Hard News by Russell Brown

Egregious Examples

Cushla McKinney alerted me to the list of the 10 "most egregious examples of politically correct language found in 2005 by the Global Language Monitor in its annual global survey," whose carefully contrived novelty value has earned it any amount of international press in the past week.

What exactly is Global Language Monitor? It claims to provide "Media Tracking & Analytical Services", but it doesn't look to me like the kind of outfit to which I would open my chequebook. For a start, its website looks like it was knocked up with an old copy of FrontPage: it's that ugly. But mostly, it's full of crap. Its list is confused and contradictory, and it is topped with an unintentional howler.

The "president" of Global Language Monitor, Paul JJ Payack, is quoted as saying that the phrase "misguided criminals," is one of several terms the BBC used so as not to use the word "terrorist" in describing those who carried out the July 7 bombings in London. He adds: "The BBC attempts to strip away all emotion by using what it considers 'neutral' descriptions when describing those who carried out the bombings in the London Tubes."

You could be forgiven for thinking that BBC management had, say, dictated that "misguided criminals" be used in place of the word "terrorists". Or that it was on a list of suggested terms. Or that it was commonly used by BBC editorial staff. Sorry, none of the above.

"Misguided criminals" has been used a grand total of once by anyone connected with the BBC, in the middle of a sentence in this opinion column by storied BBC correspondent John Simpson. This is it in context:

Now that the bombs have exploded, and thousands of newspaper pages and entire days of air time have been devoted to the horror of it all, and to the poor, decent people who are dead and missing, and to the misguided criminals responsible, perhaps we can stand back from it all and catch our breath.

Simpson goes on to recall the IRA bombing campaigns and conclude that the British police strategy "to treat political violence like any other crime" was ultimately successful, along with the fact that the supporters of both the IRA and the protestant militia groups eventually realised they "had nothing to offer but violence and chaos. It was the effective end of the IRA."

But Simpson's column (or rather, the two dread words) was picked up and waved around like a flag by the odious Melanie Philips who claimed that it "downplays acts of depravity" to fail to call "such an act by its proper name".

Then, just in case anyone had missed it, Philips plagiarised herself (makes a change from being plagiarised by Bruce Logan, I guess) to run the same line in her Daily Mail column, thus using the phrase "misguided criminals" twice as many times as the entire BBC, ever.

In the same column she described Islam as a "death cult", and demanded the repeal of Britain's Human Rights Act, the establishment of new "judge-only courts" whose workings would be opaque to the public and the arrest of anyone who visited a website containing bomb-making information (whoops, best get Wikipedia out of your bookmarks immediately).

Simpson's column, you may have noted, was a caution against hysterical over-reaction ...

Thereafter, a hundred foam-flecked winger blogs helped inflate the "misguided criminals" meme, which culminated in Payack interviewing Google for his half-assed list. The funny thing is, these people are all seeking to dictate the thoughts of others by prescribing what words they may acceptably use. Doesn't that sound really politically correct?

As it happens, the BBC does have a policy on the use of the word: not a ban - as it points out here after the London bombings "we have used the word 'terrorist' on our main news bulletins and the perpetrators have been described as such on numerous occasions in recent days by BBC reporters and independent commentators" - but, as noted in the minutes of a recent BBC editorial meeting (Word doc), it is eager to avoid being seen to be making value judgements on conflicts around the globe, and thus undermining its perceived impartiality. Certainly, it's easy enough to call the London bombers terrorists - and BBC reporters did - but then you run into the selfsame problem. The BBC serves parts of the world where it really is taking sides to use, or not use, the T-word.

I note that since I first read his list and wrote the bulk of this post, Payack has acknowledged the BBC's rebuttal of his claim. Sort of.

Anyway, that wasn't actually the reason Cushla alerted me to the list. That was that she had noted that at number five on the list was the phrase "not in the mainstream". She thought that given Wayne Mapp's recent utterances about being in the mainstream, that was pretty funny. Me too. Ha ha.


Couple more things: from Canada, Shane Telfer took issue with what he saw as a dismissive attitude towards Japan's claim to host a Rugby World Cup ("Does this mean that Japan should never hold the RWC? Let's put things in perspective here: NZ ran a smart campaign and deserved to win. Let's be gracious in victory and accept that the bids of the other countries also had their merits ... and that yes, one day soon, success will hopefully be theirs.") Fair enough: what I should have said was that the merit of taking the game "global" with Japan didn't trump the fact that Japan appears to have mounted a rather poor bid and New Zealand, this time, put together a very good one.

From Britain, Craig Lucinsky watched some rugby television:

On Sunday following the Test against England (as if that morning's papers were not bad enough) the BBC rugby Special that afternoon, hosted by John Inverdale, and featuring a panel of ex-England players (Guscott, Healey and a prop whose name can't remember) just continually bagged us as a nation that steals Polynesians (also a favourite line of The Guardian's Eddie Butler), and which should never have got the World Cup. According to them Japan was the best option, a missed chance to grow the game, and we only got it because of whinging that "If you do not give it to us in 2011, we will never again get the chance." They also harped on about lack of infrastructure and (6 years out) labelled it 2011 as a "World Cup of Campervans".

Man, I try to keep an open mind here, I am trying hard to follow the English game (football IS boring at the moment), but the negativity displayed by media and pundits is just jaw-dropping. Well done All Blacks and well done NZRU ... I'll be home in time for the opening ceremony!

A couple of other people said that the British scribes' qualms about the haka ought to be taken more seriously, given that the All Blacks are guests in another land. I disagree. The home unions are only too keen to reap the financial windfall of hosting All Black games: well, the haka is part of the package. Deal with it. And Stephen Jones' intimation that the All Blacks shouldn't perform the haka because there are pakeha and PIs in the team is fatuous. Samoa, Fiji and Tonga all perform their equivalents before test matches. It's part of rugby culture. And Stuart lamented the lack of objectivity in my rugby posts: dude, it said "one eyed" in the first sentence, didn't it?

Finally on the rugby, with Tracey Nelson too busy devising ways to kill bugs to do her game stats, Hadyn of Grabthar's Hammer has provided some useful statistics on the rugby commentary. Most amusing.

Out there in the scary world, Digby highlights an amazing Jason Vest story on the use of torture, interviewing some old-guard CIA staff. Money quote:

"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."

And, as a thousand wingers prattle on about how of course white phosphorous isn't a chemical weapon, Think Progress unearths a Pentagon document in which Saddam is said to have "used white phosphorous (WP) chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels". So, like torture, it's only bad when the bad guys do it, silly.

Anyway ... this is my last post for the week (but I'll have a couple of guesties for tomorrow), because I'm going to Wellington for the launch of the Humanities Council of NZ, and coming back in time for the SJD/Phoenix Foundation theatre show at the St James (we've got a table). I have a party invitation for later, and, for the first weekend in a while, no work to do for two whole days. It's going to be large ...