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An apologist for Mugabe

Danny Finkelstein has noticed something highly dubious about the coverage of the Zimbabwe catastrophe by BBC veteran foreign correspondent, John Simpson.

To put it bluntly, Simpson is an over-rated arse who seems to bend over backwards to present Mugabe’s actions in a favourable, or at least not unfavourable, light. I have found that too much of his coverage, while affecting the “Our brave correspondent in Godforsaken Country etc” often glides over serious problems and issues. He is often wheeled out by the Great and The Good as the example of the impartial British journalist, so much better than all those simplistic Americans with their strange ideas about right and wrong. Sorry, I am not buying it. For sure, unlike some people, I do not regard the BBC’s foreign coverage as an unmitigated evil, but stuff like this does not exactly help.

Thanks for Stephen Pollard for the tip.

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11 comments to An apologist for Mugabe

  • Ian B

    I think this is to a significant degree indicative of the central problem with professional journalists. I don’t think it’s specifically Simpson sympathising with or siding with Mugabe per se; instead it’s the problem that journalists, like the class they inhabit, see politics as a kind of sport, and commentate upon it as such. I’ve raged impotently in the Telegraph comments on this occasionally. Thus they see the actions of polticians in terms of success and guile and failure; Mugabe by the rules of the game in Zimbabwe is a winning sportsman whereas Tsvangarai by the rules of the game isn’t.

    A similar thing occurs with the shameful behaviour of the EU elite and our own government. When they steamroller over the people, it’s interpreted as succesful tacticery and the journalists naturally report it that way. Remember how after te Constitution was defeated in the two referendums, and the elite got together and came up with the Lisbon Treaty scam? This was reported as cunning tactics and a “success”.

    Political journalists just entirely lose sight of the real effects of politics; they simply forget that the decisions in the corridors of powe really affect people. Mugabe’s “cunning political maneuvering” which actuallly cause people to die but the disconnect is so great in the likes of Simpson that that simply doesn’t enter his head. He doesn’t see Tsvangarai as a man trying to oppose an awful dictator; it’s a competition of tactics in the political game. The criticism in Finkelstein’s article isn’t something many journalists will even be abel to really get their head around. They would just say “yes, but this is how it is in the real world”, believing this to be wise and pragmatic rather than complicit.

    And complicity is important here. By presenting politics this way, all the time, ordinary people get used to seeing things this way. Brown’s betrayal of the British people is just skillful political maneuvering or not. He’s a “success” for avoiding the referendum promised, rather than a lying traitorous scumbag who ought to swing.

    Political journalists think themselves as terribly insightful and “holding the politicians to account”. In truth, they’re little better than gossip columnists tattling at the intrigues of the court.

  • Kevyn Bodman

    Ian B is right, and says a couple of things I’d like to expand on.
    1) ‘they’re little better than gossip columnists’ Absolutely right. They pass on stuff that they have themselves been GIVEN much more often than they find anything out for themselves. And politicians use them because of this. Milliband D. has caused a profile of himself to appear where, of course, he says that what he is interested in is being a good Foreign Secretary in a government led by Gordon Brown. But we know, he knows, Brown knows, the journalist knows and every MP knows that he is keeping his profile up with a view to his leadership campaign when it suits him to run.
    So he’s playing the game, for which he gets approving coverage.
    But it’s not just Milliband and it’s not just Labour who do this, politicians and journalists stroke each other. Remember that when you read any political story.

    2) ‘a lying traitorous scumbag who ought to swing’
    Yes, and there are quite a lot of them.
    When is it OK to kill politicians? (That question is not a joke. It would be OK to kill Mugabe. It would not be OK to kill Brown or Barroso. What would have to change to make it OK?)

    As for Simpson, I haven’t watched him much since he ‘liberated’ Kabul (I think it was.) He reports as if he, the Grand and Great Journalist is as important as the story.

  • renminbi

    These scumbags identify with politicians-after all they also put it over on the public. The bankruptcy of the MSM can’t occur soon enough-these swine are as useful as tits on a bull.

  • Gabriel

    I haven’t been keeping up as well as I used to with Libertarian opinion as I used to, so I’m not clear what the Politburo big-L view is on the matter. Knowing that, to their enormous and everlasting credit, Samizdata bloggers are pretty poor indicators of this, I’m still at a loss.

    So, in the Pauliac universe, what’s the consensus?
    a) Mugabe is a bad man who should be shot.
    b) Mugabe is a bad man who whould be shot, but under no circumstances should we shoot him.
    c) Regardless of whether Mugabe is bad, the current media furore only exists because certain (hymie?) interests are trying to prepare us for war.
    d) The uproar over Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe is due to ignorance; an informed Libertarian is aware that the current problems are all, in fact, the fault of Zionists/neocons/America/big oil.
    e) The uproar over Mugabe’s rule of Zimbabwe is due to ignorance; an informed Libertarian is aware that Zimbawe is actually apretty damn good place to live.
    f) There are no problems in Zimbabwe. If you look closely at the mutilated bodies, you will see they died in controlled demolitions. Fire cannot melt human flesh.
    g) Zimbabwe is the greatest force for peace in the world today. (Some will be aware of the Rothbard quote I’m thinking of).

    Why this interests me, I don’t know.

  • The problems with Zimbabwe can, in my view, be put down too much emphasis on simplistic (binary) thinking: by people in general and by lower quality politicians and journalists. Higher quality politicians and journalists, differently, view simplistic binary thinking as an opportunity: to enhance their power and influence.

