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Appalling, If True:

The Sunday Telegraph (UK) reports:

Amid the deaths and the grim daily struggle bravely borne by Britain's forces in southern Iraq, one tale of heroism stands out.

Private Johnson Beharry's courage in rescuing an ambushed foot patrol then, in a second act, saving his vehicle's crew despite his own terrible injuries earned him a Victoria Cross.

For the BBC, however, his story is "too positive" about the conflict.

The corporation has cancelled the commission for a 90-minute drama about Britain's youngest surviving Victoria Cross hero because it feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq....

Note, though, the "if true"; the BBC has not admitted that this is the reason ("[a] spokesman for the BBC admitted that it had abandoned the VC project but refused to elaborate"), and the story relies on anonymous sources -- certainly not an uncommon or inherently illegitimate reporting practice, but one that leaves considerable room for error.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

dearieme:
They've got form, mind. Years ago, they scrapped a planned drama about the Falklands War because it showed Mrs T in a favourable light. Eventually, they put out a low-budget version out on one of their minor channels. The odd thing is that the BBC in public always denies its transparent political bias, but the people who work there seem ready to confess to it in private.
4.8.2007 5:44pm
Justin (mail):
Not entirely sure it would be appalling. We all know what the English public's view of the war is, and this is a drama, not a news report. Presumably, BBC is going to make the decision based on whether people are going to tune in - and if they feel like such a movie cuts against the public mood of England, they may think that ratings would not be high.

Unfortunate, maybe - but appalling seems to be an overstatement. If true, as you noted.
4.8.2007 5:47pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
People seem to be unable to separate one virtue from another, in this case, the validity of the cause and courage. Bill Moyers was, as I recall, pilloried several years ago for commenting that the 9/11 hijackers showed more courage than an American launching cruise missiles to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan thousands of miles away, yet he was absolutely right. It doesn't take much courage to sit in a bunker in the US and push a button to kill a faceless enemy who cannot possibly retaliate. It does take courage of a perverse sort intentionally to crash the plane in which you are flying. People can act courageously in the service of evil and they can act without courage, or even in a cowardly manner, in the service of a good cause. There's no logical connection, but people want there to be one.
4.8.2007 5:48pm
Guest Poster:
Presumably, BBC is going to make the decision based on whether people are going to tune in.



Thats making the presumption that the BBC was making the decision based on ratings,not based on internal biases.
4.8.2007 5:49pm
Enoch:
it feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq....

Have they ever feared alienating members of the audience not opposed to the war in Iraq?

(Yeah, both of them...)

What happened to "just report the news"?
4.8.2007 6:01pm
Random Commenter:
"Presumably, BBC is going to make the decision based on whether people are going to tune in - and if they feel like such a movie cuts against the public mood of England, they may think that ratings would not be high."

Justin - you're overlooking the nature of the BBC. It is not a commercial broadcasting company that answers to financially interested shareholders. Its gets its billion dollar base funding from a tax imposed on everyone in the UK who owns a television set. The BBC is therefore somewhat relieved of the need to provide television people want to watch, and can afford to dictate to some extent what offerings are available to the viewing public. It's not hard to see why such a system is prone to political manipulation.
4.8.2007 6:08pm
BBC One. BBC Two.:
Enoch: Don't confuse BBC News with the entirety of the BBC. This isn't talking about a news report: it's talking about a dramatic production.

...

Seriously, is this what the Volokh Conspiracy is devolving into? Non-stories about BBC dramas? How about a post about how The Footballer's Wives increases teen pregnancy. Please.
4.8.2007 6:09pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

Bill Moyers was, as I recall, pilloried several years ago for commenting that the 9/11 hijackers showed more courage than an American launching cruise missiles to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan thousands of miles away, yet he was absolutely right.


That's Bill Maher, not Moyers. Rather significant difference.
4.8.2007 6:24pm
cirby (mail):

We all know what the English public's view of the war is,


Yes, we do. And a huge proportion of that public's view is based on the false coverage that the BBC feeds them on a daily basis.

Kinda makes you wonder what their view would be if, for example, the BBC managed to balance out their coverage even a little bit, instead of heavily loading it in the "anti" direction. There should have been very little coverage of that faked-up Lancet study (the "650,000" one), or a lot of coverage of the debunkings from several sources, but some folks at the BBC still allude to it.

We have the same problem in the US.

Daily death reports (often repeated several time over the course of a week or so when there weren't any for one or two days), lots and lots of "it's going to hell," but not a heckuva lot of the large number of good things going on over there. The surge, for example, lowered deaths (civilian and military), but we got a whole lot of "the surge is not going to work," even while it was obvious that it had.
4.8.2007 6:34pm
Dave N (mail):
A well-written drama about the recipient of the Victoria Cross (just like a well written drama about a recipient of the Medal of Honor) would be very interesting. It is too bad that the bureaucrats at the BBC are concerned about "offending those opposed to the war in Iraq."

