The Andrew Marr Disambiguation

Following the disagreement between Alex Salmond and Andrew Marr on the BBC (16th March), in which Andrew Marr said this about Scotland’s place in Europe “I think it would be quite hard to get back in, I have to say, but let’s move on to the other big question we’ve had this week … …”, which by way of explanation Marr followed with this supposedly revelatory statement: “Having talked to Mr Barroso, which I think you haven’t”: let us attempt to disambiguate the sense of these statements, remembering that disambiguation is best established by examining the context.

The problem Marr and the BBC have is that there is little ambiguity that Marr is stating his own opinion: “I think”, and not merely stating his opinion, but reinforcing it with the gratuitous emphasis “I have to say”. There is therefore very little room for ambiguity. Marr might appeal to a special non-Cartesian use of the words “I think” (it isn’t really me), but since the statement comes with forceful emphasis (“I have to say”), but without any appropriate qualifier – such as ‘I think that Mr Barroso believes… …’ this appeal must fall. The fact that Marr spoke to Barroso does not mean that his own clear statement “I think it would be quite hard to get back in, I have to say” suddenly and decisively becomes the property of Barroso. It is simply not that easy for Marr to evade responsibility for his own words. Of course Marr could claim that he was speaking editorially on behalf of the BBC, but somehow I doubt if that interpretation will survive scrutiny within the BBC.

We know what the BBC thinks because a BBC spokesman wrote on the BBC website that “Andrew himself made it clear on air that he had not been intending to express a personal opinion, or that of the BBC, but was simply putting forward an argument from President Barroso who, as European Commission president, has an integral insight within the debate”. How “I think … … I have to say” can be interpreted as not “intending to express a personal opinion” leaves us with the implication that the BBC, in setting such a standard of proof, has in consequence made the act of making a statement containing a personal opinion almost impossible. What does the BBC propose we do to make sure we are giving our opinion, when we use the words “I think”; given the failure of “I think … … I have to say” to stand as a decisive expression of a personal opinion; perhaps we are now required to say something like “I really, really think…. honestly … I have to say, and this time I mean it”?

This is untenable.

The BBC spokesman goes on to justify his foray into the world of Orwellian Newspeak with the proposition that Marr was “simply putting forward an argument from President Barroso”, which is a remarkably crude, not to say vacuous attempt, simply to assert the matter that is in contention (the fallacy of petitio principii), and that he attempts to justify by reference to Barroso’s status as “President of the European Commission”: an appeal to authority that manages both to commit a logical fallacy – Argumentum ad Verecundiam – and appeals to an ‘authority’, the Commission, that actually has no power (authority) over Scotland’s membership of the EU. Worse than this argument, the BBC spokesman’s justification of this thoroughly bad argument is to claim that Barroso “has an integral insight within the debate”. What exactly does this piece of transparent sophistry actually mean? What is an “integral insight”? Does it mean that Barroso is the final and decisive ‘authority’? I invite the BBC to draw that conclusion. Does it mean that there can be no debate without Barroso’s opinion? I invite the BBC to draw that conclusion. What the BBC requires to do now is define a “non-integral insight”. I invite the BBC to explain itself, if it can.

It is with considerable sadness that I write this because I genuinely believe that Andrew Marr is capable of much better than this; that he is a much better and much, much fairer journalist than this hapless performance suggests. He was an uplifting editor of The Independent.

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  1. Phew. This is quite complicated. In listening to the BBC it is quite clear what their institutional take on matters is, even without the the fallacy of petitio principii (I had to look that up LOL). Politicians and newscasters are all at the same game, and it is a game to them and they both claim different kinds of institutional authority. Legacy media is a bore. That’s why I’m reading Bella and why I am probably not fit to comment on this. I would always much rather listen to Johnny Marr, anyway. I bet he’d be for independence. I’m sure of it.

    1. tartanfever says:

      Peter, it’s not really that complicated – John provides a fascinating detailed analysis of those few words which is very thorough. (thanks John)

      But the short of it is this:

      according to the BBC, if you start making a point with ‘I think’, then you are not presenting a personal opinion.

