The Media Column: Fox News's balanced version of events: 'The BBC feels entitled to lie'

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The Independent Online

It's unlikely you have got this far without realising what an outrage the Hutton report was, what a sad overreaction it led to at the BBC and what a ghastly sight it is seeing Alastair Campbell looking so pleased with himself.

But you might not have noticed how the story has been reported by Fox News, the most successful rolling news channel in America. Readers of this column will be aware that Fox, which during the Gulf war carried a fluttering Stars and Stripes image on-screen at all times and consistently referred to coalition troops as "heroes" and "liberators", tells viewers every hour that its coverage is "fair and balanced".

If you wonder why Fox News needs to remind its viewers of that fact, it might be worth taking you back to Fox News's fair and balanced coverage a year ago, on the day that more than a million people took to the streets of London to protest against the Prime Minister's plans to send troops to the Middle East. As the pictures rolled, Fox filled the bottom quarter of the screen with a caption to explain events: "March Madness".

So how did Fox - available in Britain on Sky Digital channel 531 - cover the Hutton report?

John Gibson is the host of The Big Story, an hour-long, early-evening show that Fox says "provides in-depth coverage and analysis of the day's top stories". Each day, Gibson, who sports a bright white bouffant hairstyle that would require planning permission anywhere outside New York City, spends the last moments of his programme delivering a sermon on the day's great events.

Here is the presenter's on-screen analysis of Andrew Gilligan and the BBC, five hours after the Hutton report was published.

"The British Broadcasting Corporation was forced to pay up for its blatant anti-Americanism before and during the Iraq war. A frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest.

"The BBC - the 'Beeb' - was one of the worst offenders in the British press because it felt entitled not only to pillory Americans and George W Bush, but because it felt entitled to lie. And when caught lying, it felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives.

"The incident involved the reporter Andrew Gilligan who made a fool of himself in Baghdad when the American invasion actually arrived in the Iraqi capital. Gilligan, pro-Iraqi and anti-American, insisted on the air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military. Video from our own Greg Kelly of the American army moving through Baghdad at will put the light to that.

"After the war, back in London, Gilligan got a guy named David Kelly to tell him a few things about pre-war assessments on Iraq's weapons' programmes. And Gilligan exaggerated about what Kelly had told him.

"Kelly committed suicide over the story and the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie, exaggerate, because, well, the BBC knew the war was wrong and anything it could say to underscore that point had to be right.

"The British government investigation slammed the BBC Wednesday and a Beeb exec resigned to show they got it.

"But they don't."

At this point, Gibson made a grab for the small badge on his jacket, and held it up to the camera. Referring to claims from the BBC that the audience for BBC World, the corporation's international news channel, rose during the Gulf War because of its impartial take on events, he continued:

"So the next time you hear the BBC bragging about how much superior the Brits are delivering the news [he adopts a British accent] rather than Americans who wear flags in their lapels, remember it was the Beeb caught lying."

Fox News's other slogan is "we report, you decide". I have done my deciding.

If ever you have cause to ponder why the BBC is worth fighting for, remember that but for the corporation, we could be dished up television "news" just like Mr Gibson's seven days a week. Suddenly the £116 licence fee seems rather a good insurance policy, wouldn't you say?

Meanwhile, Campbell was on Radio Five Live the other day, criticising the fact that the British media does not know how to separate news from comment.

If anybody in the Daily Mirror's reference library has copies of the pieces Campbell wrote for the paper when he was political editor in the early Nineties, would they please send them to him. The poor man seems to have forgotten all about them.