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Upper Middle Class Twits

Lileks comments (among other great things--go read today's warbleat) that NPR was running BBC yesterday. Yup. I listened to it as I drove past San Luis Obispo yesterday afternoon. I found it difficult to take it seriously--one of the many depredations caused by a misspent youth of watching and listening to Monty Python.

The Brits like to say that Yanks lack a sense of irony. Keep that thought in mind as I relate this one bit.

It was an interview between the oh-so-serious Beeb commentator, an Arabic language expert (complete with Arabic accent) and a Professor of English from Cardiff. The topic? The language being used by the two sides to describe the war, and their respective adversaries.

It starts with a tape of Saddam in his nightgown, in which he calls the President, among other things, a donkey.

Lead question to Mr Arabic expert: "So, is this bad?"

I laughed out loud at the question. We're at war, people are redecorating with cellophane and duct tape, the terror alert is orange verging on blood red, but this idiot's worried about a loon in the Middle East comparing the president to a barnyard animal.

But he took it seriously, of course.

"Oh, yes, yes, it is the greatest of insults. There is no lower animal that one can compare an opponent with. It is worse even than a pig. Clearly Saddam is very angry at Mr. Bush."

But then he goes on to say, or at least imply, that it was in response to a grave American "insult."

"Last night, they said they made a 'decapitating strike.' But what does it mean to decapitate. It is like cutting off the head of a snake. They are calling the Iraqi people a snake, and of course, when you cut off the head, the body dies, so it is obviously a lie that the Americans are not making war on the Iraqi people."

Then our moderator, without challenging this lunacy in any way, turns to the English English professor. "So, what do you think?"

"Well, they say truth is the first casualty of war, don't they? Of course, what's really the first casualty is language, the medium, the conveyer of truth, as it were."

"Yes, 'decapitation' is a euphemism for something else, in this case assassination."

It goes on in this nonsensical and ridiculous vein for several minutes.

Clearly, Saddam has nothing left but insults, but to think that any American is insulted when he calls Bush a donkey is laughable. I've always heard how flowery and eloquent Arabic is, but if that's the best he has, he couldn't insult himself out of wad of wet toilet paper. Tim Blair could insult him and his entire family into the middle of next week, probably in his sleep.

The Pentagon's use of the word "decapitate" is not intended as an insult--it's a precise description of our intent--to take out the brains of the Iraqi military organization. Yes, Saddam was a target, but that's because he's in charge of the military. In a war, the supreme commander is a perfectly legitimate target. As it happens, President Bush is similarly a legitimate target in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, and if the Iraqis were to miraculously come up with some way to kill him, it wouldn't be an assassination--it would be a means of prosecuting the war.

Assassination is the murder of someone for political purposes, not to accomplish a war aim. If Iraq had a head of state separate from its military head, the latter would be a legitimate target, but not the former.

But one wouldn't expect a professor of English to understand international law, or an expert on Arabic to understand military terminology, particularly one who doesn't seem to understand American culture and believes that we, like Arabs, achieve war aims through insult.

Not, that is, unless one is the BBC.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 21, 2003 08:14 AM
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The people at the BBC are just a bunch of misprinted telephone books... errr, left-handed golf clubs? Bottle caps?

Well, anyway, that'll show'em, those sons of a rusty window latch.

Posted by Sanitation Engineer #6 at March 21, 2003 12:50 PM

A Donkey???

Yes, He did royally insult Bush.....he called him a democRAT!

Posted by Mike Puckett at March 21, 2003 08:29 PM

Excellent article. Well written. Accurate to the end.

Too bad the BBC wallows in an environment that no one else would rather be in. They can't appreciate the direct, no-nonsense, American psyche.

No matter our heritage (our even mine) we have learned to cut through the baloney, or bull, and understand what is truly at stake.

Why else would we have created the USA?

Posted by Daniel McAndrew at March 22, 2003 04:41 PM

The anti-Americanism of the BBC is truly astonishing. I remember listening during the fighting in Afghanistan when the BBC ran a story representing as "average Americans" an English literature professor from a major university and a performance artist, both of whom voiced strong antiwar views. Yes, they certainly seem reflective of American opinion in the wake of September 11: the radical academic and the pacifist self-styled artist. The BBC also ran many stories about the mythical "thousands of civilian casualties" being caused by American bombing. The West has a spiritual sickness, doubt of its deepest values, even self-loathing, and Europe seems even deep into denial. And we are facing people self-confident enough in their beliefs to be convinced that blowing themselves up is an immediate path to paradise.

