

Can you guess what it was yet? 

Don’t blame you, unless you’ve been reading the Daily Mail. Yup. It was about Richard Littlejohn’s programme on C 4 about antisemitism in the UK. The War on Britain’s Jews, broadcast in July 2007.

I hadn’t seen the programme when I wrote my message to the editor of the Sunday Times. My objection was merely to the way it was being described, so I wrote something like this:
As so many pro-palestinian programmes have been broadcast on TV recently,  why do you have to dismiss the forthcoming programme about antisemitism in your critics choice page as ‘Right Rant.’Obviously I haven’t seen the programme yet, but this begs the question, does anything in the British media that might not concur with the usual anti-Israeli postulation deserve to be sneered at in this way?Yours, 
(Yes, I did use the word ‘postulation’.) I was surprised that the editor responded promptly, and at length:
“Hopefully, you have now seen the programme and can understand why our critics dismissed Littlejohn's programme as an incoherent rant from an extreme right-wing perspective. He had some valuable facts, but was shoehorning his tired old polemic on top of an argument that raised disturbing matters about which every sane person in the country should be alarmed. Should we really blame the left-wingers for the BNP painting swastikas on synagogues?
 Simply put, Littlejohn does not have the credibility or authority to convince in a television programme arguing against violence towards one community when he himself has been guilty of prejudice towards other communities (have you ever read some of the things he has said about the Roma people, for example?). A serious journalist would have been able to put up an argument that was not simple bias riddled with holes. That's not Littlejohn, though, is it?
 I, too, deplore the rising incidence of attacks on Britain's Jews, and on any other community, but none of our critics wanted to be accused of siding with Littlejohn. The fact is, in the television section, it is our jobs to rate the programmes as such, not to support or attack their polemics. Littlejohn's record as a television and radio presenter is pretty atrocious, I think it was obvious for all to see why last night. What might pass for intellectual debate in the pages of the Mail or Sun does not necessarily pass muster over an hour on Channel 4. 
 Compare our previews of the "pro-Palestinian" programmes broadcast and you will see we judge them on their merits as documentaries, not on the thrust of their arguments. The Rod Liddle film, for example, was made by a supporter of Israel and a journalist with a laudable record, and we did not snear at it. The fact that Liddle has become exasperated by certain aspects of Israeli actions in the Middle East was not our concern as long as he presented his case in a manner that was good and responsible television. 
 I look forward to a serious film about the alarming growth of intolerance and prejudice in Britain, and I hope it is made by serious and responsible reporters. 
           Yours sincerely,
By that time I had seen the programme. I could see why the Sunday Times wished to distance itself from Richard Littlejohn, but I still thought the label “Right Rant’ was poor. My reply went something like this:
Thank you for replying to my e-mail.
I did watch the programme and I agree that it was a bit of a disaster.
I still think the way your preview was phrased simply revealed an anti-right wing bias, and wasn’t related to the failings of the programme.  You  allowed the right-wing label to obliterate your capacity to judge on merit.
 If Richard  Littlejohn had set out to make a film sympathetic to Jews he failed. The intention was sabotaged by the editing and the camerawork. Take the way they chose to disguise the rabbi’s identity. Normally the speaker’s image is pixellated or blurred. I’ve never seen identity concealed by filming from inside someone’s nostril, but this is how they chose to disguise the identity of a rabbi who had been attacked. The malicious camera angle was tantamount to another attack.
All the Jews in the film came across as stereotypical and alien. Only the non Jews looked normal, particularly the kindly policeman in Manchester. More ammunition then for the Israel-bashing majority. The subject of Israel was sidelined altogether. Although most Brits, left or right do not like to think of themselves as antisemitic, the vilification of Israel that has swept through the media is inextricably linked with the public’s attitude to Jews. (Obviously if it wasn’t for historical worldwide anti-semitism there would be less of a case for a Jewish state as a haven for the persecuted.)
Until recently the world was wondering how ordinary people could have gone along with Hitler. But the way the British media has allowed itself to be manipulated recently explains that very well.  
 Rod Liddle, supporter of Israel or not, was perfectly entitled to become exasperated with the actions of Israel. But dwelling on the victimhood of individual Palestinians without  any balance as he did in his documentary just fueled the viewer’s sense of injustice and took advantage of our natural inclination to side with the perceived underdog. I have never seen a sympathetic portrayal of an ordinary Israeli - not a settler or other fanatic - on British TV.
This is an absolute travesty - when its obvious that there are far more fanatics and Jew haters amongst the Islamic community dating back from time immemorial.
Rod Liddle is certainly allowed to criticise Israel’s political strategies, it’s a free country. (As is Israel) But you as journalists know you have tremendous power to influence public attitudes, and you bear some responsibility for the consequences if you turn a blind eye time and time again to the other side of the story, merely to suit a preconceived agenda.
 The media has broadcast mountains of ill-informed and slanted material over many years which has culminated in the recent calls to boycott of all things, Israeli academic institutions. The press has published reams of ill-researched and blinkered nonsense and has allowed itself to be used by propagandists and has itself become a propagandist. Journalists are also calling for a boycott of Israel and nowhere else.
I too would like to see a credible programme on the rise of anti-semitism which also included discussion of the media’s portrayal of the conflict in the Middle East. But I doubt it is likely to happen.Yours,

