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Tony Blair vs. The BBC: A Spoken-Word Scorecard

     Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee made a lot of points I hadn’t heard before in a conversation this afternoon on the matter of who “sexed up” the story last autumn and winter of Saddam Hussein’s 45-minute trigger on world-threatening weaponry.  Andrew Gilligan of the BBC has famously charged Tony Blair & Company with hyping the not-so-brainy intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs.  Prime Minister Blair has staked honor (and office, perhaps) on his outraged denial.  Big-time bloggers in the US, notably Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit, have argued it was the BBC that long ago declared unscrupulous war on Tony Blair and his alliance with George Bush.  Alas, it took the wrist-slashing suicide of the weapons wiseman David Kelly in mid-July to prompt Lord Hutton’s official inquiry and a wide open debate in the British media as to who conned whom on the way to war in Baghdad.  It’s a free-for-all we ought to be having about American media, too–and not just among bloggers and a very few opinion columnists. 


     Polly Toynbee–writer, broadcaster and grand-daughter of the voluminous Arnold (A Study of History) Toynbee (1889-1975)–says it’s not a simple story of the lonely Beeb biting bravely at the government hand that feeds it.  The driving force in the story, she observes, has been the commercial interest of Rupert Murdoch in media circuses generally and in breaking the BBC brand of international broadcasting for the benefit of his own Sky satellites.  (“Gilligan: The Big Lie” was the headline in Murdoch’s Sun last week on the BBC reporter’s testimony.)  If the BBC and Gilligan sinned at all, in Polly Toynbee‘s view, it was in slipping toward the attack-dog tone that Murdoch has set for the London press–“devious, politicized; nearly all the newspapers are political weapons, mostly directed at the government.”  But as the dust settles, Gilligan’s big story based on David Kelly’s professional misgivings looks solid to her.  Kelly was an honest whistleblower who “thought the evidence in the [WMD] dossier was over-egged, hyped up, sexed up.  And I would guess a lot of other professionals in his line of business thought the same.”  Andrew Gilligan protected the identity of his source.  It was the politicos in the Blair government that named David Kelly as the BBC’s authority, forced him to testify in public and threatened him with charges of violating security before he killed himself.


     Tony Blair himself will testify one day soon in the Hutton Inquiry.  The hot and heavy Web traffic meantime will get moreso when Andrew Sullivan comes off his vacation.  Robert Scheer calls it a witchhunt against the BBC.  John O’Sullivan wrote a fair and balanced piece at NR Online.  James Bennett casts the bloggers’ role in the converging information universe: “In the blogosphere, the sun never sets on the Anglosphere press.”  Boris Johnson had a counter-intuitive view for readers of the Daily Telegraph in London.  Headline: “But Andrew Gilligan Got It Right.”



“…if there were BBC reporters who opposed the war, Andrew Gilligan was not among them. I know, from talking to him while he was reporting from Baghdad, that he supported the enterprise to remove Saddam. He proves, in fact, that it is possible to support the war, and still to have doubts about the evidence submitted for the existence of weapons of mass destruction.”


     Almost everybody on the case has been pithier than The Economist or than Alan Cowell in the New York Times


     Add your own comments, please, but first listen to Polly Toynbee here.

{ 31 } Comments

  1. Anonymous | August 19, 2003 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    “Robert Scheer calls it a witchhunt against the BBC.”

    It’s the BBC that is engaging in witch hunts especially against the US and against the state of Israel and most importantly on any one who questions their veracity.

    Let’s remember that the BBC is a state monopoly and is supported by a special tax on the British people.

    I don’t believe they have served the British public well.

    As I have written elsewhere:

    http://forum.theatlantic.com/WebX?14@11.PEEmahJph6r.86813@.2cb4c012/779

  2. Anonymous | August 19, 2003 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes! A state monopoly. Firstly, it is not a monopoly. You should have been able to glean from the posting that Rupert Murdoch’s many companies, amongst others, provide much competition for the BBC.

