Saturday, 22 January 2011

If BBC News was staffed with Fox journalists - it would still be left-wing!

I was pottering about happily the other morning with Radio 4 on in the background (a behaviour I have learned over many years from my wife), vaguely listening to a programme about replicating the atmospheric conditions that existed in prehistoric times – when it segued into a lecture from a scientist about the need for a concerted global effort to cut carbon emissions.

Unchallenged, of course. 

It was followed by a panel programme about how people should best cope with the savage cuts being imposed by this brutal, heartless government. When I heard that one of the guests was to be the bloke who plays the bloke in Shameless, I switched off.

As I’ve pointed out before,  the BBC believes unquestioningly in man-made global warming, and in the Ed Balls line that the cuts aren’t really necessary – the Tories are just implementing them because they’re vicious, heartless bastards who hate people less privileged than themselves. The BBC takes more more easily identifiable positions on major issues than any political party – the only real difference is that there’s never any internal discussion or dissent: the vast majority of the staff seem to have eschewed personal opinions in order to become part of the BBC’s mighty collective unconscious, where, like the “converted” townsfolk of Santa Mira in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, nothing has to be questioned – because everyone believes the same thing!

I realize the subject of BBC bias isn’t of great interest to most people; the British public evidently doesn’t give a rat’s bum about it, and even the Conservative Party invariably – for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom - ends up apologising for “mis-speaking” whenever it tells the truth about what is, institutionally, a chronically left-wing organization.

For me, this is a source of sadness. As I refuse to watch or listen to panel-based current affairs programmes – including comedies - where the majority of the participants are overtly left-wing, I can’t really watch this type of programme any more. I always check who the presenter and guests are on Have I Got News For You in order to avoid the likes of Marcus Brigstocke, Mark Steel or that appalling, curly-headed tit, Chris Addison. As for radio – I would rather eat faeces than willingly listen toThe News Quiz, consistently the most outrageous example of politically biased broadcasting outside North Korea (apart, of course, from the Today Programme and Newsnight).

Pity, really, because these are the types of programmes I should be enjoying – but I don’t pay my licence fee to have my opinions and beliefs sneered at by a collection of some of the shallowest, smuggest, and most unoriginal thinkers in Christendom. 

According to a good Telegraph blog by Harry Mount, Aaron Sorkin, who wrote that Liberal-Left wet dream, The West Wing (couldn’t stand it, myself), has been whining about political bias on American TV. Mount points out that the difference between here and there is that Fox News and MSNBC, for instance, make their prejudices clear, while the BBC maintains its fantasy of being “balanced”. In his blog, Mount quotes from the biography of Peter Sissons, the retired newsreader, who I worked with for several years on the Nine O’Clock News:

“I am in no doubt that the majority of BBC staff vote for political parties of the Left. But it’s impossible to do anything but guess at the numbers whose beliefs are on the Right or even Centre-Right. This is because the one thing guaranteed to damage your career prospects at the BBC is letting it be known that you are at odds with the prevailing and deep-rooted BBC attitude towards Life, the Universe, and Everything.”

“At any given time there is a BBC line on everything of importance, a line usually adopted in the light of which way its senior echelons believe the political wind is blowing. This line is rarely spelled out explicitly, but percolates subtly throughout the organisation.”

“Whatever the United Nations is associated with is good — it is heresy to question any of its activities. The EU is also a good thing, but not quite as good as the UN. Soaking the rich is good, despite well-founded economic arguments that the more you tax, the less you get. And Government spending is a good thing, although most BBC people prefer to call it investment, in line with New Labour’s terminology.”

“All green and environmental groups are very good things. Al Gore is a saint. George Bush was a bad thing, and thick into the bargain. Obama was not just the Democratic Party’s candidate for the White House, he was the BBC’s. Blair was good, Brown bad, but the BBC has now lost interest in both.”

I don’t have a clue about Sissons’ political beliefs, or those of his colleague at that time, Michael Buerk – but they both struck me as sensible coves. 

But I suspect that, whatever their opinions, and despite the power of newsreaders to rewrite introductions and headlines, I doubt it would have made any difference whatsoever to the political flavour of the output. It’s 13 years since I worked in  News and Current Affairs, and I still can’t figure out why this should be so: I suspect that even if the whole of, say, theToday team and all it’s presenters were replaced by right-wing Fox journalists, they’d still end up churning out a load of socialist drivel.