Then this came:
I agree with pretty much every word you say here - and I am going to spend much of today trying to think of a programme that has focused on an ordinary Israeli - I'm pretty sure there must have been at some time in the past 50 years of documentaries, but it wouldn't take too long to run up a list of anti-Israeli films (made by people who would argue passionately that they were not anti-semitic). Something in the back of my head says there was one a couple of years ago about a boys football team with both Muslims and Jews, and that we gave it a positive review ... I could be wrong.
 The general consensus this week appears to be that our header was wrong, our preview was fairly accurate, the programme was either not very good at all and nobody wants Richard Littlejohn on their side, or perfectly balanced and presented by a terrific journalist, and that I am an idiot. All fair comment.   And with that I shall go back to trying to appease all the people who wrote in to say we shouldn't have reviewed Dexter because it was on a channel we don't list ...   Best wishes,”

Well, if you’ve ploughed through all of that, well done. Go and have a fag and/or a beer. Can you cast your mind back to that programme? The War on Britain’s Jews? I can’t, but I can refer to a message I tried to send to RL at the time (edited)

“Your film could have been a pleasant change from endless tales of Palestinian hardship. Clearly the media’s vilification of the Jewish state has gone so far that this topic would indeed have to be for another, hypothetical, future time. We wait with unbated breath. Israel was alluded to in your film; you did point out its size on a map but frustratingly failed to develop the argument. 
The general assumption, made by almost everyone who learned that you were making this programme, that you “must be Jewish” was the most striking thing that the viewer will learn from this programme. It was memorable for that alone, if nothing else. Who else but a Jew, they implied, would be interested in tackling this distasteful subject? 

Sadly, most of the Jews chosen to appear in the programme were a bit weird, and the peculiar way they were filmed made matters worse. I see why the poor rabbi who had been beaten up wanted to disguise his identity, but was it necessary to make him look utterly repulsive to do so?  Who could sympathise with a disembodied mouth?  
 The media is fond of showing Orthodox Jews wandering around in the distance in their weird garb. Sometimes it’s done as a deliberate way of making them more ‘other‘ - both sinister and alien. The decision to use ‘the same old’ footage of “Jews in Stamford Hill” was clearly counterproductive in a programme supposedly decrying anti-semitism.
In fact you managed to film all Jews so that they looked stereotypically Jewish. Almost cartoon Jews to amuse the viewers. The Jewish school, not a child in sight, looked like a mysterious fortress, the subliminal implication being that something nasty lurked within.  A few cute Jewish children might have done wonders, image-wise, in terms of sympathy and empathy, as it has for the Palestinians.
Only the non-Jews in your film looked normal, especially the personable and sensitive policeman in Manchester. The brevity of the interview  with the two nice-looking Israeli professors was another conspicuous flaw.
 What coverage did you give to the premier league Jew-haters, our fellow countrymen, with their megaphones preaching the word of Islam? Blink and it was gone. You probably had incriminating footage but I guess the threat of reprisals had to be taken into account.
 Criticism of the extreme left and the extreme right might be regarded as part of the knockabout of politics, but criticism of ‘the Muslim Fanatic’ is a different story. Better not to annoy him.
 The fact that the left has shown support for terrorist organisations was stated, but why wasn’t it put to a credible spokesperson from the left for comment? That subject needs to be aired. 

It’s pretty obvious that the Sunday Times TV editor had a low opinion of Richard Littlejohn, and that none of his colleagues would disagree. with that view.  However, the recent article in the Daily Mail by the man himself adds another element. 

“Back in 2007 I made a film for Channel 4 exposing the rise of anti-Semitism in this country. One of the most profoundly depressing interviews I conducted was with a Jewish student who intended to emigrate to Israel because he thought there was no long-term future for the Jews in Britain.The idea was originally pitched to the BBC after a producer approached me to present a documentary on a subject close to my heart. Ever since 9/11, I had become aware of a growing sense of disquiet among my Jewish friends and neighbours and wanted to investigate the root causes.I proposed that the programme should be broadcast to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.

[...]When the BBC learned of the direction I wanted to take the programme, they ran a mile. It was later picked up by Channel 4 but missed the Cable Street anniversary.

Now, was the BBC’s decision not to commission the programme because of Richard Littlejohn’s “atrocious reputation as a broadcaster and a journalist” ? Not if they really did entertain his proposal until they realised  what it was going to be about.

Was it really an incoherent rant from a right wing perspective? Even if so, would that automatically put it beyond the broadcastable pale? 

If Richard Littlejohn is so crap, why not commission someone who has sufficient credibility to do it.  If Theresa May acknowledges that antisemitim exists, why not give it a whirl?

As for Rod Liddle, I can’t remember his film, but it seems he fell for the usual Palestinian propaganda in quite a big way.  I wonder if he would still stand by it.