    In this simplistic (binary) thinking, someone or something is either good or bad, in totality. Whichever it is, anyone arguing for a more graded or compromise assessment, or setting about that same goodness/badness with caveats, is viewed as wrong: often so wrong as to be no longer acceptable to society.

    In the case of Zimbabwe, though there are several of these simplistic binary issues, the major one is the belief that democracy, no matter how perverted, is a good thing. In this particular case, we have the dictatorship of democracy combined with the dictatorship of the sitting government.

    There is cause for Mugabe’s actions to pervert belief in democracy having not been sufficiently opposed. This is especially in Africa, where true belief in democracy is weak.

    However, there is also cause in the West, exemplified most recently by the EU’s dismissal of democratic choice in the recent vote in Ireland against the Lisbon Treaty, and their effective dismissal of both French and Danish votes against the proposed EU Constitution. Clearly, it is not just the ‘EU Government’ that is at fault here, but those of many member states including the UK, France and Germany.

    How can a nation (or government) be found sincere in its objections to the misrule of Mugabe, when much of his method, and his clear motivation to stay in power (or equivalently avoid change of policy), is present in our own ‘democratic’ process.

    Best regards

  • ian

    Is that this (Link)John Simpson?

    This election is being held in an atmosphere of intense fear and intimidation: worse than anything I personally have seen around the world in 40 years of reporting.

    Everyone knows that if by tonight they cannot show the tell-tale indelible pink mark on their fingers to indicate that they have voted, they are open to violent retribution.

    And there are various ways in which the members of the ruling Zanu-PF party who are out in force at all the polling stations can find out exactly who has voted for whom.

  • ian wrote:

    Is that this (Link) John Simpson?

    As far as I can see, it is not (and that’s pretty obvious). Following the original link, we find John Simpson’s original article.

    That originally linked (and criticised) article was dated 24th June. Finkelstein’s criticism was dated later on 24th June, the Samizdata posting was dated 26th June, and the new article by John Simpson was dated 27th June.

    The most plausible explanation is, to me at least, that Mr Simpson read the criticism and (in the eyes of some) improved his position in his next article on the topic.

    That change can, surely, be interpreted as nothing but good, or as flapping weakly in the wind.

    Best regards

  • ian

    That is a very literal minded response to a piece of admittedly heavy sarcasm. On the other hand since it was so heavy I thought it would have been bloody obvious…

    The original argument of the article and the post here just don’t stand up to scrutiny. As so often happens here the desire to see conspiracies and enemies everywhere overpowers rationality. There are volumes that can be written about the intrusive behaviour(Link) of the modern state and about the implicit assumptions(Link) underpinning institutions like the BBC, but this is not a good starting point.

    The two links above are from someone well outside the small list of usual suspects who get quoted here. I don’t think I am straying from the intent of the post by pointing out that – despite what is often claimed – there are many on what is dismissed as the ‘left’, who do want to see change, who would largely subscribe to the same analysis of what is wrong as regular posters here.

    If you – by which I mean UK libertarians – want to effect change you need to think carefully about the company you keep. Wild conspiracy theories and rabid ad hominem attacks don’t put you on the side of the ‘angels’ for many people who would otherwise be sympathetic to your message. Speaking personally I’ve lost count of the times I have decided in the end not to become a subscriber to the Libertarian Alliance because of some rant by David Davis on the LA blog.

    The first rule for winning the libertarian argument is that you must have it.

    (Brian Micklethwaite) Lashing out at all and sundry coupled with wild conspiracy theories do not constitute an argument.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    That is a very literal minded response to a piece of admittedly heavy sarcasm. On the other hand since it was so heavy I thought it would have been bloody obvious…

    Ian, your argument does not work because I assume that Mr Simpson is a top-class reporter who uses words to mean what he means. His choice of words in he original article linked to by Finkelstein, on any honest reading, looked dangerously liked the sort of moral-equivalence horsehit that is, alas, the stock in trade of a lot of so-called “quality journalism” these days.

    It may well be that Simpson has fine qualities as a reporter; I saw a programme last night in which he showed some of the problems in Zimbabwe. But his choice of words on this occasion was lamentable.

    As for conspiracy theories and the like, I tend to have even less time for them than you do. I do, however, think it is perfectly sensible to ask whether a news organisation, funded by a tax, and which has a big impact on the whole media world, encourages some of its reporters to adopt views that tend to go with the statist mainstream.

    I also refuse, as you seem to request, to stop pointing out the often biased and bad reporting by the BBC.

  • ian

    Johnathan

    You are making a different point to Nigel Sedgwick on which I have not commented so ascribing an opinion to me is a little premature. As it happens I partially agree with you, or more particularly with Ian B above, in that both politicians and political journalists see politics as a game and too often forget the real life impact of what is going on. There is however a major leap from there to Simpson being an an apologist for Mugabe or for there being a systematic bias in his favour. It is that which does not stand up to scrutiny.

    As for general BBC bias, if you had followed the links in my comment you would have seen an item making exactly that point. Quite how you construe that as being a request to stop pointing out examples of bias I don’t know.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Ian, I would not argue that Simpson’s bias is “systematic”; I can find examples of where his reporting is fine, but there is unquestionably – and I have seen examples of this in his coverage of places like Israel, etc, a tendency to over-stretch the “we must look at both sides of the debate” approach to such an extent that it veers into absurdity.

    Ian B’s point at the top of this thread is very pertinent; far too much political reporting resembles coverage of sport. And not in a good way.