It is also sad that those opposed to the war sneer at would otherwise could be a good story because, well, they are opposed to the war in which the heroism is displayed.
4.8.2007 6:56pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):


Bill Moyers was, as I recall, pilloried several years ago for commenting that the 9/11 hijackers showed more courage than an American launching cruise missiles to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan thousands of miles away, yet he was absolutely right.

That's Bill Maher, not Moyers. Rather significant difference.


I agree that Bill Maher and Bill Moyers are rather different, but my real point, that whoever said it didn't deserve the criticism he received, is unaffected, I think.
4.8.2007 6:58pm
Andrew Okun:
The BBC has many staffers with many biases and while their news is even-handed, they are willing to put on shows with a point of view and, presumably, willing to not put on shows when they don't want to express a point of view. Further, some of their biases pervade the organization. It is not impossible that some anti-war opinion could have played a role.

But I think it would be a mistake to take a description from the at-least-equally-biased Sunday Telegraph as a true telling of what went on inside. The anonymous sources were, presumably, people involved who were pissed at the outcome. We all know how, when you are pissed at an outcome, you can retell the events making the people who got in your way out to be craven and malicious.

There are lots of reasons the BBC might decide not to put on such a show. Rather than catering to an anti-war audience, they might be wanting to appear sophisticated and cynical, and uncynical "what a brave hero" stories in wartime don't fit that bill. The facts underlying the VC awarded event might be in some ways unclear or equivocal ... i.e. were the rescued soldiers put in harm's way by stupid officers. It might have made for lousy drama ... i.e. the laudable behavior took place over 45 seconds and would have to be fictionalized to be made into TV material. Maybe they just thought it would be an insubstantial use of BEEB resources. Certainly American media have done lots of "Saving Jessica Lynch" and "Flight 93" kinds of things and it doesn't tell us that the war was a good or bad idea or what to do next. It is MOW stuff, which is optional. Any of that reasoning could be recast as "we need to use the BBC to fight against Blair and Bush and their evil war" if a producer gets mad enough.
4.8.2007 7:02pm
Carolina:

Seriously, is this what the Volokh Conspiracy is devolving into? Non-stories about BBC dramas? How about a post about how The Footballer's Wives increases teen pregnancy. Please.


That's what makes this blog so interesting, at least to me. VC has intelligent commentary on a wide range of issues, not just limited to arcane legal topics.

If you want a blog that limits itself to posts on the Supreme Court's docket, there are other blogs that fit the bill. I read some of those too. But VC is different, and I hope it stays that way.
4.8.2007 7:03pm
John (mail):
"The BBC has many staffers with many biases and while their news is even-handed..."

Puh-leeze! What exactly is this "even-handed" notion based on?
4.8.2007 7:14pm
Just John:
Bill Poser: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality." - C.S. Lewis.

I suspect that true courage would be resisting the urge to commit murder. Also, there has been much talk that suicide bombers and their sort are assured that they will be going to a heaven with seventy-two virgins and other such earthly pleasures; in which case, they're not bravely doing something against their interest, but doing something that feels good, which is also not a sign of courage.

I also suspect that there is a difference between soldiers and murderers. The nineteen 9/11 attackers slaughtered thousands, including cutting people's throats on the planes. Soldiers are aiming at either other soldiers, or at least people who have declared their intention to attack them or their country.
4.8.2007 7:18pm
fishbane (mail):
Cirby: And a huge proportion of that public's view is based on the false coverage that the BBC feeds them on a daily basis.

Can you point to some of this false coverage? I would be very interested in it (and I'm sure many other readers would be, too).
4.8.2007 7:32pm
JB:
Bill Poser: People seem to be unable to separate one virtue from another

So true. This is the political mirror image of the "If you're against the war, you hate the troops!" canard. Actually, I'm surprised something like this didn't turn up sooner.
4.8.2007 7:41pm
Andrew Okun:
"The BBC has many staffers with many biases and while their news is even-handed..."

Puh-leeze! What exactly is this "even-handed" notion based on?


What? I acknowledge some organizational bias, so why stop there? Should I have said, "The BBC, and each of its divisions, is wholly devoted to implementation of Islamo-Fasci-Communist world government! It is the organization's sole raison d'etre." It's not true. I look at their website and listen occasionally. I lived in the UK during Maggie, whom the reporters detested, and they gave serious, even-handed, quality reporting, including a certain amount of "Saving Private Lynch" stuff through the Falklands, the cuts and privatizations, the strikes, the nuclear weapons protests, debates and deployments.

