Is it ever worth responding to a Peter Hitchens piece? The New Statesman invited him to provide the counterpoint to Medhi Hassan’s “actually, the BBC is right-wing” argument. Hassan’s feature is – I think – a tightly argued piece of journalism, drawing on verifiable details about the careers of high-profile BBC personnel and analysis of the corporation’s new content. It strongly makes the case that the BBC has no case to answer in terms of left-wing bias.
How does Hitchens reply? By saying that party bias is not the issue (even though the Hassan piece focused more on policy bias) and arguing cultural bias instead. Quantifiable cultural bias, no less – although Hitchens, as ever, has trouble telling the difference between something that is capable of being quantified, and something that already has been:
Were I a multibillionaire, I could commission the proper research into nuance, tone of voice, who gets the last word, presenters’ backgrounds, running order, drama, soap operas and cultural coverage, that would demonstrate beyond any doubt that the BBC is on the side of the cultural and social revolution that I and many other licence-fee payers oppose with all our hearts.
New Statesman, “They hoped I’d be pro-torture”
Actually, you don’t have to be a multibillionaire to commission this sort of study. You could be jobbing journalist like Nick Davies, or even (at the time) a jobbing comedian like Al Franken, and recruit a group of research students to your project. Hitchens could access the sort of information he is hoping for, but his interest in knowledge ends long before it could have any influence over his opinions – his feelings about the BBC (like his feelings about drugs, families and the monarchy) come from his gut, and he emits them with the same thoughtfulness you’d give to any other stomach contents.
Abort the antichrist! (BBC drama does pro-life)
They’re coming to stick pins in your children (more of P Hitchens failing with numbers)
© Sarah Ditum, 2009
You might think that political gains for an actually fascist party would make polemicists ease up on the jackboot rhetoric, however much they dislike social workers and family law. But Peter Hitchens is a special case – someone so committed in his dislike of any state intervention in family life, he managed to turn the Baby P case into the occasion for a column on how social workers are too intrusive (well, too intrusive into the lives of married couples with children earning 30K and above).
Peter Hitchens is, basically, incredible: a writer so febrile and deluded that you can legitimately describe Christopher as the “least worst Hitchens” (which is a bit like choosing your favourite boil, but there you are). He’s also admirably shameless about his methods: everything he tells us, he writes, is intended to “scare us”.
This weekend, he instills fear by declaring that the UK is practically a totalitarian state. There are three ingredients to your triumphalist face-stamping government, apparently. Firstly, a proposal (not legislation, just a proposal) to make school attendance dependant on receiving a full programme of vaccinations. Secondly, increased monitoring of home-schoolers. Thirdly, the provison of nursery care. It’s a terrifying vision of a dystopian nightmare brought to life around us.
Oh no, wait – it’s just some policy to be discussed, with trade-offs to be made between the individual and the group. Your precious freedoms are currently intact, including the freedom to make your child vulnerable to preventable diseases and expose other people to illness too. But Hitchens obviously isn’t interested in discussing what’s necessary or effective: “I have no idea if the MMR is safe or not”, he writes. (Somewhere in Mail central, there’s a portrait of a once-competent editor which grows a little more decrepit each time a sentence like that goes to press, when it ought to have been sent back directly with the message, “Really? Then find out.”) You can never be too ignorant or too sloppy when you’re telling people that the state is coming for their children.