The BBC has an extraordinary report on its website detailing Sunday's march in the French capital by opponents of a government bill to create same-sex marriages. Fact free, disdainful of opponents of gay marriage, incurious as to the intellectual and moral issues at play, lacking in balance, padded out with the author's opinions and non sequiturs -- this report entitled "Mass rally against gay marriage in France" is a poor outing for the corporation. It has the feel of a rush job written in the back of a cab on the way to the airport -- or at the hotel bar. Written in the one sentence paragraph style favored by British tabloids, the article opens with the news of the protest, where it took place and why:
But the demonstrators, backed by the Catholic Church and the right-wing opposition, argue it would undermine an essential building block of society.
The BBC then plays the Million Man March game. (For those unfamiliar with this sport, the Million Man March game is one way a news outlet telegraphs its opinions. If it favors the event it accepts the numbers given by the organizers. If opposed, it plays up the numbers offered by the police.)
The organisers put the number of marchers at 800,000, with demonstrators pouring into Paris by train and bus, carrying placards that read, "We don't want your law, Francois" and "Don't touch my civil code".
Police said the figure was closer to 340,000 and one government minister said the turnout was lower than the organisers had predicted. A similar march in November attracted around 100,000 people.
Where the reader in any doubt as to where this was going, the sentence structure should clear that up. The BBC offers the organizers' numbers first, but undercuts them with police numbers and the claim of an unnamed government minister who poo-poos the turnout. Absent from this is the news that this is the biggest mass protest in France since 1984 or that the organizers were hoping to have at least 100,000 people in the streets. That is called context and that is missing.
We then move to ridicule, or in modern parlance "snark."
The "Demo for all" event was being led by a charismatic comedian known as Frigide Barjot, who tweeted that the "crowd is immense" and told French TV that gay marriage "makes no sense" because a child should be born to a man and woman.
A charismatic comedienne shall lead them, the BBC reports -- even though the story opens with the news that the march is backed by French religious leaders and the opposition (the right wing opposition the BBC reminds us).
Hiss and boo here.
The French press and Reuters reported the presence of French archbishops, the head of the Protestant Federation, the chief Imam of Paris in the march. Gay leaders who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it is an imposition of bourgeois heterosexual norms on homosexuals -- by backing gay marriage French President Francois Hollande is condescending and homophobic some gay activists claim -- were marching also. And what does the BBC offer as the face of the opposition? The "muse" of the march, as she is called by La Croix, Frigide Barjot.
The article notes:
Despite the support of the Church and political right, the organisers are keen to stress their movement is non-political and non-religious, and in no way directed against homosexuals, BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield reports.
In its broadcast, the BBC's Paris correspondent states the organizers of the rally are being "clever". They wanted to give a "clear message". They "don't want to be typecast as homophobes and they rather resent the way that what they would see as the 'left wing liberal establishment' has tried to paint them as reactionaries and homophobic types."
Or, the clear message might be, "they don't want a law passed creating gay marriage" and resent the false caricatures offered by the left wing press. Watch the report to hear that English classic -- a harrumph -- offered by the BBC's correspondent when saying "left wing liberal establishment."
The reporter also mentions the presence of anti-gay marriage gay activists -- but tells the audience they are a minority within the French gay community. How does he know this? Is this not a "man bites dog angle" that is news worthy? Evidently not -- for the BBC tells us to "move on, nothing here to see."
The next trick used to rubbish the marchers is the use of selective polling.
An opinion poll of almost 1,000 people published by Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper at the weekend suggested that 56% supported gay marriage, while 50% disapproved of gay adoption. The poll also said that 52% of those questioned disapproved of the Church's stand against the legislation. Earlier polls had indicated stronger support for the legalisation of gay marriage.
Would it have made a difference to report on other polls showing a shift in public opinion away from gay marriage since the Church began to rally the opposition -- or that a majority in France are opposed to passage of both the marriage and adoption bill?
The article closes with this gem.
As the marchers began arriving in the centre of Paris, four Ukrainian activists staged their own protest in St Peter's Square in the Vatican in support of gay rights. The women from feminist group Femen appeared topless while Pope Benedict recited his traditional Angelus prayer. Police moved to restrain the activists, one of whom was attacked by a worshipper brandishing an umbrella.
Nice photo of a topless blonde being savaged by an old Italian women wielding an umbrella -- but apart from the opportunity to use that photo in the story, what purpose does adding four Ukrainian activists in Rome to a story of several hundred thousand Frenchmen protesting in Paris?
Perhaps I am as the psychologists say, "projecting", seeing in the actions of others my own sins? Perhaps there is some of that behind my ire. But I've been at this long enough to recognize the tricks of the trade.