Something very strange happened on the 22nd of July 2016 when James Naughtie (senior reporter for the BBC’s premier radio station, Radio 4) was reporting on the 2016 Republican convention which had been taking place the night before. Something you could be excused for not noticing. But something totally inexcusable. This is what he said:
Watching him and uh here’s a man who never uses an autocue but he used an autocue tonight, read the speech, it was extremely forceful, umh, clearly people who heard him and don’t like it will say ‘my goodness this was an extraordinary hard one’ – I mean, to accuse Hillary Clinton of basically being in charge of everything that produced the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS and the collapse of Iraq to a Republican convention which at one time had cheered the invasion of Iraq takes a bit of chutzpah, shall we say, but anyway, umh, so it was fierce stuff, but they loved it.”
What Naughtie is describing here is Trump’s policy, consistently articulated during his presidential campaign, of opposing US attempts to change the governments of other countries, which Trump and others refer to as “nation building” and which is more commonly known as “regime change” in the UK. In so doing, Trump is taking on the powerful supporters of regime change, like former president George W. Bush, who are know as “neo-conservatives” or “neocons.”
Naughtie’s words, when analysed, reveal a subtle but toxic bias in the BBC’s reporting of the 2016 US presidential elections. The BBC is a prestigious news organisation funded by a license fee, and therefore able to be independent of both government interference and any pressure from advertisers, if its reporters so choose. As a result it has been listened to for over half a century by people across the globe, like me, in search of unbiased political news and analysis. Unfortunately, for decades now, the BBC has allowed political bias to creep into its reporting. This has been recorded on numerous sites devoted to the subject, such as BiasedBBC and IstheBBCbiased?, or by twitter handles like @LEFTWINGBBC. The bias these sites identify in the BBC is typically either a soft-left predilection for big government or a politically correct habit of virtue signalling and identity politics, both of which are evident in Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb, for example. If the BBC is going to be anti-Trump, then you might expect either (or both) of these biases to be the reason.
But the BBC’s unfair reporting of Trump is organised around another, more sinister and much less obvious bias: the BBC’s bias in favor of war. To understand that, we need to look at Naughtie’s statement more closely.
James Naughtie’s “chutzpah”
What is remarkable in the quote above is the word Naughtie slips in to describe Trump’s position, the Yiddish word “chutzpah.” Chutzpah is a fundamentally ambiguous noun and normally one I am fond of using. It denotes a quality which allows its possessor, the person with the chutzpah, to defy authority, taboos, boundaries, or rules, to the point of being shocking, iconoclastic or outrageous. But the term is typically used in an approving way, implying a rogueish cleverness in the person with the chutzpah. Mr Naughtie could always claim that he is using it to express admiration for Trump’s audacity. However a closer look at the connotations of “chutzpah” reveal something very different. Merriam Webster defines chutzpah as “personal confidence or courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others,” giving as an example someone who “had the chutzpah to demand that he be treated as a special case and be given priority in settling his insurance claim.” This is a good way to capture chutzpah’s implication of a kind of courage or daring, which is unembarrassed by propriety, authority or even truth. The guy in the example can argue with his insurance company that he is a special case when he clearly isn’t one, and people will say “what chutzpah.” The admiration for someone with chutzpah is of a very specific kind: you admire them because they have the audacity to do something they really shouldn’t be allowed to get away with – they pull it off. Having chutzpah is like being a rogue, cheeky, or as British people say “having a brass neck.”
The effect of the term is to subtly dismiss Trump’s position on foreign affairs as incredible, fanciful, impossible to take seriously. Chutzpah, as in the insurance claim example, is used to get away with a contradiction, an inconsistency or even a lie. Naughtie’s use of the term in this case is indeed consistent with the common criticism that Trump makes claims which don’t pass the fact check, that he exaggerates or makes things up. To any extent that Trump really does this, his ability to carry it off would be aptly described by the term “chutzpah.” The rest of the sentence makes it very clear that Naughtie is using chutzpah in this dismissive sense. Trump’s chutzpah is presented as an example of what people who “don’t like” Trump’s speech will regard as making it “an extraordinary hard one.” In other words it is an example of what critics might call Trump being outrageous, overstepping the mark. Furthermore, Naughtie introduces Trump’s criticism of Clinton’s foreign policy with a colloquial note of disbelief: “I mean [my emphasis], to accuse Hillary Clinton of … the Syrian civil war etc.” “I mean” is used here by Naughtie in the same way as it is when you say “I mean, really?” – it conveys disbelief or outrage at Trump’s chutzpah in accusing Clinton of these things.