Posted by Joseph McNulty at March 22, 2003 05:33 PM

Doubt is our greatest strength. As long as it doesn't incapacitate.

Doubt makes you examine the options.

Posted by M. Simon at March 22, 2003 06:41 PM

Pretty funny stuff, really. Don't be terrified at the BBC. Nothing so offends the Left as being ridiculed. Make sure the world understands the running joke that the BBC has become.

Posted by Mark Percich at March 22, 2003 07:08 PM

Buggerers Broadcasting Communism? Baghdad Boadcasting Corporation? The more things change the more they stay the same. God love the loony left when they've got the whole world listening. Monty Python could not improve upon these guys.

Posted by R. Pierce at March 22, 2003 07:39 PM

What a shame to see such a venerable institution as the Beeb turned into a cesspool of unquestioned, unflinching hard-left ideology. Growing up, we Yanks were regaled with tales of BBC's fact-heavy, almost bland and documentary nature. Now it's a fever swamp of one-sided reporting, unchallenged boilerplate and unreconstructed Fabians. Tragic. If Blair has any sense, after the war he'll tell the Beeb to shape up of heads will roll.

Posted by Jeffesonian at March 22, 2003 08:58 PM


Nicely said, although I'm not sure you're correct in saying that Bush is a legitimate target. He may be the Commander-in-Chief, but he is still a civilian. Saddam, on the other hand, as a uniformed member of an established chain of command, would indeed count as a military target according to the rules of war.

This may seem like a petty detail, but there is no uniform or rank for a U.S. president. On the other hand, not only does Saddam make a great show of wearing a command uniform, but a number of years ago he even invented a new military rank for himself. I forget what the name is exactly, but I understand that Arabian tradition places it somewhere between a general and an emperor.

I believe the relevant international law citation would be the Article 43(2) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, which reads: "Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict (other than medical personnel and chaplains?) are combatants, that is to say, they have the right to participate directly in hostilities." (Although the United States is not a party to the Additional Protocol, this passage is widely thought to reflect customary international law.)

Since the President of the United States, in the tradition of a civilian military command, never dons a uniform, he cannot legally be counted a combatant. Therefore, the highest-ranking officials open to targeting by the enemy, by my reckoning, would be the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Posted by at March 23, 2003 01:21 AM

upper middle class twits? Not bloody likely. The BBC has banned all upperclass accents, mostly the long "a", in its social engineering crusade to make the common accent estuary english. ironically, americans now speak better than the english.

Posted by g mallet at March 23, 2003 04:16 AM

I simply can't put into words the anger that I feel at watching the broadcasting organization I have always felt proud of descend into such naked and offensive anti-americanism - no examples needed, simply watch one hour of news output. The BBC was our main cultural export to the world, a bastion of objective reporting in a broadcast environment heavy with partisanship and spin.But no longer. The problem is that the BBC is basically run by a load of 1968 wannabes - talentless, sneering arch-liberals who are painfully right-on and anti-war. I'm sick of the lot of them. I need to watch the news in a straitjacket to avoid damaging the TV. I urge you to avoid it's output.

Posted by brian wood at March 23, 2003 10:41 AM

I heard this exchange--it was mind-blowingly stupid. I actually like having the BBC around, for the same reason I like Fox News--it's nice to see what the fringe thinks. But both networks can claim only a passing relation to reality.

Posted by Jeff Fecke at March 23, 2003 11:18 AM

At least the BBC discussion was an idiotic/ benign exercise. It pales in comparison to the live Sky TV coverage of a fight which happened last night at Umm Qasr. A platoon(?)of Marines encountered hostile Iraqi soldiers in a near-by building. An example of the questions the studio anchor, Simon, was asking the embedded reporter, David Bowden:
?David, how do you think the live coverage is affecting the US Marines, since now the entire world can see them kill Iraqis live??
And this went on for 4 hours:
- what we?ve been told about the Iraqis welcoming the invaders is wrong
- look how just a few Iraqis can stop the advances of the US troops and totally disrupt their plans
- the Iraqi Minister of Information has just announced the Iraqi forces are starting two massive counter-offensives at Umm Qasr and this is one of them...
and on and on, with brief interruptions caused by the field reporter who kept hassling/asking the fighting Marines for an update!
These are not exact quotes, but the implication is clear?they absolutely hate us(not to mention that the reporter was actually endangering the lives of those soldiers). I spent most of the early AM hours yelling at the TV and I just can?t bring myself to hunt down the transcript. However, someone with more energy and better Fisking skills then mine should definitely take a look at that transcript--at least there should be a record for posterity. Because, until further evidence, I am now convinced that evil always triumphs over good (the US, just in case anyone reading this had any doubt, whatsoever).