      However, common bloody sense tells you that when your better half says ‘I think we should paint the living room blue; then they want the living room blue and they have stated their opinion.

      1. Thanks . . . you know what I’m like LOL a little bit of Latin and suddenly I’m all flustered . . . but I do get the gist and like your short of it summation, like it very much. By the way my facetious point about Johnny Marr stands 🙂

  2. James Coleman says:

    An excellent and erudite summing up of the simple and observable fact that Marr and the BBC made a cock up.

  3. Aikenheed says:

    Whatever the argument whenthe newsman becomes the news he’s failed

  4. Douglas says:

    I dislike Andrew Marr, but “I have to say”, we are giving too much importance to this one particular intervention. It was just the self important Andrew Marr being the self important Andrew Marr that he always has been, one of the most overrated journalists of our age.

    I would vote YES even if it was only to get rid of Andrew Marr. If the ballot paper was changed to ” Do you believe Scotland should be an independent country solely to get rid of Andrew Marr”, I would tick YES.

    The problem is much wider, much deeper, and much more fundamental. The BBC are bitterly opposed to Scottish independence, to Scottish culture and to Scottish self expression. We should boycott them, pure and simple. After all, they boycott us…

    It´s got to the stage of Soviet State propaganda. People should refuse to pay their license fee like they refused to pay the poll tax. Why are paying for the propaganda wing of the neo con British State?

    And for those who do not want to risk breaking the law, not having a TV these days is a blessing….

    1. (¯`·._.·(¯`·._.·(¯`·._.· WELL SAID! ·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)·._.·´¯)

    2. James Coleman says:

      Really WELL SAID.

  5. I think therefore I am not, I have to say.

  6. Alex Buchan says:

    I, emphatically, don’t see it as a cock up. Andrew Marr in this program generally takes upon himself the role standing in for the intelligent listener. This is very much in line with the BBCs general approach. He is also Scottish himself, so one can assume he feels even greater pressure not to be seen as incapable of standing in the role of the intelligent pan-British listener. The BBC continuously ridicule Salmond in subtle ways as does other channels and Marr would have been keen not to appear too soft on Salmond.

    All of these things combined led to Marr stating his opinion. I feel Salmond has been too slow in the past in not hauling others up when they blatantly try to ridicule him and his position. But I accept that getting the right balance between seen as being above it but not letting it go too far is difficult.

    Fortunately the BBC’s, and other broadcaster’s, bias is having mixed effects; some are convinced by it others are being incensed and changing their views towards voting yes. The British media, both print and broadcast, read the Scottish situation as one where the majority of Scots are no different from people throughout the UK and those who will vote yes are nationalist, who after a no vote will be marginalised. They assume that Scots will not take umbrage in the long term because these positions chimes with that of the (silent) majority in Scotland and nationalism will in any case wither after a no vote.

    Even when bias is proved the British press dismiss this as the efforts of a nationalist academic, as was stated in the Telegraph. No evidence was felt necessary to back up this claim; it was felt to be self-evident. How do we deal with this going forward? First I think using youtube to capture and disseminate all the most blatant examples. This behaviour will condemn itself if given enough exposure through such means. If there are going to be party political broadcasts during the official campaign then the yes ones need to be entertaining and worth watching and even worth sharing. One based on a montage of these media attempts to write off Scotland would be both.

    1. manandboy says:

      Does ’emphatically’ mean the same as ‘I have to say’.

      Loaded dice, loaded language.

    2. I think Alex Salmond is just beginning to play the Westminster game that he does so well,after all he did learn it in the House of Commons,from the best they had.Alex is the master of timing,and if he had pulled up these “journalists” sooner in the campaign it would have worked against him as it would have given the media time to realise that he was more than able for them and adjust their tack ,I trust Alex to cope well with Marr and his ilk.

  7. manandboy says:

    Well done Andrew Marr ! You have inflicted more damage to your own reputation,
    as well as that of the BBC, and in a matter of seconds,
    than any number of politicians could in the space of a year.

