With today’s almighty row about secularism, atheism and religion, it seems like an opportune time to repost this article I wrote on why Richard Dawkins does atheism a gross dis-service by acting like a religious zealot.
Dawkins was on the Today Programme this morning, debating with Occupy-luvvy and former Chancellor of St Paul’s. With two of my least favourite public figures fighting against each other, it was a bit like the Iran/Iraq War, in that you rather wish they could both lose, but in the end it was wonderful to hear Fraser expose the absurdity of Dawkins’ illogical approach to attacking religious people. Listen here.
Every now and then a famous face you’ve been looking at for years (not continuously, obviously, that would be weird) suddenly emerges as a lookalike that you hadn’t previously noticed. So it was for me, watching the news last night.
I’d never clocked it before, but it turns out the BBC’s North America Editor Mark Mardell bears a remarkable likeness to Family Guy’s Peter Griffin:
The BBC are obviously smarting from the growing number of allegations that they have covered the phone hacking scandal so much that crucial issues like the increasingly likely collapse of the Euro have been neglected.
Of course many of those allegations are made by people who are themselves uncomfortable politically with the embarrassment being caused by the hacking issue, and of course the phone hacking scandal is absolutely rightly big news. However, if the Euro was to fall over next week with catastrophic economic consequences I suspect much of the public would be wondering how it all happened so suddenly, when in reality this crisis has been brewing for months and years.
The BBC’s Foreign Editor Jon Williams (who is, by the way, well worth following if you’re on Twitter) just said:
It may be an exaggeration to say that other stories have been excluded entirely, but if you look at the evidence it’s pretty clear they’ve been eclipsed by the hacking coverage. Here are the results of searching the BBC News site for references to “hacking”, “euro” and “libya” over the last week:
Libya: 23 mentions
Euro: 32 mentions
Hacking: 246 mentions
As I say, hacking is a huge story and it does deserve large amounts of attention – but it’s hard to claim the BBC hasn’t taken its eye off other major issues while it’s been going on.
Unlike others I don’t necessarily think that’s solely because the BBC is threatened by Murdoch; it’s also because hacking is a media-village story taking place within the world most journalists inhabit. However the BBC in particular has a Charter responsibility to consider the public interest. That isn’t served by neglecting to cover the Euro crisis properly.
Despite the big impact he’s generally recognised to have made on the hacking issue over the last fortnight, it seems Ed Miliband is still having some serious recognition issues even among the political media. After the Today Programme and the internet itself mixed him up with his brother David, and the Telegraph did the same, the effect is spreading.
Guido picked up on the Daily Mirror’s Mili-mixup:
This is quite funny, but it leaves Labour with a serious question: if even now, at the height of his performance, journalists mix up Ed Miliband with David Miliband what hope is there that the public know who he is?
The question of whether British politicians have got a good enough handle on the uprisings in North Africa is increasingly occupying the minds of political commentators. Against that background, I was recently told a fascinating snippet from someone inside the BBC which casts further doubt on whether Westminster is up to speed.
It goes a little something like this…
When Ed Miliband appeared on the Andrew Marr Show back on 16th January, he arrived for makeup beforehand, plonked himself down in the chair and announced “By the way, what’s been happening in Tunisia? I know absolutely nothing about it.”
A slightly shocked silence ensued, with the BBC staff present dually wondering a) how on earth he hadn’t been briefed for a major interview on unrest that by then had been running for a month and had in the previous two days led to the Tunisian President fleeing into exile, and b) whether they should prep Marr to grill him on it as a weak point.
As it turned out, for whatever reason Marr didn’t ask about the topic at all – but it hardly inspires confidence that Ed didn’t know about the topic and, more worryingly for Labour, just merrily announced that he didn’t to the staff of the BBC’s major political chatshow.
I should say at this point that this is single-sourced (albeit from a person who was apparently there at the time) , so it’s further to the tittle-tattle end of the news scale than the hard-copy-leaked-document end, but interesting nonetheless.
There’s a typically perceptive piece out today by the BBC’s Brian Wheeler – one of the nice guys in political media – about the Barnsley by-election.
One of the background bits of colour he reports brought a smile to my face; the slightly unusual codename the Labour candidate has chosen for his campaign. It is called “Operation Honey Badger”.
The name has quite a few undertones. For a start, the Honey Badger sounds like a lovely creature but is actually notoriously vicious (find out more from the engrossing HoneyBadger.com) with a sweet name, but packing a nasty punch if you get too close.
The thing that it particularly brought to mind, though, was one of the weirdest incidents in the history of war reporting.
Considering that the Labour candidate in Barnsley, Dan Jarvis, recently left the Parachute Regiment, you may not be too surprised to learn that the Honey Badger’s most recent brush with notoriety was in relation to the British operation in Iraq.
Back in 2007, the Army was forced to go the remarkable length of publicly denying a rumour sweeping Basra “that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic”. What one Basra housewife referred to as a creature “as swift as a deer…the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey” later turned out to be – you guessed it – a Honey Badger. Presumably Mr Jarvis heard the story at the time and it’s stayed with him.
It’s an odd little tale, but whatever his other political sins Dan Jarvis certainly can’t be accused of lacking a sense of humour. Presumably he is hoping that his campaign spokesmen won’t end up having to put out a statement as weird as that the British Army released last time a Honey Badger graced the media:
UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: “We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.
We’ve all become accustomed to celebrities extending their personal brand into unexpected markets, but did anyone anticipate the Daily Politics’ Andrew Neil launching a cheese? When I stumbled across this in a shop I couldn’t be certain from the brand name that it was definitely one of his enterprises, but once it turned out to be “matured in wine” – well, that clinched it:
I gather Private Eye may have a photo demonstrating his personal involvement with the “jugs”, too…