Posted by rose at March 23, 2003 11:44 AM

The BBC treated us to the sight of "Peace" demonstrators weeping as B52s took off from England on Saturday. This, apparently, was the major news story of the day.

Unfortunately, no silly walks from the demonstrators or the reporter.

Posted by Gareth at March 23, 2003 11:46 AM

And, the Beeb is the very model of a modern major journalism works, slavishly imitated by NPR. Both institutions need, if not intellectual diversity (they might not ever understand the concept), then a complete housecleaning.

Posted by Insufficiently Sensitive at March 23, 2003 11:47 AM

Sky, owned, like Fox, by Rupert Murdoch, can hardly be accused of a liberal bias can it? I don't suppose it's possible that what is being reported is true?

Posted by James at March 23, 2003 12:39 PM

Just visited your blog. Man, the first blog I have seen that the style is worse than the content. Don't give up your day job...

Posted by zipity at March 23, 2003 01:28 PM

James, as I clearly mentioned in my previous post, I watched the entire fight/report, non-stop, for about 4 hours. Thus, I am able to answer your question:
?I don?t suppose that what is being reported is true??.
And the answer is not based on supposition or speculation, but rather based on witnessed facts. The answer is, no, none of what was being reported was true.
1. The Marines were not ?killing Iraqis?. During the entire 4 hours there was no picture of a Marine killing anyone. Thus, reporting that ?the Marines are killing Iraqis? was not true. Moreover, the Marines were defending against hostile enemy fire, in an active combat situation, in a declared war. All the Marines were wearing military uniforms and were clearly identified as active combatants. So, just in case Simon, the ?distinguished? journalist anchor (who spent his career covering the Royal family as per his Sky bio), wanted to ask about a future possibility, the UNBIASED, true question, would?ve been: ?David, how do you think the live coverage is affecting the US Marines, since now the entire world can see them possibly killing hostile, enemy Iraqi soldiers??
2. We have been told that the civilian Iraqi population will welcome the arrival of the coalition forces. You have already seen that. In case you have not, visit Instapundit ( and you'll find numerous links to such examples.
3. These Marines were not the advancing troops. Their mission, as stated by the platoon?s (?) sergeant and CENTCOM (, was to spend 4 to 5 days in Umm Qasr, to make the area safe for humanitarian transports, once they secured the place. Since they secured the port yesterday, they were well within their time-frame and ?the plan? was not disrupted.
4. The announcement of an Iraqi counter-offensive was happening live, at the same time the Marines were engaged in the hostile confrontation. Simon?s statement of fact that what we were watching was this offensive was untrue (you know, ?little? things like:journalists should have at least two sources, or military expertise to assess if what we were seeing was indeed consistent with a counter-offensive, or direct access to/input into Iraq?s military planning, etc.).

Posted by rose at March 23, 2003 02:26 PM

Interesting that the intent of each speaker, in using the term "decapitation"/"donkey" was not considered. Never let a little think like the subject's intent creep into your hard-hitting reporting.

Posted by tim at March 23, 2003 08:54 PM

To be fair to James' blog style, he's not responsible -- he's using one of Blogspot's standard templates. It is one of the more effects-laden ones, and might look wonky in non-IE browsers.

Posted by Andrea Harris at March 23, 2003 10:46 PM

Having spent the weekend flicking between Sky, MSNBC, CNN and BBC News 24 - frankly, I'll stick with the BBC.

BBC Radio is a fairly broad church, and if you want a comarison, I suggest you listen go to or /today and listen to a complete show. BBC Radio 4 is a high end talk radio station which tries to cover a wide range of opinion.

Posted by Dave at March 24, 2003 02:35 AM

At the very least, I can't knock the Beeb for being up to date. Having the live video feed murmuring behind some windows on my screen all day is useful in that I don't have to walk all the way to the living room to see what's going on.

