If a BBC interviewer wants to avoid non-trivial accusations of bias then he should probably try to avoid appearing blatantly inconsistent - especially during a general election. If he doesn't avoid appearing blatantly inconsistent then further non-trivial accusations of bias will inevitably follow.
Andrew Marr - who faces plenty of trivial accusations of bias week in and week out on Twitter - is now putting himself at considerable risk of being on the receiving end of lots of non-trivial accusations of bias if he carries on the way he's interviewing at the moment - i.e. very inconsistently.
When David Cameron complained (on today's Andrew Marr Show), "You didn't interrupt your other guests in this way. Let me make this point", it's tempting to think, 'well, he would say that, wouldn't he?'...
...but it's also unquestionably true that Andrew didn't interrupt his other guests in that way. He interrupted them far less often (Mr Cameron being interrupted some 36 times, Nicola Sturgeon 7 times and Vince Cable 6 times, by my reckoning).
Moreover, the range and substance of his questions were far tougher for the Conservative leader than they were for the Liberal Democrat spokesman or the SNP leader:
- Vince Cable was asked about whether he regretted the coalition, about whether he'd prefer Labour to the Conservatives, about what he makes of the Tory plan for "catastrophic" cuts, and whether he'd stand for leader if Nick Clegg lost his Sheffield seat.
- Nicola Sturgeon was mainly asked about possible post-election dealings with Labour and whether she'd rule out another independence referendum. She was also asked to outline her position on more money for the NHS and received just one question on her party's economic policy and the IFS's warning of a £7bn+ black hole. Her answer wasn't challenged.
- David Cameron was asked about why his party won't be able to win a majority, why his party's campaign is stuttering, whether he'd step aside if his party didn't win a majority, whether he'd do a deal with UKIP, about his government's failings over housing, about whether the Tories are a party of the rich, about whether his favourite sport in fox-hunting, about whether welfare cuts are hurting poor and vulnerable people (with two personal cases being raised), on why food banks have massively increased on his watch, on whether foreign nationals are the ones getting the new jobs, on where that £8bn for the NHS is coming from ("I didn't get far with your chancellor"), and on whether the Lloyds shares policy has been announced many times before and is "another Conservative bribe".
So far in this election then, Andrew Marr has given George Osborne (Conservative) a very tough interview, David Cameron (Conservative) a tough interview, Natalie Bennett (Greens) a tough interview, Harriet Harman (Labour) a fairly soft interview, Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) a soft interview, and Vince Cable (Liberal Democrat) a very soft interview.
Next week, Ed Miliband will be the main attraction. It will be very interesting to see what kind of interview he receives. To avoid charges of inconsistency and bias, Andrew Marr will have to go at him very hard indeed, questioning him closely on a wide range of policy issues and pursuing any evasive answers as tenaciously as he pursued George Osborne last week.
Tough on Natalie, eh. Would it be wrong to suggest that this might be an attempt to stop Labour votes leaking Greenwards?ReplyDelete
That's a thought that's already crossed our minds.Delete
Marr seemed to have one major issue on which he wanted to press each of his guests. With Cable, it was whether or not the Lib Dems would do a deal with the Tories again, or if they'd support only Labour this time. I don't know if Marr simply wasn't listening to Cable's answers, or if he just didn't care because he got what he wanted, which is Cable's admission that the Lib Dems would go into coalition with the Tories again. But instead of wondering what the hell Cable meant by saying that a Tory majority would be "chaos" and that a coalition would be more stable, he cared only about getting to make the point that the Lib Dems stood for nothing much at all if they didn't care which party they joined in government. In reality, it's evidence that the Lib Dem leaders do stand for something: clinging on to their place at the table. They've had a little taste of power and they're not going back. Marr could have said that, but he didn't even notice.ReplyDelete
Sturgeon was allowed to be a Scottish weasel and claim democracy meant she couldn't rule out having a referendum as soon as possible. If the public votes for a SNP manifesto with a referendum promise in it, then the public will have spoken, nothing to do with her forcing or deciding anything. So who puts the referendum promise in the manifesto in the first place? It's a bold-faced lie, but Marr didn't care. The one issue he cared about pushing with Sturgeon was whether or not they would use their (potential) influence to support a Miliband Government. Sure, he did the usual BBC routine of asking over and over again if their guest was going to rule something out, but he sure as hell didn't really listen to her answer.
With Cameron, Marr squabbled at every answer, something he clearly did not do with the other two. Also, how ridiculous for Marr to bristle at Cameron demanding that Miliband rule out a deal, while he was totally asking his other guests to do exactly that.
The BBC is "relatively impartial".
Yes, Vince tilted far less obviously than Andrew Marr anticipated towards Labour. This might be a hangover from the days when Vince was known, at another blog, as 'Universal Vince' as a result of his sage-like treatment - and ubiquity - on the BBC (prior to the 2010 election), when he espoused an economic policy that seemed somewhat to the left of Labour.Delete
He certainly did squabble at every answer with David Cameron. He'd better make life hell for Ed Miliband next week, or all hell will break loose.
I have not been able to take Andrew Marr seriously as a credible professional in this (or any requiring gravitas) role since learning of his historical personal dinner party arrangements, odd post-shoot relaxation techniques and how the BBC high command opted for a more Mark Thommo-style forgiving approach to top talent tipsy turns.ReplyDelete
Clearly decking a male colleague is a major BBC no-no, but rummaging around a subordinate's Janet Reger's outside a club whilst tired and emotional and feeling fatherly again... is nothing Dinah Rose QC needs to bother her pretty girlie head with.
Will look forward to the analysis of how what #EdSez gets treated in due course.
Those dinner party arrangements came to my mind last week too when he was interviewing Harriet Harman. It's only a wonder Andrew didn't top up Hattie's wine glass midway through the interview.Delete
It really will be a test next week to see if he gives Ed anything like the same roasting he gave to Dave and George - especially given the comparisons in 2010 (which you'll recall from our efforts on Helen 'Hugs' Boaden's infamous 'it's in our genes' thread at the near-comatose BBC Editor's blog).
(For any newbies:
As Andrew, like me, is a big George Herbert fan, here's a prep for his Ed interview - to be imagined if Ed was speaking:
ANDREW bade me welcome; yet my answers drew back,
Guilty of lies and sin.
But quick-eyed ANDREW observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, TOUGHLY questioning
If I lack'd anything.