My copy of The Spectator dropped through the letter box today and the first thing I read was Charles Moore's Spectator Notes. There's quite a BBC theme this week.
IIn the row which has rumbled on about Laura Kuenssberg’s allegedly biased coverage of the general election, one significant factor has not come into the public domain. Early in the campaign, Kuenssberg was assailed by Labour supporters. But later on, and in the post-election recriminations, it was Conservative supporters who were the more annoyed with her. Perhaps this is simply explained by the fact that Labour did better than expected and the Tories did worse. However, the bit the Tories haven’t said in public but keep complaining about in private is that the BBC never reported that Kuenssberg was so badly threatened online by Corbyn supporters that she was given personal protection. They feel that this subdued her capacity to cover the contest clearly. They suspect that if Theresa May had possessed fans as thuggish as Mr Corbyn’s, the BBC would have made a meal of it. I do not know the details of this story, and the BBC won’t comment on security questions, but I have had it informally confirmed from within the BBC. If it is correct, surely the BBC should disclose it. For my own part, I don’t share the resentment against Laura Kuenssberg. She is guilty of the generic sin, encouraged by the BBC in political reporters — including, over the years, Andrew Marr, Nick Robinson, Norman Smith and others — of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening. For this the Corporation, not the individuals, is to blame.
It did cross my mind during the election that Laura K. was toning it down with regards to criticism Jeremy Corbyn, though I put that down to the BBC as a whole seeming to 'tone it down' as well. But what if Laura was toning it down because she had been successfully intimidated by Corbynistas? Wouldn't that be a jaw-dropping state of affairs, with serious questions for Labour and the BBC?
Without wishing to add to Laura K's woes, I also think that Mr Moore absolutely hits the nail on the head when he says that Laura K. is guilty of a generic BBC sin, that "of giving smart-arse analyses with pithy punchlines rather than just telling us what is happening".
IIThere was a small but historic moment on the Today programme last week. John Humphrys introduced a report on Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism as being by the ‘highly respected’ Henry Jackson Society. This flustered the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, to whom Humphrys turned. Gardner said that he needed to explain at once that the Henry Jackson Society was ‘right of centre’, not ‘absolutely bang down the centre’. What Gardner meant, but dared not quite directly say, was that in BBC theology ‘highly respected’ means centre-left. Thus the King’s Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies are ‘highly respected’ (or, sometimes, ‘independent’). ‘Centre-right’, ‘right of centre’, ‘right-leaning’ think-tanks can just about be tolerated, but can never be ‘highly respected’. A ‘right-wing’ think-tank, tout court, means ‘really bad’. So Gardner was clearly shocked by Humphrys’s description of the Henry Jackson Society and was trying to steer the listener in a different direction. It will be interesting if the Henry Jackson Society remains ‘highly respected’ when it next pops up on Today. Was this a bold move by the excellent new editor, Sarah Sands, or just freelancing by Humphrys?
John Humphrys: Saudi Arabia is the biggest source of Islamist extremism in Britain. That is what a report by the highly respected Henry Jackson Society has concluded after extensive research. Saudi Arabia is, of course, our closest ally in the Middle East - or perhaps I should say one of our closest. Frank Gardner, our security correspondent, what do they mean by 'biggest source of Islamist extremism' Frank?Frank Gardner: Right. First of all I should just say that the Henry Jackson Society, which has spent the last 4 months, 5 months producing this report, it's is a right-of-centre thinktank, so it's not absolutely bang down the centre. It's right-of-centre and they particularly take aim at Islamism, extremism and Putin in Russia. That's their sort of agenda.
I'd rather the BBC dropped labels like 'respected' and 'highly respected' altogether. Let the audience judge whether these organisations are worthy of respect or not.