Earlier this week we noted how, on the morning of August 25th, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard unquestioning amplification of a statement put out by the Labour Party concerning remarks made by its leader in 2013 from the BBC’s political correspondent Tom Barton.
We observed that Barton had apparently not fact-checked the Labour claim that Corbyn was referring to “a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people” before amplifying it to the BBC’s domestic audiences and that the one person who has been identified as having attended that event, Richard Millett, stated in an interview that “he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience”.
We also noted that a transcript of parts of Corbyn’s 2013 remarks that had been edited out of the video of the speech showed that he had in fact been speaking about Zionist British Jews rather than a specific group of activists at a particular event and that Tom Barton was subsequently provided with that transcript.
Later on August 25th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ aired an item (from 22:00 here) in which Richard Millett was interviewed by Tom Barton. Mr Millett told BBC Watch that he had informed Barton that as far as he was aware he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ at that event but that information was not included in Barton’s report.
In short, by early evening on August 25th one would have expected Tom Barton to be a lot more sceptical of what he had earlier in the day described as follows:
Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”
Three days later, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he gave his view of Corbyn’s 2013 speech.
“In his first comments since Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis reached new heights this summer, Sacks told the New Statesman: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”
“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions. He has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map. When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism. When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimised the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.””
Tom Barton reported on that story for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ on August 28th. Listeners first heard a contribution by Barton in the news bulletin (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Newsreader: “The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an anti-Semite and compared some of his remarks to those of Enoch Powell’s in the 1960s. Mr Corbyn has said his comments – made before he became Labour leader – have been taken out of context. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”
Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who he said didn’t understand English irony, despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that was the most offensive comment made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he is now more careful with how he uses the term Zionist, saying it has been hijacked by anti-Semites, while a Labour spokesperson said comparing the Labour leader with Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive.”
Later on in the same programme, presenter Simon Jack introduced an item relating to the same topic (from 16:15 here).
Jack: “Let’s return to that story then in the headlines. The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite who has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate. He made the comments in an interview with the New Statesman. Our political reporter Tom Barton is at Westminster and obviously he also described it as the most offensive since Enoch Powell. Ehm…how significant, you know, remind us of the comments that Sacks was referring to in this interview.”
Obviously Barton’s portrayal of the context to Lord Sacks’ remarks is crucial to audience understanding of the story. After having clarified that the former Chief Rabbi is “a pretty significant figure to intervene in this row about antisemitism in the Labour Party and in particular those comments from Jeremy Corbyn…” Barton went on to repeat the description of Lord Sacks’ comments given previously by Jack. He later addressed the issue of their context.
Barton: “Well first of all just let me remind you exactly what Jeremy Corbyn said that…the former Chief Rabbi was referring to. So this was a speech that Jeremy Corbyn made in 2013. He was talking about pro-Israel campaigners who he said at a meeting a few days earlier after a speech by the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative in the UK, they said he had been berated by these campaigners. Now he described them as Zionists and said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Now that statement in particular has been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British and Lord Sacks shares that view. He said today that those comments imply that no matter how long they’ve lived here, Jews are not fully British and he said that that’s the language of classic pre-war European antisemitism. Now Labour have dismissed this intervention, saying that it is absurd to – and offensive – to compare Jeremy Corbyn to – quote – the race-baiting Enoch Powell. They say Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in, they say, the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or a code for Jewish people.”
As we see, despite having received the transcript of the missing parts of Corbyn’s 2013 speech that clearly shows that Corbyn was not talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists” at a specific event and despite having been told that there was not “a group” at that meeting but one man who he had interviewed three days earlier, Barton continued to amplify team Corbyn’s talking points.
Immediately after that programme Radio 4 listeners heard another report from Barton during a long item in the Six O’Clock News in which both he and the newsreader repeated the same framing.
Newsreader: “One of Britain’s most respected religious figures, the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic. Lord Sacks was reacting to remarks which Mr Corbyn made five years ago before he became Labour leader but which came to light last week. During a meeting of pro-Palestinian activists, he accused a group of Zionists of not understanding English irony, despite living in the country for a very long time.”
Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech made by the Labour leader when he was a back bench MP. He talked about pro-Israel campaigners who, he said, had berated the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative to the UK at an event a few days earlier. Describing them as Zionists he said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that that was offensive. […] The party said the Labour leader had described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”
Although Barton is obviously aware of the fact that Corbyn’s remarks have “been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British” he did not bother to clarify to the BBC’s domestic audiences how wide that view of the remarks is. He did, however, continue to promote and amplify the inaccurate framing put out by Corbyn’s supporters, thereby hindering audience understanding of the story.