The Suffocating Blanket

Times of London columnist Gerard Baker looks at the BBC (and the New York Times):

On a recent trip back to Britain, I happened to hear on the BBC an interview with Helen Mirren, shortly before her Oscars triumph. Amid the usual probing sort of questioning that is the currency of celebrity journalism (“How do you manage to look so young? Is there anyone since Shakespeare who has come close to matching your talent?”) one particular gem caught my attention.

Dame Helen was asked how difficult it had been to play such an “unsympathetic character” as the Queen, the eponymous heroine of her recent film. She replied, quite tartly, that she didn’t find the Queen unsympathetic at all and launched into her now familiar riff about how she thought Elizabeth II really, surprisingly, quite agreeable.

It was a little incident, a small crystal in the battering hailstorm of drivel that pours daily through the airwaves. And yet to my mind it signified something so large. It had nothing to do with politics or Iraq or America. It was so telling in its revelation of prejudices and presumptions precisely because it was on such a slight matter as the sensibilities of an actress.

It betrayed an absolutely rock-solid assumption that the Queen is fundamentally unsympathetic, and that anyone who might still harbour some respect for the monarch — or indeed for that matter, the military or the Church, or the countryside or the joint stock company or any of the great English bequests to the world — must be some reactionary old buffer out in the sticks who has not had the benefit of the London media’s cultural enlightenment.

More than that, the question — all fawning and fraternal and friendly — contained within it an assumption that, of course, every thoughtful person shares the same view.

You really do have to leave the country to appreciate fully how pernicious the BBC’s grasp of the nation’s cultural and political soul has become. The groupthink and assumptions implicit in almost everything broadcast by BBC News, and even less explicitly by much else of the corporation’s output, lie like a suffocating blanket over the national consciousness.

This is the mindset that sees the effortless superiority, at every turn, of benign collectivism over selfish individualism, exploited worker over unscrupulous capitalist, enlightened European over brutish American, thoughtful atheist over dumb believer, persecuted Arab over callous Israeli; and that believes the West is the perpetrator of just about every ill that has ever befallen the world — from colonialism to global warming.

… in the US this week, I was struck by an article on the oped pages of The New York Times, the very citadel of leftish political correctness. Written by an apparently completely sane professor at a prestigious US university and entitled “Biased Broadcasting Corporation”, it assailed the BBC’s Middle Eastern services for their consistently antiWestern tone and content.

When the editorial pages of The New York Times accuse the BBC of anti-Western bias it is worth taking notice. It is a little like Osama bin Laden accusing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of being a bit harsh on the Jews. It suggests that in other, even pretty unlikely, parts of the world, people are waking up to the menace to our values represented by the BBC. The British sadly, seem curiously content to remain in thrall to it.

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