If my only allowed choices here are "The BBC are evil" or "the BBC are wholly good." I'm going to have to opt for the latter. We could use them here. The trouble with our supposed MSM+Fox is not their alleged respective biases ... an intelligent population can probably weather that. It is that they are lightweights.
4.8.2007 7:45pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Just John,

I agree that if the 9/11 hijackers thought that they would immediately be conveyed to heaven they might not have been exhibiting much courage, but for most people, even those who believe that they will go to heaven, there is a considerable natural fear of death. In any case, we can easily replace the 9/11 hijackers with others with no such beliefs. Many Nazis were courageous in battle, even if atheist, and even though they were engaged in evil.

As to attacking civilians versus attacking other soldiers,I agree that there is a moral and legal difference, but I don't see that it has to do with courage. Pushing a button to launch a cruise missile doesn't take much courage whether the missile is aimed at enemy troops or an enemy city.
4.8.2007 7:47pm
KevinQ (mail) (www):
We all know what the English public's view of the war is,


cirby:
Yes, we do. And a huge proportion of that public's view is based on the false coverage that the BBC feeds them on a daily basis.


Here's 149 articles on the BBC's website that mention Johnson Beharry, the soldier in question. What is their false coverage?

K
4.8.2007 7:50pm
Kazinski:
Poser,
I don't care how much courage it takes to kill women, children, the elderly and other unarmed civilians. Fanatics have seldom been accused of cowardice but it is not a trait to be admired.
4.8.2007 7:54pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
I'm with the "non-story" camp, not because I don't think media bias matters, but because it's been so completely exposed at this point that nobody can any longer be fooled by supposedly objective reporting. Bias of one direction or another is assumed in all cases.

I actually consider that a step forward, in that even in Mencken's time most reporters saw their job not as objective journalism but as advocates for their various versions of liberalism. With the veil lifted, there may at least be an opening for "just the facts" journalism to enter the market.
4.8.2007 8:02pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Kazinski,

I have no admiration for the murderers of noncombatants. I merely recognize that they may have courage. One point is that courage and good motivation are quite separable. The corollary is that courage by itself ought not to be admired overmuch if it is not coupled with right action.
4.8.2007 8:05pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Incidentally, it seems that fanaticism and cowardice can be combined within the same organization. Hezbollah, for example, sends out suicide bombers, who may be courageous in their pursuit of evil, but it also makes a practice of using civilians to shield its military installations, which was the cause of many civilian casualties in the recent fighting between Hezbollah and Israel. So the organization as a whole behaves in a cowardly way but sends out individuals whose behavior may be courageous.
4.8.2007 8:09pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
We had no problem running the Jessica Lynch story, and that turned out to be completely false :p.

This story sure has alot of ifs to make a big fuss over.
4.8.2007 8:18pm
JB:
Regarding the courage of the hijackers...

The problem with getting peace in Iraq is this:

The moderates, who we want in charge, want above all peace and security for their families. They are therefore the least likely people to pursue a career in politics, when politics is conducted with guns.

So our allies have the least physical courage (defined as being willing to step into the line of fire in order to win) of all the parties in the middle east.

OBL &co launched 9/11 out of the belief that that same pattern held true for them and us--they're willing to die for Wahhabism, and they hoped we weren't willing to die for the safety of our families.
4.8.2007 8:26pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Cirby

[i]Daily death reports (often repeated several time over the course of a week or so when there weren't any for one or two days), lots and lots of "it's going to hell," but not a heckuva lot of the large number of good things going on over there.[b] The surge, for example, lowered deaths (civilian and military), but we got a whole lot of "the surge is not going to work," even while it was obvious that it had.[/i][/b]

No one is reliably counting Iraqi deaths so that is impossible to verify, but lets look at American deaths for the last couple months
Source http://icasualties.org/oif/ (non-biased straight data website)

Period US UK Other* Total Avg Days
4-2007 35 6 0 41 5.12 8
3-2007 81 1 0 82 2.65 31
2-2007 80 3 1 84 3 28
1-2007 83 3 0 86 2.77 31

4-2006 76 1 5 82 2.73 30
3-2006 31 0 2 33 1.06 31
2-2006 55 3 0 58 2.07 28
1-2006 62 2 0 64 2.06 31


4-2005 52 0 0 52 1.73 30
3-2005 35 1 3 39 1.26 31
2-2005 58 0 2 60 2.14 28
1-2005 107 10 10 127 4.1 31

4-2005 52 0 0 52 1.73 30
3-2005 35 1 3 39 1.26 31
2-2005 58 0 2 60 2.14 28
1-2005 107 10 10 127 4.1 31

It is pretty obvious just glancing at those stats to see troop deaths are not down.
4.8.2007 8:27pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Argh I hit submit instead of preview, DOH!

short and sweet and hopefully formatted better.

cirby claims
The surge, for example, lowered deaths (civilian and military), but we got a whole lot of "the surge is not going to work," even while it was obvious that it had.

Deaths for the months of April are on track to be up across the board.

as for the rest here is the month/year, followed by the rate of US deaths per day in Iraq for the last couple years.