  1. Just heard PM name somebody who "helped in the conviction" of some Muslim who was caught at the border on his return from Syria.
    They also helpfully gave us the university where he worked.Presumably to lend credibility to their analysis and musings.
    If I were doing any such work, I`d NOT be talking to the BBC...loose lips lose ships and all that.
    My point being that it`s probably best ro keep "our people" off the BBC, and leave it to Owen,Prezza and Hezza etc...Islam happily will get the BBCs contact book, and get revenge as and when.
    No reap people even listen to the BBC anymore-just the dhimmi of the Left.
    And there`s more of us-and we`ve not begin to speak yet.
    God Bless Israel.

  2. ...it is our jobs to rate the programmes as such, not to support or attack their polemics.

    But then they attacked it by calling it a Right Rant.

    The general consensus this week appears to be that our header was wrong, our preview was fairly accurate, the programme was either not very good at all and nobody wants Richard Littlejohn on their side, or perfectly balanced and presented by a terrific journalist, and that I am an idiot. All fair comment.

    Ah, the old "complaints from both sides" canard. At least you got an admission of awareness that there's a serious perspective problem in programs made on the topic. That in itself is heartening, which is a sad statement on how things are these days.

    As for Rod Liddle, I'm unaware of his documentary about Israel. But your discussion with the Times editor only highlights the serious issue of the blurred and in some cases non-existent line between legitimate or sincere criticism of Israel's actions and demonization and an incitement to anger against Jews. We keep coming back to that, don't we?

    Surely it must be possible to write an essay or long article demonstrating how certain types of 'criticism' demonizes Israel and encourages anti-Semitism, and how the opinions which drive that are widespread amongst BBC staff without it turning into someone standing on a soap box shouting, "The BBC hates Jews!". Equally important would be to take a very clear stance that it's okay to criticize Israel because the first thing we usually hear from the haters is that nobody is ever allowed to do it, and anyone who does is called an anti-Semite in order to stifle debate. We know all about that particular tactic as well.

  3. This is an automatic message from DISQUS.

  4. Hi Sue,

    Fascinating reaction from the Times....in black and white the 'left wing' visceral hatred of anyone who disagrees with them and the refusal to even register someone like Littlejohn has an argument.

    Think you might want to have another look at the film though...I thought it entirely measured and well researched....the main voices in support were actually all left wing, Wilby, Cohen and Mann...and the chief constable of course said some damning things....and apart from the images of orthodox Jews the speaking heads were pretty normal people...'for Jews'!

    The Times' reaction was based upon it being Littlejohn and who he said were to blame for the anti-semitism....a statement that anti-semitism was said to be endemic in the Muslim community (recently backed up by Medhi Hasan...That 'dirty little secret'), the NUJ were slated for supporting the boycott and the Left were damned fro joining forces with at least radical Islamists and at worst terrorists like Hizbollah.

    The programme was no more a 'right wing rant' than Panorama's recent investigation into 'Islam in Britian'.

    Having looked a bit further this might interest you...Littlejohn in 2006:


    He said:

    'None of it is particularly revolutionary. Anyone with half a brain
    could see that New Labour’s obsession with multi-culturalism, unlimited
    immigration and ‘human rights’ was destined to end in tears. And that
    the burgeoning health and safety bureaucracy was doing tremendous
    damage, not just to businesses, but to our way of life.

    Yet we were dismissed, scorned and smeared as heartless, knee-jerk, Neanderthal Nazis. So you might think that after the amazing about-turn of the past week, we have the right to feel vindicated.

    Not so fast. You have to understand that even though we were right all along, we were the ‘wrong’ kind of people, therefore our opinions were odious and illegitimate.'

    'The wrong kind of people' reporting...how right he was.

    But there's more of great interest...ala Farage and the Romanians...what did the Labour government say in 2006 about the expected influx of Romanians and Bulgarians?....

    This from a BBC report ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5231768.stm ) ...so they knew even as they maligned Farage for his Roma comments....

    'Government departments have been told to draw up emergency plans to deal with pressure on public services from an expected "step change" in immigration levels when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU next year.
    The document, entitled Migration from Eastern Europe: Impact on Public Services and Community Cohesion, was written by junior Home Office Minister Joan Ryan and leaked to the Mail on Sunday.
    In the leaked report, Ms Ryan argues that many more English teachers will be needed to deal with a big rise in the number of eastern European children unable to speak the language.
    Hospital beds are being "blocked" by east European patients because they cannot claim social care and benefits if they leave.
    And towns and cities where large numbers of new immigrants have settled are now calling for millions of pounds of extra funding to cope, the report says.
    The report, which is marked "restricted" and dated 19 July, came the day after Ms Ryan put out another document saying that 45,000 "undesirable" criminal migrants from Romania and Bulgaria could settle in the UK next year.'

    45,000 'undesirables'...wouldn't want them as neighbours? Racist if you say so.

  5. Thanks for the comment Alan.

    I accept that I really ought to have another look at the film. I’d quite like to see it again, but please remember that my critique was an initial response to the film. In 2007. I think I was intensely disappointed with it because of the cinematographic clumsiness. I probably still will be; I’m like that.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.