I think people all to easily forget that public intellectuals always seem to favor the left; conservatism in any form smacks of intellectual (figurative) retardation and ignorance of contemporary analysis. I'm southern, and having lived in New York City, Boston and Chicago since I graduated from college (Oberlin College, at that), I've been trotted out by my east coast friends almost as evidence that people raised in conservative culture can learn to function intellectually. It's insulting, to be sure, but it's a common problem.

It's important to research the bias of any media you consume, which is why I enjoy getting my news analysis from a blog. I felt very alone as a hawk watching international media coverage of the war protests, until I discovered (from reading blog after blog in defense of my stance) that there was actually considerable opinion on my side of the issue.

From the grey lady to the Beeb, always beware of bias. Having worked as a senate reporter in Washington D.C. and leaving the profession entirely out of distaste, I can assure you that there is much more behind any given story than meets the eye...

That said, let's all hope that things end as quickly and bloodlessly as possible, so we can quit talking about this already.

Posted by Nash at March 24, 2003 11:35 PM

Nash, for every body of blog opinion supporting your viewpoint, there's a huge one for the opposite stance too.

I think, based on nothing but straw personal polling, the split across my body of reading and friends is still pretty even.

Posted by Dave at March 25, 2003 02:34 AM

The discussion about media bias misses the point by a mile. It is the graphics - the live and video footage - that is important.

Notice the loops. Loops that may be played behind commentary that has no connection with the footage. Or a series of recorded video sequences that are neither chronological or connected or related to the commentary. They are presented as if they have been film in the place where the commnetary is coming from, when if you have been watching the coverage from the beginning, you can remeber seeing days earlier. Why do they do this. Why,if they haven't got footage, don't they use a still?

BBC and ITV are repeating ad nauseum clips of the the most glamorous bits of the war, in particular the "the Royal Marines Rambo" sequence. In one instance, the commentary was about US/Najaz, while the loop was the "UK Marine/Rambo", an event which took place in Um Kasr.

This is visual misinformation.

Posted by andy at March 27, 2003 05:50 AM

Heavy losses at the BBC (BBC reporter shouts, " I'm a Muslim, help me". after being shot.

Another bad day for the BBC with heavy losses reported in Saudi
Arabia, we now go over live to our special reporter Ir-la, Ir-la, Is
this another bad day for the BBC?

Yes Hue, the BBC looks increasingly beleaguered and isolated as its
policy in Arabia comes under scrutiny once again. The UN would not
allow their staff to go escorted into these areas. Back to Hue.

Thank you Ir-la. We now go over live to our special correspondent
outside the BBC Centre in Wood Lane, Matt, would you say that the BBC
is worried by the heavy losses in Arabia?

Undoubtedly Hue, you only have to ask yourself what is the BBC doing
in Arabia? Arabians resent the presence of foreign infidels and the
BBC is especially hated for its aggressive tactics unlike ITN in the
south who are on friendly terms with the locals.

Thank you Matt, back home questions are increasingly being asked
about the direction in which BBC News is taking the
BBC, should they continue to risk the lives of reporters without a UN
mandate to operate in Arabia?

We now go over live to our special correspondent in Wood Lane who
asks this question of passers by.

"I fink Gordon Ramsey ought to go over their and throw a few f's
into them"

"Yes Thank you and you madam what do you think about the BBC in

"Ain't as good as coronation street is it?"

"Yes but do you think the BBC should be out there in the first
place, after all, reporters do have wives and children back at

"Exactly and its disgusting that the BBC sends them OVER THERE
in the first place, I went on the anti- BBC march and I certainly
won't be paying my BBC licence this year"

"Thank you very much madam, now back to Hue in the studio".

More discontent with the BBC administration is clearly evident from
those views expressed, it looks like another bad day for the BBC
coming as it does after the sacking of the DAG, the Hutton report and
the sad loss of A Mulligan.

We move on now to lighter news that 700,000 have died while
relocating in Sudan.

Tomorrows weather now and over to our weather person, what sort of
day have we got in store for us tomorrow?

Well Hue as its the summer we can expect some rain.

Thats all tonight from the BBc News team, join us again when we bring you the latest news

from around the world.

Posted by mrdgriff at June 9, 2004 03:28 AM

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