3-2007 2.65
3-2006 1.06
3-2005 1.26
3-2004 1.68


2-2007 3
2-2006 2.07
2-2005 2.14
2-2004 0.79

1-2007 2.77
1-2006 2.06
1-2005 4.1
1-2004 1.68


Aside from an anomaly in 1-04 the surge has caused more US soldiers deaths, not less.

If before learning the truth, Cirby thought the surge was working due to the death of less US troops, since that is now proven untrue, logically shouldn't he think we are losing the surge.
4.8.2007 8:40pm
cirby (mail):

It is pretty obvious just glancing at those stats to see troop deaths are not down.


Instead of comparing to a year ago, try looking at the November through December, 2006 time period.

Or try looking at it again, since you certainly had to in order to cherry-pick your numbers.

...and since it is obvious that troop deaths are down from the REAL numbers from the immediate previous period, and since that has little to do with what I was talking about (multiple reports in newspapers and such that apparently inflate the percepton of deaths)...

As far as false and biased reporting (from further up the thread), just look at the BBC versus the Lancet report, not to mention the massive amount of "bad news' coverage and a relative pittance of "good news" work.

...and YES, it is their job to show the good news along with the bad, if they're even pretending to be a fair news organization.
4.8.2007 8:50pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Cirby, comparing Jan-April to December-November would make no sense. You would compare Dec to Dec and Jan to Jan to correctly compare how the surge is going. Because the time period in which things happen effect the number of deaths in ways unrelated to the surge ( for instance, Dad its too hot/cold to go out an place IEDs or a religious holiday takes place and people take a week off to pray/dance rather than plant bombs/snipe).

Not to mention if you use your logic throw April into your math we have suddenly started losing the surge very badly, because April deaths are higher than those in December and November.

BTW I didn't cherry pick, I just assumed one would comparing the deaths in one month to the deaths in the same months for the last 3 years.
4.8.2007 9:00pm
JosephSlater (mail):
And fair reporting doesn't require that the number of "good news" stories equals the number of "bad news" stories in situations like Iraq, where there is simply much more bad news.
4.8.2007 9:32pm
Russ (mail):
JosephSlater,

When was the last time you heard any "good news" stories out of Iraq?

As an active duty soldier who went over the berm in OIF-1, and who has many friends over there as we speak, I can tell you the coverage you get from the news is horribly incomplete, and the skewed perspective is VERY frustrating.

I have no problem with the bad being reported. I accept and even expect that. However, it would be nice if, every once in a while, some of the good we've done was portrayed. This British soldier's story would certainly qualify.
4.8.2007 9:55pm
Vovan:
Uhm, as pointed above by KevinQ, the actual story of soldier's heroism, was reported by the BBC in detail.
4.8.2007 10:01pm
Richard McEnroe (mail):

Bill Moyers was, as I recall, pilloried several years ago for commenting that the 9/11 hijackers showed more courage than an American launching cruise missiles to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan thousands of miles away, yet he was absolutely right.


At the risk of invoking "Godwin's Law" isn't that the same argument advanced to defend the Waffen SS? Or the Confederacy?
4.8.2007 10:37pm
Peter Wimsey:
At the risk of invoking "Godwin's Law" isn't that the same argument advanced to defend the Waffen SS? Or the Confederacy?


IIRC, Bill Maher (or Moyer, or whoever it was) was responding to numerous people who were (reflexively, I think) calling the terrorists "cowards." He didn't bring the point up to defend the terrorists, but to rebut one specific claim that kept begin repeated.
4.8.2007 10:56pm
Bleepless (mail):
There actually is a rumor going around that, somewhere, there are Leftists who are both honest and informed. Isn't that a kick? I just thought I'd pass it on.
4.8.2007 11:13pm
Truth Seeker:
The US media is no less left-biased than the BBC. But they are hurting for it. After about 30 years subscribing to TIME magazine I let my subscription drop last year after their anti-war and anti-Bush stories got me fed up. After I sent numerous renewal cards back (at their expense) with a note "too left-wing" I recently got an offer of a year of TIME plus a year of Fortune for $15! That won't even pay the postage. They have to give it away now!

But after reading about some recent TIME distortion, I just may pass anyway. While they sometimes have some good stories on science or medicine, why encourage them:? I can read National Geographic or the Smithsonian or Popular Mechanics for science.

Years ago when I wrote to complain that their coverage of a gun issue was biased, they wrote back that the mission of TIME magazine was not to give neutral news but to strive to influence the country for the better (from their point of view). Okay, influence someone else but I won't pay for it.
4.9.2007 12:08am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The question of casualties being up or down or sideways is now dependent on the time frame. When the framing of the question changes the answer, it's likely the results are practically too close to make much difference.
For example, the question of whether I weight 258 or 260 depends on framing the question: Morning or night? Monday after a holiday weekend or Thursday after busy days?
So sometimes I weigh 258 and the rabid partisans who claim that are right. And sometimes I weigh 260 and those who always thought so can sneer in satisfaction. Big deal. If you had to choose which one of me you'd like running over you, would it make a difference?
On the other hand, if the question happened to be whether Aubrey weighs 160 or 260, no conceivable framing could affect the answer.

