Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Glenn Campbell ‘The Ninestone Cowboy’ - a week in the USA.

On Monday 21st September BBC political correspondent Glenn Campbell began a series of broadcasts from the USA. The broadcasts were related to the visit to the UN of Colonel Gadaffi of Libya as well as the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh that same week. Glenn’s experiences were expected to form the basis for a web diary of that week, sadly though the diary abruptly ceased after just one day.

Newsnet Scotland has decided to adopt this now parentless idea and has finished the project using transcripts from Campbell’s daily broadcasts from the USA on Radio Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’. Newsnet Scotland has added a few ‘observations’ of our own in order to offer some analysis of the broadcasts.

We hope that you will enjoy reading our version of ‘The Diary’.

Gary Robertson in the studio: (On the release of the Lockerbie bomber)
"A move that is still causing diplomatic ructions for the Scottish Government."
[Diplomatic ructions? Hmm, quite a statement to make in the absence of any evidence]

Campbell responds by mentioning that there is outrage over the visit of Gadaffi to America then adds:
“Outrage too of course over the release by the Scottish Government of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, that shared by some politicians here, the director of the FBI and of course opposition to that decision expressed too by the highest levels in president Obama’s administration. So it seems that we do have a problem in terms of our relationship with the United States, perhaps the question though is how big a problem; a question I put to Susan Stewart who was formerly Scotland’s woman in Washington."

[Susan Stewart is then heard stating that she believes there has been damage.]

Campbell continues:
"The view of Susan Stewart the former first secretary for Scottish affairs in the British Embassy here in Washington."
[As well as being former chief press officer to Jack McConnell ... we still have no evidence for these ‘damage’ assertions though.]

Gary Robertson back in the studio:
"So, should we expect diplomatic consequences then Glenn?"
[Diplomatic consequences? We are witnessing some quite dramatic leaps of imagination]

Campbell responds:
"Well, there’s no hard and fast evidence so far of the called for trade boycott starting to bite and no obvious diplomatic consequences at this stage...”
[Ah, the first piece of real journalism – an acknowledgement that there is no evidence of either a backlash or diplomatic problems. Will the BBC presenters reflect this in their forthcoming broadcasts?
There follows more from Susan Stewart on how to repair the 'damage' she believes has been done.]

Gary Robertson back in the studio:
“Glenn she’s (Susan Stewart) talked about bodies like visit Scotland, Scottish trade international mounting a campaign of public diplomacy to help ease these tensions are there any signs that this will happen”
[These tensions? Campbell has just explained that there is thus far no evidence of such tensions.]

Campbell responds:
"Well, the only thing I would point to is that in the proposed Scottish budget the other day there was an increase in the funding to be made available to the external affairs division of the Scottish Government, perhaps that might be directed in this way”
[Hmm, faced with no evidence Campbell simply resorts to wild speculation based on a proposed budget increase.]

David Miller in the BBC studio:
"Now there was outrage in America when the Scottish government decided to release the Lockerbie bomber and allow him to return to Libya to die with his family but the US state department now says it’s time to move on from the rift with Scotland over the freeing of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi - our political correspondent Glenn Campbell brings us the story from Washington."
[Outrage seems to be the favourite word this week.]

"Well the united states made very clear that it was opposed to the return of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to Libya; in fact the US secretary of state Hilary Clinton at one point picked up the phone to the Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and urged him to keep Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi in Scottish custody. Obviously he took his own decision and decided that Mr Megrahi should go home, home to die with his family, home on compassionate grounds because he’s suffering from terminal cancer."
[Going over old ground here, this stuff is already well documented.]

Campbell continues:
"It now seems though that there is a thawing in relations between Washington and Edinburgh, I was asking the state department’s official spokesman if the Scottish Government was now forgiven for taking that decision and here is what spokesman Ian Kelly had to say”
[The BBC then runs a tape of Glenn Campbell asking two questions at a Washington News Conference, the US state department official is Ian Kelly]

Campbell: "Glenn Campbell from the BBC. Has the United States forgiven the Scottish Government for releasing the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing?"

Kelly: "I think at this point, we’re looking to move on. We’re looking to continue the very important cooperation that we have with the United Kingdom and with Scotland. We have very deep and abiding ties with Scotland. These ties are cultural. They’re – we share political values. We have many family ties. My own father, as you probably can guess from my first name, is Scottish. He was born in Edinburgh. So we’re looking to move on. We’re looking for a – to continue this important relationship that we have with Scotland."

Campbell: "Is there any diplomatic price for the Scottish Government to pay?"

Kelly: "We are very close allies, and I think allies – I don’t think we’re looking to punish anybody, per se. There’s no tit-for-tat here."

