Glossing over the past

I don’t normally take umbrage with the tone of BBC News stories – at least, I usually only get annoyed when they’re actually wrong, not just a bit confused. But this is pretty bad even if unintentional:

The memorial, which should be built by 2012, will commemorate the 55,573 crew of Bomber Command, with an average age of 22, who were killed in World War II.

Its role was to attack Germany’s airbases, troops, shipping and industries connected to the war effort.

During the war the command ensured the damage caused to London’s squares, streets and parks from German bombs was not as extensive as it could have been.

I am all for the memorial. We should remember and honour these men; they died because we asked them to, and in terms of sacrifice for a limited return, the strategic bombing campaign was only a few notches below the Somme; we as a nation kept hammering at a brick wall for the desire to do something, and lost an awful lot of lives unnecessarily.

But… if we are to memorialise it, we should remember the full context, not just cherry-pick the nicer bits. We should remember that when we sent these men out to die, we were, at the same time, asking them to do something that we would now consider beyond the pale.

The description the BBC give is at best misleading. What did we use Bomber Command for? We used it, almost without exception, for strategic bombing of Germany; what that meant was massed bomber raids of urban areas with the aim of destroying industry, infrastructure, and residential areas in equal proportion. To quote Arthur Harris, the man responsible for carrying out the policy:

The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive … should be unambiguously stated. That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.

You don’t get much blunter than that, really.

It’s sixty-five years since the end of the war, almost to the day. Surely we have enough distance, enough perspective, that we don’t need to ignore our history, or to cast it in the one-sided mould of wartime propaganda. We really don’t need journalism which – even unintentionally – suggests the deliberate killing of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of entire districts of cities were merely attacks on military infrastructure or, somehow, a way of protecting our own cities from suffering a much lighter version of the same.

That way lies a very worrying relationship with the past.

Sins of omission

BBC News:

Sachin Tendulkar created history with the first double century in one-day internationals as India thrashed South Africa by 153 runs in Gwalior.

The Guardian:

…the accolades that poured out of Gwalior after Sachin Tendulkar became the first batsman to score a double hundred in a one-day international, to lead India to victory over South Africa by 153 runs.

The Telegraph:

…the news that Sachin Tendulkar has scored the first double-hundred in one-day internationals.

…and, judging by Google News, around a thousand other journalists saying pretty much the same thing.

Of those thousand news stories, however, only one – the Independent Online in South Africa – manages to actually include a small but salient point:

…while Tendulkar is the first man to reach the magical number, [Belinda] Clark did it 13 years ago, against Denmark in the Women’s World Cup in India in 1997.

For those who follow the sport (unlike me, I admit), there’s an interesting article here on cricketing firsts which were actually first obtained by women.

Sloppy newspaper captioning

Front page, top centre, of yesterday’s Telegraph, a large colour photograph of a man and a woman, with the prominent title “Premier League boss’s brothel visit”.

It takes until the middle of the text underneath – there’s no caption as such, and it’s below the fold – to clarify that this is him “pictured with his wife” rather than, say, photographic evidence for the story. Not the most well-thought-out move, there.

Newspaper priorities

I’ve just dealt with a pile of today’s and yesterday’s newspapers.

The Guardian, the Times and the Independent, both days: large full-colour photograph of Haiti on the front page as the main headline story, four inside pages of coverage (six in today’s Independent, and a few more in the second section of today’s Guardian) plus a scattering of editorials or leader articles.

The Telegraph and the Financial Times, both days: Haiti prominent, but other headline stories as well. One or two inside pages; the Telegraph also runs a background feature on Haiti’s history.

And, then, the Daily Mail: two inside pages each day, no front-page mention. The stories that displaced it, you’ll be pleased to know, were Gary McKinnon getting judicial review, and some research on a possible Alzheimers test; the front-page photographs were of Kate McCann and BeyoncĂ©.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but, really. The only element of it that doesn’t seem like self-parody is that neither story was about Labour incompetence causing a crash in house prices.