    Mental note – next time you interview a Scottish Nationalist,
    just let your personal hostility to independence for Scotland
    completely off the leash.
    After all, there’s no reason to hide it now.

  8. I have watched The Andrew Marr show for years now,and he has the habit of doing similar endings to interviews,ones he seems to disagree with,by using cutting remarks and an aside to deflate the opinion expressed by his guest.He expresses his political view on a regular basis,and always in ,what I would call a “snide manner”,I have been waiting to somebody just catch him out and the First Minister did so with aplomb.Although maybe some nice non British person might be more forceful if they are in the studio beside him,I just hope.

  9. Douglas says:

    On the wider point of Barroso, we should be aware that we are talking about the national embarrassment of the good people of Portugal, a disgrace to his country, a warmonger in Iraq, and a slave to power: his role in the Azores meeting where the illegal war in Iraq was planned and signed behind the back of the international community should never be forgotten or forgiven, where he served in the role of footman or butler to Bush and Blair. Aznar was there for entertainment purposes presumably, if only for the tash.

    Under any normal system of decent governance, Barroso would already be completely discredited and doing one of the things people who are entirely discredited do….like work for a multinational as a top paid executive, or else, and more bizarrely, run a Faith Foundation….

    I have always been a Europhile, and I still am culturally, but no longer politically. I speak three European languages and I have lived for many years in Europe, but I believe the spirit of the European project has been utterly betrayed by the people who run the EU, like the butler Barroso.

    As an antidote to the sewer like behaviour of Barroso, a guttersnipe in a suit, and in defence of the good people of Portugal, I attach the video link of “Grandola, Vila Morena”, sung by the incomparable Amalia Rodrigues.

    The title of the song was the code word used by the democratic forces in the army who launched the coup which ousted the Salazar dictatorship in 1974. The (peaceful) Revolution of the Carnations, which has been betrayed by Barroso, and betrayed by the EU.

    The situation of the people of Portugal today is dire, and there are numerous cases of starvation.What does the unelected Barroso have to say about that?

    1. That’s beautiful, sombre, dignified, thanks for posting.

      1. Douglas says:

        Amelia is one of the greatest singers there ever was by the way….a star as big as Elvis in Portugal.

      2. Douglas says:

        Wikipedia translation, ie, dodgy, but catches the spirit…

        Grândola, swarthy town*
        Land of fraternity
        It is the people who lead
        Inside of you, oh city
        Inside of you, oh city
        It is the people who lead
        Land of fraternity
        Grândola, swarthy town
        On each corner, a friend
        In each face, equality
        Grândola, swarthy town
        Land of fraternity
        Land of fraternity
        Grândola, swarthy town
        In each face, equality
        It is the people who lead
        In the shadow of a holm oak
        Which no longer knew its age
        I swore as my companion,
        Grândola, your will
        Grândola, your will
        I swore as my companion
        In the shadow of a holm oak
        Which no longer knew its age

      3. In each face, equality / It is the people who lead

        Admirably put, we could all use that. But how does a Maoist become a right winger? He is effectively speaking a right (of centre) type these days?

    2. cirsium says:

      thank you for the background information, Douglas. Talking about betrayal, it was Barroso who said that the EU was a non-imperial Empire.

      1. Douglas says:

        Barroso is a disgrace to Europe and always has been. If he had been from one of the big powers, he would never have lasted so long. But he´s from wee Portugal, where vast swathes of the people hate him, and he should be taken to pieces by the free press in Scotland.

        His opinion is that of a man who is a chancer, a liar and a cheat and who actively took part in the breach of international law, one of the architects of the illegal war in Iraq. He is hated the length and breadth of Europe, but especially in the south.

        The EU issue will come up if we can secure a YES vote. There is nobody more culturally European than me, but this is the Europe of the bankers which locks us into the nightmare of neoliberal politics for all eternity, because somehow the idea of Europe is “progressive”….? This is a very dangerous idea. The Left in Scotland should wise up to the EU, it is a trap.