What Naughtie is trying to discredit with the term chutzpah is something very specific: Trump blaming Hillary Clinton “for the collapse of Iraq.” The reason it is chutzpah, for Naughtie, is that “a Republican convention … at one time had cheered the invasion of Iraq.” What Naughtie is saying is that because the Republicans cheered the Iraq war under George W. Bush, it’s a bit rich, it’s cheeky, contradictory, brass necked, outrageous of Donald Trump, the Republican candidate in 2016, to hide the Republican’s responsibility for the Gulf war and conveniently pin it on Clinton – it takes chutzpah.
It’s easier to understand what Naughtie does with the term when you think of what he might have said instead of describing Trump’s policy as “taking a bit of chutzpah.” He might have said it “shows what a radical break Trump is making with his Republican predecessors” or “underlines for us the 180 degree turnaround from previous Republican foreign policy,” or some such. That would make Trump’s policy, and the change it represents, clear. The decision to use “chutzpah” on the other hand makes it seem as though no change had really taken place. It implies that Trump hasn’t repudiated previous Republican policy, but is using chutzpah to pull off the outrageous maneuver of blaming the Democrats for the failure of that same Republican policy which – this is the implication – Trump doesn’t really disavow and might even secretly support.
Naughtie confirmed this today, Sunday 6 November, when he reiterated the point he had made back in July: “It’s rather amusing to see older Republicans cheering Trump’s attack on George W. Bush and all his works – the Clintons and Bushes are all the same he always says – when his listeners were campaigning for George W. less than a decade ago.” Again, the Republican criticism of George W. Bush’s neocon project is dismissed as “amusing.” We don’t need to take it seriously. Because, just as Naughtie said during his summary at the convention, the Republicans “were campaigning for George W. less than a decade ago.” Naughtie’s commentary consistently treats Trump’s opposition to neocon foreign policy as some kind of joke.
With this one small word Naughtie does something very important and very political. He dismisses the idea that a Republican candidate can legitimately criticise the Iraq war and be opposed to the long-standing US foreign policy principle of regime change. Anyone listening to the BBC – and who is unaware of this – will think Trump’s criticism of the US’s meddling in Libya or opposition to its current attempt to overthrow president Assad in Syria is just more outrageous – but meaningless – Trump bluster. “Trump against war? Come on. That’s ridiculous. You can’t be serious.” The ridicule and trivialisation of what is on the face of it a very important policy position for Donald Trump is contained in Naughtie’s use of “chutzpah.” It’s quite an example of chutzpah from Naughtie himself.
Let’s pretend Republican isolationism doesn’t exist
But the use of the word by Naughtie in this particular case is very, very misleading. There is no contradiction whatsoever between Trump’s criticism of the Iraq war and his party’s previous support for it. That’s because he comes from a different wing of the Republican party from George W. Bush and most of the leading figures of the Republican party (such as prominent Trump critic and speaker of the house Senator Paul Ryan). Trump’s wing of the Republican party is isolationist. It has always opposed the US’s attempts to spread democracy – or war, chaos and Islamic fundamentalism, depending on your perspective – throughout the world. Former Texas congressman Ron Paul, who sought the Republican party nomination in 2008 and 2012 is a leading exponent of this movement within the Republican party, as is his son Senator Dr. Rand Paul, who was one of the many candidates who ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primary. The isolationist faction of the Republican party has been unsuccessful against its dominant, hawkish wing for as long as I can remember, but it has always been there, biding its time. Far from Trump’s position being an example of chutzpah, it is merely a straightforward expression of the position of a long standing faction within the Republican party whose candidate happens to have won the nomination in 2016, and won because he was more popular than the candidates put forward by the dominant, militarist faction.
In fact, spokespeople for the more militarist wing of the Republican party do not dismiss Trump’s foreign policy as some kind of joke at all. Far from it. They take it seriously, and are quick to denounce it. If Mr Naughtie wanted a quick primer on how Trump’s foreign policy is viewed by the hawks he could do worse than listen to one of them. Take James Kirchick, an American conservative reporter, foreign correspondent and columnist, who said this about Trump when he appeared as an expert witness on the BBC’s discussion programme the Moral Maze on 2 November 2016:
The way he [i.e. Trump!] talks about America’s role in the world and about American exceptionalism, he frankly sounds more like Jeremy Corbyn [!!] than he does a proper American conservative. He thinks America should stop meddling overseas and that American exceptionalism is insulting to other people, umh and that we tend to screw things up abroad, so no, I don’t think that he’s properly conservative, certainly in that sense.