    Secondly, you imply that state funding of the BBC is a bad thing. In fact, as the current dispute between the government and the BBC demonstrates, it probably guarantees greater independence and the BBC has demonstrated that it is not afraid to criticise the government of the day, even though it is funded by them.

    I think the most telling indicator is that during the Conservative government, Ministers were constantly criticising the BBC for its anti-Conservative bias and now, under the Labour government it is being attacked for its anti-Labour bias. I’d say that means they are getting it about right.

    Perhaps the American media should be more skeptical of its own government instead of being afraid to publish negative stories.

  3. Anonymous | August 19, 2003 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Simple: we don’t live in a democracy, we live in a corporate republic. Its OK for our president to lie as long as it serves large corporations’ interests.

  4. Anonymous | August 19, 2003 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    “Ah yes! A state monopoly. Firstly, it is not a monopoly. You should have been able to glean from the posting that Rupert Murdoch’s many companies, amongst others, provide much competition for the BBC. ”

    You are wrong Steve, the BBC is a state monopoly. The British State allows it to collect a special tax from the public to support its programs. No other company has such a privilege in England.

    “Secondly, you imply that state funding of the BBC is a bad thing. In fact, as the current dispute between the government and the BBC demonstrates, it probably guarantees greater independence and the BBC has demonstrated that it is not afraid to criticise the government of the day, even though it is funded by them.”

    Again, it’s not the business of a government to support an ideological point of view. Whether that ideology favors or challenges the current government is irrelevant.

    A media outlet can just as well distort the news in order to criticize a government as it can in order to support it. In either case distorting the news is the issue and not its criticism or non criticism of a particular governmental point of view.

    The British people need to take away the special privileges afforded to its totalitarian BBC.

    “I think the most telling indicator is that during the Conservative government, Ministers were constantly criticising the BBC for its anti-Conservative bias and now, under the Labour government it is being attacked for its anti-Labour bias. I’d say that means they are getting it about right.”

    Again, you are just repeating a clich

  5. Anonymous | August 20, 2003 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    <>

    Did she inherit her grandfather’s animus towards Jews?

  6. Anonymous | August 21, 2003 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    The BBC’s crooked time-line, By Andrea Levin

    Aug. 18, 2003

    It’s no secret the BBC has an Israel problem. News reports frequently berate Israel for failing to satisfy Palestinian demands, whether regarding military actions or curfews or prisoners, while Israel’s concerns and vulnerabilities are given scant attention, if any.

    The prevalence of such one-sided treatment no doubt springs in part from fundamentally skewed views of Middle East history into which daily events are fit. One window on BBC thinking can be found on the network’s website, in its permanent background articles, posted there ostensibly to add context to daily reports.

    A time-line entitled “A History of Conflict” captures the pervasive endorsement of Arab grievance and Zionist culpability. The introduction explains: “For the Palestinians the last 100 years have brought colonisation, expulsion and military occupation, followed by a long and difficult search for self-determination and for coexistence…”

    Among the many tendentious assertions in that single sentence is the curious statement that Palestinians have been engaged in a “difficult search” for “coexistence” with Israel. Difficult, indeed, it has been, when classrooms are filled with maps of Palestine supplanting Israel and children are taught that it is both their right and duty to pursue that country’s annihilation, and that they should seek paradise in the honorable act of killing as many Jews as possible. Yet there is no hint in the time-line of the impact of such schooling, or of clerics exhorting the masses to murder, or of Yasir Arafat calling for Jihad.

    Sections on the modern era emphasize the “discontent” of Arabs at the arrival of the Zionists. Such “Arab discontent” is cited as the cause of recurring riots in the 1920s and 1930s, without mention of Haj Amin al-Husseini and his key role in fueling propaganda and violence against the Jews. Britain’s pliant policy toward the Arabs, and indulgence of both their violence and their demands to penalize the Zionists are, unsurprisingly, omitted.

