Politics & Policy

Cops and Cheaters

How about some reality programming for the BBC's World Service?

I’ve noticed that in France, the only people who speak French any more are the French, a rapidly dwindling aboriginal tribe quickly being replaced by Muslims looking for better jobs and English people looking for a better Kent. The new linguistic curve in France favors the newcomers, especially in broadcasting. And actually, with a box and a Skycard, you’ve got everything you need, really, including three channels of something called “Reality TV” and the BBC. The BBC does news 24/7. Reality TV does Cops, interrupted occasionally by episodes of Cheaters. Think Spike or FX, but not so gay.

For fairness and accuracy, Reality TV is probably your better bet. Not only does Reality cover stories the BBC totally ignores, they observe the old-fashioned protocols and conventions of journalism far more assiduously. Every episode of Cops, for example, begins with a reminder that the people they cover are all “presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.” Cheaters doesn’t go that far, but they don’t have to: nerdy host Joey Greco has caught it all on video (“…and here we see them going into the motel together…”).

That’s more than can be said for the BBC–and especially for its Foreign Office-funded, leftwing playground, the World Service. The news for the last two weeks–what am I saying? The last three years (I reported on the BBC’s invasion coverage here)–has featured the breathless journos of the BBC chasing American perps across the Middle East and around the world, all to support the narrative that has America playing the role of an outlaw nation, presumed guilty of whatever happens, wherever it happens. A few weeks of this, and you want to grab a beer, take off your shirt and go face-down in the front yard until the British Broadcasting Cops show up.

If you recall, we’re currently in the middle of the Haditha episode. In this part of the story, American soldiers have become the barbarians trampling down the fragile civilization built by Islamic fascist terrorists. Symptomatic of this jackbooted thuggery of ours is the purported destruction of ancient Babylon by the American military who were looking for a place to park, something revealed angrily on the World Service by Jonathan Charles over Memorial Day weekend. Denials by the U.S. government meant nothing to him and he wasn’t interested in checking their story, either; the result is a classic example of a voguish kind of ersatz-journalism–the half-reported rant.

Immediately after Memorial Day, came John Simpson’s ultimately embarrassing scoop: The prodigious investigative skills of some BBC producers had unearthed a video made by anti-American insurgents purporting to show evidence of an American atrocity in Ishaqi, official accounts notwithstanding.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a video given to a sympathetic media figure (his previous headlines: “Iraq’s Descent into Bombing Quagmire,” “No Reason for Optimism in Iraq,” etc.) by the combatants on one side of a war might be manipulation of the willing, but no! Simpson’s report claims “the BBC was not given the footage but had to dig it out…the group was not interested in Western news organisations.” Right. The way Bill Jefferson isn’t interested in freezers or the way George Michael isn’t interested in men’s rooms. As Sheriff John Bunnell (retired) put it after he dug out a video showing proof of one of The World’s Scariest Police Chases, “Losers and liars…what are they thinking?!”

Nevertheless, Simpson’s video became a global story for 48 hours as the World Service tried and convicted the U.S. military of the alleged atrocity at Ishaqi. Finally, a military investigation showed that despite what many would like to believe, American soldiers hadn’t gone on a rampage and shot little kids in the head after all.

So? Next! Forget Ishaqi. What about the real American crime–kidnapping Islamic terrorist holidaymakers from places like Macedonia and taking them to a small focus group meeting in Afghanistan? The “secret rendition” report was issued earlier this week by a former prosecutor named Dick Marty, a Swiss politician who runs an investigatory panel for the Council of Europe.

As clever a plan as rendition is, Marty’s tale, like the Ishaqi story (and like the Washington Post story that launched this faddish obsession), is one without any credible evidence–or, as Marty puts it in the Independent, “proof, in the classical meaning of the term, is not as yet available.” However, nonsense, in the classical meaning of the term, obviously is, and, as the World Service reports, “If the allegations…prove to be true,” boy, that would really be something! Maybe.

True, in the classical meaning of the term, or not, everybody knows what Marty called “outsourcing torture” was yet more evidence of America’s global outlawry, and no international court of criminal justice is necessary to find the U.S. guilty yet again. The ultimate proof? The lack of proof. As Marty told Le Monde, a “veil of silence” has descended over the charges. That isn’t quite true. As even the International Herald Tribune reports, everyone has spoken up clearly–to deny his claims. Marty’s fallback strategy: Urge the nations who have denied involvement to admit involvement. Wife-beaters fall for this all the time. Come on, Marty, or Dick, or whoever you are. When he claims he’s got a cheater, Joey Greco at least shows us the freaking tapes.

Complaints? Don’t take them to the Council of Europe. You’d just stand on line all day then be told to come back the next day for a line-standing permit. Marty heads up the Swiss tourist bureau. So take your complaint straight to Expedia.

ITEMS:

Another day on the World Service. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead. Most people think that’s a good thing–especially T-shirt makers; Handelsblatt reports that the press has already dubbed Zarq the new Che–even if they also agree with Libération (and Bush and Blair, for that matter) that the violence in Iraq will continue. One reason, pointed out on Thursday when a World Service interviewer accidentally turned on the lights: “The war is being fought in the media, isn’t it?” Why yes, it is!

Incoherent rant of the week. The American dream is over for some deeply confused Brit journo. Why? Maybe because he found himself outside a coffee bar at Gatwick. My hunch: Nobody thought he was worth a euro-dime.

Planet without news. Fortunately, nothing the World Service–or anybody else–says for will be audible in most parts of the world starting today, when World Cup matches (it’s like soccer, people, but without the kids) begin. That will allow French Socialist frontrunner Ségolène Royal to continue her hilarious run to the right of Sarkozy and Chirac, as Le Nouvel Observateur reports, without anyone noticing. As if they would anyway. It’s hard to overstate the significance of this sporting event, through which all thought, however marginal, must be filtered, as WF Deedes does Friday in the Telegraph. Just yesterday, I learned on the World Service that the reason Germany was able to come back after the war was because of its World Cup victory in 1954. If there was a Marshall Plan, it didn’t matter because obviously it didn’t work to score any goooooals.

Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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