The BBC has ruled an article by its New York correspondent accusing Donald Trump of making “ridiculous boasts” and having a “narcissistic hunger for adoration” during his response to Covid-19 showed bias against him.
The corporation’s executive complaints unit upheld a complaint from a reader, who claimed journalist Nick Bryant had shown bias against Trump.
The March article, headlined: “Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US – and its president”, featured Bryant’s analysis of how the early stages of the pandemic had unfolded.
The BBC said that although the article was primarily a case of a specialist correspondent using their expertise to provide “informed and considered analysis”, with many of the points Bryant made supported by evidence, there were issues with the “approach and tone” of certain phrases.
The BBC’s impartiality guidelines state: “The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”
Some of the phrasing pointed to by the BBC included “ridiculous boasts”, “mind-bending truth twisting”, “particularly vicious assault”, “pettiness and peevishness”, “narcissistic hunger for adoration” and “the tricks of an illusionist”.
The ECU said that when there were no sources attributed to these phrases they were closer to the language of “personal views” over “professional judgement”.
The impartiality guidelines also say: “Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.
“They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views on such matters publicly, including in any BBC-branded output or on personal blogs and social media.”
The ECU found that “limited, and relatively restrained, criticism” of the Democrats, their presidential hopeful Joe Biden, and Congress did not offset the criticism.
It said: “In the ECU’s judgement, the article could have been brought into alignment with the BBC’s editorial standards without a great deal of alteration, as would normally have happened as a result of the process of editorial oversight applied to such pieces.
“As it stood, however, and whether or not Mr Bryant was in fact expressing a personal view of President Trump, some of his observations were couched in terms which might well have led readers to conclude that he was, resulting in a departure from the BBC’s standards of impartiality.”
The BBC said the ruling had been discussed with those responsible for the article, which has now been amended, and reported to the BBC Board.