A Match Made In Heaven – President Obama And The BBC’s John Simpson

Sometimes a piece of propaganda is so glaring you almost have to splash cold water on your face to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you. Take a bow John Simpson, the grandly titled ‘World Affairs Editor’ of BBC News. You don’t earn a moniker like that by offending the global power elite. But is it really necessary to genuflect before US President Barack Obama as Simpson did in a recent article masquerading as informed commentary?

Simpson began poetically:

‘On a chilly November night in 2008 I stood with my camera crew in Grant Park, in Chicago, and watched the new 44th president of the United States being greeted by his ecstatic supporters.

‘It was a magnificent, unforgettable moment.’

He added:

‘I had heard several of his speeches and knew what a moving and thoughtful orator he could be.’

Simpson, in other words, like so many corporate journalists, gets that lovely warm feeling in his tummy in the presence of Great Power devoted to the cause of doing Great Good. As a Guardian leader simpered in 2008:

‘Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America’s hope and, in no small way, ours too.’

Simpson, though, had ‘a nagging question’ in his mind about Barack Obama. What could this be? That Obama was a fabricated PR puppet? That he would turn out to be like all modern American presidents – a heavily-marketed figurehead for elite US corporate, financial and military interests? That he would maintain, perhaps even intensify, the grip of US imperial power around the globe? Not exactly. Rather, it was that Simpson:

‘had a nasty feeling that he wanted me and everyone else he met to like him.’

The veteran BBC journalist ‘found that worrying.’ After all, Simpson had ‘spent much of my career reporting on strong political leaders who didn’t care whether you liked them or not.’ His finely-attuned journalistic antennae were twitching that Obama might not be up to the job. Indeed now, six years later, ‘it’s hard to imagine that Barack Obama can possibly be judged a success when he leaves office.’ You could almost hear Simpson sigh:

‘In a way, it’s deeply unfair.’

After all, claimed the BBC man, the ‘economic judgement’ of Obama is ‘clearly positive’. Informed commentators may well beg to differ. Noam Chomsky, for example:

‘If you take a look at the [US] economy that is being created, it’s one in which real wages for male workers are back to the level of 1968. Over the last decade, about 95% of the growth has gone to 1% of the population. This is not a functioning economy. Just take a look around the country. The infrastructure’s collapsing. There’s a huge amount of work that has to be done. There are eager hands, tens of millions of people trying to get work, there are plenty of resources, corporate profits are going through the roof, the banks and financial institutions are rich. They don’t invest it, but they’ve got it. […] If you look at the unpeople (the majority of the population), their economic positions, wages and income have pretty much stagnated or else declined for a generation. Is that an economy that’s working?’


Chomsky: ‘The Most Extreme Global Campaign Of Terror That I Can Remember’

Simpson then lauded Obama on health care: ‘he has enabled millions of poor Americans to get proper health insurance for the first time.’ But Dr Margaret Flowers disputes such a rosy view and says that the much-vaunted reforms introduced under Obama will ‘fail to solve our health care crisis’. Worse, ‘Obamacare’ is ‘perhaps the greatest corporate scam ever’, adding:

‘not only did the health insurance corporations write the federal health law, called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to enhance their profits, but now they also have the government and non-profit groups doing the work of marketing their shoddy products.’

Simpson then displayed his open admiration for US imperial power:

‘The world (well, most of it) wants an active, effective America to act as its policeman, sorting out the problems smaller countries can’t face alone.’

This is the insidious propaganda view of global politics that underpins BBC News. The reality is radically different. According to a Gallup International poll earlier this year, global opinion regards the US as the number one threat to world peace, three times more dangerous than the next country, Pakistan.

As Carl Herman of Washington’s Blog notes:

Current US wars are not even close to lawful. Two US treaties require that military armed attack is only lawful when another nation’s government attacks your nation first (or is an imminent threat). These treaties are crystal-clear in letter and intent.

‘The US has a history of lying to begin unlawful Wars of Aggression. In fact, this is business as usual when the history is comprehensively and objectively examined.

‘US “leaders” lie about the above easily-verified facts, then joke about killing millions. Their behavior is therefore best describe[d] as “psychopathic” threat to world peace.’