Kirchick’s lack of self awareness here is an absolute joy. He tries to rubbish Trump by summarising his foreign policy as being what almost all Americans and indeed most people in the world, East or West, are thinking today. Trump thinks “America should stop meddling overseas,” Mr Kirchick? Sounds like a vote winner to me. “We tend to screw things up abroad”? Just look at Iraq, Mr Kirchick. But Kirchick takes Trump at face value and for what he is: an opponent of the “American exceptionalism” which has led the US into so many disastrous foreign interventions. As if to emphasise the point for a UK audience, Kirchick says Trump “sounds more like Jeremy Corbyn.” He doesn’t mean it as a compliment, but this is an aspect of Trump’s campaign totally absent from the BBC’s reporting.
I can understand that this is a big change in the Republican party, but surely not so big that a professional journalist like Naughtie shouldn’t be able to cope with it, or even – God forbid – report it in an objective way. After all, Mr Naughtie will be aware that Jeremy Corbyn, to whom Kirchick compared Donald Trump, is both a long standing opponent of the Iraq war and currently leader of the same Labour party which enthusiastically supported the Iraq war under Tony Blair. Corbyn is accused of many things, but never of chutzpah in connection with his unwavering opposition to the Iraq war. Just like the Republican party, the Labour party is a broad church which has both a pacifist wing, led by Mr Corbyn, and a hawkish wing, championed by Hillary Benn MP during his much lauded speech in favor of British military involvement in Syria.
Whether they like it or not, people in the UK understand that there has always been a pacifist faction in the Labour party, and that this faction is now in power (despite opposition from the majority of its MPs). They are no more surprised by Corbyn’s opposition to Labour’s previous stance on interventionism than they are by his very left-wing economic views. Serious journalists in the UK have moved on to focus on how this change of control in the country’s opposition might impact its political landscape. Just as Mr Kirchick has done in the US with Trump (albeit in a somewhat tone deaf and irony free manner as we saw above). In summary:
- It was wrong of Mr Naughtie to dismiss Trump’s sincerely held foreign policy views as incredible or outrageous chutzpah.
- Naughtie has no excuse for ignoring the fact that the Republican party, like the UK Labour party and indeed the UK Conservatives, indeed like many parties across the world, have factions which hold different views on whether waging wars in foreign countries is a good thing or not.
- Given the central importance of this topic to the middle-East, to terrorism in Europe and to the migrant crisis, you would expect Mr Naughtie to treat Trump’s views seriously. Not dismiss them.
- What is above all surprising is how unnatural such an attitude is for a newshound. Surely they must get a little bored with having (not to say appalled by) Republican candidates year after year with the same militarist, exceptionalist, interventionist policies. Surely it must be fun, exciting and refreshing to report on a candidate whose views represent a 180 degree reversal from the established policy? I thought this was the sort of thing journalists live for.
Today James Naughtie summed up the presidential campaign in these terms: “A campaign like no other. For once, it’s true, at every turn there’s something you haven’t seen, or heard, before.” Yes, you Mr Naughtie have seen a Republican candidate who has an approach to foreign policy which is radically different and represents a clean break from the disastrous foreign policy pursued by the US for at least two decades. What a shame you treated it as a joke.
Hillary the hawk
The flip side of Naughtie’s dismissal of Trump’s articulation of an isolationist Republican foreign policy is his insinuation that it is outrageous to imply that Hillary and the Democrats are the militarist party in this election. That Hillary is complicit with the neocon foreign policy closely associated with George W. Bush. Naughtie’s amusement today was also directed at Trump’s claim that “the Clintons and Bushes are all the same.” A British listener with only a cursory knowledge of American politics would come away with the idea that Hillary Clinton “can’t possibly” be an advocate of regime change-led war in the middle East. Hillary Clinton as custodian of the neocon flame that set Iraq on fire? “Surely not!” After all, that British listener might think, “that’s a Republican policy – the Democrats are different.” This is the assumption planted by Mr Naughtie’s statement – that it takes chutzpah for Trump to accuse Clinton of responsibility for the US’s “meddling” (to adopt Kirchick’s apt phrase) in the middle East, both past (Afghanistan and Iraq) and present (Libya and Syria).
However a cursory examination by the BBC would reveal that, far from being outrageous, Trump is merely describing Clinton’s foreign policy as articulated both by Clinton herself and by State Department officials in the numerous cables leaked by Wikileaks. Hillary’s record as Secretary of State and her voting record as Senator reveal an approach to foreign policy which is to all extents and purposes indistinguishable from that of George W. Bush. “Hillary the Hawk” in the Cairo View offers an excellent summary of the evidence.
