Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Justin Webb and BBC Objectivity Questionable

Yesterday's Guardian carried an interview with Justin Webb, the BBC's Washington Bureau chief, in which Webb revealed that he had gone "native" to a degree which raises doubts about his, and the BBC's, objectivity in reporting US news.

I will highlight two points where his objectivity is questionable.

Firstly, he states:

""I'm a real admirer of American patriotism. It occasionally plainly leads them down terrible dark alleys and sometimes leads us to laugh at them, but I love the way their patriotism genuinely binds together small communities into the wider nation."

That US patriotism binds communities is more important to Webb than the "terrible dark alleys" they go down. What a euphemism! Lying to go to an illegal war, torture, kidnapping and transferring to foreign interrogation centres, denial of basic human rights, denial of due process of law. The truth, Justin! Tell the truth!

How can we rely on his reporting when the truth about these major issues is hidden alongside community patriotism?

Secondly, he mentions an on-air spat with Stephen Sackur - also BBC. The interview continues:

"On one occasion, Webb's frustrations spilled over into an on-air spat with a colleague. Two years ago he locked horns with former BBC Washington correspondent Stephen Sackur on Radio 4. In a look-ahead to the coming year, Sackur said that former UN human rights chief Mary Robinson had told him that post-Iraq America could no longer "take the moral high ground and lecture other countries on how they should impose human rights values". Webb's voice tautened with irritation. "That's absolutely ludicrous, though, isn't it?" he replied on air. "I mean the view in America of that kind of comment is just to throw your hands up and say 'For goodness' sake'. Look at the way that Iraq was run before the invasion, look at Iran now, and then look at America. I mean, can you seriously say that there's some kind of moral equivalence between the way they treat their own people and the way the Americans treat theirs?"

Speaking about the flare-up now, Webb says: "I felt that that was the high spot [in what he characterises as "soft anti-Americanism"]. Of course it was unfair on Stephen because I don't really know what his views are. But what Mary Robinson said about America losing its moral leadership really got me going. I mean, hang on a second, when you look at all the appalling behaviour that there is in the world, you know, in Sudan and all the things the Chinese and the Russians do, we need to keep a perspective. It's not a matter of airbrushing the things that America does do, but it's about placing them in a world context

These words and views could be those of Tony Blair or Bush's speech-writers. Webb is so uncritical and so accepting of the standard US government view.

He just doesn't get it, does he?

The US may well treat its own citizens better than many countries but having moral authority requires more than simply treating ones own citizens well. As the most powerful country, the US could carry moral authority but when a "country" ignores international laws, wages an illegal war, uses torture, kidnaps foreign nationals and flies them to other countries where the victims may be tortured, illegally wire-taps US citizens, it loses the moral authority to lead other countries to uphold standards. Not only has the US lost the moral authority, as Mary Robinson stated, the US, rather than being a beacon of the highest standards, gives the message to the rest of the world that anything goes. Whatever is required, do. Wherever laws constrain actions, ignore and do.

Webb has bought into the fake, blind and uncritical patriotism, apparently prevalent among a significant number of Americans, that the US is always a force for good and what the US does is always right.

True patriotism is not blind. True patriotism is not uncritical. True patriotism stands up against injustice.

If this article is a true reflection of Webb's views , it appears he has fallen for the fake, blind and uncritical patriotism and it is this which renders suspect both his judgment and reporting. How can the public trust the BBC's reporting of US news?

Update January 10
I had a look at Justin Webb's blog and another had left a very polite and respectful comment asking if he could be objective given his love of the USA.

I left the following comment but Webb's moderation appears to have captured and discarded it:

"Interestingly, earlier today - 9 January - I raised the same issue about Justin Webb's objectivity and used the same phrase as you (gone native) on my blog. Unfortunately I wasn't quite as polite about Justin as were you."

Come on, Justin! A teeny bit of criticism and it's gone. You're a sensitive wee soul, aren't you!


  1. Did someone pass an illegal war when we weren't looking? Or you simply running as a democrat over here?

  2. Verlin

    Come on, Justin, why not post under your own name?

  3. That was almost funny Calum ;) Way to avoid the question there.