A genuine mystery.


  1. No mystery. Most journos are on the left. The very nature of the job makes it ideal for those of us who are sceptical of the powers that be. Even journos on the kind of rags you no doubt admire, like the Torygraph and the Mail, will be Labour supporters. Only a small cadre of commentators will be of your persuasion. Thus, if Fox News journalists were to be parachuted into BBC News where they would find no impediment to their natural political inclinations they would end up producing sensible, humane, truthful news reports. Or ‘a load of socialist drivel’ as you put it.
    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 01:13 AM

  2. Here’s an odd thing about the Left – you say you’re skeptical about the “powers that be”, and yet you can’t wait to hand over control of our everyday lives to the “powers that be”: health care, the economy, business, education, what we eat, what we drink, how we raise our kids, what words we’re allowed to use etc. In most instances, you want to hand control of all that over to the “powers that be” in Europe. And yet, when it comes to the police, the military and national security, the powers that be turn into Nazi swine who can’t be trusted to look after our interests. Make up your mind!

    It’s the control of much of our news media by the Left that makes it so supine and trusting – remember, it was the Torygraph that broke the biggest anti-establishment story since Profumo, i.e. the parliamentary expenses scandal. Labour spent thirteen years railroading the most atrocious legislation through Parliament – and the lefties who control BBC News, Sky News and ITN news (yes, the same sort of people run all three) barely raised a squeak of protest. Pathetic!

    “Sensible, humane and truthful”? What’s sensible or truthful about the way our broadcasters report Europe, immigration, climate change or Obama? Unthinking socialist drivel, all of it. As for being “humane” – I prefer news reports to be created by journalists rather than social workers: otherwise you end up with Feargal Keane emoting emetically over pictures of genuine suffering.
    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 03:30 PM

  3. Quoting Scott:

    Here’s an odd thing about the Left – you say you’re skeptical about the “powers that be”, and yet you can’t wait to hand over control of our everyday lives to the “powers that be” ...

    Nothing changes.

    Here is George Orwell, the archetype of the left-wing journalist, writing 70 years ago*.

    First, Orwell the economics expert:

    Socialism is usually defined as ‘common ownership of the means of production’. Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a State employee. This does not mean that people are stripped of private possessions such as clothes and furniture, but it does mean that all productive goods, such as land, mines, ships and machinery, are the property of the State. The State is the sole large-scale producer. It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption. At normal times a capitalist economy can never consume all that it produces, so that there is always a wasted surplus (wheat burned in furnaces, herrings dumped back into the sea etc. etc.) and always unemployment. In time of war, on the other hand, it has difficulty in producing all that it needs, because nothing is produced unless someone sees his way to making a profit out of it.

    In a Socialist economy these problems do not exist. The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them. Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials. Money, for internal purposes, ceases to be a mysterious all-powerful thing and becomes a sort of coupon or ration-ticket, issued in sufficient quantities to buy up such consumption goods as may be available at the moment.

    I love "in a Socialist economy these problems do not exist".(To be continued...)

  4. Next, Orwell the logical contortionist:

    Socialism aims, ultimately, at a world-state of free and equal human beings. It takes the equality of human rights for granted.

    That's "equal" in the sense that no-one owns anything useful, only the state, and "free" in the sense that we are all free to starve to death anytime we want to.

    In between, he provides his convincing proof why a managed economy is more successful than free markets. Make sure you're sitting down before reading it and not holding a hot drink:

    Internally, Germany has a good deal in common with a Socialist state. Ownership has never been abolished, there are still capitalists and workers, and – this is the important point, and the real reason why rich men all over the world tend to sympathize with Fascism – generally speaking the same people are capitalists and the same people workers as before the Nazi revolution. But at the same time the State, which is simply the Nazi Party, is in control of everything. It controls investment, raw materials, rates of interest, working hours, wages. The factory owner still owns his factory, but he is for practical purposes reduced to the status of a manager. Everyone is in effect a State employee, though the salaries vary very greatly. The mere efficiency of such a system, the elimination of waste and obstruction, is obvious. In seven years it has built up the most powerful war machine the world has ever seen ...

