Saturday 18 March 2017

John Humphrys gets into trouble (twice)

Catching up (and going back in time)...

Listening to last week's Feedback (i.e. the 10 March edition) reminded me that there were two other storms about BBC bias the week before last (other than Dame Jenni Murray and Laura K), both involving John Humphrys.

Feedback only tackled one of them though.

The one it didn't cover concerned the rage of Corbynistas at JH's interview with Labour shadow education secretary Angela Rayner on Wednesday 8 March. They accused him of haranguing her, interrupting her too much, trying to put words in her mouth and being patronising.

That's the kind of complaint which holds no water though unless it can be proven to be part of a trend of bias across a large number of interviews - unless it is truly outrageous bias.

Moreover, that kind of one-off complaint tends to come from partisans who don't like their side being given a hard time and, therefore, doesn't deserve to be taken seriously.

A week or so earlier Nigel Farage had received the full John Humphrys treatment too, being 'belittled', getting asked the same question again and again, being interrupted incessantly and being led to 'confess' to something. It was all personal stuff. A one-off complaint about that which didn't set it in the context of years of such interviews would merit the same dismissive treatment too.

The BBC would rightly reject both complaints and claim that the Today veteran treats all sides equally badly. They might even say that John will be John (to borrow a phrase from Tony Blair).

And they could very well be right about that. He does seem to like to argue with anyone and everyone.

The row the last-but-one Feedback did cover concerned Tuesday 7 March's edition of TodayJohn Humphrys was interviewing Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley about terrorism. The following exchange took place:
Mark Rowley: We know it was extreme right-wing related issues which led to the tragic murder of Jo Cox not that long ago. So...
John Humphrys (interrupting): So,,.in that case, wasn't that just a very deeply disturbed man really? Mentally ill, wasn't he? It slightly muddies the water, doesn't it, when we talk about that as terrorism? It was a murder, wasn't it?
Mark Rowley: That's not my classification. That was the view of the court and the sentencing. That's the conclusion they came to, 
The featured listeners to Feedback condemned JH for "inaccuracy", "sloppy journalism", and "muddying the waters" himself over the issue of Islamist v far-right terrorism by (apparently) equating terrorism purely with Muslims and (apparently) dismissing the white supremacist aspect.

He was, essentially, being accused of behaving like some of the commenters I saw on some right-wing blogs in the aftermath of Mrs Cox's murder.

Roger Bolton then played a typical (and very brief) BBC response from the Today programme, basically asserting that the interview was fine and had nothing wrong with it whatsoever:
Listeners expect robust and challenging questioning and John was establishing whether the murder of Jo Cox should be equated to other recent terrorist acts. Mark Rowley made it clear that the view of the court and sentencing was that Jo Cox's murder was an act of terrorism.
Roger Bolton said that Feedback had then asked listeners (doubtless via social media) for their reaction to the BBC's official defence, and the word that kept cropping up in their responses was "disingenuous". Further condemnation of John Humphrys followed.

Those critics of John Humphrys were correct. And those critics of the BBC's response to these complaints about John Humphrys were also correct. John had got it wrong, he was muddying the waters (however accidentally), and the BBC was being deeply disingenuous in their defence of him.

They should have just admitted he got it wrong and moved on.

The fact that they couldn't even bring themselves to do that speaks volumes about the BBC's deeply ingrained defensiveness.


  1. Wasn't Humphrys just trying to separate the actions of a mentally ill person with someone acting out of ideology? That doesn't necessarily mean only Muslims do terrorism.

    1. ++1
      And Craig's conclusion is completely wrong.

      Both R4Today are owned by Metro-Lib-Bubbleworld
      Terrible sources of news analysis

      You should present evidence and then test it.
      MR provided evidence "We know it was extreme right-wing .. led to murder of Jo Cox"
      - Whoa we don't. Since no defence was presented we don't know what "led to" ..So JH challenges
      Yes the judge did refer to terrorism, but we don't have take that as fact And it is muddying the waters to say that the risk from mentally ill nutters is the same class as that from organised terrorist groups.

      "Feedback had then asked listeners"
      Actually FB's technique is to scan Twitter for people who voice views they like and invite them for comments, they don't usually bother asking people of the opposite view.

      MR tried to pull a fast one, JH challenged him..and actually erred cos he should have gone further in his challenging.

      The main issue is that the topic made it to FB. It's a case of the topic been chosen due to orchestrated campaign by Tam Cox or FB's prejudice towards such a pet issue.

    2. typo Team Cox


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