Such documented facts obviously fly well below the radar of the BBC’s World Affairs Editor. Rather than most of the world wanting to see America as the global ‘policeman’, most of the world would like to see America keep out of their affairs. During his tenure, Obama has ramped up US ‘dirty wars’, death squads and drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, while giving Israel ‘unflinching support’ during its most recent murderous assault on Gaza. He illegally overthrew the government of Libya, leaving violent chaos. As Patrick Cockburn notes:

‘In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.’

Obama tried and failed to bomb Syria into oblivion (foiled only by the UK parliament, under public pressure), supported Syrian ‘rebels’, including Isis, that he is now bombing in Iraq.

Chomsky observes that:

‘Obama is carrying out the most extreme global campaign of terror that I can remember. The drone campaign is simply a terrorist campaign. It’s an assassination campaign.’

But Simpson’s commentary steers clear of such unfortunate facts. The BBC veteran even tries to sell his readers the notion that Obama ‘pull[ed] back from its historical position’ of ‘sorting out the problems smaller countries can’t face alone.’ For Simpson, Obama was wrong to believe that American would ‘not appear diminished’ by this fictitious move of ‘pulling back’ from ‘sorting out’ other countries’ ‘problems’.


The Figurehead of Brute US Power ‘Deserves A Chance To Shine’

Simpson continued:

‘And he [Obama] made other mistakes. Warning President Bashar al-Asad of Syria that the US would not accept it if he used chemical weapons against his own people, and then doing nothing when it happened was a foreign policy disaster.

‘The growth of Islamic State is traceable to that lack of decisiveness.’

First, note that for the BBC professional it is a foregone conclusion that, in ‘mainstream’ media parlance, the Syrian president ‘used chemical weapons against his own people’. In fact, there is considerable doubt over this, with the US government guilty of a massive campaign of disinformation and the deliberate manipulation of intelligence, as Seymour Hersh and others have documented.

As for Simpson’s assertion that the ‘growth of Islamic State is traceable to’ Obama’s ‘lack of decisiveness’, what are we to make of a veteran journalist who turns a blind eye to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the West’s brutal attempts to shape Iraqi ‘democracy’ for its own interests? Graham Fuller, a former CIA officer who is an expert on the Middle East, says that ‘US policies helped create IS’ and even describes the US as ‘one of the key creators of this organization’. Patrick Cockburn also notes that, thanks to US invasion, occupation and war, ‘the conditions were created that eventually produced Isis’.

Finally, nowhere does Simpson mention climate change and Obama’s shameful failure to tackle the fossil-fuel interests that are ramping up the risks of environmental catastrophe. In fact, quite the opposite. Obama’s corporate-friendly policies, including massive public subsidies to fossil fuel giants, directly threaten the planet. The president’s supposed shift in ‘green’ energy policy towards natural gas, by accelerating unpopular fracking operations across the US, may actually be worse than a reliance on coal; as well as, crucially, blocking any transition to a genuinely renewable energy revolution.

Obama has also put off a decision about Keystone XL, the proposed pipeline to transport toxic tar sands from Canada through the United States to refineries in Mexico for likely export to China. James Hansen, formerly Nasa’s leading climate scientist, warns that granting approval to Keystone XL would:

‘exacerbate global warming and put the U.S. on the hook for spills and environmental degradation, all in service to one of the planet’s dirtiest fuels.’

Meanwhile, the ‘world just got its final warning on climate change’ from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The New York Times reported:

‘In the starkest language it has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.’

But Simpson is totally silent about the US president’s abysmal record on climate policy.

The BBC man’s ode to Obama ends with this pathetic plea:

‘A man with so much ability deserves the chance to shine, even if he never quite managed it in office.’

Such a pathetically distorted judgement of the figurehead of US imperial power demonstrates how deep is the chasm between the BBC’s version of the world and reality.

DC and DE


Suggested Action

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Normally, we might provide a BBC email address for Media Lens readers to contact BBC journalists. But, in 2006, we had an email exchange with John Simpson in which he told us:

‘I’ve been pretty semi-detached from the BBC for a long time, and don’t use their email system’.

For the BBC’s World Affairs Editor to be ‘semi-detached from the BBC’ seems a curious description. Perhaps he meant it to suggest that he feels he retains a ‘semi-independence’ from his employer. His reporting strongly suggests otherwise, as we saw above.

The personal yahoo email address that Simpson used at the time, which he encouraged us to contact him on, no longer works. 

Here are the alerts about our exchanges with John Simpson in 2006:

An Exchange With BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson

The BBC’s John Simpson Responds Again