    However horrible this system may seem to us, it works. It works because it is a planned system geared to a definite purpose, world-conquest, and not allowing any private interest, either of capitalist or worker, to stand in its way. British capitalism does not work, because it is a competitive system in which private profit is and must be the main objective. It is a system in which all the forces are pulling in opposite directions and the interests of the individual are as often as not totally opposed to those of the State.

    Why read Orwell?

    Because six pages before all that gloop, he can write:

    The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most ‘anti-Fascist’ during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia – their severance from the common culture of the country.

    And that hasn't changed either.


    * 1941, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius,
    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 06:40 PM

  5. Spot on, DM. I’m a big fan of Orwell’s – a truly great Englishman - and have read almost all his journalism, as well as all his novels, and simply can’t fathom how anyone so intelligent and so aware of what made England special, and so deeply conservative in what he valued about the country, could get it so massively wrong is a genuine mystery. I can only imagine that his belief in the efficacy of state bureaucracy was based on the relative beningness of the British civil service at that time – why else would one put any faith in it?

    Orwell’s problem, I think, was that he had absolutely no interest in possessions or wealth and just assumed that no one apart from a few greedy fat-cats did. I suspect that, because he was a natural hard-worker, he assumed that most people would put in the effort even when they weren’t being personally rewarded for it. Otherwise, I can only suppose that his political vision was so skewed by his experiences at Eton that he saw everything in terms of horrible toffs and lovely workers and that everything he subsequently experienced had to be fitted into this basic view of the world.

    The terrible shame of it all is that, as we now know, the British and American economies roared back after the Depression (despite far too much political interference), while the socialist economies of Russia and Germany were already well and truly buggered – but hardly anyone knew, because no one had yet realised how impossible “planning” an economy is. I wonder how Orwell’s political views would have been affected by this knowledge – or was he too far gone down the “Eton bad/Jarrow great” path by then? Can you imagine what a great conservative he would have made? Mind you, if he’d been a right-winger, I doubt we’d still be talking about him!
    Thursday, January 27, 2011 - 04:13 PM

  6. Scott: “Can you imagine what a great conservative he would have made?”

    Who knows?

    But here’s a long riff on the question.

    At the end of his (highly recommended) biography of William Cobbett, Richard Ingrams sums it up by saying that Cobbett was one of that peculiarly English type, a radical who is also deeply conservative, a conservative who is also an incendiary radical. He doesn’t say so but the clear implication is that Ingrams himself is of the same type.

    And so is Orwell, isn’t he?

    Orwell was genuinely “sceptical of the powers that be”. All the powers that be. He wasn’t selective about it. And he had the scars to prove it, having been shot in the throat while fighting in the Spanish trenches. He would have been mystified at how a mollycoddled corps of groupthinking journalists sheltering from the gunfire of history in the trenches of the BBC canteen can imagine themselves to be in any sense sceptical. Was it in real life that two football commentators lost their job for saying silly things about women and the offside rule? Or did it happen in 1984?

    The collection of Orwell's writings that I'm reading is arranged chronologically, from 1928 to 1949, I've just got into 1942, there are 900+ pages to go, and as far as I’m concerned it's a thriller, I want to know how the man who first wrote so much nonsense could go on to write 1984, something must have happened, and I'm hoping that reading his essays will tell me what.

    My working hypothesis is that the tension between his conservatism and his radicalism was finally resolved by his exceptional integrity, his dedication to the truth finally gave birth to 1984, a sort of nuclear bomb dropped on the political landscape, after which I really don’t think we could expect any more from him.

    Pretentious? You bet. But I might be right as well. Anyway I’m not alone. Here’s Scruton* on the subject:

    For us, late witnesses to the calamity which The Ring foretells, Nibelbeim is a glimpse into the world of totalitarian government, in which human beings are treated not as subjects but as objects, in which the paramount concern is survival, and in which the moral life is therefore eclipsed by calculation. Personal government, by contrast, respects the freedom of its subjects, and is accountable for what it does. It is mediated by law, which binds the ruler as well as the ruled. All actions, whether of individuals or groups, are justiciable, and the state itself wears the aspect of a person—not merely in the legal sense of being liable for its actions, but in the moral sense, of being an object of loyalty, praise and blame. Personal government respects the distinction between the public and the private, and is reluctant to intrude on the sovereign rights of subjects ...

