Saturday 21 August 2021

On Jon Sopel [the Full Sopes treatment]


A few days ago, one Tony Spencer tweeted a link to a BBC News website pieceThree ways this Afghanistan crisis really hurts Biden The US president promised more competence and empathy - his reputation and America's have taken a hit

Tony wrote,
Hope @BBCJonSopel is not reading this. Biden's number one fan will be so disappointed.
Jon Sopel, adding a 'rolling eyes' emoji, replied,
Tony - I wrote it.

Burn!” cried Jon's delighted Twitter fans.

Tony then replied,
Wow. I'm impressed and should have read the credits!! Fair play to you Jon on this article, which is well balanced. Changed your tune a bit, though.
To which Jon - channeling his famous “impartial, free and fair” response to President Trump's 'Another beauty!' crack - replied,
Nope. Have not changed a bit. Hold people in power to account - fairly and firmly whatever their political stripes.


Jon Sopel's belief in his own impartiality is undoubtedly sincere. He evidently thinks he's getting it right.

He's proclaimed it many times, from his appearances on Feedback and Newswatch, to his newspaper/gazette interviews. 

He's even favourably contrasted his own 'fair' reporting of Donald Trump to that of 'unfair' partisan, liberal US outlets, despite himself reporting on the previous US president in pretty much the same hostile, sneering spirit as they do - albeit with added British dryness.

There's none so blind, perhaps...

Or to quote the ripe-for-cancelling Rabbie Burns on behalf of Jon: O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!

I, personally, don't think that Jon Sopel has been even remotely impartial as the BBC's North America editor - whatever he thinks. He objected to Donald Trump and fixated on Donald Trump's tweets [despite criticising others for fixating on them], and sneered and sneered and sneered about Mr Trump, whilst evidently getting a real kick out of playing to the gallery, reinforced by the enthusiastic responses he got from the usual, unrepresentative suspects on Twitter. 


Yes, many more people than just Tony - including me - found themselves taken aback by the sheer unexpectedness of Jon Sopel's strong criticisms of President Biden over the incompetent-at-best Afghan pullout. 

From Twitter to the BBC's News at Ten he's actually been pretty brutal.

Here's a small sample of his reporting, broadcast over the month on BBC One's main news bulletins:

  • Those optics are terrible. This looks like being the most consequential decision that Joe Biden is going to take. It could also be the most calamitous.
  • Over many years and at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, the US trained and equipped Afghan forces to be ready to take back control of their country. But they collapsed like a house of cards - one of many miscalculations made by the Biden administration over these dizzying few weeks.
  • This may have been Donald Trump's policy, but it is Joe Biden's implementation, and I think he will play quite a price for the shambles that has unfolded over the past few days. 
  • America is the world's pre-eminent superpower, but after the past few days, it doesn't look very super and it actually doesn't look that powerful.

So is this a sign of impartiality? He spent four years 'holding Donald Trump to account' and then some, after all,

Or does it show the opposite? 

Because this could very well be Jon marching in lockstep with like-minded US journalists, let down by and angrily disagreeing with 'their' President.

Many of them - just like the BBC's John Simpson - seem to be deeply wedded to the liberal interventionalist model, and aghast at the pullout.

[They also like war reporting.]

And, indeed, it does strike me as being highly suggestive that huge swathes of the US liberal media - even some of the most partisan outlets - have just-as-suddenly turned on Joe Biden over Afghanistan too, at exactly the same time, over exactly the same issues, and just as fiercely, and that they are all making much the same criticisms of the incumbent President as Jon Sopel's been making. 

Liberal interventionist birds of a feather flock together, even on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean?


And it also strikes me that Jon Sopel, like his BBC colleagues, has been just as guilty as those partisan, liberal US outlets of not holding President Biden to account...up till the point when the Afghan debacle began unfolding.

The other day on GB News Simon McCoy [ex-BBC] commented, just as the crisis began:

If you watch some channels you would be forgiven for thinking everything's fine because President Trump's gone. And yet America, Joe Biden, with the decision to remove troops from Afghanistan, there are issues, there's sleaze bubbling under around President Biden.

I think he had the BBC in mind, doubtless among others. 

The Real Simon was, I think, rather understating it though. From the border crisis and growing economic woes to VP Kamala Harris's unpopularity and the divisiveness of Democrat identity politics radicalism, there's so much to say about the present US government.

Indeed, the 'Nothing to see here' attitude to the Biden administration's many failings even saw the BBC park their Americast podcast - the one with Sopes, Maitlis, and Zurch. 

No Trump to sneer at, no fun perhaps.

And then came Afghanistan.  

Americast was brought back this week, and Jon Sopel rose from his post-Trump slumbers, describing Joe's handling of the Afghanistan fiasco as ''totally incompetent''. 


Despite all this, I'm sensing - especially from his latest BBC One reports - that Jon's now starting to restrain himself, slipping back into more circumlocutory turns of phrase in describing the latest Biden misspeaks than he was last week. 

I think that might be because of that very Americast

He started expanding on his earlier criticisms of Mr Biden's ''totally incompetent'' handling of the Afghan crisis [as he put it], but found himself alongside a far-more-charitable-to-Biden Emily Maitlis and - their special guest - a kind-to-Biden ambassador. 

BBC and US media liberal groupthinks colliding and scattering, maybe.


It's a tricky thing, thinking you're impartial when you're not. 



And to end, a little light relief, plus an opportunity to post a map...

The good old 'crossing the DMZ from Tajikistan' defence for getting your facts wrong is one we've surely all used, especially in pub quizzes. 

I once got a Lady Gaga question wrong in a pub quiz, saying that Her Ladyship really was the sister of Queen's Radio Gaga, but excused myself by saying ''Sorry, but Jon Sopel crossed the DMZ from Tajikistan once'', and was awarded the point. 

Rightly so. Maybe Joe Biden should try it?

Indeed, as geography fans will know, Russia now has a minimum of two countries between it and Afghanistan [almost always three countries], depending on your land journey - unless you take the narrow but long land route via China. 

Clicking the link in the tweet Jon replied to, you find that Jon has [without admitting so on Twitter] edited the piece. 

Instead of ''three countries that neighbour Afghanistan - Russian, Iran and China'', the piece now says ''Why, three countries near Afghanistan - Russia, Iran and China''. 

Hm, Russia's still not that near. Kazakhstan, especially, is huge. Gawd know what they eat in Kazakhstan to make their country so big. Yaks? Lost yetis? Or former Kazakh regime advisor Tony Blair's legendary all-you-can-eat Brown burger specials?

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