Saturday, 10 November 2012

Newsnight: smearing McAlpine is an even greater journalistic blunder than not running the Savile story

Oh for x*%!’s sake, could someone at the BBC just get a bloody grip on News in general - and poxy old Newsnight in particular? What about the Head of News? Surely there must be something in her job description about this sort of thing? The Director-General? A cleaning lady? How can George Entwhistle (who really needs to learn that speaking very fast and tetchily while going puce really doesn't give an impression of strong leadership) go on Breakfast News and Today – as he did this morning - and assure us that no one told him about the McAlpine story on Newsnight?

Does nobody ever tell him anything? Does he have appalling body odour? Ox-felling halitosis? A contagious disease? Even if he has all of the above, have BBC employees forgotten how to send emails and texts?

Entwhistle is the editor-in-chief of the biggest broadcaster in the country, one with a widespread reputation for supporting the Labour Party. A programme which has brought opprobrium down on the new boss’s shiny pate when it failed – for reasons which are still a mystery – to run a pretty solidly substantiated story about a child-abusing BBC personality, and then subsequently decides to run a far weaker and largely unsubstantiated story about a “leading Conservative Thatcher-era politician” accused – mistakenly, it transpires  - of child abuse. The programme doesn't name him, but, instead, tell viewers to head for the internet, where they’ll discover the identify of the man whose reputation the programme is seeking to smear – and whom, it turns out, they haven’t even bothered phoning for a response to the allegations! 

This is so bad, so shaming, so journalistically gormless, that Newsnight deserves to be taken off the air immediately. Not running the Savile story smacked of corporate (or individual) timidity, as well as managerial incompetence. The McAlpine debacle smacks of grotesque managerial and journalistic incompetence. All current Newsnight investigations have already been halted so that BBC Scotland director Ken McQuarrie can carry out a swift investigation this weekend into how this disaster (that’s really not too strong a word) could possibly have been allowed to happen. Newsnight needs to taken off the air – now! – and should only be allowed to return when a new editor has been appointed and when there’s a new Director of News in place.

If this sounds like an instance of a vengeful right-winger determined to punish the people responsible for the anti-Tory propaganda pumped out by this unremittingly left-wing programme (I mean, Paul Mason? Really?) – well, it isn’t. Rather, it’s a former BBC TV journalist – who has never been in the least bit pompous about the role of TV journalism – who is steaming bloody mad that the massively well-funded and lavishly-staffed news directorate he worked for with some pride for many years could have got things so badly, catastrophically, ridiculously wrong.

In short, I’m embarrassed.

My bet when the Savile scandal exploded was that the Newsnight editor, Peter Rippon, and Helen Boaden, who’s been Director of BBC News for eight years (sufficient time, one might have thought, to get an effective system of editorial checks and balances in place), would both lose their jobs, with Barron leaving the corporation and Boaden being shifted to a considerably less prominent role (Head of Fatuous Ideas, or somesuch). I assumed that George Entwhistle would manage to cling on to his job by sacrificing them.

I’m now not so sure that either Boaden or Entwhistle – who was in charge of imposing new editorial checks and balances on Newsnight in the wake of the Savile debacle just a few short weeks ago – can now possibly remain at the BBC.

Deputy Director-General Mark Byford – a thoroughly decent and competent man - left the corporation last year, having suffered years of conjecture as to what he actually did for his extremely handsome salary (£500,000). Well, among his other roles, he was the overall head of BBC journalism. Given that Byford would undoubtedly have heard about both the Savile and McAlpine investigations before they did (or didn’t) air, and would immediately have realised how fantastically sensitive they both were, that salary’s beginning to look like money well spent. (And I never thought I’d ever write those particular words.)

Mortified. Absolutely bloody mortified.


  1. I want to come clean before the story breaks and the Old Bill arrives. In the 70s and 80s I slept regularly with a female until she expired at age 15. We only cuddled and kissed. She was the prettiest girl of all time [yes, Pia Degermark and Melissa George]and I miss her still. Her name was Gorgeous Gussie van Waren Wandel and she was a basset hound. There, I have said it. I am ready for my punishment.

    1. I have passed your name to Newsnight. You're secret is now safe. You filthy nonce.

  2. I'm not sure I have much to add to what I said in response to your post on Broadcasting's Basic Rule, other than to say you have it spot on. It's galling to see the organisation you care for in the hands of the incompetent, the suck-ups and the inexplicably favoured, going down the tubes at warp speed. Quite apart from that feeling, which is bad enough, there must be the nagging doubt that you were wrong not to pitch for the top when you had a chance of getting there. I'm talking more about me than you, by the way but part of your anger must be that you know you would have handled this whole business better.

