Thursday, 14 April 2016

Whipping up a storm (in a tea cup?)

The 'Whittingdale Affair' was quite the one-and-a-bit-day-wonder, wasn't it?

After floating around on the internet for a while, causing a row at the UK Press Gazette and being made the subject of an article by Private Eye, Ian Katz's Newsnight decided to approach the Culture Secretary about it on Tuesday and then splashed the story on that night's edition, thus making it into a 'major story'.

Newsnight's coverage that night was certainly full of insinuations but they added quite a few caveats too. In other words, they had their cake and ate it.

By the following morning, the whole BBC was in full swing (as only the BBC can be) - from Today to the BBC News website - and it was still in full swing late in the afternoon, by which time the Sky News website had dropped the story from its headlines. 

By that stage, however, the backlash against the BBC, Hacked Off and the others involved in leading the anti-Whittingdale/anti-press charge was also in full swing, and knocking chunks out of them.

After Mark Easton published an unfriendly-to-Mr-Whittingdale blogpost, things seemed to begin petering out and by the time of last night's Newsnight, the wind seemed to have somewhat gone out of the BBC's sails. The Papers on the BBC News Channel ignored it completely.

Last night's Newsnight seemed almost sheepish in comparison with night before: just a short introduction to the story and then an interview with Andrew Mitchell MP, who rubbished it (but didn't attack the BBC), and then part of an interview with Nick Clegg (who excused Mr Whittingdale and blamed David Cameron instead). Even editor Ian Katz's Twitter feed was more restrained last night. (The previous night he was in overdrive, and clearly tilting in one direction - and I bet you can guess which one!)

The story, noticeably, wasn't among the headlines on this morning's BBC News website and Today seems to have chosen to bury the matter though an interview with former TimesObserver and Indie editor Roger Alton at 7.20 am. 

Or at least that's my impression of the trajectory of the story, and the BBC's involvement with it. I could, of course, be wrong.


  1. I’d like to think the BBC’s interest is largely prurient and another excuse to bash the Tories, and in particular to unseat the man (before he was appointed minister with the power to destroy the BBC) everyone predicted would destroy the BBC.

    On the one hand, everyone, from Maria Eagle to various J.W. supporters insist it’s a non story. “Single man dates single woman - big deal” they say. In the next breath Maria Eagle says it’s all about appearances, then she says there’s a risk that the press would have “a hold’ over him, which would affect his ability to do is job.
    I don’t know how a non-story gives the press much of a hold over anyone, though.

    I’m thinking mountain out of molehill, because although there are echoes of Christine Keeler and John Profumo, remember - that was then and this is now.
    Also, Profumo was the secretary of state for war, Christine Keeler was 19 years old and there were links with a Russian spy. And it brought about the Prime Minister’s resignation.
    J.W.’s sleaze is insignificant next to that. Never mind who knew what, when, and who should have been told what, when.

    The only thing I can think is that it’s odd. It doesn’t say much for the man’s judgment, I mean it’s not as if she didn’t look like a “sex worker”. How could he not know? But then, is it fair that a hooker goes on to ‘hook’ a potential blackmailee? Then someone said it wasn’t actually Ms Hooker who tried to sell the story for £??s k.

    I wish it would go away.

  2. Maybe Newsnight could be renamed 'Insinuations and caveats' to reflect their true commitment to editorial integrity?

    Mind you, most other 'news' programmes may be vying for the appellation.