Saturday, December 31, 2005

Justin Webb - Alien?

Has Justin Webb’s body been taken over by an alien?

The BBC’s Washington Correspondent, who during the past year has given us this...
"America is often portrayed as an ignorant, unsophisticated sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge. I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture..."
...and this...
“American government is a mess. American bureaucracy and red tape is a national shame. American political clout around the world has been reduced by the Katrina fiasco.”
...could last night be heard fighting America’s corner with commendable vigour (Correspondents’ Look Ahead). I found it hard to believe it was the same person.

Judge for yourself.

Stephen Sackur: One fascinating insight into human rights attitudes around the world I had in recent weeks was chatting to Mary Robinson who ‘til very recently was the UN chief running the human rights commission. She said the problem is that because of what has happened post-Iraq in particular with Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib , extraordinary rendition, a whole host of other things she listed - it is impossible now for countries like America which basically are democracies which many people around the world have always looked up to, the problem is now they cannot take the moral high ground and lecture other countries on how they should impose human rights values. It doesn’t work any more.

Justin Webb: That’s absolutely ludicrous though, isn’t it? 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 facts on the ground, look at the way that Iraq was run before the invasion, look at Iran now, and then look for instance at America and can you seriously say that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the way they treat their own people and the way Americans treat theirs, the way they behave on the world stage? There isn’t.

Stephen Sackur: Justin hang on , it’s all about perception though Justin…

Justin Webb: Oh, that’s a different matter...

Stephen Sackur: That’s very important. What I want to know...

Justin Webb: ...what Americans want to know is why someone who is in the position that Mary Robinson is in, where it shouldn’t be just about perception, it should be about a knowledge of the facts on the ground. That kind of thing is what so annoys people in this country, and not just Republicans - Americans of all political stripe who just say to the rest of the world for goodness sake look at us without your soft anti-Americanism, or your dislike of McDonalds, or whatever else , or your dislike of big people, powerful people, successful people, just look at the facts on the ground. America is a very, very free country and around the world it does an awful lot of good. I tell you - can I just give you an example of this?

Stephen Sackur: You can as long as it’s quick because I’ve got a question for you. Hurry up!

Justin Webb: Ok. Well I prefer my example to your question at the moment, and as someone who is living in America I kind of feel the right just to speak my mind on this subject and the rest of you will have to be quiet for a second.

Stephen Sackur: Get it off your chest.

Justin Webb: Here we go. Just look, and I put this to Carrie Gracie (China Correspondent), look at the support and help that China gave to tsunami victims a year or so ago and look at the help that America gave. Compare and contrast the behaviour of these nations on the international stage is what the White House says, and then come back to us and talk about whether or not we do bad around the world. It is exactly as someone said - a matter of perception. It isn’t reality.

...What the Americans say to the rest of the world is just look at China, look at China’s friends - look at their friends in Zimbabwe, look at Sudan, look at Venezuela, and then ask whether it is right that all the criticism is heaped on America and none on other nations that are big players in the world.

Stephen Sackur: But Justin nobody I think around this table is in any way using equivalence, thinking about moral equivalence, but what I’m interested to tease out is whether, actually, things are beginning to change a little bit in America and maybe there is a recognition that some of the things I mentioned in terms of failings on human rights committed by those wearing American uniform for example...

Justin Webb: Yes, absolutely…

Stephen Sackur: … have been damaging. And also look at the Patriot Act, which is only being extended for one more month and looks now as if it may not have much of a political future inside George Bush’s America.

Justin Webb: And when you think of all those things in the context of a nation that genuinely feel itself to be under imminent threat of catastrophic attack at any minute of every day then isn’t that an amazing testament to the almost innate sense of longing for freedom that there is in America. It is incredible that the White House has been beaten up so badly on the subject of torture by its own supporters, by Republicans.
This was all a bit much for Frank Gardner (Security Correspondent) who responded with the more standard BBC fare about invading on false pretexts, no WMDs, how human rights abuses “feed into 7/7s and 9/11s” etc. Carrie Gracie then piled in to say it’s all about perceptions and referred to recent polls in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco which say the foreign policy of China is viewed more positively than America’s.

Webb asked “Isn’t that amazing?” My answer is - “Not really, Justin.” One only has to look at the BBC’s output to understand how such perceptions arise. If it’s not Frank Gardner with his “it’s our fault” take on terrorism, then it’s Caroline Hawley who admitted on Radio Five Live that she really can’t find anything good to say about Iraq, or Humphrey Hawksley who blames poverty in Morocco on America’s desire for democracy in the Middle East. And those three examples are just from the past week.

Maybe Webb has been taken over by an alien. Then again, maybe he’s cut back on the badmouthing because he realises what a great gig he’s got in Washington and doesn’t want to end up in the Gaza office. Or maybe the criticism he’s received in the blogosphere over the past year has begun to hit home and he's started to see the light. I hope so. He’ll have a job convincing the rest of his BBC colleagues to see the error of their anti-Americanism, but he won't be alone in his efforts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good find DFH. I listened to the clip twice when I saw it last week at b-bbc ...quite remarkable. JW must be regretting that "outburst". Imagine the cold stares he must be getting from BBC colleagues. I'll wait and see if he's not reporting from Spitsbergen or St. Helena in future.

4:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing. I read that piece and thought it was a clever piece of trickery to transpose Webb into a sensible correspondant who reports on the real world. Maybe he's applying for a job at the White House?!

1:32 pm  
Anonymous Mick in Brum said...

Soon, I'll wake up and realise it's just a dream.

3:40 pm  

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