We have had arguments about whether the US casualty rate in Iraq is more or less than the peacetime rate and have discovered it is--more and less--dependent on the time frames and other variables being stipulated. Which means there isn't that huge a difference. And that, I suggest, it the important issue.

My father's division fought in Europe and had a casualty rate of about twenty times the casualty rate of the US military in Iraq. And that division was so well known for getting the job done with few KIA that our block of instruction on night operations--when I was at Benning several wars later--opened with a long reading of the 104th Division's after action summaries. Which is to say that most divisions seeing that much combat had worse casualties.

IMO, most of the complaints about the Iraq effort depend--the most honest of them, anyway--on excruciatingly finicky question-framing. Without picking the right frames, there isn't much substance.
4.9.2007 12:09am
Richard Nieporent (mail):
Shame on you Bill Poser. You don’t know the meaning of courage. What took place on 9/11 was an act of fanaticism pure and simple. There was no courage involved. It does not take courage to kill innocent people in cold blood. Rather, what we saw was an act of pure evil.
4.9.2007 12:37am
glangston (mail):
The American launching those cruise missiles is often the President.

That would make OBL the button pusher of the human delivered cruise missiles and Maher a guy that just likes to push buttons.

It doesn't seem good form for the BBC to abandon something like this without a good straightforward reason.
4.9.2007 12:46am
Brian K (mail):
HAHAHA

BBC drops a semi-fictional movie and conservatives automatically assume the worst reason for doing it even with very little and flimsy evidence to go on. Bush fires a group of US Attorneys and conservative automatically assume the best reason for doing it even with some evidence to the contrary.

Double standard? Of course!
4.9.2007 1:02am
Andrew Okun:
It doesn't seem good form for the BBC to abandon something like this without a good straightforward reason.

And we don't know there isn't one.
4.9.2007 1:15am
rlb:
Is a pedophile who risks his liberty molesting a child "courageous"?

I think that question does a great job of showing how we just can't separate courage from a noble purpose. Now, of course, we're willing to put ourselves in others' shoes to a certain degree, but everyone draws a line. How far you're willing to go depends in a large part on how much you sympathize with the motivations, the goals, or the methods of the actor you're judging.

I think I'll stop there before I piss too many people off.
4.9.2007 7:05am
James Dillon (mail):
Isn't this just the free market at work? I would have expected a conservative-libertarian blog to celebrate this instance of capitalist efficiency. Surely you're not suggesting that the market should subsidize the creation and distribution of a product that lacks widespread popular appeal, simply because it may have some intrinsic value that is not measurable in dollars (or pounds, as the case may be)?
4.9.2007 10:28am
Russ (mail):
James Dillon,

The problem is that this isn't the free market at work. The BBC is a tax-payer funded institution that is not accountable to any stakeholders for profit. It's not ABC, NBC, or CBS, where I seem to recall that the cancellation of The Reagans roused cries of censorship.
4.9.2007 10:43am
Ken Arromdee:
Isn't this just the free market at work? I would have expected a conservative-libertarian blog to celebrate this instance of capitalist efficiency. Surely you're not suggesting that the market should subsidize the creation and distribution of a product that lacks widespread popular appeal, simply because it may have some intrinsic value that is not measurable in dollars (or pounds, as the case may be)?

The BBC is tax-funded. Whether the BBC produces a program is not really subject to the free market. Even if they claim the program is not popular with the viewers (something which they haven't claimed yet), they would suffer no financial consequences if it really was popular and they were lying or mistaken.
4.9.2007 10:48am
Justin (mail):
Russ,

If there's no reason to believe the decision was based on their tax-payer funded status, and not their goal of simply providing the best product to their customer base, then I am not sure what your distinction proves.

Also, I don't remember the free-market conservaterian crowd getting all angered about The Reagans. His point was that *conservative-liberterian* theory shouldn't oppose this decision.
4.9.2007 10:51am
A.C.:
I agree with rlb. There's more to courage than the willingness to take risks. People can take risks for all sorts of reasons, including evil, stupidity, and psychopathology.

Courage, as I see it, requires a basically sane person who knows what he or she is doing and decides on the risky course of action out of noble motives. That's a lot more limited than mere willingness to do something dangerous.
4.9.2007 11:12am
Colin (mail):
Courage, as I see it, requires a basically sane person who knows what he or she is doing and decides on the risky course of action out of noble motives. That's a lot more limited than mere willingness to do something dangerous.

