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Sometimes I despair for humanity

I’ve just been listening to ‘Any Questions‘ and ‘Any Answers’ on the radio. For those of you that are outside the UK, or don’t listen to Radio 4, ‘Any Questions’ is a discussion programme where a panel of notable figures are presented with questions from the news of the week and invited to share their opinions. The discussion this week touched on the Gaza crisis, Barack Obama’s upcoming inauguration and other such topical events.
Traditionally, the final question tends to be more light-hearted and so it was this week.

[Edit:  Listen Again links will have expired by now, but Jonathan has copies of the audio in his blog]

The panel were asked (it’s from about 46.18 on Listen Again for this week’s episode)

What kind of dog do you hope the Obama family bring to the White House?

There were various suggestions and then Christopher Hitchens replied:

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. That would mean I would say an Irish Setter.

When asked why, he replied.

Stupid, highly strung, but dead loyal.

A perfectly reasonable answer you’d think? Wikipedia does say that contrary to popular opinion, Irish Setters aren’t stupid, but that does at least confirm that Hitchens’ view is a common one. Presumably the worst response you might expect would be from an Irish Setter lover to defend their intelligence.

No, apparently not, as someone then actually phoned in to ‘Any Answers’ to say (at about 27.22 on iPlayer)

I’m really concerned that the BBC allowed the word stupid and the word Irish to be broadcast in the same sentence. As you may know the racial stereotype of the Irish is that we are stupid so I’m really surprised. I did complain about this last night I phoned the BBC made a complant about it and asked if it could be edited out. Just that word, just the word Irish which could have easily been done. Christopher Hitchen’s didn’t say Setter, he said Irish setter..

Yes, amazingly someone actually managed to take a comment about a breed of dog and turn it into a racial slur.

An Irish Setter

An Irish Setter

Jonathan Dimbleby attempted to placate her by again pointing out that he was talking about a dog (and that editing things out of a live programme is problematic) but she was having none of it.

No, the point is, if you’re actually broadcasting a stereotype like that, that the Irish are stupid..

He tries again, this time ‘with great humility‘ to placate her but she then tries to link this into a series of slights against the Irish with the Government trying to remove them as a nationality from the census!

Just how big a chip on your shoulder do you have to have to take comments about a breed of dog and make them a derogatory attack on your nationality?  It’s a good thing no-one mentioned German Shepherds or the German farming lobby would have been blockading Broadcasting House!

[Update:  Judging by some of the comments on the BBC Radio 4 Message board she’s not the only one.  What’s wrong with you people?]

Image © Brian Snelsdon Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence

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  1. Jonathan says

    Hello! Seems I wasn’t the only one with an opinion about this!
    I wrote a piece the same day as you about this, but the audio you link to on iplayer has gone (only available for one week) but my page has the relevant audio clips – feel free to link or copy them, just a link back would be appreciated. Will do same!
    Click my name for link

  2. Alan says

    Thanks for the pointer Jonathan, I’ve added a link to your post in case people want to hear the audio.
    I’m still impressed by Dimbleby’s tact, I don’t think I would have been so placatory.



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