Friday 24 November 2017

Firm but fair (and rather long)

According to our sidebar there are 145 posts on this blog tagged “Andrew Marr”.  The question is, are we, or have we ever been, unfair to Andrew Marr? (I’m sure Andrew Marr is tormented by such uncertainty)

I began by trying to categorise all 145 under headings like: “positive” “negative” ”value-neutral” -  just as Craig might have done. Then I realised this was too ambitious, too unquantifiable, too time-consuming and a waste of time.

Eventually I deduced that most of this impressive total was authored by Craig. Firm but fair, Craig’s posts brim with stats (can’t argue with stats) and feature several carefully transcribed excerpts from Marr’s most exciting exchanges with ladies and gentlemen from all corners of the political scrotum.

Craig must have a crush on Andy; or maybe it's because Andy tackles lots of potentially bias-laden topics - Brexit, domestic politics, current affairs and other contentious matters. Let’s assume it’s the latter.

Although tagged ‘Andrew Marr,’ many of my Marr-related posts (but a paltry 20-something) contain minimal references to Andy, and are often deeply buried within miscellanies and rambles. However, most of the relevant content fits the “positive’ category. 

I know I’ve made this observation before somewhere - I can’t quite lay my hands on it right now, but the gist of it is that without personal experience one can never truly be sure that reports and articles aren't littered with inaccuracies and omissions, which explains how quickly lies travel round the world before the truth has time to put its clod-hoppers on.

Searching YouTube for something entirely different, I stumbled upon the clip from Question Time in which Owen Jones, looking about twelve, rattled off a litany of wrong information to much applause from his fans in the audience. He got away with it simply because no-one, bar one solitary, but very erudite member of the audience (whom everyone ignored) knew any better.

(I do wonder if little Owen has ever offered an apology, perhaps for asserting that “the siege of Gaza stops basic supplies getting in” or for the melodramatic tale about the child of a “BBC journalist" who was sadly killed buy a misfired Hamas rocket.  How about it, Owen?) 
Owen literally talks out of one side of his mouth.

I suppose that’s why reporters travel all over the world just to say something into a mike, but even being on location is no guarantee of accuracy or impartiality. No siree.

I’ve listened to Andrew Marr on Start The Week, and when chairing discussions about fascinating subjects that I find jolly interesting but know very little about, he’s always on the ball.  Or so it seems to me;  but what do I know?
I certainly didn’t know much about Blood, Guts and swearing Robots, and I found that episode riveting. Andy was all ears (!) asking the right questions and making relevant observations. I didn’t even notice, till just now, that apart from the host, all the contributors were wimmin, so we’re ticking the gender box too. (Written before it was illegal to differentiate by gender)

Anyway, this was a good programme and it had me hooked. That is when Andrew Marr is at his best. So, all good. Well, not quite all. Now for something predictable - Andrew Marr’s lazy, incurious, truly BBC,  pro-Palestinian approach to Jews / Israel. 

I still find it incomprehensible that the BBC has taken this anti-Israel approach so firmly, because it goes against all logic and is contra to all the BBC’s other ideological tendencies. It’s doubly disturbing that someone with Andrew Marr’s obvious ability so blindly goes with the flow.

So as not to waste my abandoned categorising, here’s an example
Andrew Marr said: “I don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn has a single antisemitic bone in his body.

Why? What makes you say that, Andy? Besides continual reiteration of the slogan “I’m against racism in all its forms,” all the evidence points to the contrary. Maybe it’s because Andy knows the old bones well enough to realise that the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is too damned stupid to have such refined opinions.   

It is clear to anyone who is familiar with both sides of the so-called ‘narrative’ that when Andrew Marr tackles this subject he sees things from one particular side. Anyone in the know is aware that Israel’s viewpoint is either misrepresented or in many cases entirely absent from the BBC’s reporting, and, when questioning is framed in a partial, Israel-hostile way, they. Will. Notice. 

I’m afraid I’ve said this before, but Andrew Marr, and his employer must know that another side exists, so why don’t they allow their viewers to (at least) know what it is? Routinely withholding crucial information from the audience is a conscious choice, which amounts to no-platforming by stealth.

Netanyahu’s chat with Andrew Marr is history and I expect you’re bored with it,  but since it has been transcribed for us at considerable effort, please let me explain why it appeared more value-laden to me than it might have to the casual (or the anti-Israel ) viewer.

By the way, you don’t have to read on. I can’t make you. The bulk of my analysis is behind a ‘read more” so that its length and dullness doesn’t inconvenience you.