    Nibelheim is perhaps the first premonition in Western art of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And it is all the more prophetic in portraying the evil as simultaneously political and personal: Nibelheim remains in the soul of those who escape from it, for it is the objective form of an inner privation—the privation of love which will not acknowledge the personality of the other, or confront him as one free being confronts his equal. All this is conveyed inimitably in the Prelude to Act I of Siegfried, in which the obsessive mind of Mime is given musical expression. And the music of Alberich, of Mime and of Hagen persuades us that this world of pure power is also one of inner misery and moral destitution. Perhaps no modern work of art portrays as profoundly as The Ring the psychological force which created the modern world—the force that Nietzsche called ressentiment and which, in my view, is the force that takes over when religion dies.

    Back down on terror firmer, I think it gradually dawned on Orwell that nothing was changing. Or to put it another way, the facts of life are conservative and he finally learned the facts of life.
    (To be continued...)

  7. This is from Orwell's lengthy essay on Dickens (1941):

    What is more striking, in a seemingly ‘progressive’ radical, is that he is not mechanically minded. He shows no interest either in the details of machinery or in the things machinery can do ...

    And this is from his essay on Kipling (1942):

    ... the shallow and familiar charge that Kipling is a ‘Fascist’ ... Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting. It is better to start by admitting that, and then to try to find out why it is that he survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.

    And yet the ‘Fascist’ charge has to be answered, because the first clue to any understanding of Kipling, morally or politically, is the fact that he was not a Fascist. He was further from being one than the most humane or the most ‘progressive’ person is able to be nowadays.

    You see. The word "progressive" has to go in inverted commas now and so it did 70 years ago. Nothing changes. In England, even the conservative opposition is conservative.

    We know that now. And Orwell knew it then. Nothing changes. He says so (1944):

    Reading recently a batch of rather shallowly optimistic ‘progressive’ books, I was struck by the automatic way in which people go on repeating certain phrases which were fashionable before 1914. Two great favourites are ‘the abolition of distance’ and ‘the disappearance of frontiers’. I do not know how often I have met with the statements that ‘the aeroplane and the radio have abolished distance’ and ‘all parts of the world are now interdependent’.


    We all like a good list, don’t we. How about:

    Wilkes-Cobbett-Dickens (?)-Orwell-Ingrams-Jenkins (Simon)-Scruton?


    * 'A first shot at The Ring', Understanding Music,
    Friday, January 28, 2011 - 10:16 AM

  8. I’m surprised to find myself tempted to add Ian Hislop to the list – yes, he’s an annoying leftie a lot of the time, and he’s far too gung-ho about the joys of social interference, but, again, you feel that he’s basically a “raving conservative” (actually not a bad phrase for the sort of person you describe). The lack of any significant changes to Private Eye over the years attests to a conservative nature, as does his sneaking admiration for the Anglican church and the Boy Scout movement, his Ingrams-like loathing of sexual shenanigans, and his refusal to take popular culture seriously. Unfortunately, he suffers from automatic anti-Tory syndrome, and his vague attachment to the Left—wingery of his younger days is another example of his conservative nature – he just can’t bring himself to renounce it.

    I’m pretty sure the same explanation applies to Orwell’s refusal to reject the Left entirely – he was always pretty careful to specify which bit of it he was attacking. The logic of just about everything he wrote about his fellow Socialists suggests that, had he lived another 20 years, he’d have ended up in the same camp as Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Philip Larkin, John Braine and John Osborne, and dozens of other youthful socialists who, faced with the reality of left-wing governments around the world, eventually came to their senses (there’s never been a lot of traffic in the opposite direction, interestingly). I also think the refusal to recant is a sign of a strong personality – or plain stubbornness. Orwell received a proper kicking from the Left, and I’m sure that made him determined not to allow them to dismiss him as a mere turncoat (a standard left-wing ploy in the face of criticism). Interestingly, whenever Orwell includes a passage of doctrinaire socialism, his writing becomes stilted and lifeless and utterly unconvincing – as if he’s doing it out of duty rather than conviction.

    Do let us know if you find another explanation in his later journalism.
    Saturday, January 29, 2011 - 01:03 PM