[Whoa there li’l buckaroo, there’s something missing from Ian Kelly’s response to Glenn’s first question, the first part of the answer - and here it is:

“Well, our views on that issue, of course, are extremely well known. Again, we’ve passed these views both in private channels and in – also publicly. I think just about everything that we have said to the governments in London and Edinburgh through diplomatic channels have mirrored what we’ve said publicly. I don’t think it’s a matter of forgiving anybody. I think all along, we recognized that Mr. MacAskill had the right to do what he did. We objected extremely strenuously at many different levels and in many different channels to the release of Mr. Megrahi.”

[That’s quite a significant and highly relevant chunk the BBC have edited out, a confirmation that the US disagreed with the decision, however no forgiving necessary and a recognition that MacAskill acted within his rights – outrage and diplomatic damage conspicuously absent.  Also the highlighting by Kelly of his own Scottish roots doesn’t sound like someone who is either outraged or who is representing an outraged country.... but let’s carry on.]

Campbell follows on:
"So it sounds like there won’t be retaliation for this decision although the former first secretary or Scottish ambassador to Washington Susan Stewart was suggesting on yesterday’s programme that there would need to be a campaign of public diplomacy to try and repair the damage that she believes has been done. This statement from the state department has delighted the Scottish government which we will remember has been accused by political opponents of embarrassing Scotland and damaging Scotland’s standing internationally and an advisor to the first minister Alex Salmond said that this statement is a very welcome recognition of the strong and enduring relationship that exists between Scotland and the US, so will he be stepping up the diplomatic effort in the US? Well the budget for external affairs has gone up but the government is saying that it already has an effective full time representation in Washington."
[Sounds like there won’t be retaliation? What more evidence does Campbell need? Citing weeks old statements from Labour politicians and former Labour press officers is hardly evidence of anything and I see that Campbell has yet again decided that a budgetary increase means something. I’m beginning to suspect that Campbell has already decided that outrage, backlash and damage have occurred and is looking for evidence to back up his opinion – Ian Kelly has pulled the rug from under his feet.]

Gary Robertson back in the studio:
"That’s Glenn Campbell in the US capital, so the diplomatic damage may be limited but what about the impact on the attitudes of Americans at large."
[Diplomatic damage may be limited? What’s going on here? Is a lack of evidence and clear unambiguous statements from a US state department spokesman not enough to stop this nonsense?
 David Allison then takes to the streets of New York to speak to passers by. When asked what they think when he (Allison) mentions "Scotland" only one out of four people reply "Lockerbie".  When five people are then asked directly whether they support the release of Megrahi or not, the result is 3 in favour and 2 against. OK, not scientific but kind of destroys claims of widespread outrage and suggestions that the USA is overwhelmingly against the decision – also, no evidence of a backlash either.]

[Glenn starts off with an interview with former Nato secretary general and Labour MP George Robertson in which he asks of the relationship between the US and Scotland:]
“How do you assess that relationship especially after the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing?”

[Robertson gives a reasoned answer basically saying that the decision, in his opinion, did not cause any damage.]

"Obviously relatives here in the United States of those killed in Lockerbie not happy, that’s found political expression but the administration says no tit for tat.  Do they mean that or have they got to be a little bit hostile next time Alex Salmond and his successors come tapping on the door of the Whitehouse?"

[Robertson basically repeats that no damage has been done and that there will be no negative reaction. Note that Campbell is now rehashing old news; the opinions of American relations of victims is well known and has been extensively reported. Perhaps Campbell will seek out opinions from other relatives that thus far haven’t had their views aired on the BBC ...... the discussion then moves on to President Obama.]

Later in the programme ...
"Well no doubt there will be protests when colonel Gadaffi arrives to address the United Nations. Lockerbie relatives and others have pledged to demonstrate against him however not everybody in the United states is against colonel Gadaffi, I’m with the welcoming committee on east 48th Street very near the Libyan mission where colonel Gadaffi will be staying during his time in the united states."

[Campbell goes on to interview two of the students from group who are supporting Gadaffi, he pursues a line that perhaps they have been compelled to attend.]

Later yet ...
[In a break from Glenn, David Allison takes over in the USA with an interview with a relative of a victim – Susan Lowenstein. This relative has been interviewed before and the interview goes as expected with the individual claiming “dirty” goings on vis-a-vis the release.  We have a BBC team in the USA; surely we can have an interview with a relative not yet seen on the BBC?]