The BBC finds itself between a rock and a hard place vis-à-vis “Israel Palestine”. Damned if y’do, damned if y’don’t. There is a huge audience out there to placate and just think of the outcry  if the  presenter was openly sympathetic to the Prime Minister of Israel. (And to a certain extent, the opposite applies)

For starters, take the introductory ‘welcome’, in which the good part was shorter than the bad part, (and the bad part was noticeably longer than the good part)  Even this gave the BBC the opportunity to recite, albeit cloaked in ‘distancing language”, those value-judgements it famously pledged to eschew in the name of impartiality. 

If one says something like “To some he is a hero, but to others, he is an evil monster”  it’s ‘distancing’ language, but the message comes across nonetheless, and plants a seed; at the very least it’s a gratuitous reminder of the half-understood “case against”.

However, using distancing language to reiterate allegations and accusations has become part and parcel of political discourse, and taking the adversarial approach to an interview with a politician is not what I’m complaining about. 
Playing Devil’s advocate is fine, but in this case, as soon as it looks as if he’s stopped ‘playing’ and is actually rooting for the Devil, it isn’t.

Bellicose is a pejorative - according to the dictionary it means “belligerent, aggressive, hostile, threatening, antagonistic, pugnacious, truculent, confrontational, argumentative, quarrelsome, disputatious, contentious, militant, combative (and more)

“No,” one might say, “it’s fair enough, Marr is merely stating a fact. That is what ‘others’ think of him.”

Israel’s enemies and some of Netanyahu’s left-wing opponents might describe him as “a bellicose hardliner” but “others” (as Andrew Marr might say) realise that separated from the context of the blatant bellicosity and belligerence of Israel’s enemies, that description of Netanyahu seems almost ridiculous. Dwelling on Israel’s “militancy,” or Netanyahu’s ‘bellicosity” isolates the effect from the cause and effectively blames the victim. 

“But still,” you say, “Devil’s advocate territory”, and if that had indeed been the direction in which the interview unfolded, I’d have agreed. But it wasn’t so I didn’t.

I think it’s the BBC’s approach, not necessarily Andrew Marr’s, which starts from wilful denial of the fact that a crucial part of the Arab world  is hell-bent on eradicating Israel altogether, and I’d like to think  that Andrew Marr is not as ill-informed as he appeared to be in that interview.  

This is a good place to say that Andrew Marr’s general attitude to Netanyahu was palpably hostile throughout.  It’s no good pretending that one can’t tell whether he’s hostile or friendly. You can tell. The thing is, though, Netanyahu rose above it, and comported himself as though the hostility wasn’t there. It was an effective demonstration of a well-known ploy - you go low, I go high. 

Marr alluded to the government’s euphemistic “unfinished business” gambit, which was comprehensively debunked by Melanie Phillips in this video, (you have to scroll to 5.45 to jump to her contribution) (There is further English language material in the film, including a BBC-like section from CNN.)

Lazy people portray “the Palestinians” as one homogenous, hard-done-by group, forgetting that Israeli Arabs who live in Israel (under Israeli law) are not the Arabs who live in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. Conflating the two, for reasons best known to themselves, leads such commentators to assert that the latter group should have the same political and voting rights (in Israel) as the Arabs who make up 20% of Israel’s population.

Marr based an accusation of Israel's “gross human rights breaches” on the testimony of two of the most partisan organisations anyone could have cited. Both of the named organisations (Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) are headed by visibly anti-Israel personnel, and both have proved to be deeply biased against Israel. 

That particular maze of politically motivated falsehoods and allegations is so vast, so contentious, and so riddled with lies, exaggerations and distortions that anyone unfortunate enough to find himself in that time-constrained situation could do little else but declare, a Netanyahu did: “I completely disagree with the arguments about torture, and I completely dispute the whole tendentious statement here.”

“Okay,” you might say, “but Andrew Marr was only expressing popular opinion. He had to. It’s what the public wants”  and it’s true that there’s no way out of circular logic like this. It’s self-perpetuating and goes round and round with no obvious exit like a snake eating its tail. 

Next up: ‘settlements’. Settlements are definitely an issue, particularly since eliminating them was the set-in-concrete precondition dreamed up by Palestinians before entertaining the idea of ’returning to the table’.  
As Netanyahu said: I think that the settlements are an issue. I don't think they're the issue.  (That’s what he said, although the transcript omits the emphasis.)
The ten-year freeze on settlement construction had no effect on the progress of the peace process, so clearly the significance of settlements as ‘the obstacle to peace’ has been exaggerated, as has the magnitude of settlement activity. Nevertheless, this has created a particularly problematic ‘image problem’ for Israel, and also for anyone who tries to make the case for Israel.  

