Saturday 10 May 2014

Déjà vu all over again. Again.

As the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra was said to have said when the ranger confiscated his latest pickernick basket, "It's like déjà vu all over again"...

There's another mini-storm going on over party political 'plants' on the BBC's Question Time following an overblown anti-UKIP rant from an audience member this week (basically saying that Nigel Farage is worse than Hitler). 

People quickly betook themselves onto Twitter and Facebook to speculate about the offending audience member's identity, much as they did when another 'ordinary audience member' ranted about UKIP being "disgusting" early in 2013. 

That audience member (back in 2013) turned out to be a very well-connected Labour activist called Amy Rutland - something which confirmed many people's suspicions about Question Time and the presence of left-wing activists in its audience

I wrote a very detailed post about that at the time and concluded that it threw considerable suspicion on the Labour Party, suggesting that they really were (as many suspected) using party activists (disguised as audience members) to advance their partisan cause  - and there was further evidence to back that up, as you'll see if you click on the link.

As a result, my long-held suspicion that many QT audience mentions are party activists pretending to be 'ordinary members of the public' was only re-enforced. 

Thus, after this week's edition, I too went onto the internet and scoured the website of the Southampton Labour Party to see if this man's face popped up. I found nothing.

Others, however, solved the mystery and found that the anti-UKIP questioner is called Charlie Bloom. Mr Bloom has been on Twitter defending himself (and his daughters) over the last day or so as a result. (The onslaught against him has not been social media's finest moment.)

He is emphatic that he is NOT a member of any political party and, to be fair to him, no one has yet provided any real evidence that he is (though that hasn't stopped many incautious social media users, doubtless all with #innocent faces, from asserting that he's "a member of the Liberal Democrats masquerading as a normal member of the BBC Question Time audience".) 

The 'evidence' against him is pretty weak. The strongest point (and even that's not very strong) is that his daughter, Caitlin, is a Lib Dem activist (and former councillor) and that she's been strongly supportive of his questioning of Nigel Farage (on Twitter). Did she collude with his on his question (and, if so, is that so very wrong)?

The rest is, frankly, utterly absurd: That his ex-wife (who he's been divorced from for nearly 15 years!) is a Lib Dem councillor, and that her new partner (!!) is a Lib Dem councillor!!! - and that they know a Lib Dem MP!!!! (Exclamation marks are necessary here.) None of that reflects well on Mr Bloom's accusers, it has to be said.

Still, back to déjà vu all over again, and getting back to the subject of BBC bias...

In my Amy Rutland post I argued that it was impossible to prove collusion between the Labour Party and the BBC on that occasion. 

The 'smoking gun' some thought they'd found at the time was a tweet from Amy ("Don't miss out on Question Time tonight, you'll see me rip into the disgusting UKIP woman! -- Amy Rutland (@rutters101)") which appeared to have been sent before the programme was recorded, but which was in fact made immediately after the programme was recorded. 

Question Time is recorded 'as live' and then broadcast to the nation shortly after. This misled some commenters into assuming that she tweeted before going on the show, thus 'proving' that she knew she was going to be called by David Dimbleby and, thus, 'proving' BBC collusion in the attempted ambush of UKIP's Diane James. 

They were mistaken on that point.

This sort of mistake only gets worse when people assume that the timestamp shown on tweets is always reliable. It most certainly isn't, and the whole area is a minefield. 

Twitter timestamps all tweets, and the way that these timestamps show up varies due to the way a Twitter user accesses the site. The results can diverge wildly, and can't always be taken at face value. 

I can't quite recall the details, but there was a debate at B-BBC once that suggested which someone (a Labour MP I seem to remember) had tweeted something six hours before QT about what they would would happen on QT. Others at B-BBC (David Preiser, I think) worked out that the timestamp on the apparent 'smoking gun' tweet was due to precisely this kind of happenstance and that the real time of the tweet was after the programme was recorded after all. So there was no 'smoking gun' there.

And something similar seems to be happening with this latest Question Time 'scandal', and the charge of collusion is being made yet again

Someone has accessed the offending audience member's daughter's Twitter feed (the aforementioned Caitlin) and screengrabbed a tweet from her saying, "So tonight dad will be on #bbcqt to grill @Nigel_Farage let's see what he has to say...", timestamped at "2:24 PM - 8 May 2014" - apparently many hours before the recording of Question Time

This is being touted as another 'smoking gun', again 'proving' collusion' with the BBC. 

The young lady in question replied to her Twitter accuser, however, saying " I had spoken to dad after it had been recorded but before it aired nice try..." - and she is almost certainly telling the truth there.

BBC critics need to stop going 'Aha!' and 'Gotcha' whenever they spot a Twitter timestamp that seems to be too good to be true - because it often isn't true.

[There's something very strange going on today with some people claiming that Caitlin's tweet was a full day before the recording of QT. Given that these people keeping citing 8 May as the date she sent the tweet and that the 8 May was the day QT was both recorded and broadcast (i.e. Thursday), they are clearly deeply, deeply confused and appear not to know what day it is/was! I think that's because the main post-QT Twitter exchange with Caitlin occurred on Friday 9 May.]

So, in conclusion, I'm afraid, much as I'd love to be able to say that the BBC has been 'nailed' here, that this seems to me to be the case of a left-leaning member of the public with a couple of Lib Dem-supporting daughters who holds views that many of us on the Right may disagree with (and find distasteful, as over Lady Thatcher's death), who managed to make a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-UKIP point on Question Time that we didn't like hearing. 

Plus, unfortunately (or fortunately, however you look at it) there's still no proof (to put it mildly!) that Charlie Bloom, his daughter and the Lib Dems conspired with David Dimbleby & Co. to ambush Nigel Farage here, much as we might want to believe there is.


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