Even later ...
"Well today is the day that the United Nations hears addresses from the world’s leaders from President Obama – his first time here – at the general assembly as president but also straight after him from Colonel Gadaffi of Libya who is also facing protests on arrival here from the relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing and others well let’s eh talk about today’s agenda with the international secretary for development Douglas Alexander. Let’s just start off with the arrival in New York of Colonel Gadaffi it makes a lot of people back home sick what about you?"
[Alexander defends the decision to allow Gadaffi to take his place at the UN. Campbell again repeating the ‘relatives of those killed in the Lockerbie bombing’ phrase.]

"What do you say to the Lockerbie relatives somebody like Stephanie Bernstein from Maryland lost her husband in the Lockerbie bombing who feels sick that this man is being welcomed back onto the world stage?"
[Alexander acknowledges that the grief felt by relatives of the victim’s cannot be imagined and that all Governments have a right to be heard at the UN.]

"But given that he is here and given that his visit followed the return of Megrahi to Libya, a decision taken by the Scottish government; how do you assess the damage to transatlantic relations as a result of that decision?"
[This is now getting beyond a joke, despite having no evidence as well as the statements from Ian Kelly, Campbell still seems intent on claiming there are damaged relations.  Alexander basically confirms that relations are strong.  Campbell then moves the discussion onto the global economic crisis.]

Thursday - G20 begins in Pittsburgh
[Campbell starts with an interview with Barry Potter, director at the IMF about the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Later on there is a discussion between Campbell and fellow BBC correspondents Nick Robinson and Jeremy Bowen about the forthcoming meeting that will include Obama, Brown and Gadaffi.
The discussion also focuses on Gadaffi and his recent speech at the UN. The “fallout” of the release of Megrahi is mentioned only in passing.
Perhaps influenced by the professionalism of Robinson and Bowen this is the only time that Campbell hasn’t sought to pursue an ‘outrage’, ‘backlash’ or ‘damage’ theme in any questions.]

This is followed by Gary Robertson back in studio reading out news bulletin:
"Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been unable to organise a bilateral meeting with president Obama at the gathering of world leaders in New York. White house officials have turned down repeated requests from Downing Street for formal talks. It’s been claimed tensions still exist after the release of the Lockerbie bomber but both sides have denied the special relationship is in trouble."
[Seems a bit unfair to completely ignore that PTA agreement and secret oil deals negotiated by Labour, also the well documented suspicions that Obama and Brown didn’t quite hit it off first time they met. There’s also the tendency for people to avoid those leaders thought to be yesterday’s men and on the way out – but what the heck, let’s just blame the snub on the Megrahi release.]

Campbell later on:
"As Colonel Gadaffi addressed the UN general assembly in New York US senators in Washington were publicly rebuking him for the hero’s welcome Libya gave to Megrahi who remains convicted of murdering the 270 people who died in the Lockerbie bombing. Earlier this week the US state department said it did not want to punish anybody over Megrahi’s release but Gordon Brown has struggled to secure a bi-lateral meeting with president Obama at the UN general assembly. Downing Street has played down reports of a deliberate snub. The two leaders will see each other today in a meeting at the UN Security Council where they’ll be joined by Colonel Gadaffi who’s taking up temporary membership."
[Well that pretty much summed up why Campbell was sent to America – keep the Lockerbie release story alive and try to find evidence to back up the outrage, backlash and damage claims. Unfortunately, save for the senate voting to condemn the release – which was done more as a symbolic gesture against Gadaffi’s visit that same day than any other reason – there was nothing fresh came out of the visit.

That’s a pity, for if any of the BBC team had tried, then they could have arranged to interview an American relative of a Lockerbie victim whose views had yet to be broadcast in the UK.]

Caroline Stevenson, whose son, Syracuse student Sandy Phillips, was aboard Pan Am 103, has already stated that she is "not disturbed" by Al-Megrahi's release.
"Whether he's in jail or whether he's with his family, it doesn't impact me," she said. "He should be able to be with his family and die in peace. And I hope he has found some peace." "I am not disturbed by it. I feel like if he is dying of prostate cancer, I don't have any problems at all with him being able to be with his family as he dies."
Stevenson added that she doesn't understand the U.S. government's opposition to al-Megrahi's release.
"I strongly believe in the Scottish Judicial system, and I support their decision," she said. "The people of Scotland have been very good to me and my family."

A slightly different view from the one that has thus far prevailed at the BBC, like we say, it’s a pity that having sent a team all the way to the USA at considerable expense, nobody managed to find Caroline Stevenson.  Glenn finished his week off on Saturday with a ‘debate’ on the Megrahi release held inside a New York restaurant, the discussion is not documented here but pretty much went as you would expect such a discussion to go – if it is being chaired by Glenn Campbell.

We hope our look at Glenn's American week has given you food for thought.

Return To Top


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Excellent critique.