Conservative radio and television personalities in the United States were unsettled after last week’s bombings in London — not because of the terrorist attack on a major western city, but because too few Londoners were willing to serve as props to support the right-wing ranting of the Americans. After one stoic Brit, who had blood on the side of his face, calmly described climbing out of a smoke-filled subway station, a Fox anchor exclaimed, “That man’s obviously in shock.”
Actually, the man appeared to be completely in control of his faculties, as did the British journalists who appeared that evening on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” Host Bill O’Reilly, the king of the hysterics, had a hard time with the Brits, who simply were not as feverish as he had hoped — and who were genuinely bemused when he started ranting about how much he hated Britain’s highly regarded Guardian newspaper.
O’Reilly, like too many other American radio and television commentators, expected the British attacks to provide a new opportunity to hype support for the war in Iraq, gripe about “open borders” and generally spin sorrow and fear into political gold for the conservative cause.
It didn’t happen, though not for lack of trying by the folks at Fox.
The Fox commentary following the London bombings was surreal. Brit Hume babbled about how the dip in stock values after the attacks meant it was “time to buy,” Brian Kilmeade suggested that a deadly terrorist attack on a country where the G8 leaders were meeting “works to our advantage,” and John Gibson bemoaned the fact that the bombs hit London and not Paris. “They’d blow up Paris, and who cares?” chuckled Gibson, the host of one of the network’s “news” shows.
But the Fox personalities and their allies in right-wing talk radio found few takers among the British for their efforts to politicize the gruesome developments in the British capital.
Try as American conservative commentators did to get Londoners to echo their pro-Bush, pro-war line, the British generally refused to play along.
This does not mean that most Brits who were interviewed embraced calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq or other alternatives to the Bush administration’s misguided approach to the so-called “war on terror.” But it does mean that, instead of parroting propaganda, the Brits preferred to engage in thoughtful discussions about what had happened, why the terrorists targeted London and what ought to be done to prevent future attacks. Few topics were off limits.
Veteran journalist Gary Younge suggested that the attacks were “Blair’s blowback” — the bloody wages of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to back President Bush’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Some members of parliament called for Britain to quickly withdraw its troops from the quagmire. Others suggested that Britain needs to get more engaged in promoting the Middle East peace process. There was no single response, no lockstep approach, because the Brits were angry enough — and determined enough — to put everything on the table.