    I imagine that SDG's confession will find its way on to the David Icke website, to be linked with Dunblane, the Masons, 9/11 and Opus Dei, whereafter it will be the focal point of a Newsnight investigation into bestiality in the blogosphere, where apparently the BBC now gets all its material.

    1. Crikey - when it comes to reaching the top of the mountain, I didn't even get to the foothills! Thank God! Towards the end of my BBC career, I reached that stage where you spend your whole time on politics and meetings - the thought of doing that stuff for the next five or so years until I reached culling age was one of the reasons I got out when I could (if you reach your late fifties at the Beeb, people approach you in the corridor and reach out wonderingly to touch your wrinkled skin, wondering what's wrong with you - I expect it happens to John Humphrys and Bruce Forsyth all the time).

      To be honest, I think a 16-year old on work experience would have handled this better.

  3. Sorry to post again but there's one more point. About 30 years ago, in the pre-Internet age, you could hardly go to a dinner party without hearing an allegation, presented as fact, involving a divorce petition applied for in formal court proceedings by the wife of a Prime Minister naming a prominent staff member as co- respondent, with the subsequent charge that the PM had had the whole thing hushed up in a D-notice to stop the press referring to the court records.

    After the third time I heard this, I decided to research it myself. It took about an hour or two to establish that there were no such court records, no petition had been made - in short, it was an urban myth. After that, I challenged guests who told the same tale to the embarrassment of the hosts, after which my dinner invitations tended to reduce drastically in number, which was an outcome on which I had a different view to that of my partner at the time.

    Let's hope that one outcome of all this might be that people get back a sense of decency about what is proven fact and what is gossip. The allegations repreated, or rather hinted at in a nudge nudge cowardly fashion by Newsnight, have been hanging over the person in question for years and have no doubt been repreated endlessly behind his back during that time. I hope he sues the bollocks off the BBC and the rest of them.

    1. Harold Wilson sued The Move in 1967 for issuing a promotional postcard which pictorially alleged an affair with a staff member. He won the case and was awarded damages - but that didn't stop the rumours continuing to circulate for years.

      Jeffrey Archer won a libel case against the Daily Star for alleging he'd visited prostitutes. He won the case - but it turned out that the allegation was true.

      Rumours clung to Jimmy Savile for decades... and they turned out to be true! While, for instance, the one about Richard Gere being admitted to hospital with a gerbil wedged up his bum is utterly false (it was, in fact, a guinea pig - no, no, honestly, the actor in question has never been admitted to hospital with anything whatsoever up his pack passage!)

      There's a genuine condundrum here. If you'd been told 20 years ago that John Major was boffing Edwina Currie (perhaps you were - sorry I'm not implying you were boffing Edwina Currie, but that you'd been told about it) you'd probably have rolled around laughing - but he was!

      There's no way of stopping such gossip on any but a local scale - for instance, as you did, admirably. Because in order to try to halt gossip in the wider world, the subject of the rumour has to willingly link their name to what they're being accused of (as Wilson did). That doesn't necessarily quash the rumour, and millions who were unaware of the rumour now will be.

      I think that a love of gossip is simply a part of human nature, and an appeal to decency won't halt it. And now, thanks to the internet, rumours are impossible to scotch, no matter what you do.

      The one good thing to come out of the whole Newsnight fiasco is that Lord McAlpine's name couldn't have been more comprehensively cleared of the appalling allegations levelled against him. But if he still wants to go ahead and sue the fools - the very best of luck to him.

  4. Get your phone back on the hook, Blog Supremo. Ent has Whistled his last. A nation calls. Fatty Pang can't be far behind. Everywhere I hear the cry: Gronners for DG.

    1. Bugger! Patten got hold hold of my mobile number and phoned a short while ago. I was somewhat terse, as I was watching a tennis match on Sky. Anyway, after I'd told him he was a traitor to the Tory cause for helping to depose Mrs Thatcher (he's heard this from me before), I assured him that I really couldn't be arsed tot ake on the job, especially if it required ever having to talk to that horrid blister John Hymphreys, and suggested he approach Richard Littlejohn of the Daily Mail, who once edited Sounds and therefore has extensive management experience, and is just ever-so-slightly right of centre.

      "Thanks, Scott. You're a mate," said the former Governor of Hong Kong.

      "Hey, don't be so cheeky! That's Mr Gronmark to you, fatty."

      I hung up while he was still apologising.

