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Dame Helen, the Queen, and the Beeb

Posted by Richard on March 19, 2007

Gerard Baker is U.S. Editor and Assistant Editor of The Times of London. While back in Britain recently, he happened upon a BBC interview with Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren. The interviewer asked her about the difficulty of playing a character as "unsympathetic" as the Queen. To her credit, Mirren rejected the premise.

Baker was struck by this precisely because it was merely about an actress, not Iraq or politics, and he proceeded to unload on the Beeb most marvelously (emphasis added):

It betrayed an absolutely rock-solid assumption that the Queen is fundamentally unsympathetic, and that anyone who might still harbour some respect for the monarch – or indeed for that matter, the military or the Church, or the countryside or the joint stock company or any of the great English bequests to the world – must be some reactionary old buffer out in the sticks who has not had the benefit of the London media's cultural enlightenment.

More than that, the question – all fawning and fraternal and friendly – contained within it an assumption that, of course, every thoughtful person shares the same view.

You really do have to leave the country to appreciate fully how pernicious the BBC's grasp of the nation's cultural and political soul has become. The groupthink and assumptions implicit in almost everything broadcast by BBC News … lie like a suffocating blanket over the national consciousness.

This is the mindset that sees the effortless superiority, at every turn, of benign collectivism over selfish individualism, exploited worker over unscrupulous capitalist, enlightened European over brutish American, thoughtful atheist over dumb believer, persecuted Arab over callous Israeli; and that believes the West is the perpetrator of just about every ill that has ever befallen the world – from colonialism to global warming.

I'm often told, when I take on like this, that I'm ignoring the quality of BBC output. But I spent almost a decade in the employ of the BBC and I can say, without demeaning my gifted colleagues at The Times, that it has probably one of the highest concentrations of talent of any institution in the world. But that, of course, is the problem. It perpetuates its power by attracting and retaining an educated elite that is distinguished by its unstinting devotion to collectivist values. I've no doubt it does what it does very well. It is what it does I object to.

Bravo. In today's world of cable and satellite channels, lots of Americans who consider themselves educated and sophisticated speak of BBC News in glowing terms — admiring the Beeb even more than NPR or MacNeil-Lehrer. It's a sentiment not confined to those who are philosophically aligned with the collectivists at the Beeb, and it's something I don't understand. The Beeb reports on its own postmodernist alternate universe that bears little resemblance to the reality in which I reside. Their purpose is evil and the result is pernicious. Why should I admire them for doing it well?

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