If Mr Naughtie found this difficult to understand, he might, once again, have listened to what the militarist wing of the Republican party have actually gone on the record to say. It’s not even an open secret because it’s not a secret at all. No need for any Wikileaks. Just as Mr Kirchick could have told him the hawkish Republicans disown Trump, so too most leading neocon Republicans have been open in their support for Hillary. Robert Kagan, leading neoconservative or as he prefers “liberal interventionist” has this to say about Mrs Clinton:
I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy … if she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue, it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that. They are going to call it something else (New York Times, 2014).
There it is, in black and white. A leading neocon endorses Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy as neocon. What more do you need? Kagan is not the only one:
- Colin Powell, the general under whom Iraq was invaded, has endorsed Hillary.
- Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, is regarded by Mrs Clinton as a friend and adviser.
- Paul Wolfowitz, one of the leading architects of the Iraq war, has indicated that he prefers Hillary’s foreign policy to Trump’s, while calling Donald Trump a “security risk.”
- George Bush Sr., father of the president who led the US into Iraq, is also said by insiders to support Mrs Clinton.
- George W. Bush and the other architects of the Gulf War boycotted Trump’s convention, the one on which Mr Naughtie reported – another symbol of the way the pro-war faction in the Republican party has placed its bets.
- And recently David Frum, a Republican and former George W. Bush speechwriter, notorious for coining the toxic phrase “axis of evil” which was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, has also endorsed Hillary Clinton.
In fact all the Republicans who supported the Iraq war and still thinks it was the right thing to do (and who have gone on record regarding the candidate they are supporting) have endorsed Hillary Clinton. Surprisingly, none of these endorsements have had any prominence in the BBC’s election reporting. Naughtie’s chutzpah comment seems to be part of a wider attempt to hide this reality.
But again, this is a fascinating story that should be butter to any self-respecting newshound. Why then did Naughtie choose to dismiss the idea as ridiculous instead of reporting on it? As a result of his decision, many BBC listeners are oblivious to a crucial irony in this election: the Republican supporters of war in the middle-East have all decided to back the Democratic candidate!
Underlining the reality of this fact is another point which has not once been mentioned by the BBC: Hillary Clinton has received more donations from the armaments industry than any other candidate in the presidential election. If you doubt the words of the neocons, you should at least listen to the dollars of the weapons makers. They are backing Hillary because they know she is good for their business.
What is also little reported by the BBC is the fear many Arabs have of Mrs Clinton, as illustrated in this tweet from Palestinian activist Rania Khalek. They don’t fear her because she intends to stop American intervention in the region, that’s for sure.
When you begin to analyse the US presidential campaign objectively, you can see that more than race, religion or economics, the clearest fault line between the two candidates is defined by whether they think it’s a good idea for the US to meddle in other people’s countries. And you see that the neocons are right on this point at least: Trump wants to break from the regime change philosophy, while Hillary is its faithful custodian. Trump spoke out against the Iraq war in 2003. Clearly, as a businessman who hadn’t studied the war closely at the time, Trump was carried along by some of the early enthusiasm for the it, and much has been made of his inconsistencies at the beginning of the 2000s. But this misses the point. Trump hasn’t just criticised the Iraq war in his campaign, but the whole interventionist, regime change mindset which dominated US foreign policy under both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama with Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq war. She has since admitted this was a mistake, but with a characteristic Realpolitik, tactical justification of her decision and -crucially – without ever criticising the regime change philosophy which underlies it and which justified that war.
Libya: Hillary masterminds a disastrous regime change of which Trump was skeptical
Looking at the current Middle Eastern situation the contrast between the two positions couldn’t be clearer. Hillary Clinton led the US’s intervention in Libya which toppled Muamar Ghadaffi, using Islamist militants as a proxy. This accomplished a long standing neocon amition to topple Ghaddafi, led by Republican former presidential nominee John McCain. Here is Hillary posing with members of an Islamist group in Libya which fought Ghaddafi and later became ISIS in Libya:
Trump, as with Iraq, was initially caught up by the emotional groundswell which felt Ghadaffi had to be stopped at all costs from murdering his opponents. I felt the same at the time. But to his credit, Trump was already highlighting the potential risks, which in the end materialised with gruesome force, as early as March 28 2011: “I do really want to know who these people we’re fighting for, who they are. I hear they are aligned with Iran. I hear they may be aligned with al-Qaida.” The contrast is clear. Hillary was a leading exponent of Libyan regime change, Trump, against the prevailing enthusiasm for toppling Ghaddafi, was an early skeptic.
