Sunday, 5 February 2017

Not so very different views after all

This week's Feedback began by discussing:

The 'debating listeners' were introduced as having "very different views about Mr Gaffney and his appearance on Today". 

One (Jasmine) was passionately critical of Today for not labelling Mr Gaffney a "conspiracy theorist" and of John Humphrys in particular for not hammering Mr Gaffney over things like the damage to "social cohesion" done by Trump. 

The other (Henry), who wasn't a supporter of Frank Gaffney either (so was actually far from having a 'very different view' about Mr Gaffney), appeared to be simply there to defend Today and John Humphrys.

Well, that was how it started. Bizarrely, however, the pro-Today listener (Henry) ended up conceding pretty much every point made by the anti-Trump listener (Jasmine) without even a murmur of protest. He just caved in. (Far too nice a chap, by the sounds of it!). 

And the interview ended with the anti-Trump listener (Jasmine) demanding that Today and Radio 4 "step up their game and become really very good at telling us listeners what is true, what isn't".

Now, in fairness to Roger Bolton, he was better than Samira Ahmed this week in properly playing devil's advocate but, still, this was an odd discussion.

It might even turn you into a conspiracy theorist about the BBC.

A transcript follows:

Roger Bolton: But first, how should the new President of the United States and his supporters be treated? One of the latter is the controversial right-wing commentator and some say conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. He was interviewed in the prime 8.10 spot on Today on Monday by that terrier John Humphrys. Or on this occasion was John more like a lapdog? The Today presenter introduced his guest like this:
John Humphrys: I've been talking to Frank Gaffney, who was Assistant Secretary for Defence under President Reagan and founded the Centre for Security Policy based in Washington.
Roger Bolton: That was brief but factually accurate. Some listeners think Frank Gaffney should not have appeared at all. They point to American press reports which refer to him as "anti-Muslim". Well, now I'm joined by two listeners, Jasmine Leyl [spelling?] and Henry Gordon, who have very different views about Mr Gaffney and his appearance on Today. If I can turn to you Jasmine first. You said that you thought this was "yet again a Radio 4 news programme covering the issue of racism in an incredibly flawed and irresponsible way". What was flawed and irresponsible about this?
Jasmine: Well it was flawed very much by us not being told who Gaffney was, when you get told that he's a former presidential advisor. That's someone fairly respectable. And he really is something quite different nowadays. And the sudden change in John Humphrys's interview style was inconsistent with what we expect from him. There were unusually long periods when he was not interrupted, and also, when the next question came. they were good questions but there was no reference back to what had been said. There was no holding Gaffney to account. There were a lot of questions that needed to be asked.
Roger Bolton: Let me turn to Henry Gordon. Did you think the interview was properly conducted?
Henry: Yes, I certainly did. I think that John Humphrys asked all the questions that I would have expected. He went through guns, Saudi Arabia, all the rest of it, and I would like to know from Jasmine what questions would she have put to Gaffney.
Jasmine: I'd have like him to have asked him whether he thought it was conducive to a good, successful US and relations between people to be having this kind of divisive politics that this ban is going to be having. Is Gaffney concerned about that? How is social cohesion going to manage in the US? I'd really liked to have him held to account, questioned, analysed, in the way that John Humphrys normally would talk to somebody like that.
Roger Bolton: Well, let's deal with that issue. The introduction said that Frank Gaffney's the founder and president of the national security thinktank the Centre for Security Policy, which he is, and former Assistant Secretary of Defence for President Reagan, which he was.  You'd have liked him, Jasmine, to be labelled as "a conspiracy theorist", but then the interview would have become one about him, Frank Gaffney, and not about Frank Gaffney. as it were. helping us understand the views of President Trump and those who surround him?
Jasmine: Yes, but he - knowing who he is - yes, it helps us understand the mind of the people advising Trump, because there seem to be a lot of people who think like him there, but that's not how he was presented. That was a bit missing in what was said. And it is very important we hear the the man. It is also really important that they are held to account and questioned, because that...
Roger Bolton (interrupting): Henry, what would be your response? Would you have liked that?
Henry: Yes, sir. I would. I must say that I didn't Google him. I didn't look into his background. And I think, yes, it could have been put quite subtly, and so on. in the introduction. Something could have been added to the introduction, yeah.
Roger Bolton: Do you think that John Humphrys should have been more combative? He often is. Would it have been. in this case. more appropriate if he had leant forward. if you like. rather than leant back?
Henry: I actually felt it was a tremendous advantage. The questions were put calmly, and then they were answered calmly. But I do get the point that Jasmine was making about the follow-up. There wasn't, in many case, a follow-up to the question. John Humphrys appeared to be quite satisfied by what was said.
Roger Bolton: Jasmine, it is, you know...People would say, "Look. let's at least try and understand this phenomenon rather than, as it were, going to a sort of aggressive mood automatically. Are you sympathetic at all to the point of view?
Jasmine: You don't have to be aggressive in holding them to account. We really need journalists on the Today programme and Radio 4 to step up their game and become really very good at telling us listeners what is true, what isn't. We need to know much more.
Roger Bolton: Jasmine Leyl and Henry Gordon, thank you both for joining us.


  1. Must be a set up. What listener would write in to say "I would just like to commend John Humphreys on his workmanlike interview with Frank Gaffney."

    My view is that we do need BBC journalists to "step up their game" by the simple expedient of telling us the truth rather than what they want to be true. Oh yeah - and stop hiding stories where a gang of "men" get up to 20 years each for the "usual offences" on your Sheffield and locality page (about 58 clicks from the front page).

  2. Hearing feedback and reading the transcript shows yet another example of the BBC "normalising" that people who support President Trump's policies, or who are anti-Islam are racist.