That's a understandable criterion, but I don't think that most people make this sort of moral distinction between "courage" and "bravery." While your definition may prevent you from calling terrorists "courageous," I don't think such a relatively idiosyncratic use of the word justifies comments such as Richard Nieporent's. I think his comment ("Shame on you Bill Poser. You don’t know the meaning of courage.") was especially uncalled-for and unjustified. There's a big difference between "I have a different definition of courage," and "shame on you for not sharing my particular definition."
4.9.2007 11:56am
Jeek:
It does not, in fact, require any courage to hijack a plane full of unarmed civilians - whom you know are instructed not to fight hijackers - and crash them into buildings full of civilians who can't shoot back at you. Nieporent is correct, 9/11 was an act of evil and fanaticism, not courage.
4.9.2007 12:18pm
Ken Arromdee:
If there's no reason to believe the decision was based on their tax-payer funded status, and not their goal of simply providing the best product to their customer base, then I am not sure what your distinction proves.

The difference is not the goal, but the fact that they don't suffer if they make mistakes. If they are mistaken about what their customers want, nothing happens. If a capitalist is mistaken about what his customers want, he loses money.

Besides, they've never said "we aren't producing it because our customers don't want it". It's entirely possible their idea of "best product" means, not what their customers want, but rather what they feel best promotes their ideology.
4.9.2007 12:32pm
Justin (mail):
Ken,

I understand your (first) point as a general argument against subsidized companies like the BBC, but do not think its relevant as to the morals or ethics of the BBC in this particular decision, which was the point of EV's original post, Dillion's response, and Russ's counterresponse.

As to your second point, while it's "entirely possible," such a thing has not even been alleged. I think such a hypothetical is thus a little far afield at this point.
4.9.2007 1:15pm
Anderson (mail):
It does not, in fact, require any courage to hijack a plane full of unarmed civilians - whom you know are instructed not to fight hijackers - and crash them into buildings full of civilians who can't shoot back at you.

How, exactly, do you manage to miss the point that the hijackers are GOING TO DIE THEMSELVES (so that whether anyone "fights" or "shoots back" is irrelevant)?

IIRC, an American pilot who dove his damaged plane into a Japanese ship was celebrated as a hero; whereas we typically deplored the "fanatic" kamikaze pilots.

Nor does the "courage only in a good cause" argument work, tho I find it superficially attractive.

Did the Confederates display courage at Pickett's Charge? Did the Sixth Army display courage at Stalingrad?

It's a tricky subject; excoriating people for "misusing" the word seems only to betray the ignorance of the excoriator.
4.9.2007 1:23pm
Jeek:
How, exactly, do you manage to miss the point that the hijackers are GOING TO DIE THEMSELVES (so that whether anyone "fights" or "shoots back" is irrelevant)?

It takes no great courage to commit suicide - and even less to take a bunch of unarmed, unresisting civilians with you.

IIRC, an American pilot who dove his damaged plane into a Japanese ship was celebrated as a hero; whereas we typically deplored the "fanatic" kamikaze pilots.

Check your memory again. Nobody doubted the courage of the kamikaze pilots at the time.

The key point with respect to their courage is that the kamikazes were attacking military targets that could shoot back while they were being attacked. THAT requires courage.

Did the Confederates display courage at Pickett's Charge? Did the Sixth Army display courage at Stalingrad?

Were the Rebels charging armed soldiers who could shoot back? Yup. Were the Germans attacking armed soldiers who could shoot back? Yup. Ergo, both these forces consisted of courageous men.

Did the 9/11 hijackers take on anybody who could shoot back? Nope. Ergo, they were vile cowards.

Really, I don't understand why you find this so "tricky" - it only seems to betray peculiar moral confusion on your part.
4.9.2007 2:44pm
Ken Arromdee:
I understand your (first) point as a general argument against subsidized companies like the BBC, but do not think its relevant as to the morals or ethics of the BBC in this particular decision, which was the point of EV's original post, Dillion's response, and Russ's counterresponse.

You told Russ "If there's no reason to believe the decision was based on their tax-payer funded status, and not their goal of simply providing the best product to their customer base, then I am not sure what your distinction proves." My point is directly relevant to that.

Their decision *was* based on their taxpayer funded status. Even if they claim to follow customer preferences, the fact that they are government-funded means that their decision to "follow customer preferences" is easily affected by bias and won't affect them if they get it wrong. If they were capitalists, they'd have to be *right* about the customer's preferences, rather than just using them as an excuse to do whatever they want.
4.9.2007 2:48pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
Jeek: "Really, I don't understand why you find this so "tricky" - it only seems to betray peculiar moral confusion on your part."