        The French Revolution was progressive, and it was betrayed, the Russian Revolution was progressive and it was betrayed too; that doesn´t mean these revolutions didn´t contribute something to progressive politics in some way, of course they did.

        And it will be the same with the idea of Europe. The idea of Europe has been hijacked by the bankers and the bureaucrats. By any democratic yardstick, you would need to have pan European parties if you want a democratic Europe. But in any case, we need a total overhaul of the current set up.

        No Scottish Social Democrat should consider advocating an indie Scotland in Europe. It is almost impossible for such a thing to exist….

      2. Also my thanks Douglas, this is an education, please forgive previous ignorance on this subject, but this is good stuff

  10. Always enjoyed mr marr ,,I have to say he was out of order this time ,, I’m glad he has almost recovered from stroke , perhaps he can recover respect again ,,I will still watch .and see lol

  11. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    Marr is totemic of the classic Scottish Unionist. Wark and Brown are other weilkent exemplars of the type. Their demeanor generally manifests an ill-disguised haughty contempt and disdain for views other than their own. What do they see in the current system? Is it the “king’s new clothes” syndrome or are we dealing with serious cases of intellectual tunnel-vision. Marr and the rest need to elaborate on the reasoning, if there be one, behind their adherence. Whatever the true causation these devotees of the status quo represent only themselves and their rather narrow interests, not the greater interest of the Scottish people, as does Senhor Barroso. Time to switch off the life support.

  12. andygm1 says:

    I thought I’d ring the BBC to complain and say that in my view I’d have to say that Mr Marr shouldn’t be expressing his personal view. However they told me that I wasn’t expressing a personal opinion and was merely reflecting the views of Alex Salmond.

    So they’re going to ignore me.

    1. That about sums this up… even taking all the ‘intellectual guff’ above into account, the bottom line is; lines are being drawn, sides taken. The BBC along with much of the main stream media have quite clearly decided where their loyalties lie … very few , if any of their employees will dare to step out of line, to sing any unscripted song. Salmond and the SNP are to be demonised. The YES campaign and Independence movement is not to be legitimised by any form of truly representative reporting. The fact that the SNP are no more than a small fraction of the current rallying cry for Independence, must under no circumstances be revealed and reported on. …… Marr has simply come out of the closet, showing us his true self ……. a spineless slippery worm tongue !

    2. Dr JM Mackintosh says:

      I do not think the BBC can ignore us as they have to log all complaints and record and reply to these. I have made a formal complaint to the BBC and I would recommend that everyone that feels strongly about this does the same. Here is the link…

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/

      It is just not acceptable for our national broadcaster to behave in a biased manner in the run up to the referendum. We in Scotland pay our license fees and we should expect better.

      The BBC is respected around the world for its reporting and its impartial coverage of world events. Why should Scotland be different?

      It is just not good enough.

      1. John S Warren says:

        Thank you Dr Mackintosh, I have followed your shrewd advice and made a formal complaint to the BBC using your link. My case was a truncated version of the article above (because there is a 1,500 character restriction in the complaint text box), but for my objections to the BBC’s justification of Marr, which I had to omit, I suggested that the BBC complaint staff read the full Bella Caledonia article. I also asked for a formal response from the BBC to my complaint.

  13. Peter A Bell says:

    It may be that Andrew Marr is “capable of much better than this”, but we wouldn’t know that from the evidence of this incident. The problem, however, is not Marr himself but the standards to which he is working. I get the distinct impression that there is a generalised feeling among mainstream journalists that, when it comes to dealing with the SNP and the Yes campaign, the normal normal rules don’t apply. That is a management issue.

    Managers in the broadcast organisations and newspaper editors have been massively derelict in their duty – largely because they simply didn’t take the independence campaign seriously. They were looking at it through the pathologically parochial prism of the London elite. That lackadaisical attitude has pervaded all mainstream media coverage and given undue reign to people who either just don’t care about the constitutional question, or who have a personal agenda.

