When he was director general of the BBC, controversial new New York Times Co. chief executive Mark Thompson "launched a scathing attack on Rupert Murdoch's media empire, warning that BSkyB [Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting Group]" was too powerful and threatened to "dwarf" the BBC. He also accused Sarah Palin of misleading the American public by using the phrase "death panel" when discussing Obama-care.
(Thompson is facing questions concerning what he knew about the Jimmy Savile sex-abuse coverup at the BBC that occurred under his watch. A BBC report, including questioning of Thompson, is expected in mid-December. Times Watch is keeping watch on the ongoing controversy over what Thompson knew about the cancellation of a BBC investigative program into the multiple allegations against Savile, eccentric icon of the BBC.)
"BBC's Mark Thompson takes aim at Murdoch empire in MacTaggart lecture," read the Guardian headline over an August 2010 story: "Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, has launched a scathing attack on Rupert Murdoch's media empire, warning that BSkyB is too powerful and threatens to "dwarf" the BBC and its competitors."
Interestingly, Thompson has also admitted the BBC was biased against Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Anita Singh wrote in the Daily Telegraph September 2, 2010:
The BBC was "massively" biased against Margaret Thatcher, and journalists allowed their Left-wing politics to set the corporation's agenda, the director-general Mark Thompson has admitted.
Critics of the BBC have long accused it of Left-wing bias and a hatred of the former Tory prime minister. Mr Thompson said: "In the BBC I joined 30 years ago there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people's personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the Left.
"The organisation did struggle then with impartiality. And journalistically, staff were quite mystified by the early years of Thatcher." Mr Thompson, who joined the corporation in 1979 as a production trainee, insisted that such bias no longer existed.
A John Lloyd blog at Reuters reported revealing remarks Thompson made during a recent lecture series at Oxford University, including accusing Sarah Palin of misleading the American public by using the phrase "death panels" when discussing a measure in Obama-care. Lloyd summarized Thompson’s remarks:
Deeper than that, though, is another concern: that the rhetoric employed by politicians, commentators and other public figures is destructive of trust and of real engagement. “The public language that most people actually hear and are influenced by,” Thompson said, “is changing in ways that make it more effective as an instrument of political persuasion but less effective as a medium of explanation and deliberation” (his emphasis).
The main example he gave was the phrase “death panel,” used by the former governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, to describe the - wholly voluntary - medical interview that, under Obamacare, would have been offered to senior citizens about their present and likely future health. Her Facebook post, a model of its kind, read in part:
"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents, or my baby with Down’s syndrome, will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so the bureaucrats can decide … whether they are worthy of health care."
The claim was immensely powerful, and was probably, for most people, the most memorable thing about the complex legislation. In that case, Thompson said, “explanatory power has been wholly sacrificed in the interests of rhetorical impact.” Because this kind of language works so well, it eats away at the more cautious, often ambiguous and provisional language that surrounds the crafting of compromise. Public language, says the man who commanded the broadcaster that carried most of it in the U.K., “is entering a decadent phase - less able to explain, less able to engage except in the purely political, more prone to exaggeration and paranoia.”
Few of the myriad liberal media members who have criticized Palin's remark note that she actually put the phrase "death panel" in quotes, suggesting it was a metaphor and not an attempt to directly describe the process (and her concern is valid, considering the consequences of similar health-care rationing in Britain, which Thompson should be aware of).
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.