Syria: Hillary calls for no-fly zone. Trump supports forces fighting Al Qaeda
The Obama administration made no secret of its desire to remove president Assad from office in Syria. Leaked documents have established for some time that the Obama administration was not shy of using ISIS and Al Qaeda proxies to do so when Hillary Clinton was secretary of State. Here is a summary in zerohedge in 2015 and Levantereport, including detailed scans of the leaked state department memos, in 2012. Far from learning any lesson from Iraq and Libya, Hillary has continued the policies which failed there in Syria. Her latest contribution has been to argue for a no fly zone, whose effect would be to strengthen the hand of Assad’s Islamist opponents and potentially bring the US into conflict with Russia. Such a policy clearly represents an upping of the ante in the US’s policy of neocon regime change.
Trump has been consistently opposed to US intervention in Syria, and even contradicted his running mate, Hunter Pence, to say that the US should back Assad and Russia as the only effective force against ISIS. The war in Syria and America’s involvement in it is only justified by the possibility of overthrowing Assad. Trump’s policy is to abandon that aim, and thereby make possible an end to US involvement. It is a clear middle finger to the Republican neocon establishment.
BBC: “America First” = Nazism
As the campaign progressed the BBC eventually had to broach the topic, not of Trump’s isolationism, but the related one of his slogan “America First.” In a visit to Youngstown, a steel town in Ohio immortalised in song by Bruce Springsteen, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse asked a Donald Trump supporter named Chad “Do you think that what Trump represents is a sort of, a resurgence of an American nationalism?” Chad responded: “Yeah I do, he’s saying ‘America first.’ We need, we need to, for a lack of a better term, stop the bleeding here. If you were to go into my place of employment and talk to the guys there you’d hear them tell you that: ‘America first.'” “America first” is a slogan that captures Trump’s protectionism. That protectionism is legitimately identified by Gatehouse with a broader opposition to globalisation when he sums up his visit to the Compco factory where Chad works: “Talk turned back to the economy, back to China, jobs, the global system of free trade which Donald Trump says he’ll overturn. As Chad predicted, [the report then plays recordings of an employee saying] ‘why do we care about the global system. America first.'” The report then segues to a montage of Chad’s colleagues all saying “America first,” “America first.”
There is a very clear fit between being isolationist in foreign policy and protectionist in trade policy. And the same is true in reverse: it is hard to find any supporters of neocon foreign policy in the US who are not also supporters of TTIP for example. And Gatehouse exploits that link when he continues his report with this: “1941, Europe is at war. The America First committee favors a non-aggression pact with Hitler to keep the United States out of the conflict. The group’s leader, the aviator Charles Lindberg, labels the Jewish people as war agitators.”
Charles Lindberg’s “America First” committee used the slogan to advocate an isolationist foreign policy in 1941. Trump is using it to advocate protectionism in 2016, over half a century later. Gatehouse’s historical parallel between the two serves to link protectionism and isolationism. But it does so in a heavily loaded way because it also links isolationism with Nazi appeasement and anti-Semitism. The reason I wanted to highlight this report is that in drawing this parallel, Gatehouse reveals the deep seated underlying prejudice the BBC has in favor of interventionism and against isolationism. The BBC has internalised the neocon frame of reference. Neocons today say that you can’t oppose the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, without being apologists for the Taliban, Saddam Huseyin, Ghaddafi and Assad. Just so, in Gatehouse’s parallel, those who favored intervention in WWII (rightly) called Lindberg an appeaser of Hitler and anti-Semite. Gatehouse’s bracketing of the two together makes interventionism in WWII legitimise intervention today and delegitimise isolationism like Trump’s.
For anyone like me who holds those who fought and who led the fight against Nazi Germany during WWII in deep reverence, this is an odious parallel. The invasion of Iraq is widely recognised as a spectacular failure; the war in Afghanistan has left it prey to the Taliban and a corrupt Western backed regime, with its people fleeing to Europe in droves as refugees; Libya post Ghaddafi is a nightmare. Whatever you think of these wars, you can be opposed to them without supporting the dictators against whom they are waged, and certainly without being a Nazi sympathiser or an anti-Semite. This is an outrageous thing for Gatehouse to say. Yet it deeply informs the way the BBC thinks about these issues.
But I don’t mind outrageous views so long as there is something to back them up. Gatehouse’s attempt to support his parallel takes a decidedly surreal turn however when it plays the voice of an actor reading extracts from a novel – yes, a novel – by Philip Roth, which imagines Lindberg in the White House. That is the extent of Gatehouse’s argument. Gatehouse summarises with this:
To be clear, this is fiction, and no one I spoke to in Ohio seemed as perturbed as I was, by the historical echoes of “America First.” That side of Lindberg, seems to have been forgotten. But back at Plaza Donughts, not everyone is encouraged by Trump’s rhetoric.
Notice the heavy bias inadvertently revealed by Gatehouse here:
- “To be clear, this is fiction” he says. Yes. So why are you using it in your report? What possible weight can it carry as evidence of the values and faults of Trump’s policies? This is pure guilt by association.