    In the BBC rendition, Arabs are also indigenous to the area, in contrast to Jews. Accordingly, no reference is found to the large immigration of Arabs from across the Middle East to Palestine during the Mandate years. A description of the 1947 UN partition plan avers “the territory was plagued with chronic unrest pitting native Arabs against Jewish immigrants.”

    To cast Arabs as victims in the Six Day War, all mention of the closure of the Straits of Tiran and the massing of scores of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian troops and tanks is omitted, along with the calls for the destruction of Israel. Instead, the reader is told of “mounting tensions” of unidentified origin that “culminated” in “hostilities.”

    But little can top BBC’s rationalizing of Arab aggression in the Yom Kippur War: “Unable to regain the territory they had lost in 1967 by diplomatic means, Egypt and Syria launched major offensives against Israel on the Jewish festival of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. The clashes are also known as the Ramadan War.”Evidently BBC considers Arab rejectionism, embodied in the “three no’s” of Khartoum issued in August 1967 – no recognition, no negotiation and no peace with Israel – a form of “diplomatic” effort.

    The same disregard for historical fact is apparent in a remarkable statement under the section dealing with Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The killing of several hundred Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp by Christian Phalangists is said to be “one of the worst atrocities of nearly a century of conflict in the Middle East.” The Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred just months after Hafez Assad’s slaughter of upwards of 38,000 Syrians in the city of Hama. Still more bloody, the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s took hundreds of thousands of lives, and during these same years, two hundred thousand Kurds were annihilated by Saddam Hussein.

    One wonders, what specifically BBC’s yardstick is for “worst atrocities”? The phrase is certainly not applied to the terrorist campaigns fomented and underwritten by Yasser Arafat. His seminal role in modern terrorism is hidden in language referring to involvement in “a series of attacks on Israeli and other targets.” The only such “attack” noted is that at the 1972 Olympics, which killed 11 Israeli athletes. Rather, Arafat and the Palestinians are cast generally as resistance fighters on the road to peace.

    Beyond these and innumerable other serious distortions in the time-line section, there are multiple additional false and misleading articles for Web visitors. One is a “Q & A” piece about the road map. In no part of the article does the word “terror” appear to indicate the central requirement that Palestinian violence be halted. Yet the road map itself uses some form of the word “terror” 10 times, including calling on Palestinians to confiscate illegal weapons and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

    The BBC is now caught up in a struggle with the British government concerning the network’s distortion of events in Iraq, biased attacks on British policy and its possible role in driving a British weapons expert to suicide. Perhaps the British government will now rethink the future of the propagandistic network it has created.

    Andrea Levin is Executive Director of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

  7. Anonymous | August 23, 2003 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    The specifics of the Kelly affair are out of my reach and I can’t fully judge it.

    I do think that the BBC has unfairly maligned Tony Blair over and over again.

    Was the BBC right in the case of Kelly? Perhaps.

    But the BBC has shown an obsessively wrong-headed bias against Tony Blair and also the Iraq war effort.

    In so doing they look ridiculous– the BBC has spent far more time attacking Blair and the Iraq war than it has every spent attacking Saddam Hussein for his monstrous rule in Iraq.

    The far-Left, and the BBC as well, have lost all perspective and proportion on the Iraq issue.

    Too often, people like Blair are vilified, and yet the BBC would seem content to let Saddam Hussein keep mass-murdering and mass-torturing for years to come if this preserved the ‘peace’.

    In my view this is topsy-turvey Leftism.

    My version of Leftism is glad to see the US and British Armies dismantling Husseins despicable regime once and for all.

    George Bush may be after the oil.

    But let him have his oil if it means liberating 25 million people and establishing a large foothold of Democracy in the Arab world!!

    In the old days (World War II) the Left had the Realpolitick (pragmatic savvy) to side with the American Right in going after the fascists.

    Similar common cause should have been found today in going after Saddam Hussein and his monstrous Baath party.

