The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
BBC bashing spreads to the Boston Globe
The last time I was in this neck of the woods (February 6), it was to compare and contrast the hostile reactions of some American commentators to the post-Hutton travails of the BBC with the near silence which greeted Robert Novak's (so it appears) untruth on the stuffing of ballot boxes in the 2002 US Senate election in South Dakota.
I had thought the effusion of bile Stateside had come to an end. But an article in the Globe on Sunday shows the bile reservoir not yet quite dry.
Amazing that a piece castigating a journalist and his outlet for sensationalised and inaccurate reporting should appear beneath a hed like
There's a j-school seminar in that little piece of work - the handiwork of a copy-editor, I'm thinking, rather than the hack (Kevin Cullen). Though the punctuation mark itself is not present, this is one of the species known in academic publishing as the colonic title, in which the words before the colon are chosen to be eye-catching and snazzy; leave the rest to explain what in Sam Hill the book or article is about!
So, that's one strike - for pretentiousness.
Then the Hollywood bombast in
humble the mighty BBC- do I hear the opening voice-over in Casablanca or is it the end of King Kong:
...Beauty killed the beast.
Strike two for tabloid sensationalism - worthy of the Sun .
And - a screech of cartoon comedy brakes - what about that
dubious news practices and a creeping commercial ethicmerely helped in the humbling, what did the rest?
It seems to me that that helped was a last minute qualification by - whoever it was - of an original which, even in the throes of self-congratulation, the headline writer realised went far beyond the facts of the case.
All told, a putrid little effort well suited to the piece over which it stands.
Cullen, it says at the bottom of the piece,
is the Globe's former London bureau chief .
And there are indeed what I can only take to be attempts at local colour, no doubt drawn from his experience in the UK: for instance he talks about
a slagging match between the government and the BBC.
Whereas the British idiom is slanging match. And he adds a dash of Ye Olde Englande with
As in medieval times when there were failed attempts to challenge British authority, heads rolled in the immediate aftermath of the Hutton inquiry.
Oozes with scholarship, that one.
He tells us that
British democracy, many BBC staffers said, had been diminished
How many staffers? I can find (on a cursory search - Cullen would have had Nexis) no sign online of a poll amongst BBC staff on the impact of Hutton. Is many a proportion or an absolute number in this context? Or is this British Sunday journalism? (Aka complete bollocks.)
And he says that
...there is also acknowledgement among journalists, even among some BBC staff, that Hutton's findings have been a wake-up call, perhaps a clarion call, for the broadcaster.
Please explain to me what, in context, is the difference between a wake-up call and a clarion call?
One feels cheated by having been offered merely two contesting metaphors! Why not tocsin and siren as well?
And what to make of
...the BBC's traditional enemies have always had the long knives tucked in their cloaks...
One might wonder how the writer could manage to be the Globe's former London bureau chief at the age of fourteen...
In support of his attack, he quotes from NPR ombud Jeffrey Dvorkin - whose own hatchet job on the BBC I dealt with in the February 6 piece - and a February 3 piece by Guardian hack Martin Kettle  who seems to have appointed himself as some kind of Blair whip for left-leaning British journalists. And quotes no one to contest their views.
And this is the Globe's idea of objective journalism?
Cullen sighs wearily that
Some worry that the Hutton inquiry will have a chilling effect on the BBC.These some are, one suspects, as unquantified as the many BBC staffers - contemptible creatures, scarcely worth counting!
To illustrate how absurd the idea is that BBC journalism might become defensive and submissive, he cites veteran BBC hack John Simpson
who disguised himself in a burka so he could slip into Kabul when the Taliban fell
Instructive to read another Guardian piece (from 2001), in which Simpson is quoted as saying that
he "really resented it" when people claimed the BBC was caving in to foreign administrations that did not like the way it reported on their countries.
That was then...
And Cullen also cites as an example
...Lena Ferguson..., a producer in Northern Ireland, [who] is risking jail because she refuses to reveal the identities of soldiers who spoke to her on the condition of anonymity when she worked for Britain's Channel 4 News about their roles on Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British troops killed 13 unarmed civilians in Derry.
Had he chosen to do some actual journalism on his piece (datelined February 15), he would have discovered that
Lord Saville, the chairman of the tribunal...said no further legal action would be taken against...Lena Ferguson.
That from a piece timed at 1400 GMT on February 13!
His very next words are
If the BBC needs to be more rigorous in its editorial process
Glass houses and stones, I think...
Interesting, finally, to set Cullen's effort against a piece (March 1) by Eric Alterman and Michael Tomasky in American Prospect on the sorry excuse that is the American press right now. Their piece includes such radical suggestions as
Go beyond the "he said, she said" and tell us what you believe to be true and important about a story.
Challenge the master narrative with genuine investigative reporting.
Oh, and don't forget to check your spellings, too.
The fact is - and this blog cites plenty of examples - that there is much bad journalism on both sides of the pond. (There is some outstanding stuff, and a lot of OK, bread-and-butter stuff, too.)
Rather than delivering pompous lectures, supported by skimpy research and inadequate understanding, and purporting to judge by absurdly stratospheric standards of millennial perfection, Cullen and his colleagues would do far better to recognise the realities of journalism practised by human hand, American, British or Hottentot: that every man must be his own fact-checker, there is no such thing as truth, one should be wary of buying on the strength of the brand. That their readers should be credited with the capacity of behaving like grown-ups, in fact.
That's how the net works: users soon find that they have constantly to be applying their own judgement in evaluating material from every kind of source. What arrogance from Big Media folk to suppose - against the weight of the evidence - that their stuff does not require the same treatment!
As for the BBC, we Britons have been complaining about it since long before Cullen arrived on our shores. Its level of servility to the government of the day has fluctuated, and has probably been lower than it is today (Lord Reith was no Rod Liddle!).
But Britons do not entertain any illusion that it possesses superhuman qualities. And therefore even evidence of serious defects in the Corporation (as the management shambles documented in the Hutton evidence, oral and written) does not give them the sort of fit of the vapours that seems to have gripped certain transpondian hacks, harking back to a Golden Age That Never Was.
The BBC is part of the national furniture, a much-distressed and sat upon piece, but one likely to survive Blair without irreparable harm having been done, the present Ice Age in the News department notwithstanding.
It is, in particularly, trusted much more than Brer Blair: post-Hutton polls here and here suggested that the proportion trusting the BBC is twice or three times that trusting Blair.
And a majority picked Hutton as a whitewash soon after the Report came out; which I take as a hopeful sign that we may be moving a little closer to a society where the degree of trust in pols, hacks and others placed in authority over us is strictly conditional on a properly sceptical and continuing evaluation of their performance.
An idea that one suspects Brer Kettle, for one, would utterly loathe.
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