Pilger gave us the word to describe how the BBC distorts its coverage of Jews

With John Pilger’s passing, the verb coined after him should be updated to reflect the BBC’s obvious bias


John PIlger (Wikipedia)

January 04, 2024 15:51

The journalist John Pilger died last week. He became so notorious for skewing his reports to fit his preconceived agenda that his behaviour gave rise to a new word: to Pilger, which its originator, Auberon Waugh, defined as “presenting information in a sensationalist manner in support of a particular conclusion.” Now Pilger is no longer with us, the verb needs updating.

It’s obvious really, isn’t it? To BBC. There are so many examples of this that we could fill an entire issue, let alone this one column. But when it comes to BBCing stories, nothing beats the BBC’s attitude to Israel and, indeed, to Jews.

Remember how it covered the attack on Jewish children in Oxford during Chanukah in 2021, when the BBC repeatedly and baselessly accused one of the victims of making an “anti-Muslim slur”, so it would seem he was somehow to blame? The coverage was entirely BBCed.

The very next month, in January 2022, the BBC’s reporting of the Beth Israel shul siege in Texas, when a rabbi and three other Jews were taken hostage, was also thoroughly BBCed. It refused to mention any notion of antisemitism being a factor in gunman Malik Faisal Akram’s actions, citing only his supposed mental health problems.

The reporter then carefully BBCed President Biden’s reaction, saying correctly that, “The US president has described what happened here as an act of terror” but omitting Biden going on to label it as an antisemitic attack. The omission was not merely striking; it was grotesque.

As for the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s military action against Hamas it’s difficult to find a report that hasn’t been BBCed, such as when its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reported that the Al-Ahli hospital had been flattened when it had not been touched.

Or when Jon Donnison said after an explosion at the  same  that, “It’s hard to see what else this could be really, given the size of the explosion, other than an Israeli airstrike or several airstrikes”. Except it wasn’t an Israeli airstrike, it was a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket and it wasn’t in the hospital, it was in a car park.

This week has brought another egregious example. On Tuesday, the president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, resigned after a double whammy of shame. Dr Gay was one of the three university presidents testifying before Congress who had been unwilling to respond with a “Yes” to the question, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?”.

Then, after the Harvard board said she would remain as president, she was accused of plagiarising much of her doctoral thesis. The latter whammy appears to have been the immediate cause of her resignation, but the former whammy set the context for it, making clear to all the cloth from which she was cut.

How did the BBC report this? By BBCing it. It chose to present Dr Gay as the victim, with a story by Anthony Zurcher, its North America correspondent, headlined: “Harvard’s Claudine Gay a casualty of campus culture wars.”

Not, as would have been accurate, “Harvard’s Claudine Gay a casualty of being unwilling to condemn genocide of Jews”, or “Harvard’s Claudine Gay a casualty of being accused of stealing other people’s work and passing it off her own”.

No, the story had to be BBCed so Dr Gay became, as Zurcher reported, the casualty in “a high-profile victory by conservatives who have objected to her on ideological grounds”. Objecting to someone’s refusal to condemn calls for the genocide of Jews is apparently an ideological stance.

Dr Gay is, as an individual, responsible for her words and deeds. And those words and deeds have been widely exposed in the past few weeks, making her position untenable. Previously, it’s unlikely that one in a thousand Americans would have had any idea who she was, but her words were so foul more precisely the absence of a word: “Yes”   that she became a byword for the moral sickness that most people can spot a mile off. And her deeds in seemingly plagiarising a fellow academic pushed her over the edge.

The question now is what, if anything, will get the BBC to change. To, as it were, unBBC itself.

January 04, 2024 15:51

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