I think the tricky part is where Bill Maher compared the 'courage' of the hijackers to the supposed cowardice of US soldiers who, in his view, sit in bunkers and push buttons to bomb people they never even see. I can see the part about the terrorists being brave -- no they weren't hijacking armed people, but they did fly a suicide mission against what in their twisted minds was a 'military' target. I think it's fair to rate them up there with the Kamikaze pilots. The part that's not right is suggesting that western military forces somehow lack courage or don't come to grips with their enemies face to face. They certainly do, and are at least as brave (and I think moreso) than their terrorist counterparts.
4.9.2007 2:58pm
Russ (mail):
Ken makes the point correctly. Had the BBC come out and said that they didn't air this b/c they thought the ratings would suck, that'd be one thing. Or, were they a US company, and they came out and said their advertisers were abandoning them, that'd be equivilent. However, the potential reason, so as to avoid offending some, runs counter to the grain of free speech that I thought they said they treasured.

All in all, while I think this is an interesting story, there are still two reasons I won't get too worked up about it. First, we don't have documented proof yet, that I know of, that that was definitively their reason. Second, it is the BBC, and not an American company. While global media can have a great impact, the bias of the BBC has been well known for years.
4.9.2007 3:00pm
Colin (mail):
Check your memory again. Nobody doubted the courage of the kamikaze pilots at the time. The key point with respect to their courage is that the kamikazes were attacking military targets that could shoot back while they were being attacked. THAT requires courage.

I don't understand this particular distinction at all. It's courageous to commit suicide while people are shooting at you, but not when you don't expect to be shot at? Either way, the actor commits suicide in pursuit of some goal. What's the difference?
4.9.2007 3:32pm
Justin (mail):
"Their decision *was* based on their taxpayer funded status. Even if they claim to follow customer preferences, the fact that they are government-funded means that their decision to "follow customer preferences" is easily affected by bias and won't affect them if they get it wrong."

I don't get it. Is there something magically about an oligarchial competitor that magically makes them get it right? I understand that, in aggregate, the idea is that competitors who don't get it right get weeded out over time. Aside from the major flaws that theory has with even private entrenched oligarchies (like ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.), the theory has nothing to say about one particular decision. That's the risk of using microeconomic theory and trying to apply it to specific instances - while microeconomic theory can tell you about aggregates, it can provide only the most limited input into individual instances of decisionmaking.
4.9.2007 3:39pm
ed o:
and, don't forget, this particular hero is on our side-it would be jingoistic to point out his heroism and, undoubtedly, he was shooting at people with brown skin, making him a racist murderer to boot.
4.9.2007 3:52pm
James Dillon (mail):

Ken makes the point correctly. Had the BBC come out and said that they didn't air this b/c they thought the ratings would suck, that'd be one thing. Or, were they a US company, and they came out and said their advertisers were abandoning them, that'd be equivilent. However, the potential reason, so as to avoid offending some, runs counter to the grain of free speech that I thought they said they treasured.

What exactly is the disctinction between "avoiding bad ratings" and "avoid[ing] offending some [viewers]"? Don't they mean exactly the same thing? The rumor that Professor Volokh reported is that the BBC terminated this project because it feared that the positive spin of the story would "alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq." What does "alienate" mean, if not "lower ratings"?

On a side note-- Ken, Russ, etc., are you saying that if this same decision were made for the same reasons by a private broadcasting corporation, you'd have no problem with it? That is, if CBS pulled the plug on a TV-movie about a heroic American in Iraq because it feared "alienating" the segment of the American viewing audience that opposes the Iraq war, you'd accept that as a perfectly legitimate market-driven decision that deserves no criticism?
4.9.2007 4:21pm
James Dillon (mail):
Also, Russ, how does a decision by a broadcaster about what to put on its own airwaves implicate free speech concerns? Are you suggesting that the BBC is oppressing itself?
4.9.2007 4:22pm
Russ (mail):
James Dillon,

No, bad ratings and offending people are not the same thing. Something can offend people but be off the charts in the ratings since a lot of other people will watch it. Howard Stern is a great example, albeit on radio. He offends all kinds of people, but draws in an incredible audience anyway.

As to a private company doing it, while I might not like it, yes, I'd have less problem with it. That's what private companies can do. But an institution that is funded by UK taxpayers has a broader obligation. That's why I don't care for government sponsorship of art - either you accept all or none, for the government should not be partial in such things. But a private gallery can show whatever it wants.

Finally, as to the BBC "oppressing itself," the argument was that free speech is intended to provoke, and that's usually what's yelled about when people say something offensive should be banned. Most say, "It should be on precisely b/c it is offensive." Why am I skeptical that the BBC would have pulled the plug on an anti-war movie for fear of "offending" its audience?
4.9.2007 4:39pm
Jeek:
they did fly a suicide mission against what in their twisted minds was a 'military' target. I think it's fair to rate them up there with the Kamikaze pilots.

No, it is not fair at all to do so, and the contention that they flew against military targets must be rejected out of hand.