  5. New York Times, 4 November 2012, 'As Scandal Flared, BBC’s Leaders Missed Red Flags':

    Last March, Mark Thompson addressed the Royal Television Society ... he recounted the BBC’s considerable achievements on his watch and declared: “Trust in the BBC is also at an all-time high.” ... Jimmy Savile ... Controversy over the canceled investigation was already brewing when Mr. Thompson addressed the television society. It fully erupted in early October, just after he left and began preparing for his new job as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company.

    The events have cast a shadow over his tenure at the BBC and have forced his new boss, the Times publisher and board chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., to defend him even before he starts work on Nov. 12 ...

    That's tomorrow. Should be interesting.

    1. Thompson will get away with it, because, ultimately, the Americans won't give a toss about the BBC - unlike poor Entwistle, Thompson always was a lucky editor. If Entwistle had been DG during the Sachsgate scandal, I bet he'd have ended up having to resign over that too, whereas Thompson somehow sailed through the whole damned thing.

    2. You're right. "Liberals" don't care.

      Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has written to all staff to say how jolly lucky the New York Times company is, to have Mr Thompson aboard.

      That said, in her article, one of many to quote the Sulzberger email, Margaret Sullivan starts her article by saying that the senior NYT journalists covering the story in London have not found a smoking gun yet and she finishes with:

      What happens in London reverberates in New York. And the chaos at the BBC – in which many of the people Mr. Thompson has supervised stepped aside as recently as this past weekend — feels uncomfortably close to home.

      Hedging her bets.

      Unlike the Rev Dr Peter Mullen in this morning's Telegraph, talking about the BBC: "These days it is a decadent institution failing in all the ways in which it is possible to fail".

    3. This story still seems to have legs.
      Still tottering along.
      Front page, apparently:

      The New York Times
      Letter Raises Questions About When BBC Ex-Chief Learned of Abuse Cases
      Published: November 15, 2012

      ... In the letter, sent 10 days before Mr. Thompson left the BBC in September, lawyers representing him and another executive threatened to sue The Sunday Times in London over contentions in an article it was preparing that they had been involved in killing a BBC investigation of Mr. Savile ...

      The timing and substance of the letter are significant because Mr. Thompson, who began work this week as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, said in October that “during my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.” ...

    4. Anonymous Fruitbat@sellyouabunchofcrap.com17 November 2012 at 01:53

      Mr Moss, it's such as you are writing my thoughts. I approximate you likewise in thinking of such events. I will certainly fall asleep on your blog again.

  6. I have just read the transcript of Entwistle's interrogation by Humphrys. I note that he employed the wishy-washy "Bambi Defence" by continuously using Humphrys' first name [about 15 times to be exact]. When somebody is interrogating you and being rude to your face this basically signals capitulation.It is a defence normally used by slimy, venal little politicians and not by experienced journalists. It never works.

    And what about Fat Pang? I lived in Hong Kong when he was governor [he was just as sneery and bumptious then] who spent his time making himself disagreable to the Mainland Chinese. I wonder what his next big, fat sinecure will be? Thanks to the good voters of Bath he did not end up holding some important cabinet post. Interesting times, indeed! And now we can look forward to the investigation of the rotund petroleum jelly man.

    1. I hadn't noticed the first name tic - but I agree it comes across as weakness and should always be avoided, especially as the interviewer isn't using the interviewee's first name.

      I hate to admit it, but Humphrys did a great job. How you can spend nearly twenty years in TV journalism and not appear to have an inkling of how to deal with someone intent on grilling your nadgers? Entwistle was Paxman's programme editor on Newsnight for years: how could he not have learnt the technique???

  7. Humphrys - for once - did what he was paid to do: be a journalist. Of course, Humphrys was motivated here and, Entwistle being the corporate drone that he is there was no danger for him personally in kicking Entwistle when he was down. OTOH he was acting on behalf of a BBC which recognised that it had to get a sacrificial victim before questions started being asked about the rest of the BBC's set-up.

    Unfortunately, Humphrys is not so motivated when it comes to matters nearer to his (and the BBC's) heart. Listen to him conducting interviews on the coalition's (non)cuts or tax "justice" or climate change or the EU and his "journalism" flies out of the window to be replaced by sneering quasi-invective poured over anyone opposing the BBC position.

  8. Paul Mason. Tetchy bleeder.

    26 minutes ago, Andrew Neil Tweeted: "#Newsnight leading on Europe. Should it not be leading on Mitchell and #plebgate".

    5 minutes later, back comes the witty riposte from Paul Mason: "@afneil We lead on wtf we like thanks" ...

    ... which has now been deleted and replaced with: "@afneil no".

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