TCS Daily


New Class Challenged

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - March 26, 2003 12:00 AM

It seems that everybody is dissing the BBC these days. Andrew Sullivan has been calling it the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation" for months. Now others are joining in. James Lileks writes:


It's interesting, listening to these guys - I'm unsure how it's possible to sneer the entire time you're speaking. I fear the announcer's face will stay that way. Perhaps you can recognize an old Beeb hand by the permanently curled lip. I've tuned in twice in half an hour; both times they were talking about the FAILURE to get Saddam, and what this FAILURE means for the war which might be hindered by this initial FAILURE. And then the reporter - a female one, with a sneerier sneer - says the question now is when the attack will come, and whether the President will give his generals permission to act with a free hand.

Um . . . haven't we already settled that question? I know it conflicts with the Beeb's view of Bush as a vulture with a bloody globe clutched in one claw, the other holding the leashes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I heard hours ago that theater decisions had been left to the folks who do this for a living.


Mickey Kaus agrees:

Now I know what Andrew Sullivan's been talking about! ... And James Lileks is right about the British network's near-permanent anti-U.S. sneer. (There was also a hilarious segment in which the Beeb's man-on-the-scene, in the best British tradition, had chosen to report on the mood of the American citizenry from "Lake County" in California -- i.e., California wine country. He managed to find a few Republican citizens and make them sound like comically rabid John Birchers.) ... If I were in the Bush White House, I too would be paranoid and suspect the BBC's airing of Bush's pre-speech primping wasn't just an honest mistake. ...


And British blogger Perry DeHavilland writes that:


The coverage of SkyNews has been head and shoulders better that the rest, as was also the case during the fighting against the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. CNN and ITN are both fair to adequate, and the BBC is hovering between adequate and truly dire, with dreary hackneyed commentary filled with technical errors. Are the BBC incapable of finding a few ex-military people to employ who might know that there is no such thing as an 'Abrahams' battle tank?


I haven't actually watched or listened to much of the BBC coverage, and I actually like its warblog, which looks especially good given CNN's decision to shut down blogging by correspondent Kevin Sites. But I wonder: the kind of hostility that people describe seems quite odd coming from the national network of our closest ally.

And that's interesting to me. Rand Simberg blames BBC snobbery on upper-middle-class sensibilities, and I think he's almost right. It's really a case of New Class sensibilities.

I can't help but notice that anti-Americanism, and the various manifestations of what some have called Transnational Progressivism, are most common among people who, well, have state-supported managerial or intellectual jobs, the people who made up what Milovan Djilas and others called the "New Class" of bureaucrats and managers in the old Communist world. Not surprisingly, the New Class was deeply concerned with matters of status and position, and deeply opposed to things that might have led to competition on merit. There's nothing new about such a view, which predated communism: As David Levy and Sandra Peart note, it's an attitude that even in the nineteenth century was characteristic of anti-capitalists and anti-semites - and, nowadays, there's a lot of overlap between anti-capitalists, anti-semites, and anti-Americans.

A common thread among anti-semitism, anti-capitalism, and anti-Americanism is the fear of being outdone by people willing to work harder. It's not surprising that such a fear exists among a disproportionate number of those who take state-supported jobs. It's thus not surprising, then, that New Class sensibilities are so often anti-American and anti-capitalist, and increasingly (or perhaps I should say, once again) anti-Semitic, too. The New Class, in this regard, as in many others, is like the old haut-bourgeoisie.

So what to do about this? I don't know entirely. Competition helps, and I'd certainly favor eliminating state media outlets (especially monopolistic or quasi-monopolistic ones) around the world - but in state universities, where we compete with the private sector all the time, such attitudes are nonetheless distressingly prevalent. To the extent that's changing, it's largely the result of criticism rather than competition.

And the BBC, along with many media organizations (and, for that matter, universities) is getting a lot more criticism than it used to: all of the people I've quoted above, after all, are bloggers, bypassing the major media to issue their own critiques. That's a reason to support free speech and deregulated media. It may not eliminate the prejudices of the New Class. But it will at least ensure that they don't pass unchallenged - and if there's anything they hate, it's being challenged.

Now how can we get American-style talk radio established in Europe?
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