- He, Gatehouse, is “perturbed” by the (tenuous) parallel between Lindberg and Trump’s use of “America First” as a slogan. In admitting this, he moves from reporting to revealing a personal view, namely that the connection he sees between Trump’s isolationism and Linderg’s appeasement is somehow an indictment of Trump.
- The fact that no one else in Youngstown is perturbed by that “echo” is utterly unsurprising. They rightly see that there is no connection. You can oppose the war in Iraq and want control of your borders without being a Nazi.
- But the most devious word in this extract is “but.” Gatehouse says, “That side of Lindberg seems to have been forgotten.” Yes, that’s right, it happened long ago and it’s irrelevant. He then says “not everyone is encouraged by Trump’s rhetoric.” Again, yes, Trump is not going to get 100% of the vote, he has opponents. This is a democracy. Not everyone agrees. These are two very banal statements of fact. But by linking them with “but” Gatehouse makes it seem as though the two were connected; that the opposition to Trump he finds in contemporary Youngstown is somehow connected to the echo of Lindberg the anti-Semite in the 1940s. But Gatehouse does not give any reason for why the two might be connected. It is all implicit – innuendo in fact.
What a journalistic shambles. No wonder Mr Naughtie was so keen to dismiss Trump’s isolationism: it is a policy toward which the BBC seems extremely antipathetic. And it is no surprise that Naughtie used the term “America First” today to summarise Trump’s foreign policy: “A conservative court, lower taxes, smaller government, a foreign policy that says ‘America First.'” By putting it like that, Trump’s opposition to the neocon regime change agenda is disguised beneath his protectionism – which Gatehouse has so tenuously identified with Nazi appeasement.
Trump the stooge
Many opponents of neocon foreign policy fear that Trump doesn’t really mean it. That when he’s elected he’ll be taken into a dark room by some spooks and told that he has to carry on invading other countries as before. That is also my fear. Only time will tell whether it is legitimate. For the time being I am willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. And in this election, I think it’s surely better to go for a 50% chance of an end to neocon madness with Trump than it is for a 100% guaranteed continuation of it under Clinton. Whether Trump means it or not is something which the BBC should have investigated seriously. But it chose not to, because it ridiculed and dismissed Trump’s foreign policy out of hand, as “chutzpah” or linked to Lindberg’s appeasement. In so doing it failed to inform and educate its audience on a crucial issue.
The BBC and war
The BBC’s wider support for interventionism is a huge topic to which I hope to return in another blog. What interests me here is the role it plays as a motive for discrediting Trump. Here however are a few examples by way of context.
The BBC’s Jonathan Marcus advocates Hillary’s interventionist position on Aleppo:
The BBC has consistently glossed over the terrorist affiliations of those it calls anti-Assad “rebels:”
The BBC admitted that its report of intimidation of pro-War MP Stella Creasy, in the run up to the House of Commons’ vote on intervention in Syria, was misleading.
For those wanting more detail, Medialens has compiled the following list of examples, which speaks for itself.
In all these examples, the BBC adopts the neocon, pro-war frame of reference we saw above with Gabriel Gatehouse:
- Intervention by the West in the middle-East is an idealistic attempt to oust tyranny and introduce democracy
- Our allies in the middle-East are idealistic freedom seeking rebels, not head chopping Jihadists
- Anyone who opposes our intervention is an apologist for dictatorship and any repression carried out in its name
Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor: “Hillary was unbelievably lucky”
So if you know Hillary is the neocon candidate and that the BBC is imbued with a view of the world which shares the same assumptions as the neocons, it is not surprising that its reporting will be biased against Donald Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton. This is most clearly visible in what the BBC does not report, namely anything negative about the Clinton presidential campaign.
One amazing omission is the lack of any reference to the sting operation in which Democratic party insiders were filmed organising the registering of voters from one State to vote illegally in elections in other swing States. The journalist who made the film poses as a Democratic party donor looking for ways to influence the elections. The Democratic party officials he speaks to, one of whom resigned as a result of the sting, display an absolutely breathtaking cynicism. This is journalistic dynamite and makes for compelling viewing. Just look at this film and ask yourself how the BBC could have not reported on it??
But the most notable omissions in the BBC’s reporting on Mrs Clinton is the absence of any coverage of the emails recently uncovered by Wikileaks. This is an extensively reported subject – except by the BBC and other Clinton sympathising networks of course – and so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice it to say that these leaked emails contained evidence of Mrs Clinton’s use of a private server for emails carrying state secrets; collusion with terrorists in her foreign policy activities in the middle-East (discussed above); complicity in the death of the US ambassador to Libya; payment by big corporations and foreign governments like Qatar and Morroco for access to Clinton. Some emails also referred to Latinos as “taco bowl voters.” Others displayed naked cynicism toward African American voters. Anyone listening only to the BBC’s coverage would have no idea any of this had happened.
