There was a superb moment on US network MSNBC’s news/entertainment programme, The Rachel Maddow Show, this week, where Maddow delivered a polemic disabusing the conspiratorial position of Republicans and Republican commentators. It went like this:
The point she captures is so simple, and so obvious upon hearing – that so long as one half of political representation is obsessed with conspiracies, lies and misdirection, it entirely fails to serve the reality of the country it purports to represent. And this notion reflects directly onto how so many scandals are covered in the UK press, and by the government.
The BBC is not in crisis. That Newsnight failed to broadcast an investigation into Jimmy Savile is very problematic. Revealing the systematic failure to protect the vulnerable in hospitals, care homes, and indeed BBC premises, seems an important story that merits coverage. While Savile is dead, and thus his exposure was not going to protect anyone else from him, the systems he was able to exploit remain in place until highlighted. That there are now multiple enquiries taking place into how such abuse was possible is, I think, proof enough that the report at the very least merited further investigation, and not being spiked. And if there were internal cover-ups at the BBC, then it’s important this be exposed and dealt with.
That Newsnight then broadcast an interview with an individual claiming a senior Conservative politician had sexually abused him, without identifying the former politician, is not the BBC in crisis either. It’s a mistake. In light of the Savile story, Newsnight was in an odd position. They’re being loudly castigated for failing to report the actions of a dead child abuser, and now have testimonial about a live one. They had to be considering the reaction had they not reported this one as well. However, it’s pretty bewildering that with the situation being what it was, the reporter didn’t think to load a picture of the former MP in question on their phone and show it to the interviewee. I hope, as a result of all this, Newsnight will ensure reporters do some pretty basic checks in future. But the BBC is not in crisis. Newsnight’s in a mess, and some of it may be to do with any number of the layers of management on which the bloated corporation spends far too much of its money. But the BBC remains the most extraordinary broadcaster in the world.