Because of the lack of factual information surrounding the issue of settlements, the very mention of the word sends a kind of dog-whistle signal, which effectively shuts the opposition down, like some sort of check-mate. Phrases like ‘the Holocaust Industry’ or ‘playing the antisemitism card’ are used as a mechanism for silencing one’s enemies, and in a similar way, even though the issue hangs on the shoogly peg of misinformation, settlements have been weaponised. Israel’s detractors can safely bring up ‘settlements’ without the need to go into detail, and partly because of the sheer complexity of the situation, and partly because of historical ignorance, the case for the defence is obliterated.

Netanyahu alludes to the appalling fiasco at UNESCO, which hardly ruffled the BBC’s feathers at the time. Would viewers even know about this?

“Now what is also clear, however, is that your policy for Gaza is not working, the policy of having a kind of cordon around Gaza, restricting what can come in and go out, a kind of blockade of Gaza, that has actually increased the power of Hamas in Gaza and mobilised the population behind Gaza because of the appalling human rights situation inside Gaza. This policy is simply not working.”

This long-winded question-cum-statement abandons any pretence of devil’s advocacy. It’s a heavily loaded question, and it reveals a tacit denial of the political situation in the Middle East. 

The reality is that the human rights of the people of Gaza are the responsibility of Hamas. Any material depravations suffered by the inhabitants of Gaza are largely the fault of Hamas, further exacerbated by its fraught relationship with Fatah. 

Here the viewers are being fobbed off with the BBC’s default, reflexive Israel-blaming. BBC Watch mentions this here.

Andrew Marr seems to doubt that the blockade is genuinely necessary to prevent the free passage of arms and ammunition into Gaza from Iran for use against Israel. 
Is he insinuating that the blockade is aimed at damaging the standing of Hamas, or suggesting that Israel hopes (and intends) that deprivation will drive the people of Gaza to rise up against Hamas, and force them make peace with Israel? 

This policy is simply not working? Is Marr pushing a policy of unilateral disarmament? All you need is love? Take down these walls! ? Flower power? Pass that message on to Hassan Nasrallah.

On the other hand, the question did give Netanyahu the opportunity to place Hamas’s ‘thugocracy’ into some sort of context, and it gave him a chance to dispel the myth that Israel is solely responsible for misery endured by the citizens of Gaza. 
But would viewers who have been subjected only to the opposite view, stick resolutely with what they ’know’?

Netanyahu side-stepped “My Jewish friends” etc. and answered a different question.
“I wouldn’t blame Jews for antisemitism”

Although Lebanon and Iran were mentioned, this complex situation with its shifting global relationships and allegiances is hardly ever examined in any detail on the BBC.  Most viewers neither know nor care about far-off matters they can’t relate to or can’t do much about. Perhaps the political Middle East’s Pandora’s box is best left to programmes like ‘Dateline London” or foreign TV like al Jazeera. 

Andrew Marr had started off with a list of topics that he thought needed challenging, as you do, but whether it was trying to corner Netanyahu into admitting that he wanted a “Greater Israel” rather than (an avowedly Jew-free) Palestinian State, or trap him into revealing that Israel was in cahoots with the dreadful Donald Trump, or reminding us that Israel has  “shot a lot of people too”, the stand-out theme of the interview was Marr’s continual cloth-eared refusal to recognise that the Arabs are the aggressors, the antisemites, the rejectionists, and if they simply accepted Israel’s right to exist in peace, as a Jewish state, there would be peace. This kind of deafness  needs a very animated interpreter.

In fact we can’t blame Andrew Marr for creating the toxic climate in Britain that currently  surrounds Israel (and Jews) but the BBC has helped create a playing field so unlevel that Netanyahu or Mark Regev or even bloggers like me hardly stand a chance. 

On the other hand, Andrew Marr has shown that he is capable of much better than wilful parroting of the BBC’s Arabist leanings or appeasing the baying mob. So maybe he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt after all.


  1. Corbyn supports Iran and Hamas whilst hating Israel, the only democracy in the middle east. It's prima facie evidence. Marr is useless and has far too high an estimation of his own abilities (witness those dreadful hack histories he used to produce before his illness with their awful impersonations of prominent people like Churchill).

    1. Are those the ones where he spent so long in the post pro suite he got 'tired' and had to go clubbing after and needed a young member of staff's buttocks for support?


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