Leftwing journalist and fierce Trump critic Abby Martin’s film about lobbyist and Clinton campaign manager Jon Podesta makes for eye opening viewing. He is basically a conduit for Wall Street, biotech, armaments and other corporate interests, as well foreign governments like Turkey, to gain access to the US government:
Let’s leave aside the arguments about the significance of these emails. What is absolutely shocking is that the BBC barely reported the fact that leaks had occurred, let alone any of their contents. These emails are fascinating, referring to “pay to play letters.” Any journalist worth their salt would be salivating at the prospect of reporting on such a find!
This surprising lack of reporting of the Podesta emails released by Wikeleaks on the BBC and its focus on the recordings of Trump’s lewd comments about women was in fact discussed on the BBC’s Feedback programme (14 October 2016), which airs critical comments from the BBC’s audience and allows the BBC to respond. The man charged with responding on behalf of the BBC was their North America editor Jon Sopel. Here he is on 29 July 2016, in the aftermath of the Democratic Party Convention, reporting in typically unbiased (cough) BBC fashion:
The Democrats leave Philadelphia with a sense of mission accomplished. Hillary Clinton’s speech was well received. The big guns were united … there was a coherence in messaging, and Bernie Sanders came on board. But what we don’t know is whether this has shifted opinion in the country. There is very wide mistrust of Hillary Clinton, and one speech is unlikely to change that. Interestingly she didn’t dwell on the trust question, and focused instead on competence and experience. And she had to perform a balancing act on policy. Offer up red meat policies to the left, who’d backed Bernie Sanders, which she did through a pledge on [tuition fees, minimum wage], while appealing to the undecided voters in the center ground, who could determine the outcome in November. If elections were won on who had the best convention, the Democrats would storm the White House. But Donald Trump plays politics by different rules, with social media his chief communication tools. The Democratic party is like an old fashioned army lined up in battle with a guerilla fighter that prefers asymmetric warfare. With an American electorate in a restive mood, there is much still that is unknowable (my emphasis).
Apart from the Clinton cheer leading highlighted, note Sopel’s disquiet at the guerilla use of social media to circumvent official broadcasters like the BBC. His disquiet must have seemed prophetic when two BBC Radio 4 listeners made these crisp and devastating criticisms of the BBC’s coverage, using the publicly available information disseminated by the social media with which Trump circumvents mainstream media:
- Mel Platts: “The BBC is so very obviously pro-Clinton that it’s a joke, a pretense of impartiality. We’ve heard about hacking, but we’ve not heard anything about what they’ve uncovered, or what Wikileaks have uncovered. The cover-ups, the bias, it’s incredible.”
- Ian Grinwood: “I am no fan of Donald Trump, but even a cursory investigation into Hillary Clinton’s past turns up allegations of criminal activity, blatant lying, witness intimidation and corruption. The public have a right to evaluate these candidates using all the personal information available. This is impossible due to the fact that the information is simply not being presented in a balanced manner.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself. What these responses demonstrate more than anything is that the attempts by Naughtie to hide the real issues in the US elections with subterfuge words like “chutzpah” are not succeeding. The public, by and large, sees through the obfuscation.
What does Sopel respond?
To Mel’s question first of all, I think that there is maybe a shred of fairness there, she hasn’t been subject to the same scrutiny. I mean for example, if you talk about the leak of her speeches, that Hillary Clinton made to Wall Street … the leak of those … actually I think that Hillary Clinton was unbelievably lucky that that fell at the same time, exactly the same time, as Donald Trump’s tape emerged from a decade ago, so I think on that point, that is fair.
Unusually for a BBC representative, Sopel admits failure to a certain extent here (“maybe a shred of fairness”). He concedes that Mrs Clinton “hasn’t been subject to the same scrutiny.” That is quite some admission of a lack of balance on the BBC’s part.
But his excuse for this lack of balance is simply jaw-dropping: “Hillary Clinton was unbelievably lucky.” So it was a just stroke of good fortune that the Trump tapes were released at the same time and so the BBC couldn’t investigate or report on the Podesta emails? Really? She just got lucky? Oh well, fair enough then, these things happen. Really? Anyone listening to this absurd excuse would naturally have a few questions:
- Is the BBC, with its vast budget and army of correspondents, really incapable of covering two stories at once? Could it not have covered both the Podesta emails and the Trump tapes? There are blogs out there with no resources at all which have managed it pretty well. Sopel is effectively saying “the tapes ate my homework.” This is a pathetic excuse.