  14. Alex Buchan says:

    I think your point about not taking the independence campaign seriously hits the nail on the head. But I think it isn’t just journalists or editors. The cultural milieu that they inhabit doesn’t take it seriously, just as it doesn’t take Scotland seriously. But more to the point, the British system is designed to drown out anything that doesn’t fit in with the safe paradigm of British politics; unless, that is, it forces itself onto the agenda, as the troubles in Northern Ireland did. From their point of view, editors in London are aware that if they treated it too seriously they would be out of step with public opinion as shaped by the media. Its part of the media’s culture to starve any radical ideas of the oxygen of publicity and where that fails trivialise and mock it. It infects even people in Scotland. When Libby McArthur in the video featured in a previous post said that she and her friends were talking about independence just now all of the time, metaphorically I had to pinch myself to check whether I had heard her correctly. This is the power of cultural hegemony that we can’t quite believe it could be breeched, and when it is we sense it. This breeching is psychologically powerful and the more people experience a breeching of British cultural hegemony by questioning its assumptions the more they feel freed up. The no campaign will want to keep thing firmly inside this framework by rubbishing anything that threatens it and the media, especially the BBC, are well aware of not allowing things to stray too far from what is considered acceptable. They regard Alex Salmond as already beyond the pail by talking openly about an independent Scotland, but the more varied the voices making this case (and not just the usual people) the more difficult is it for them to contain things.

  15. Andrew says:

    I know John well and this very forensically thought out blog is typical of his unerring accuracy on the whole independence issue. I have also really enjoyed reading the various comments (and hearing the wonderful Portuguese ‘rallying call’), but I do hope you all will forgive me stating the bloody obvious here, which you all know, anyway. All this talk about a silent majority against independence is just that: talk, piffle, conjecture. Both yes and no sides really don’t know how the vast majority are going to vote (and polls are never that accurate). But there is only one side which is resorting to out and out scare tactics in a bid to desperately crush their opponent (and that includes ‘No’ voting Scots like Marr, too). It’s incredible when you take a step back from it: regardless of whether we win our freedom in September or not, Scotland is changing irrevocably. More and more people are waking up to the fact we share these isles with people who insultingly want to equate our legitimate democratic desire for nationhood with Crimean secession, or unilaterally (and perhaps even illegally) decide whether we can keep a currency we jointly established. Maybe this abusive relationship – alternately cajoling and threatening, will continue for a few more years, and I will be disappointed if Scots don’t vote yes, but really: history is on our side, the curtain has been drawn back and Oz has been revealed for who he is. Yes or No in September – this is only the start. Change is coming.

    1. Douglas says:

      Some of that is true, Andrew, a lot in fact…

      I posted the Portuguese rallying call because I happen to feel a great sympathy for the people of what the Romans called Hispania, and I know all the big cities in the Iberian peninsula: Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon, I lived there, in all of those cities, for many years and they are being destroyed by the neo liberal EU.

      But then seeing Amalia again, I felt inspired, and I think we have to go for more. Countries are forgotten for centuries, and then suddenly, they are protagonists…now, truly, it is Scotland´s hour and we should take advantage.

      The rest of Europe is watching and I can´t recommend the EU set up, it would be frankly unethical of me to endorse a system which has caused such total destruction and harm on the very nice people of the Iberian peninsula. And of course I am a Europhile.

      I have read Cervantes, Lorca and I have seen the films of Buñuel. I have read the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, and one of the directors I admire most today is Pedro Costa. But what can I do? The EU are a club in league to the bankers, so let´s state that without shame.

  16. G. P. Walrus says:

    The Marr Disambiguation was one of Robert Ludlum’s less enthralling oeuvres, I have to say.

  17. Douglas says:

    And this is why the superb people of Portugal are so melancholic….because of Amalia, if not the greatest singer ever, in the top five at least.

    I agree that this has nothing to do with politics, but that´s just YES…

  18. hektorsmum says:

    I watched Gavin Essler interview the First Minister last night on the news. Given Andrew Marr’s debacle I felt that it was handled with great care, much more than we normally see or expect.

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