It's courageous to commit suicide while people are shooting at you, but not when you don't expect to be shot at? Either way, the actor commits suicide in pursuit of some goal. What's the difference?

The courage is not the act of suicide - which requires no courage, and in fact is usually cowardly - but the act of facing enemy fire.
4.9.2007 4:45pm
Ken Arromdee:
On a side note-- Ken, Russ, etc., are you saying that if this same decision were made for the same reasons by a private broadcasting corporation, you'd have no problem with it?

If the decision was made for the same reasons by a private corporation, I'd have less of a problem, not because I particularly like the decision, but first, because the fact that a private corporation *could* make the decision means the reasons are more likely to be valid, and second, even if they aren't, the private corporation has competitors who can make the opposite decision on equal terms. If ABC won't produce it, perhaps Fox will instead. ABC doesn't have the funding advantage over Fox that the BBC has over, say, ITV.
4.9.2007 5:04pm
Colin (mail):
The courage is not the act of suicide - which requires no courage, and in fact is usually cowardly - but the act of facing enemy fire.

I still don't understand the distinction. What is the difference to the actor whether he faces enemy fire or not, when his goal is a violent death? Why is it more courageous to fly into a wall of AA fire than into a wall of concrete? The only distinction I see (and it doesn't appear to be the one you're making) is that "enemy fire" makes it less likely that the actor will achieve his ultimate goal. That doesn't seem like the sort of qualitative difference that makes one act courageous and the other cowardly. Is a man who throws himself upon a grenade brave for facing enemy fire, or a coward for committing suicide? What makes suicide "cowardly"?

I think the real principle here is that it feels bad to use virtue words in relation to evil people. I certainly understand that impulse. I think it's important to be as objective and accurate as possible, however. Adopting "suicide bombers are cowards" as a mantra, because we're uncomfortable calling them courageous, obscures the important point that they are not generally deterred by physical danger. It also obscures the important point that their goals and methods are immoral, because (as is obvious here) many observers are struck by the obvious sophistry of the assertion that terrorists are cowards because their goals are immoral or because they commit suicide. If one part of the assertion ("suicide bombers are cowards") is obviously sophistry, then it calls into question the corollary ("suicide bombers are bastards").

Surely it's simpler, clearer, and more straightforward to call courage courage and morality morality, but not conflate the two.
4.9.2007 5:11pm
Jim T:
I seem to recall that there was substantial (though not conclusive) evidence that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were not aware that they were on a suicide mission. Am I remembering incorrectly?
4.9.2007 5:39pm
Jim T:
Yes, here we go:

"FBI investigators have officially concluded that 11 of the 19 terrorists who hijacked the aircraft on 11 September did not know they were on a suicide mission, Whitehall intelligence sources said last night.

Unlike the eight 'lead' attackers, who were all trained pilots, they did not leave messages for friends and family indicating they knew their lives were over. None of them had copies of the instructions for prayer and contemplation on the eve of the attacks and for 'opening your chest to God' at the moment of immolation, which FBI agents discovered in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, the man believed to be the hijackers' leader, who flew the first plane to destruction in New York. "

Guardian
4.9.2007 5:44pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Winston Churchill, writing of his campaign in Sudan, referred to the suicidal charges of the Mahdists by saying the possessed physical courage which is more laudable than rare.

And, some would say, far more common than common sense, moral courage, and a developed moral sense.

Physical courage is necessary in most lives, at least once, but not sufficient for a good life and a laudable life.
4.9.2007 5:54pm
Colin (mail):
That's an interesting reference. Thank you.
4.9.2007 6:13pm
BonGob (mail) (www):
Do any of the judgments above seem premature, or based on preconceived notions rather than evidence? No one is hastier than I to mount a favourite high horse, but even if I depended on cursing every arm of the BBC to feed a wife and child, I might pause and expect more in the way of evidence or, you know, journalism before leaping to judgment. Or are we beyond the evidence stage, and into what people Know and Feel to be true?

All this from a Sunday Telegraph article from an un-named source "close to the project" which didn't even approach the BBC for a comment? Come on, if this was a left wing newspaper pandering to left wing prejudice by claiming similar bias from an allegedly right wing broadcaster without right to reply, you'd be all over it, and with good reason.
4.10.2007 8:13am
BonGob (mail) (www):
And whooosh goes any credibility! My bad typo: the journalist absolutely did approach the BBC for comment. The remains of my point still stand, albeit swaying in the breeze. It's a hobbyhorse hackjob; the endline "the BBC admitted that it had abandoned the VC project but refused to elaborate" is hack-work, and would be equally shoddy if written by Michael Moore, John Pilger or Robert Fisk.
4.10.2007 8:27am
glangston (mail):
This probably should have it's own discussion but it's fairly similar.




PBS seems to be re-considering one particular documentary as being too "alarmist".
4.10.2007 10:07pm
glangston (mail):
4.10.2007 10:09pm