- It is common practice when one news story dominates the agenda to the exclusion of other important stories to return to them in later bulletins. The presenter might say “with news of last week’s US election dominated by the release of the Trump tapes, it would have been easy to overlook …” before running a report on the Podesta emails. Why did the BBC not do so?
- A fresh set of leaked emails were subsequently released by Wikileaks, which resulted in the Ecuadorian embassy denying Wikileaks’ Julian Assange internet access in the embassy (where he has been seeking asylum). The BBC reported that the Ecuadorian embassy had done so because Wikileaks had released “documents that impacted upon the US elections.” Unfortunately, that impact – reported by the BBC – was not evident in any BBC coverage. The BBC continued to ignore the leaks, just as before, despite reporting themselves on how significant they were. If the lack of reporting before was due to Hillary’s luck, why did the BBC not report later when the coverage of the Trump tapes was no longer the top news story? This is a blatant inconsistency.
- Is it really a lucky coincidence that the Trump tapes emerged at the same time as the Podesta emails? Or were they deliberately leaked to bury the Podesta emails? Any self-respecting journalist with a critical faculty would want to investigate.
- Are Trump’s private boasts really more newsworthy than emails which demonstrate corruption of public officials and rigging of the Democratic primary?
The rest of Jon Sopel’s response is fascinating in how deftly it buries the important foreign policy issues, just as James Naughtie did with his “chutzpah:”
With regards to Hillary’s emails, I have repeatedly covered that story and the damage that has done her, and her inability to give straight answers to the questions about why she had a private email server. After the most recent debate I said that Donald Trump scored very well on that particular point, when he attacked her for it in the debate that we’ve just seen at Saint Louis. With regards to Ian’s point, I think there are a lot of conspiracy theories about blatantly illegal activity, about witness intimidation. I have not seen much evidence of any of that and I think that it’s not our job to peddle every conspiracy theory that goes. I think our job is to hold them up, both candidates, to fair scrutiny, and I believe that we have gone out of our way and fought very hard to try to do that.
What is noticeable here is what Sopel does not discuss. He mentions Mrs Clinton’s use of a private email server, not the detail of what was revealed in the emails sent from that server. And he dismisses the allegations of illegal activity and witness intimidation as “conspiracy theories.” What he doesn’t refer to is the “corruption” which Mr Grinwood speaks of. That doesn’t get a mention. What Sopel manages to ignore with this answer is precisely the emails about Mrs Clinton’s involvement in the disastrous coup in Libya, her collusion with Jihadists in Syria, or her receipt of donations from corporations and foreign governments, many of whom Islamic governments supporting the same Jihadists as the United States in Libya and Syria. Sopel’s maneuver is impressive in a grim, cynical fashion. While appearing to be open and frank, he dismisses the easier allegations explicitly while ignoring the more serious ones, effectively brushing them under the carpet. And those serious allegations – of corruption by foreign governments, of allegiance with Islamic governments like Qatar – are all part and parcel of the neocon agenda whose pursuit by Mrs Clinton Mr Naughtie tried to hide with his use of the word “chutzpah.”
By mocking Donald Trump’s isolationism, the BBC de-legitimises itself
I began this blog by saying that I grew up as an admirer of the BBC for its impartiality. There are still BBC journalists out there like Jeremy Bowen, Owen Bennet Jones, Edward Stourton or Martin Patience who report with integrity and insight. But it pains me greatly to see the BBC stoop so low in its attempts to present a partial view of the American elections. I am particularly appalled that it should do so in order to support an ideology which has been responsible for so much carnage and misery in the middle-East, and caused so many deaths in the West through the “blow back effect” from terrorist organisations fomented by the chaos there. But, in the final analysis, I fear for the BBC. In an age of readily available information easily propagated on social media it should be looked up to as a trusted, reliable source. Instead, that same readily available information is coming back to haunt it and make it seem partial and unreliable. The more it tries to influence political outcomes, like Brexit in July and like the US presidential campaign now, the more it destroys its own credibility.
The focus of analysis in this blog has been on the BBC. That analysis has been supported by reports on and analyses of the wider issue of Hillary’s neocon foreign policy and corruption, many of which are cited in the blog. I would like in particular to thank the blogger who tweets under the handle @ian56789, whose blogspot has provided me with much of the research I used when writing this piece. Ian’s blog and twitter account are being censored. This is a disgrace. Please read and engage with him, he’s one of the most courageous and perceptive writers out there.
Any comments or disagreements please be forthcoming, I always respond.