Later in this issue, James Bowman reports on the mainstream media’s coverage of the war with Iraq. It is an inglorious tale: a compendium of anti-American broadsides, half snide, half furious, almost comically wrongheaded and inaccurate. A few days into the conflict, major media institutions from The New York Times to CNN and the BBC could barely contain their glee. What, not yet in Baghdad? What happened to the “cakewalk” that Dick Cheney predicted? OK, OK, it turns out the vice-president did not predict a cakewalk, he was merely reported to have done so, and what is reported can be repeated. Still, disaster clearly loomed. The war, we were told, was proceeding much more slowly than the administration expected; casualties were mounting; civilians were being bombed; the coalition didn’t have enough troops; supply lines were over-stretched; we had forgotten about sandstorms and the fierce desert heat; natives greeted coalition forces with bullets, not flowers; Baghdad promised to be a latter-day Stalingrad, house-to-house fighting, bloodbath, quagmire, US arrogance, cowboy, Europe told us so, Bush, Bush, Bush …

Well, that was day four or five. Three weeks after the war began, one of the most brilliant military campaigns in history ended with Iraq liberated from Saddam and his henchmen, its infrastructure intact, and astonishingly few civilian or coalition casualties. It was an amazing, an extraordinary performance—unprecedented in its speed and precision—but you didn’t catch the mainstream media frankly acknowledging that fact. On the contrary, no sooner did the coalition forces win the war than the media began wringing its collective hands about whether we were on the brink of “losing the peace,” “widespread looting,” etc., etc.

Of course, there were a few bright spots in the media’s reporting, particularly from some “embedded” reporters and some so-called internet “bloggers.” As Mr. Bowman suggests, however, the dominant note was ignominious. The low point? Well, competition is stiff for the title to that achievement. CNN is at least a runner-up, not only because of its consistently anti-American bias, but also for its policy of deliberately hushing up the grim realities of Hussein’s regime in exchange for “access”—a fact that, as Mr. Bowman notes, its chief news executive managed to admit and evade in the space of a single op-ed contribution. Still, after all the contestants have been scrutinized, we believe that the BBC deserves to come out on top (or do we mean at the bottom?) in this diabolical contest for awfulness. Mr. Bowman recounts several outrages perpetrated by the once illustrious news organization that, when the war got underway, was widely referred to as the “Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation.”

We’d like to share with readers two additional items that came to light after Mr. Bowman’s piece went to press. They offer graphic corroboration of the BBC’s reflexive ideological posturing. The swift fall of Baghdad was a grievous blow to those parts of the Western media that backed the quagmire-thesis of buffoons like The New York Times’s R. W. Apple. How to deal with such an unscripted event? Easy: turn success into failure. The coalition had come to liberate Iraq, but according to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC’s defense correspondent, residents of Baghdad experienced their “first days of freedom in more fear than they have ever known before.” “More fear”? Really? Was a bit of looting worse that Saddam’s secret police? As a spokesman for the British government tartly advised, “Try telling that to people put in shredders or getting their tongues cut out.”

It would be a mistake to think that the BBC’s reporting on Iraq was an anomaly. The ideological bias of the institution is evident in virtually all its reporting. Consider the recent capture of Abu Abbas, the Palestinian terrorist who masterminded the hijacking of the US cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. It was simply business as usual for the BBC to describe Abu Abbas blandly a “fugitive”—after all, “terrorist” is such a judgmental word. But it takes a special sort of blindness to proceed, as the BBC’s initial report did (thanks to www.andrewsullivan.com for bringing this to our attention), that “During the hijack, an elderly American passenger died.” Died? What happened to the poor fellow? Did he suffer a shuffleboard-induced heart attack, aspirate an olive, expire from sunstroke?

The “elderly American passenger” who died when Abu Abbas hijacked the Achille Lauro was Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew who was on holiday with his wife. He died because Abu Abbas’s Palestinian thugs shot him twice in the head and then pushed him overboard. The BBC later emended “died” to “was killed,” which is still considerably less candid than “murdered,” the blunt but accurate term employed by Fox News.

We heard a lot about “collateral damage” when the war against Iraq started. The extraordinary precision of America’s weapons and the unprecedented care with which coalition forces targeted the enemy reduced collateral damage to an historic low. But we may still hope that this conflict has brought in its wake some collateral benefits—the delegitimation of the United Nations, for example, whose preposterous sermonizing in the months leading up to the war with Iraq put paid once and for all to its pretensions to be a serious player on the stage of international relations. We may also hope that media outlets like the BBC have finally provoked sufficient public outrage that their status as state-funded propaganda machines for the enemy will finally be called into question. The fact that sailors from a Royal Navy aircraft carrier turned off their direct feed from the BBC in protest of its pro-Iraqi coverage is a good sign, as is the disgust and anger of some members of the British government. We are sometimes accused of being pessimists, but we admit that the privatization of the BBC would be a brilliant silver lining to the very dark cloud represented by its distorted, politically tendentious reporting. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 21 Number 9, on page 2
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https://newcriterion.com/issues/2003/5/annals-of-the-bbc

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