    Phil Murray

  8. Anonymous | August 23, 2003 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    P.S. I feel compassion for the folks at CAMERA but I don’t completely agree with them.

    My pro-Iraq War stance is different from theirs (although I abhor the suicide bombing, I also abhor Sharons’ excesses).

    Hamas is a sick and evil organization as well and it really doesn’t bug me that much when Hamas leaders are killed (although there needs to be an equitable settlement with the Palestian people and Jewish settlements are going to have to go in all fairness).

  9. Anonymous | August 23, 2003 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Ooops, I inadvertently spliced two unrelated sentences together.

    I meant to say, I may be pro-Iraq war, but I differ with CAMERA in some ways on Israel/Palestine.

    I am not rabidly pro-palistinian and I am staunchly in favor of Israels right to exist.

    But land must be traded for peace and that position is as much pro-Israeli as much as it is pro-Palestinian.

    WBUR does seems sometimes to a bit partisan on the issue, but I believe in a point of view that sees the suffering on both sides, **while condeming terrorism utterly.

    Phil Murray

  10. Anonymous | August 28, 2003 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Man I wish someone would walk into Camera’s office and start shooting. These scumbags jsut can’t deal with the fact that they are on the LOSING team – Andrea WAKE UP –

  11. Anonymous | August 29, 2003 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    To the previous commenter:

    Can’t handle the truth, can you?

  12. Anonymous | August 29, 2003 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    to pcm

    the truth is out there .. er if you can get past the check points, or dodge the IDF bullets, and the bulldozers, and the tanks, and the missles that might decapitate you on accident – but hey – like I said the truth IS OUT THERE

  13. Anonymous | September 13, 2003 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    the BBC has shown an obsessively wrong-headed bias against Tony Blair and also the Iraq war effort.

    Yeah, that must be why polls of the British public suggested that most people thought the BBC was too pro-war.

    I think we know who the real obsessives are here: the people who refuse to admit that there’s a stink whenever Israel farts.

  14. Anonymous | December 3, 2006 at 7:11 am | Permalink

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  15. zxevil137 | March 3, 2008 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    99Ttol r u crazzy? I told u! I can’t read!

  16. zxevil160 | March 12, 2008 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

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  17. Simmy | March 13, 2009 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    Thanks

  18. RickVallen | March 13, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Nice post and blog
    Thanks for sharing

  19. Eğitim Haberleri | March 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this great post.

  20. Joe at Surrey SEO | July 27, 2010 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    It’s very interesting how recently in the UK this has taken another twist. Tony Blair has been seen to be ‘cashing in’ and milking the system for all it’s worth. Right now in the UK many people are very angry with him for making huge sums of money whilst soldiers are still coming home in body bags.

  21. The Online Directory | July 28, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Interesting post and interesting comment from Joe. I totally agree with his comments and personally feel that Mr Blair has a lot to answer for.

  22. Kimo | July 29, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe this post is so old… and yet so affective… couldn’t agree more with you guys. up there

    Niche for Newbies

  23. Jack | August 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I was a big fan of Mr Blair but he seems to be doing everything wrong of late. I think it’s a shame as there is a lot of good in the man.

  24. UK Office Space | August 16, 2010 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Thank god that the terribly sad David Kelly fiasco is once again being looked at in the UK.

  25. meubles cuisine | November 18, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Mr Blair is not a ground battle soldier.

  26. The Penthouse | April 5, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    But land must be traded for peace and that position is as much pro-Israeli as much as it is pro-Palestinian.

    WBUR does seems sometimes to a bit partisan on the issue, but I believe in a point of view that sees the suffering on both sides, **while condeming terrorism utterly.

    Scott

  27. dizi | May 15, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Guardian columnist made a lot of points I hadn’t heard before

  28. Abada de capoeira | May 25, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I hate so much Tony Blair

  29. Douglas Simons | June 7, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Thank you very much for your time.
    Douglas Simons
    Atlanta Pressure Wahing

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