Earlier this year, locked down in France, I wrote about my pleasure at discovering an important treasure trove from my childhood and adolescence. The BBC has used the wonders of the internet to offer on its BBC Sounds resources the complete archive of Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’, and it has since been bitter sweet for me to dip into it from time to time, partly for nostalgia, but also to remind myself of how balanced, informed and profound radio broadcasting can be.
I won’t beat about the bush. I am dismayed by the contrast of that era with the BBC journalist Jon Sopel as he ‘reports’ on the US Presidential Election with his visceral loathing of Donald Trump, which he makes no attempt to conceal, obliterating any hope the listener may have of learning what it actually going on. He cannot present any report without reminding (or do I mean propagandising?) listeners that President Trump’s claims to election malpractice are “unsubstantiated”. This is John Sopel’s favourite word at the moment, and presents as the mantra of a true believer.
‘Unsubstantiated’ has a variety of synonyms in the dictionary, which include ‘unsupported’ and ‘unattested’, but unfortunately for Mr Sopel, seemingly an analogue mind in a digital world, his listeners have access to a variety of sources beyond the State broadcaster which they may read or listen to for themselves. One must tread carefully, but it seems many are rather less biased than Mr Sopel, and listeners can and should hold him to account as much as they do politicians.
In one sense, Joe Biden’s victory (if victory it be) is currently ‘unsubstantiated’ insofar as his claim to the Presidency under the Constitution can only arise after the relevant counts are concluded, any electoral disputes have been adjudicated by the courts, the States have chosen their electors, and those electors have met to elect the new President. None of these events has yet occurred. John Sopel’s certainty that Joe Biden is President-Elect is, to use his word, correctly ‘unsubstantiated’.
Donald Trump’s claims to electoral impropriety are not ‘unattested’: there are statisticians applying the BBC’s own published tests of ‘red flags’ of voter fraud, and people are waking up to the disturbing possibility that midnight computer ‘glitches’ which transferred tranches of votes from one candidate to another only ever occurred one way – in favour of Joe Biden – and that this only appears to have happened in the battleground states. There were, moreover, historically high turnouts recorded in several key precincts within those States, with anomalously higher voting than in several countries where voting is compulsory on pain of large fines. Supreme Court Justice Alito has already intervened in Pennsylvania to require late votes to be separated from the on-day votes and preserved for scrutiny.
But John Sopel has not identified or reported any of this, though the fact that State Legislatures are beginning to be convened and Attorney General William Barr has sent in investigators ought to give him pause for thought. Might these authorities have received substantial evidence which present cause for concern?
The BBC World Service did mention William Barr’s action, helpfully describing him as a close associate of President Trump, but not that he passed his confirmation hearing with flying colours and that his integrity was widely accepted. His intervention may well be unprecedented, but so might the character of digital voter fraud, should any exist. I add the caveat because I mean that in Democrat circles, hard drives are never cleaned or destroyed when evidence is called from them…
But that is a matter for the future. For today I want to remind readers how elections used to be reported on the BBC by that mature, urbane, knowledgeable Alistair Cooke. I went in search of his report on the 1960 election victory of John F Kennedy. I had in mind that particular result because historians generally accept it as having been tipped over the edge by voter fraud in Chicago engineered by the notorious Democrat Mayor Richard Daley. He it was who allegedly received the telegram (remember them) from JFK’ s wealthy father, saying: “Don’t buy a single vote more than you have to, I’m dammed if I’ll pay for a landslide.”
Instead, I found his broadcast on the 1972 Presidential Election which really speaks to us today. In his victory over Senator George McGovern, Richard Nixon received his reward for not contesting the 1960 ‘stolen’ election, and putting America first. You should listen to it. It will tell you more in 10 minutes, and better help you to think about the current situation with nuance and understanding, than listening to a year of John Sopel. It’s all there: computer prediction; the East-West coast character of the Democratic Party; expectations dashed; the value of campaigning in the right places, and the myopia of the chattering classes.
Even if you have no interest in US politics, this is wonderful broadcasting from one of the masters. Alistair Cooke, thou should’st be living in this hour!